Ravi Zacharias (died May 19, 2020) was a hero of mine. I grew up in the Great Lakes region. My parents had recently become followers of Jesus and they were committed church goers, which meant that my brothers and I were “committed” church goers. Church was a part of my life mostly because of my parents.
After graduating high school, I entered a university in Dayton, Ohio as an engineering major. Little did I know the turn my life would take. I identified myself as a Christian. My freshmen year I lived in a quad with three other freshmen. With any situation like that, you have conversations about your family, where you are from and also your beliefs about the world and religious affiliation.
My parents encouraged me to seek out Christian organizations for community and I did. While involved with a Christian student group, I went out with another student and sought to have conversations about Jesus with other students around campus. It was in the midst of these conversations that I heard really good questions that challenged the veracity and truthfulness of Christianity and its founder, Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
These experiences and conversations led me to re-examine my identification as a follower of Jesus. Some key questions I asked were: Is Christianity true? Did Jesus rise from the dead? Does the Christian worldview make sense of life?
It was during this journey that Ravi Zacharias became a hero of mine. I read Can Man Live Without God? and a whole new world was opened up to me. Philosophy was something that I had never really explored before and Ravi was the one who introduced me to deeper ways of thinking. I felt fed at all levels. I was drawn closer to God in a way that I had never experienced growing up in church. Ravi was instrumental in helping me see Jesus clearly and own my identity as a Jesus follower for myself and not through my parents.
In May of 2020 I was deeply saddened to hear that Ravi passed away from cancer. I was close to tears at times. One who had helped shape and strengthen my trust in Jesus was gone. But, he did not fall because he died. Several months later I heard that allegations had come forward about Ravi. The nature of the allegations was shocking to me. As with any shocking news of someone you trust, I did not immediately accept them as true. I hoped and prayed that they would be nothing more than a publicity stunt or some kind of smear campaign against a well-known and powerful spokesman for Jesus. Then one day, I saw in my Inbox an email from the Board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM). It relayed that the company doing the investigation into the allegations had found credible evidence to support the allegations and even more.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case for followers of Jesus. There are many pastors in recent years who have either fallen due to reports of misconduct or sexual immorality. It usually leaves the church that they served devastated and many Christians questioning the trustworthiness and validity of anything they said.
So, what does it mean when a hero falls? First, it should be a reminder that any human person is flawed and has weaknesses. Ravi hid his really well. By doing so, he betrayed the trust of his family and friends. Our trust should be rooted in Jesus alone for he alone will not fail.
Should we not trust in others? We should. All relationships are built on trust. Followers of Jesus cannot be the community we are called to be if there is no trust in one another. This is where integrity, being honest and humble, is so important. Had Ravi trusted that Jesus would see him through by letting others know of his weakness and turning from it, it would not have led to the moral downfall that he is now known for. It has taken away from his witness of Jesus.
It is Ravi’s fault 100%. But, it is also 100% our fault. What environment did other Christians surrounding Ravi encourage? Was it an environment of safety so that those who were hiding sin could come into the light and know they would not be rejected? As Christians, we can easily be like Pharisees and forget how much we have been forgiven in Jesus and place heavy burdens on one another. Am I gracious to those who fall? Am I forgiving the way Jesus calls me? Or do I respond to others like a Pharisee? For me, this is convicting and humbling.
What do we do with his witness expressed in books and videos? Yes, the fall of Ravi Zacharias hurts his credibility, but I do not think it means that everything he said ought to be discarded. God can use any sinner for His glory. None of us are perfect witnesses. We are all flawed followers of Jesus.
Now that we know the bad, we can sort out and affirm the good that God still accomplished through Ravi. If you came to Jesus because of Ravi, you do not need to question that decision given the messenger’s flaws and moral failure. Ultimately, Jesus is the one who drew you to him (see 1Corinthians 3:5-9). I will not be throwing out his books.
Jesus knew that all of his followers would need forgiveness and grace each day. Remember the apostle Peter who denied Jesus three times and yet Jesus forgave him. If God has forgiven us in Jesus, then we ought to forgive others, including Ravi. The Father takes this very seriously, as Jesus taught (Matthew 18:21-35). We need to pray that our witness to Jesus is exemplified in our response to those who fall.