Ravi Zacharias - Questions From Far East
Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. I'm John Ankerberg, I'm glad that you joined us today. And my guest is the brilliant Christian philosopher, apologist, Ravi Zacharias. Ravi has talked to more university students in more countries than anybody I know. He's also been asked by government leaders in different parts of the world to come and answer their questions. He has spoken at the United Nations three times at their opening prayer breakfast that opens the United Nations sessions. And, Ravi, today I am going to be asking you the tough questions that students have given you in the past from different parts of the world. And this week we're centering on the tough questions that students want to ask you from the Far East. Folks in the Far East think differently than those in the West. You grew up in the Far East, so you know this, and so that's why I'm asking you these questions. And our first one is this. A student asked, "Could you please expand on how Jesus might respond to the Baha'i faith, that all religions are one, and that Jesus is just one of many prophets"?
Zacharias: You know, coming from the East, John, we just plague each other with questions, I mean, ah, that's the way it is. If you do an open forum in Delhi, for example, or in Mumbai, or in Chennai, you will find you'll never get out of there. They have very many questions. It's a questioning culture. And it's also true in the Middle East, and that's why I think religious ideas are so central to their ethos and their pathos and they feel it so passionately. So, the first thing I want to say is, to the listener, I understand how you feel about these issues for two reasons. Number one, it's a genuine question: number two, it's connected to family and to ancestral beliefs.
And so when they raise questions on exclusivity, for example, or on the Baha'i faith, which is syncretistic, I know, I know why they're asking this. But the Baha'i faith, you know, coming up in the mid-1800's, a little after the 1850's and so on, that particular faith by the Islamic worldview is treated as heretical and people are persecuted, unfortunately so. Their intention was noble, to try to bring everybody together. So, if you go, for example, to the Baha'i temple in Delhi, where I'm sure you've even been, there are massive edifices and so on. There's a fundamental problem with that: all religions simply cannot be true.
I've heard people say religions are all fundamentally the same and only superficially different. Skeptics normally say that. It is just the opposite, they are fundamentally different and at best only superficially similar. Islam is not the same as Hinduism: Christianity is not the same as Islam. We need to be cordially able to interact on these issues without anathematizing each other, but holding onto truth. truth is ultimately incontrovertible. Why can't all religions be true? Because the law of non-contradiction applies to reality: two contradictory statements-meaning opposite things-cannot both be correct at the same time. Exclusivity is a reality in truth because truth is primarily a property of propositions. We see this in a courtroom: were you in the room when this took place? The answer is either "Yes" or "No". You can say one foot in there, one foot out of there, you can play word games, but the questioner is looking for truth. Truth by definition is exclusive.
So when Jesus says, "I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes unto the father except through me," it's an audacious claim, it's a dramatic claim, it's an absolute claim. The question is, can it be sustained by his life teaching and so on? That's what we have to ask. All religions simply cannot be the same. Gautama Buddha was born a Hindu and he renounced two of the fundamental doctrines of Hinduism: he did not accept the authority of the Vedas, and he did not accept the caste system. That's why even in recent times there were people coming in saying in a move from A over to B, where we don't have a caste system. But those two beliefs he renounced. And that's when his four noble truths and his eight-fold path came into being.
Islam is not the same as Sikhism: Sikhism is not the same as Hinduism. There are doctrines and claims that are made that are exclusive to every faith. Every faith has its exclusivity. Even Bahaism, which claims to be syncretistic, actually excludes the exclusivists, and says you can't be an exclusivist and be a follower of the Baha'i faith at the same time. It's the nature of what truth is. So rather than getting upset at an exclusive claim, reason tells me let me examine these claims and see if they stand the test of truth. That's what we need to do.
Ankerberg: Now, folks, I also want you to know there's a whole lot more that Ravi has said on this question and all of these that we're presenting during this program. Go to Ravi Zacharias, just Google him, you'll come to his website. Go to him on Youtube, you can see his lectures and answering these questions in different parts of the world. You can hear thousands and thousands of students gathering, that have asked questions to him, and he's stood there patiently answering these questions. So just take it from me, there's a lot of information there. But I want to give you another hard one. I think on every university campus I've ever been, this one comes up. A student from the Far East says, "What about all of the religions that have come before Christianity? And if you grant that the Christian message is exclusive, isn't this vastly unfair to claim that all these people are damned to hell because they don't believe in Jesus"? What would you say to that?
Zacharias: It's a good question. In logic, it's called the fallacy of calendar, or time, however you want to put it. If that is assumed to be therefore the guidepost for truth-that this came before-think of all the things people have believed before. What have we believed now that were so fallacious? You can't really go by the calendar? What happens to Islam? Because Christianity predated Islam by six centuries, you know. What happens to the Gita over against the Vedas? The Vedas came centuries before, they were monistic: the Gita is more theistic, what happens to the Vedas after that? What happens to Hinduism after Buddhism comes on the scene? Or then after Buddhism comes Jainism: and then a latecomer was Sikhism to all that happened... All that believed things before.
So it's a fallacious starting point. I think what we need to also correct, this idea that Jesus Christ came 2,000 years ago, and therefore anything that predates that would have to take precedence. Actually, 3,000 years before Jesus was Abraham who lived by faith. We talk about the Judeo-Christian worldview. You go back 1400's before Jesus and you've got Moses giving the law, and talking about how ultimately how the law points to a redeemer, and so on. So, even that is fallaciously believed that it was something new that just came 2,000 years ago. The Bible says, "God, who at sundry times and diverse manners has spoken to us through the prophets, in the last days has spoken to us through the Son".
Here's the illustration I like to give, John, and my friends in India would appreciate it. It's like this: one of our servants went to see a movie for the first time. And he walked into the theater and was looking in the wrong direction. And he thought he'd paid money to look at beams of light coming in... Coming out through holes in the wall, until he turned to the right and looked at the screen and said, "Oh, my word, what am I seeing? I'm seeing a face". Many religious worldviews could have been those beams coming out of the wall. Ultimately the light shines on the person and the face of Jesus Christ, in whom was the culmination and the consummation of all truth. There may be hints of truth in these other worldviews, the totality of it was in the person of Jesus Christ. So, to the person listening, I just say, take the Gospel of John, start reading it. See what it says about Jesus: see his answers to your questions: and you'll find the consummate expression of truth in his person.
Ankerberg: What about the part, what about those that have lived in the past and they didn't believe in Jesus. Is it fair or unfair for them to be separated from God for eternity?
Zacharias: However we answer that, the most important part of the answer is this: that the Bible says "The judge of all the earth will do that which is right". It's interesting that, that statement comes in the context of the judgment that was coming upon Sodom and Gomorrah. God is more fair than you or I. God will do that which is right. But it also tells us historically how people... What did Abraham know? He was raised in a culture of polytheism and so on. But he "Looked for a city whose builder and maker was God". Where did he come up with that idea from? God speaks to us within our own consciences. God speaks to us in the privacy of our own lives.
And the fact is that he speaks through conscience: he speaks through creation: he speaks ultimately through his word: and then in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. But having said that, God really doesn't send anybody to hell, John. This is a very important truth. We make our choice. C.S. Lewis says there are two kinds of people in this world: those who bend their knee to God and say to him, "Your will be done:" or those who refuse to bend their knee to God and God says to him (or her), "Your will be done". Ultimately, the choice we make for eternity is made by the submission of our wills to our Heavenly Father. He will not violate our wills. Even heaven will be hell to the person who doesn't want to spend eternity with God. That sacred gift of my freedom is given to me by God. I invite the listener to bend your knee and say to him, "Your will be done". His will is the most beautiful thing you can pursue.
Ankerberg: We're going to continue with tough questions from students, university students, in the Far East about God, alright? And this question was asked, "Maybe, Ravi, we are all God. Maybe we are collectively God. And God is experiencing himself, herself or itself through us. Nothing is absolute. There are so many religions out there, so many people that have claimed to be the son of God before. Christianity is a historical accident. Buddha taught the same sort of thing, so did Confucius, so did Muhammad. They all teach pretty much the same stuff. Can we really say what's right and what's wrong"?
Zacharias: You know, I hear that question in different forms, John, so many times. And one wonders where to begin. I recall a statement by Winston Churchill after one of his nemeses had got into a tirade about him and called him all kinds of nasty things. And when that person finished, Churchill just leaned over to the person next to him and said, "There, but for the grace of God, goes God". You know, the way we behave shows we are anything but divine. And so when you talk about, for example, Confucius saying the same thing, no, he doesn't. Actually Confucius believed in the innate goodness of humanity: and Jesus taught that we are all sinful. You talk about Buddha saying the same thing, no he didn't. Gautama Buddha was, if not an atheist, a non-theist. He never said anything about the existence of God. The whole idea of nirvana is really to end up in a state of not desiring, not wanting. And yet Jesus told us to hunger and thirst after righteousness: and that how we will be filled.
So they are diametrically opposite propositions here. Islam, for example, claims that Jesus never died on the cross, it only appeared that he died on the cross. That is historically challenged by every other history or religion-whether you look at pagan historians, Greek historians, Roman historians, Jewish historians, Christian historians. Every one of us tells us that he died on the cross, and then they claim ultimately that he rose again from the dead. So these religions are not all saying the same thing. Take another example. If you ask a Hindu, "How do you obtain Moksha, release or nirvana? And the Hindu will tell you it is when your.... You have paid your karmic debt. Every birth is a re-birth. That in itself is different, you know the Bible says, "It is appointed unto a person only once to die". But when you have paid your karmic debt is what the pantheist will tell you.
And there's a shade of difference within Buddhism and Hinduism and what its ultimate state is actually about. If you ask a muslim, "How do you obtain paradise". He or she will tell you your good deeds are going to be weighed against your bad deeds. So it's a different view, or way of looking at things. Jesus Christ tells a story of the prodigal son. The boy renounced his father, took his inheritance, squanders it. Goes away into the far country: ends up messing his life up completely. And turns around and he is wanting to come back to his father. To me, John, as an Easterner reading this story comes, here comes the shock, okay, an Easterner would be thinking, "He's coming back, what is his dad going to do? How is he going to wait in the inside? What is he going to say when..."? No, no, no! Jesus, the father, gets up and goes out of the house. He goes out of the house to meet his son halfway as he is coming back. Any Eastern boy or girl listening to me knows this is counterintuitive to the Eastern father. The Eastern father would have expected him to come and grovel and whatever it is, do all that it took. He goes and embraces his son and says, "This, my son, was lost and is found: was dead and is alive".
This message of grace and forgiveness is unique in all of the religions of the world: that the Heavenly Father pursues you. And when you return the Heavenly Father receives you. Forgiveness and grace is the story of the Gospel. It's not a cheap forgiveness, its not just like, "Okay, I'm forgiving you". It cost the very dearest thing in the death of Jesus on the cross to take the judgment and take the pain so that you and I could be forgiven. All religions are fundamentally different. At best some of the ethical imperatives may be similar, but even there the ethical imperatives in most religions are a means to your salvation. In the Christian faith it is the fruit of your salvation. You do not attain it by your good works: you are forgiven and the good works are an expression of your gratitude to the gift that your Heavenly Father has given to you.
Ankerberg: Ravi, you've got two more illustration that I want you to share with the audience about those who hold to the pantheist view.
Zacharias: Yes. One happened, of all places, at Gainesville, the University of Florida, John. And we had finished the talk, and this man walks over. It's funny we've actually captured it on video because it is almost humorous to see it. He lumbers over and comes up to the microphone and he says, "How do I know that I exist"? And, of course, there is a half-groan, half-laughter. But everybody is leaning forward because they're wondering how you even answer a question like that. So I answered it by telling him what professor Nathan at the University of New York used to say when students asked him that. He would lower his glass and say, "And who shall I say is asking"? In the tests of truth one of the tests is the undeniability test. You cannot deny your own existence without affirming it at the same time. It's like saying, "I cannot speak a word of English:" while you are saying that, you are actually speaking a word of English.
So in the pantheistic worldview the struggle for identity is key. You have an "I-You" relationship. You see, meditation is trying to take you away into a capital "I". You look inwards and you meditate. But the fact of the matter is, they still tell you, you have to transcend that state into some sublime consciousness or whatever. In the world of reality you and I exist as different entities. That's why the hunger for God. That's why the sacrificial system comes into so many of these plays. That's why the bending of the knee. That's why the offering that takes place in temples. It is existentially inescapable that we live in an "I-You" world. And interestingly enough, in the Christian world you don't look for union, you look for communion, in fellowship and relationship with the living God. We are in an "I-You" world.
Ankerberg: You also have a second illustration that talks to those that are in the Far East. Tell that story about the young lady that talked to you in a hotel in India.
Zacharias: This was quite a staggering story, you know, John. If you had asked me about 15-20 years ago I would never have thought something like this would happen. I was in Delhi, staying at one of the fine places there, trying to take care of my health and so on. And this person contacted a mutual friend. And she said, "I need,... I would like to see you". And so she comes and she tells me her story. Working at one of the prestigious places out there she said, "You know, I married against my parents will. I married somebody from the lowest, lower caste. But we were happily married. Then I was posted to a job in another city". And she gave me the name of the city. She was still working there. She said, "When I was there I got into another relationship, and my husband suspected. But because I had married somebody from the lower caste, we were ostracized. I had lost my family: he had lost his family. And now I had got into this relationship, and he began to suspect. And he came to see me. And he says to me, 'is this true'? Long story, details "Yeah". He says, "How can you do this to me? I gave up my family, I gave up everything, and now you are doing this to me".
She began to just commiserate with him, argue. And he said, "Look, if you are not going to come back to me I just want one request. I will go away for a little while. I am going to come back. I want to put my head on your lap for just 30 minutes. I promise I will not touch you. And if you will give me that privilege, I promise I will never bother you again". She thought it was a strange request. She goes and comes back. She puts a pillow on her lap. He lies down with his head on her, her lap, and he is just looking into her face. A few moments go by, he gets violently ill. He convulses, goes into some kind of seizure and he is throwing up and is miserably sick.
And what had happened is he had taken some rat poison before he came. He was attempting his suicide. He ends up dying. Take him to the hospital. And she is still shaken by this. You could tell in her face. And she said, "I have been going from place to place, and I finally went to a guru or priest and he told me what the reason was. He said in his previous life he had raped a little girl and this was his karma. You can live free from guilt". And I am sitting across the table listening to an educated upper-middle-class woman telling me this story. I said, "Has it worked? Have you forgotten all of this"? And she said, "No, I can't shake it off".
You see, we all know that ultimately we cannot lift ourself up by our bootstraps of any cosmic debt that we think we are to pay. We all know that my good deeds will never outweigh my bad deeds. This is the beauty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ who forgives, comes to you, and says the problem is inside. Sin is the thing we don't like, but it is a rebellion against God, loss of purpose. When I received Jesus Christ into my life at the age of 17 he redefined everything. Here I am over half a century later, John, more in love with Jesus Christ than ever before, realizing more before that outside of him there are no answers. He offers me redemption, salvation.
Ankerberg: People that have a hunger to know Jesus like you know Jesus, and they feel guilty from things they've done in their past, and they realize they've got no hope for the future, and they really would like to know Jesus Christ, what do you advise them to do right now to come into a personal relationship of knowing him?
Zacharias: Very simple. We are not, maybe, as bad as each other: but we are all as badly off in the, in the sight of God. And he says to us that if anyone comes to him, "He will in no wise cast us out". He says in his word, "If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins". He says he brings a new birth within us when we submit to his will. I would just say to them, bow your head where you are, in a simple prayer. This is a matter between you and God. You can go back to your home, in the privacy of your home: you can be at your desk: you can be in your car. You come to him with a simple prayer, "Jesus Christ I need you as my Lord and my Savior. I ask you to forgive me and make me a child of yours".
He will forgive you if that prayer is genuinely meant. Find a group of people where the Bible is being studied. Join a Bible study: go to a church where the Bible is preached. Read the Gospel of John. Start a chapter a day. But in a simple prayer of commitment you can become a child of the living God. Jesus didn't point to a philosopher to tell us how we need to come to him, he pointed to a child. He said if you "Become as a little child, you shall also know how to inherit the kingdom". And that is a childlike, not a childish, a childlike faith and trust. He will receive you. He has promised that in his word, to forgive you and be your redeemer.