FIRST-PERSON: What Ravi Zacharias taught me about faith

by Joshua Wester, posted Wednesday, May 20, 2020 (6 days ago)

NASHVILLE (BP) -- I woke up on Tuesday morning to the news that author and apologist Ravi Zacharias had died. For many, the news of his death is sobering. Zacharias was a giant in the faith. Through his life and ministry, he exercised a profound influence not only among American evangelicals but across the globe. For me, Zacharias was someone God used to bolster my faith and guide me through a painful time of spiritual crisis.

This isn't really a eulogy. Many people who knew Zacharias far better will offer such words. Nor is it an obituary. Others can chronicle the long list of achievements and accolades that Zacharias garnered over the course of his life. This is simply a short reflection on the way God used his ministry to help rescue me from the darkest season of my life.

I discovered Zacharias when I was in college. At the time, I was grappling with a crippling crisis of faith. I had grown up in church and had loved Jesus since I was a child. But in my late teens, I found myself asking hard questions about the truth claims of Christianity for the first time. And it seemed like everywhere I looked, I found answers that couldn't satisfy. Often, the spiritual leaders in my own life were themselves challenged by the things I was wrestling with. And so in desperation, I began to look around on the internet, not even certain about what I hoped to find.

I had heard Zacharias' name but knew little about his ministry. Honestly, all I really knew was that he had a reputation for being "brilliant." But at some point, I found myself watching videos of Zacharias online and was overwhelmed. Never before had I seen someone hold to the faith with such confidence.

I watched all of his content I could find. But what drew me to Zacharias most was watching his engagement with those posing questions about the faith (probably because I saw myself in the men and women standing in front of him). Whether he was speaking to skeptics or believers, Zacharias answered questions and objections with kindness and wisdom, as well as wit and affability. Whether about ethics or metaphysics or theology, every answer seemed so careful, so well-reasoned, but never cocky or condescending.

As a person who was struggling intensely with the idea of faith itself, I encountered Zacharias' ministry at just the right time. It wasn't the only thing that God used to bring me through that season, but his words were instrumental in bringing me through the dark night of the soul. Looking back, I realize now that what I needed was a guide. I was looking for someone who could show me that faith was rational, that there was no real conflict between faith and reason, and that Christianity could stand up under intellectual scrutiny. Zacharias' ministry taught me that sincere religious faith didn't require one to wear blinders when it came to any other area of life or knowledge, nor to jettison the ability to reason in order to maintain one's faith.

Zacharias' humble confidence in the truth and authenticity of the Christian faith allowed me to explore the questions I was struggling with from a position of faith instead of doubt. And it made all the difference. For decades, God used his ability to teach and to reason to navigate so many Christians, including myself, through the doubts and crises we faced. And as I watched videos featuring interaction after interaction, I never saw Zacharias stuck without an answer. But even so, he always offered more than answers because the aim of his ministry went far beyond that. His aim wasn't simply to provide answers, but to point others to Jesus. And in all that he did, Zacharias taught us that truth is not merely a concept, but a person.

I've known for a while that he had been battling an aggressive cancer. And when word came at the end of last week that there was no longer any effective medical treatment available, I braced myself for his passing. Only a few days later, Zacharias' race was ended. He is now in heaven with the Savior he loved and proclaimed. As I think of Zacharias standing with Jesus, in whom he guided so many of us to believe, my heart is filled with gratitude. And I'm not the only one. All over social media you can find the hashtag #ThankYouRavi followed by stories of how his ministry changed the course of people's lives.

Zacharias' life meant so much to so many. God used his ministry to fortify the faith of countless people. I am one of them. And I'll always be grateful. Even as I think about my own life, about the reality that someday I will draw my final breath, I am so encouraged by Zacharias' example. Even in his final days, his confidence in Christ was evident. Zacharias' entire life was a testament to the truth of the Gospel. He now has gone on to be with Jesus. But even in death, he points the way to Christ. I don't think he would have had it any other way. Thank you, Ravi Zacharias.

Joshua B. Wester is chair of research in Christian ethics at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
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