Countless thousands of us around the world, with tearful gratitude, are saying our earthly goodbyes to Ravi Zacharias, who passed away on May 19 after being diagnosed with cancer just a couple of months ago. Someone whose life enriches ours is worthy of honor — and, if he enriched us through faithfully laboring in preaching and teaching, double honor (1 Timothy 5:17). Ravi enriched mine.
I benefited from a number of Ravi’s books and many of his recorded messages. But what stands out most in my memory is reading Can Man Live Without God at a crucial time in my life nearly 25 years ago. I don’t know that I’ve read or heard a public intellectual more fluent and incisive regarding the history of Western philosophy and its consequences — at times horrifically brutal — on Western civilization, especially in the twentieth century. And this from someone born and raised in the East (India).
Ravi ruthlessly described the psychological and social ramifications of atheism’s existential meaninglessness and moral bankruptcy. If God doesn’t exist, the inescapable human need to make sense of the world has no foundation; it’s a castle in the air. If God doesn’t exist, we have no objective basis for our inescapable, deeply intuitive sense of good and evil; it’s a human construct projected onto an amoral reality, perhaps an adaptation favored by natural selection to advance our genes into future generations. Nothing more.
Once man realizes he has no inherent meaning and there are no objective morals — that he must create both himself — and once the restraining vestiges of theism have been removed, terrible consequences will follow. Chilling consequences like the Nietzschean superman madness of the Third Reich and the Marxian utopic madness of Soviet and Sino Communism and their unprecedented carnage. Or on the individual level, consequences like the violence and suicide that result from nihilism and existential despair.
Such despair was not theoretical for Ravi. At 17, seeing no hope for his future, he attempted suicide at his family’s home in Delhi. That proved to be the turning point. For Jesus, as he does for so many of his disciples, came to Ravi at his lowest point and gave him a future and a hope. A Youth for Christ worker visited him in the hospital and left him with this text: “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19). In these written words, Ravi heard his living Lord speak, and this previously unremarkable teen made a remarkable resolution: “I will leave no stone unturned in my pursuit of truth.”
For more than half a century, Ravi not only relentlessly pursued the Truth (John 14:6), but relentlessly taught and defended the truth all over the world. The good fruit of his labors can be seen in the legacy of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, Wellspring International (humanitarian aid), 28 books, and the list could go on and on.
All this is the harvest of a seed sown in a Delhi hospital bed after a failed suicide attempt. I would say the seed fell into good soil, though only Jesus would have known it at the time. One thing Ravi knew: he could not live without God. He spoke from his own experience when he wrote,
When man lives apart from God, chaos is the norm. When man lives with God, as revealed in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the hungers of the mind and heart find their fulfillment. For in Christ we find coherence and consolation as he reveals to us, in the most verifiable terms of truth and experience, the nature of man, the nature of reality, the nature of history, the nature of our destiny, and the nature of suffering. (Can Man Live Without God, 179)
I have one more reason to be grateful for the life and ministry of Ravi Zacharias: Michael Ramsden. Michael was installed last year as president of RZIM, succeeding Ravi. But prior to that, he led RZIM’s European outreach for many years. In the early 2000s, Michael graciously served on the board of Desiring God’s short-lived European arm, and he became a personal friend. More important than being perhaps the most brilliant person I have ever met, Michael is also among the most faith-filled, sincere, and humble people I have ever met. Ravi has handed this baton to another laborer worthy of double honor.
Father, thank you for the life of Ravi Zacharias. Thank you for showing him that he could not live without you. And when all he believed was that he could not live, thank you for showing him you. Thank you for his faithful and fruitful pursuit of stone-turning for the truth and for his double-honor-worthy labors in preaching and teaching and evangelizing and contending for the truth. Thank you that, in the words of Ajith Fernando, in “an era that has heralded the demise of reliance on objective truth as the primary source of direction to the lives of individuals,” Ravi showed “that a ministry committed to demonstrating the validity of objective truth is still relevant and desperately needed.”
Thank you for hundreds and hundreds of thousands of souls, like mine, that you have enriched and strengthened through Ravi. Thank you that he finished his course, kept the faith, left a legacy of financial and moral integrity, and enjoyed a strong marriage of 48 years. And thank you for the next generation of leaders in the RZIM family of ministries, who are taking the helm and leading in the same spirit and by the same Spirit. Give them a double portion of Ravi’s anointing. I have no doubt he would join me in saying, in Jesus’s name, amen.