“So…was Ravi Zacharias really a Christian?” The young staff member and I sat at a table filled with boneless wings, wedge salads, and leaders of our church. Her eyes were wide with saddened incredulity. Could it be possible that one of the most famed Christian apologists of the last century was, in fact, not a true recipient of the Christ he championed?
For me, this was a gut punch. Not the question from my friend, but the basis for the question. Ravi Zacharias, one of the men I had looked up to most over my two decades of ministry, had been a monster – guilty (as admitted by his own ministry) of sexting, sexual abuse, and rape. When the news broke I couldn’t come to grips with the truth. It felt so heart-shatteringly surreal. And now, the first of many questions about Ravi came – and by far the most important: was Ravi truly a Christian?
The small part of me not shocked by the breaking news shuddered at the thought of how this would bring fresh ridicule and blanket shame to the Gospel of Jesus. Ravi’s treason would deepen the belief and escalate the refrain that Christianity is bogus.
I was also sickened by the emboldened, unfeeling declarations of judgment from the “do-no-wrong” Pharisees within modern Christianity. It would be easy to once more shift the spotlight from their own sin – which they pretend doesn’t exist (at least not tangibly) – by conjuring their best prophetic voice in denouncing Ravi vehemently to the tune of 18 Facebook likes. The self-righteousness of those individuals repulses me as much as does the hypocrisy and abuse of Ravi. Perhaps humility (for without the grace of God could we not fall just as he did?) and prayer for Ravi’s widow and children is what is most needed in these moments.
Everyone knows that what Ravi did is reprehensible; and it is reprehensible. Using a Gospel platform to justify and demand sexual favors is wicked. Using ministry resources for little more than prostitution payments is evil. Abuse – true abuse – is vile. I will offer no excuse for the man I long admired.
I mourn for his victims. I mourn for his family. I mourn that he has given the enemies of God a reason to further blaspheme.
And in the end I am left asking myself the same question our young staffer posited before me: Could he be forgiven? Could Ravi Zacharias – the hypocrite, the narcissist, the swindler, the abuser – possibly be clothed in the holiness of Jesus? Could he be counted among the redeemed?
The answer, if you know your Bible, is unequivocally, yes. That’s the radicality of the grace of God. He takes the despicable and declares them pure.
Now, was Ravi a Christian? That is a different question. We know God can and does forgive the vilest of sinners; but we also know that his grace convicts, draws to repentance, and transforms. If the fruit of repentance does not grow it can only be because the root of grace is absent. Did Ravi ever repent? Did he struggle? Did he mourn his sin and wrestle with it? It would seem not, but I cannot know these things with certainty.
In moments like these, shrouded with angst, anger, disappointment, grief, and questions without an answer, the true Christ-follower must trust the sovereign goodness of God, pray that the kingdom of light will continue to pierce the darkness, and continually give thanks for amazing grace that saved a wretch like me. This is the way of Jesus. It is the way forward through the darkness.