“I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones; So let it be with Caesar. “
- Marc Antony (“Julius Caesar” by William Shakespeare)
I tossed and turned last night after talking with my son-in-law about the latest news concerning Ravi Zacharias. Zacharias died of cancer on May 19, 2020 after decades as a giant in Christian apologetics. The news read, “A preliminary report from the law firm hired by RZIM confirms reports from CT, World, and blogger Steve Baughman that international apologist Ravi Zacharias, who died earlier this year, sexually abused numerous women.” (Christianity Today)
I am grieved by the news. Grieving for the victims, his family and those he reached. Experiencing a second death notice of Zacharias. Now the death of his legacy and work. It is so devastating after years of leaning from someone and respecting their efforts. It is confusing as well.
It is tough to not discredit all the work and information when it was so closely connected with the individual. Even more difficult is to hope for something or someone better when it appears no one can be trusted if Zacharias cannot. The secret sins can be the most damaging. As Francis Shaeffer once wrote, “The real problem is this: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, individually corporately, tending to do the Lord’s work in the power of the flesh rather than of the Spirit. The central problem is always in the midst of the people of God, not in the circumstances surrounding them.”
The secular world judgement is well founded. That which is nonconsensual is horrible and vile enough to be loathed and prosecuted, but in the realm of Christian faith the violation goes even deeper. The violation of trust, the destruction of relationships, the adulterousness and lustfulness add to the devastation.
What do we do now with the work of a shunned dead man?
I thought back on historical figures who gave us so much yet fell so short. Thomas Jefferson gave us the greatest words of freedom yet failed to understand them and apply them to his life. Rousseau pushed us into the enlightenment but left his five children as orphans. Luther brought us religious liberty but paved a road to Antisemitism. Stonewall Jackson was a stoic man of faith yet fought to retain a life which enslaved others. Pope John Paul reached millions with the message of Christ but silenced the systemic pedophilia within the Catholic Church. Can anyone make it through life without being a paradox? Another quote from Schaeffer answers the question, “If you demand perfection or nothing, you will always end up with nothing.”
The Me-Too movement took down the most beloved in secular society. Senators, actors, producers an CEOs got their upcommance for unwelcomed and hideous treatment of women. Legacies reversed to anathema. When I think of my wife and daughter suffering such abuse, I can get a glimpse at the anger.
Now what do we do with their works, their words, their pre-fall successes?
We must continue to seek the truth and to make the truth known. People will always be a paradox capable of great good and great evil sometimes within minutes of each other. This is part of the Christian story which holds up in reality.
We must do better and hold ourselves accountable minute by minute. “One principle is that of the purity of the visible church. Scripture commands that we must do more than just talk about the purity of the visible church; we must actually practice it, even when it is costly,” writes Schaeffer. We must wake up with the words of St. Boethius on our lips, “Avoid vice, therefore, and cultivate virtue; lift up your mind to the right kind of hope, and put forth humble prayers on high. A great necessity is laid upon you, if you will be honest with yourself, a great necessity to be good, since you live in the sight of a judge who sees all things.”
We should diminish Christian celebrity and personality culture in the church. We all became followers of Christ because we are aware of our sin. Our responsibility is to point to Christ and not ourselves. The mega churches are harming us even if you cannot see it now. Hillsong, Willow Park, Mars Hill and an ever-growing list of problematic situations which an onlooking world finds laughable.
We must not keep our sin profiles low. We should confess one to another and deal with our sin openly. I spent a lifetime thinking pastors had achieved some higher level of perfection – I know now they have not. If we see the human struggle, the Christian struggle in a real way, then we understand the failures and we can continue to look to the cross even in our own crisis. The feel good gospel of today is not a true gospel and does not work in reality.
The message of Christ is that we need saving from sin and the message of his disciple John that we are always battling sin (1 John 1:8). Schaeffer writes, “A negative message is needed before anything positive can begin. There must first be the message of judgment, the tearing down. There are times, and Jeremiah’s day and ours are such times, when we cannot expect a constructive revolution if we begin by overemphasizing the positive message. People often say to me, What would you do if you met a really modern man on a train and you had just an hour to talk to him about the gospel? I would spend forty-five or fifty minutes on the negative, to show him his real dilemma—to show him that he is more dead than even he thinks he is; that he is not just dead in the twentieth-century meaning of dead (not having significance in life) but that he is morally dead because he is separated from the God who exists. Then I would take ten or fifteen minutes to tell him the gospel.”
Ravi died twice, first his body, then his legacy. The broken people of his ministry will press on looking now not to Ravi, but to the great God that forgives and uses us broken vessels to carry His message of hope to other broken vessels.
I come to bury Ravi Zacharias, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them; The good is from the Lord; So let it be with Ravi.