Discovering Ravi's Sin
For this post, I want to start by quoting a passage from James, in particular James 1:13-15 (NASB):
"No one is to say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it has run its course, brings forth death."
As I wrote in my post on sin and hell, sin results in three things: death, ugliness, and isolation. These things are antithetical to God, who is the sole ultimate source of life, beauty, and relationship. This week, the Church saw these results firsthand when RZIM, in an open letter posted on their website, released the findings of a private investigation into allegations of sexual abuse against its founder: Ravi Zacharias. I remember being disturbed, as many were, by these allegations and hoping that they were not true. Yet, as the report revealed, the allegations were not only true, but the truth of what Ravi had really done was so much worse than could have been imagined. It was shown that Ravi Zacharias, a man once held in high esteem as a teacher and leader in the Church, had actually committed various forms of sexual sin for years, even possibly rape. This news has shocked and appalled many Christians who, like me, greatly respected and admired him.
And, as can be expected, people's responses have been all over the place. Some are pleading with brothers and sisters not to allow the severity of the sin to overshadow the good that he had done for the Kingdom. Others are convinced by that same sin that Ravi was a wolf in sheep's clothing, that he had never been a follower of Christ in the first place. Still others find it incredibly difficult to imagine that a man who so violated God's commands, and in doing so left many victims in seeking the gratification of the flesh, could have possibly been a follower of Christ. In other words, we're left with a serious conflict in impressions. Publicly, Ravi Zacharias was a powerful and passionate defender of the faith and evangelist. Privately, he was evidently a loving husband and father. But still more privately, in his heart, he regularly sought after things contrary to God's will. And that, he kept secret until the day he died.
Because of our current milieu of social media and outrage culture, it is easy to react in less than 280 characters with a conclusion and keep going on with your life. On Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, outrage is much like lighter fluid. While it burns, it's hot, but it doesn't last long. In all likelihood, within about a week, people will have said their piece and will move on to something else about which to get angry. This post, though not long, will hopefully be an attempt of mine not to do that. Instead, I want to spend time asking myself which questions I should be asking right now. What should Christians think when Christian leaders fail?
In one sense, that question is one I don't like. It invites bullet-point presentations that make it seem as if the answers are easy to come by and easy to resolve in one's mind and heart. At the risk of sounding melancholic, something about the responses we make to others' sin seems to me to trivialize the sin itself. It's as if we think that issues of the human experience can be solved with a PowerPoint presentation. When we meditate on human sinfulness in the same way that we make presentations at business meetings, something has gone awry. No, these are the issues that we sit with in periods of clarity and insight, that we wrestle over in our reading of James or Psalm 51. They take up the dark nights when the temptation to some sin seems insuperable and we're pushed to the end of ourselves, knowing that all we have is to place our faith in God in order to remain faithful to Him. They come to mind most clearly when we are honest with ourselves about the sins that we could commit, of which we are capable. When the vastness of the potential of evil in us causes us to cry out to God, both for mercy and, finally, for victory in Christ one day. Anyone who has been a Christian for any substantial amount of time knows what this battle looks like.
So what ought we see in Ravi's sin? In one sense, I'm suggesting that we should see a mirror. Probably no one reading this post (nor the writer) has committed the sins outlined in that report, but I can guarantee you that everyone reading this post (including the writer) is capable of committing the very same sins and more. Remember Genesis 3 and the destructive consequence of a sin-infected will. Remember how it was immediately followed by the murderous hatred of Cain against his own brother. Remember the words of Paul in Romans 5:12-14 (NASB):
"Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all mankind, because all sinned—for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not counted against anyone when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the violation committed by Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come."
Sin, then, and its results reign in all of mankind, and we are infected by it. Don't ever be prideful enough to think that you're incapable of the very worst sins against God. In fact, in your own heart, you may have committed them (see, for instance, 1 John 3:15 and Matthew 5:27).
"But," you might say, "surely Ravi Zacharias had progressed in his sinful habits and actions in some way. Usually, people don't just do these kinds of things." That's true. We can be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin to commit more sin (Hebrews 3:13). But that's exactly it. If the worse offenses lie at the end of a process of spiritual hardening, then only the grace of God keeps us from becoming hardened, as only He gives us the grace not to sin. Ravi might have been further along than we could have ever imagined (even than we could ever imagine ourselves being), but we should not boast in our righteousness. Instead, get on your knees before God and thank Him for His awesome grace in keeping you. At the same time, tremble, knowing that the path that leads to hardening is short and paved with compromise and sloth. Remain humble, knowing that by nature, you and I are no different from Ravi.
In another sense, I think that we should see a warning. A warning against what, exactly? Consider this: one of the most shocking things about this story is that Ravi never publicly confessed or repented of these sinful acts. In fact, he seems to have lied about them, since these allegations, in some form, go back to 2017 and involve Ravi suing his accuser, claiming that her allegations were an attempt at extortion. He admitted then that receiving these pictures from his accuser, which he claimed had been part of a relationship that initially involved counsel for her, had been unwise. Yet now we know that he had been receiving pictures from women before then and continued to do so afterward. To put it bluntly, the picture uncovered in the investigation presents to us a man who used many different means to lie and cover his tracks, all the while continuing in his habitual sinful behavior. Again, the process of hardening here had reached its height, it seems.
The warning is serious. Not only is each of us capable of these sins; each of us, if we're not careful, is moving in that direction. There is a saying that I think is relevant here. It is often quoted without a source, and I don't know the source, but it is helpful to remember for any Christian:
"Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay."
This is not Scripture, but it is nonetheless true. The nature of sin is to keep you in for the long haul. One compromise, one look, one opportunity to push a boundary, multiplies until you are routinely doing what was previously unthinkable. Once those compromises and the sin multiplies, you think that you could never tell anyone about it because it's so shameful. But that's exactly it; you will continue in this habit of sin until you come under accountability and discipline with brothers or sisters in Christ! So it works out to a kind of spiritual sunk cost fallacy: you keep going, thinking with every sinful act that you're far past the point of no return. I'm sure that Ravi went through this process because it's common among Christians dealing with all types of habitual sin like pornography.
Let me tell you: if you're looking at Ravi and scared because your sin, though not necessarily as bad as his, is similarly out of your control, you will not overcome it without the fervent love and accountability of brothers or sisters in Christ! This is where seeing Ravi as a mirror is encouraging. I cannot judge you on pains of hypocrisy, for I am just as capable of the sin as you are. It may be hard to confess to a brother or sister, but it is the first step out of something like this. The unbelievably tragic thing is that Ravi didn't do this, even though he had every opportunity to. No one's saying that it would have been easy, but it would have been better than having a private investigator uncover it months after his death (not to mention facing the judgement of God knowing that it is too late to confess and repent). Confession to brothers or sisters is biblical, as we see in James 5:16:
"Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. A prayer of a righteous person, when it is brought about, can accomplish much."
It is those who love us in Christ who will help us to confess to God, repent, be healed, and overcome. Be in accountability with other believers and never let your sin go unconfessed and unaddressed. If you do, you are a short distance from Ravi. If I do, I am a short distance from Ravi.
Finally, the last thing that I see in the discovery of Ravi's sin is perhaps hardest to put into words succinctly. It's the thing that troubles me the most. I keep thinking of the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In this story, Dr. Jekyll is an upstanding member of society, a man of stature known for his good character, whereas Mr. Hyde is his alter ego. Mr. Hyde represents all the sinful urges that Dr. Jekyll suppresses because Dr. Jekyll believes that they are unbecoming to a man of his stature in the community. The problem, of course, is that Mr. Hyde proves to be stronger than Dr. Jekyll and shows himself at times. This story deeply resonates with a Christian understanding of humanity (i.e., Christian anthropology) because it reflects the fact that mankind contains both the beautiful and good and the ugly and evil. We have been created in the likeness and image of God and reflect Him uniquely in the world! But, because of our sin, we are often everything that stands against His will and creation. I explain the doctrine of original sin, in part, by saying that the infection of sin is both broad and deep. It infects everything and to the core of our being. If we were honest with ourselves, we'd see an alter ego present in us as well, which Paul calls the flesh (see Romans 7).
Here's the biting question, though: is Mr. Hyde, which represents all of the wickedness of Dr. Jekyll, just as much part of Dr. Jekyll as the aspects of him that are good? In other words, is the conjunction of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde necessary for a fuller understanding of the man, Dr. Jekyll? Some see Ravi's sin and see a charlatan, a man who preached the love of Christ and did not show it in public. I understand this perspective. It is hard for me to comprehend a man who genuinely believes what is so clearly denied in his practice. At the same time, I see that tendency in myself as well. Though my sins are not as severe as Ravi's, they violate the will of God and fellow image-bearers. It was that sin in me that required God's grace shown to be through Jesus. I see Ravi as a mirror and a warning, and I want to be humble enough to recognize that, but for God's grace, I'd be much worse off than I am now. This is not to downplay the severity of his sin. I am serious in saying that all of us are capable of this and more.
In Ravi's case, then, must we have both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to understand who he is? I think that the Bible has a clear answer to this question. In Romans 8, after reflecting on the misery of the human condition, this deep conflict between the spirit and the flesh (that tendency we have to do and love good and to do and love evil), Paul begins his answer to this human condition with a resounding statement of faith in Christ in 8:1-2 (NASB):
"Therefore there is now no condemnation at all for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death."
Set free from the law of sin and of death. Though death reigned in us because of sin, life now reigns in us because of Jesus Christ! And, since we have been freed from sin and death, we are now to live according to the Spirit. There ought to be a noticeable change in everything about us, particularly in our desires and will. In Romans 8:12-13, Paul writes (NASB):
"So then, brothers and sisters, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you are living in accord with the flesh, you are going to die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live."
Put to death the deeds of the body. In other words, put to death that associated with the flesh. This is crucial and is a key part of the New Testament's teaching about Christian living and practice. In Galatians 5:24, we are told that we, in Christ, "have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." Putting all of this together beautifully, Paul writes in Romans 6:6 that "our old self was crucified with Christ, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin." Forgiveness of sins means freedom from the burdens of sin and death and, therefore, freedom to do what is good in God's eyes. This is the daily work of any child of God.
How does this answer our question? Simple. For the follower of the Lord Jesus, Mr. Hyde is no part of Dr. Jekyll and ought to be killed. Not suppressed. Suppressed desires still reign over someone and are simply pushed inward for a time. Crucified desires no longer have power over you. I don't know if Ravi will be with us in God's Kingdom in the last day. Only God knows. But I do know that Ravi, try as he might have, failed to crucify his flesh and walk daily in accordance with the Spirit. It is a hard struggle to do this every day, and every honest Christian understands and will admit this. God's grace is there for us when we fall, given that we repent and continue to look to Christ. But Ravi let Mr. Hyde take control and keep it. You and I must not do the same.
This is both encouraging and convicting for me. I have my own Mr. Hyde. I know him well. He tries to come to view whenever I'm tempted to allow any evil desire to come to the surface in my life. And I don't always react to him with the bloodthirstiness of one staring into the face of a mortal enemy. But he is exactly that and, by God, will die. But he is not me. I am a blood-bought son of the living God, free from sin and death to serve my God, who can know that, no matter how difficult a battle is, the victory is Christ's, and He's given it to me as well. If Ravi had lived victoriously in this with brothers in Christ, he would have seen it alive and well in his life. Instead, he chose isolation, and with it, sin and death.
If you've made it this far, thank you for reading. This post has been a solemn journey of reflecting on a man I considered to be a hero in the Church. I couldn't say all that I wanted to, but I don't want to go too long either. If you saw him as a hero once as well, then the whole episode can be confusing and emotionally troubling. Let's continue to pray and personally devote ourselves to never make the mistakes that we see in Ravi's life in our own lives. And let's do that together as brothers and sisters, as is God's will for us to do. If you'd like to reach out, please feel free to do so via email or on Facebook. You can leave a comment here and subscribe, if you like the content on this site. Again, thanks for reading.