The Ravi Zacharias scandal — among countless other horrors of the same ugly vein — unveil the illusion of faith built upon apologetics alone. (An illusion in which I invested my shaky trust from ’05 to ’15.) Faithfulness must be built in and on love.
Loving God is not the same as a love for studying God, and loving God must result in loving others. One’s love for God can’t co-exist alongside years of remorselessly destroying others. Sustained proclamations of love from ruthless reapers are nothing more than exploitative illusions. Such people might honor God with their lips, but their hearts are far from Love.
The tragic reality is that predators easily prey on weak churches; strong and compassionate disciples must keep vigilant watch for the cunning wolves in sheep’s clothing. The wolves can be even those who gave us much. How else do you think such people climbed and cling to power? Beware the yeast!
We must stand with and protect our flock, especially the vulnerable and oppressed for whom God repeated his commitment over 2,000 times through scripture. That is part of what love entails: We defend God’s beloved to the end, the ends of our reputation, security, comfort, politics, power. This is how we have come to know love: Christ laid down his life for us. We should ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.
Regardless of how effective a person is in ministry, we must hold them accountable and hope they find true repentance, which is no easy or short road. We can’t choose a person’s greatness over the lives of those trampled upon.
If we speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, we are only resounding gongs or clanging cymbals. If we have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if we have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, we are nothing. If we give all possessions to the poor and surrender ourselves to the flames, but have not love, we gain nothing.
Who is a person with perfect doctrines, flawless logic, wondrous speaking abilities, immense followings, humbling wisdom, and irresistible charisma … if they have not love? God can still use them, don’t get me wrong, but only because he can redeem even the foolishness of illusions, shells, shams. He prefers, though, to work through love and the loving.
Many — theologians, apologists, miracle-workers, missionaries, pastors — will cry “Lord, Lord!” while begging to enter his presence. Many will claim they prophesied in God’s name and in God’s name drove out demons and performed miracles. They’ll say they uttered their sinner’s prayers, that they preached the correct doctrines. Certainly, they’ve always believed there is one God — good! — but even the demons believe that, and shudder. Maybe they’ll gesture at the masses surrounding the distant throne and scream, “Did I not lead even these to you?” And yet Christ may say, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”
I don’t know Ravi’s fate, nor the fate of the many others who exploited and abused God’s name in vain. I do know many who are cut deeply today, who loathe the church or God because of these destroyers’ injustices. I think often of Jesus, who said such destroyers might as well hang a large millstone ’round their neck and drown in the depths of the sea; I think of the one who declared woes upon those who travel across the sea to make a single convert, only to make them doubly as much a child of destruction as they are.
I believe in God’s equitable justice and habits of mercy. I know who balances absolute sovereignty with self-restraint; I know also we can approach the Judge-King and whisper “Abba.” I cringe at the idea of punishment because I live a life mostly unviolated by evil people, while while the hope of justice lifts many others through today’s suffering. (I am glad ultimate justice and mercy are in God’s hands and not ours. We seem incapable of holding either anger or contentment without sinning.)
Passages and ideas like these make me intensely uncomfortable. Shouldn’t they? But they motivate me to act today as the Lord’s thunderbolts, his hands and feet, by striving to execute his will on earth as it already is in heaven, by striving to make his name holy amid the dirt and sweat. We have a big job, and that is to love God, and love others as Christ loved us. All other goodnesses — law, ethics, creation, wisdom, faithfulness — flow from that.
We can’t change anything for Ravi, but we can labor today to push against the traumatizing legacies of people like him. So, let’s.