Ravi Zacharias - Questions From Middle East
Ankerberg: Welcome to our program, I'm John Ankerberg. Thanks for joining me today. We have a very special guest as you have just heard, Ravi Zacharias. And he has spoken to more university students in more countries than any person that I know. And in last week's program we started answering questions that students have given him from the Far East. And today we are going to be entertaining questions from students in the Middle East. Next week we are going to be talking about what students are asking from Europe, and then finally America. When we ask these questions, realize, folks, we are taking into account their cultural background and the way they think. And I think you will catch on as we go along here. But the first question comes from a student in the Middle East who says, "I'm not a Christian. I'm a muslim, so pardon my question. The Ten Commandments that you talked about certainly provide a very enlightening spiritual guide for people. But compared to the mosaic law where it has a law for every single thing that you are bound to do, the laws that Jesus came with are not sufficient to envelop society like Jewish law or like Islamic law. How do you think that Christianity can fix the world if the absolute law that you demand is not present in Christianity itself? You just can't love your neighbor and love God and make it work". What would you say to that?
Zacharias: That's fascinating, and I well remember that question, John. And, of course, I've had a lot of sessions in the Middle East and I've enjoyed being there. Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, you know, Egypt and all of those countries, open forums in Jakarta, Indonesia, or in the Islamic University of Malaysia, and so on. They've been very cordial when I've been there, and even though we are discussing very tense issues. So I always thank the Islamic world that has invited me, given me the welcome mat and so on. But our worldviews are completely different, and this was one of the questions that is raised. Actually, the question is quite wrong in its assumptions. In Islam itself there are various interpretations. Why, even the founder himself also, their prophet, talked about the fact of the abrogation, that he was abrogating laws. So there is no absolute even there. Or you take the various sects of Islam, you know, whether you take the Sufis, or the Ahmadiyyas, or the "Seveners" or the "Twelvers". But the two major areas of the Sunnis and the Shias, world of a difference between their authoritative sources.
Is the custom as authoritative in the, the Shiite sect of it? No, it is much more in the Sunnah, the custom. So that in itself has various assumptions that are not portrayed in the question. But what is critical to understand as I am talking to you, especially in the Middle East now, is to realize what a world of a difference there is between the way the law is viewed in your worldview and in the Judeo-Christian worldview. It is this, that when the law was given, it was given, said Jesus, as the schoolmaster, as a teacher, or as a mirror. But when you want to wash your face, you don't go to the mirror. The mirror only tells you that your face is dirty. You have to go to the faucet or to the water to wash it away. And all the law can do is educate and inform: it can never change your heart.
But also remember a few other things. Moses gave 613 laws. What did it do? All it created was more chaos. David reduced it to 15, you know: Isaiah reduced it to I think 8 or so: and Micah reduced it to 3, "To do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly before your God". Jesus did not reduce it to one, he reduced it to two: "To love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your mind and all your soul and all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself". He said, "On these two hang all of the laws and the prophets". Why is that so? And in the precedent to the Ten Commandments the answer is given.
So I want you to hear me carefully. God doesn't just go into the Ten Commandments. He said, "I am the Lord your God that brought you out of the land of Egypt, therefore you shall have no other Gods before me". In the Judeo-Christian worldview, redemption is always prior to righteousness. I hope you heard that: redemption is always prior to righteousness: and then it is followed by worship. Redemption, righteousness, worship. You cannot be righteous until you are first redeemed: you cannot worship until you are first redeemed and righteous: "For who shall ascend unto the hill of the Lord but he that hath clean hands and a pure heart". This is the key difference between the two. Righteousness doesn't earn me the prerogative to enter into the kingdom of God: but the forgiveness that he gives which changes my heart and helps me then to desire and love the law.
So all laws can only do symptomatic corrections. The transformation of a heart is what takes you to love the law and helps you to abide by it in expression of gratitude and worship of God. So there is, there is a world of a difference between the two positions here on what the law is actually about. In fact, one more thing. Jesus took the law to an even higher level in the sermon on the mount. He said, "You have heard it said,... But I say unto you:" "You have heard it said, but I say unto you...". Look, it's not just adultery that is wrong. The way you even look upon a woman, Jesus says, violates what God has intentioned for you. So the world can be changed with the Christian message. The only way it can ultimately be changed-through the change of your heart and mine. And only God is big enough to do that.
Ankerberg: Yeah, great answer. And, here is a question concerning Holy Books, alright? Ravi, how can you believe that the books of Matthew and Mark and Luke and John, that they are true: because they were written after Jesus was alive? So how do you know Jesus would approve of those words?
Zacharias: Well, first of all, the doctrine of inspiration, John, I think is very, very different again to the way the Islamic world views inspiration. If you would talk to an average devout muslim, as I have, to them the answer is in the one book, the one author, the singular revelation, the perfect book in the Qur'an given to their prophet Muhammad. Fascinatingly, it is very difficult to even critique that book within that worldview. One of the most famous scholars was Ali Dashti from Iran who was a journalist. And he wrote the book called, "Twenty Three Years: The Life of The Prophet Muhammad". Dashti was a brilliant writer. He knew the language supremely well. And any great muslim scholar knew who Ali Dashti was.
The tragedy was when he began to evaluate the very claim that the qur'an was a perfect book. What happened? He disappeared, he vanished. He said, look, he went so far as to say the laws of grammar had to be altered in order to make the qur'an look perfect. And what the average muslim needs to come to terms with, and this is very critical, and when I talk to them around a table we talk about this cordially. I have no ill will, I grew up in India, most of my friends were either Hindu or Muslim. My cricket captain, sultan Ahmed, was a wonderful muslim man and we knew each other. I had no faith or anything at that point. But what they need to understand is that in the perfection of the book that is claimed, it is simply not in keeping with reality.
Scholar Toby Lester pointed this out I think in 1999 in his article in Atlantic Monthly, an extensive article. The fact is, when you see when the authoritative corpus was actually established, it was in the third caliphate of Osman, when all of the variant readings were burnt aside for one trajectory to be taken. Now that is very important to know. And all of the variant readings that are seen in the Gospel narratives, you see, the closer you get to the origin the less the number of variants there actually are. And if you take, you know, 40 authors, 66 books over 1500 years, and the entire narrative points ultimately to the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that to me is of greater miracle: because how did people fifteen hundred years apart collude on this kind of thing?
And the central teaching is in Philippians 2, "Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon himself the form of a servant,... Being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and because obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also has exalted him and given to him a name that is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow,... And every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the father".
That was the earliest hymn: it pulled together the fundamentals of the Gospel. It's a beautiful story. Writers writing, and what Jesus said, the Holy Spirit would bring to their memory. In the qur'an we are told that the angel Gabriel did the revelation. So the instrumentality is still trans-human. And in the biblical narrative it is the Holy Spirit that brings to their mind all that was taught of them. And that's what the Gospel narrative is all about. And you go back now to see hundreds of fragments or documents. No ancient manuscript is as well sustained as the text of the scriptures, so that we see it so beautifully revealing the story of who Jesus is and why he came into this world.
Ankerberg: Ravi, there's a couple other differences as well. Explain those.
Zacharias: Well, I think the fact of the matter is that Muhammad himself referred to the Christian as the People of The Book. So he recognized that there was a revelation and a corpus of material given. But then, if he recognized that authority was there given by God, and then that it was lost, I have a question for them. How do they know that theirs couldn't be lost as well? So the theoretical possibility is there. But the recognition that this was given by God is key. We don't believe they were lost: in fact, the errors that we actually see sometimes are more in the qur'an themselves.
One of the cardinal aspects of history is the crucifixion of Jesus. Jewish historians talk about it, pagan historians talk about it, the Greek historian Thallus, the Roman historical Tacitus. They all talk about the crucifixion of Jesus. And yet the qur'an says he didn't actually die, it only appeared.... And then the incredible theories to which they have to go as to who was actually on the cross and so on. So the historical narrative is more accurately given to us in the old and the New Testaments. The variation that came in the qur'an is not in keeping with history. But the cross of Jesus Christ is central to the Gospel story: God offering forgiveness for you and for me in the perfect expression of his Son. That's the beautiful story of the Gospel.
Ankerberg: Ravi, we're talking about questions that students from the Middle East have given you in the past and have right now. And here is one of them. Another student says, "What really troubles me, Ravi, is the Christian dogma that all Christian churches teach: that all of us are born with original sin. Yet Jesus never said anything about original sin, nothing about the Trinity, Him being God. He stressed two things, 'love the Lord your God and love thy neighbor.' that's the only thing that he came up with". How would you respond?
Zacharias: My, it's a good question. And I think it tells you how caricatured these things can be, John. And if you're taught that from your pulpits and the mosque or whatever, that's what you are going to repeat, or if you read that. It's such a reductionistic view of the truth. The fact of the matter is, when you look at the writings, for example, in the book of Romans, the apostle Paul, who was depending on the righteousness that could be obtained by the law, he said. "Concerning the law I was attempting to be perfect," he said. But then he was the one who said, "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God". People think of sin wrongly. They think of it as an act. It is not an act: it is a condition before it is an action.
We fall short: the word, the Greek word, actually means to miss the mark. And of all people the Muslims should know this. We miss the mark of what God intends for us to be. And then you look at Jesus talking to the woman taken in adultery who is brought to him. And he says, "Anyone here who is without sin, why don't you cast the first stone"? He talked about the reality of sin. When the man is lowered through the roof and brought down and the people are looking for a miracle, for his body to be made well. Jesus, the first response to him was, "Son, thy sins be forgiven thee". Then he says to him, "Arise take up thy bed and walk". And he looks at the people and he says, "What do you think is easier to do here to say 'take up thy bed and walk', or to say 'thy sins be forgiven thee?' but this is done so you may know the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins also". That is the greatest need.
A man in India once said to me, "Do I need a guru?" in an open forum very recently. I said, "Your greatest need is that of a Savior before you need a teacher, and the teacher himself needs the Savior". So salvation is the primary need of the human condition. To say that Jesus just said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself," that, that is all he had to say, well, I'll tell you what, if that is all he had to say that was an awful lot as well. The Middle East would be a better place if those two things were implemented right now. And the fact of the matter is, the Bible tells us we are created in the image of God. What does that mean? We are morally self-determining creatures, and unless that heart is transformed by the salvic, salvific power of Jesus Christ, we will determine ourselves in power and control and domination.
I want to ask my Middle Eastern friend today: if you see a man who's walking around with a sword, knocking people's heads off because he wants a different political system, would it make a difference if that man's heart were transformed by God to love his neighbor just as he loves God? Would that make a difference or not? It's a huge world of difference when my heart is inclined towards loving God. You see, as you said in our previous program, God doesn't change what we do, he changes what we want to do. And so I say he needs to take a good look at what Jesus actually taught about the human condition.
And one more thing. The first line ever published in America, ever printed in America, was this: "In Adam's fall we sinned all". The fallenness of man. Malcolm Muggeridge said the depravity of man is the most empirically verifiable fact at the same time that it is the most intellectually resisted. The fact that they even deny sin is a proof of their sin because of the core of sin is pride.
Ankerberg: Yeah. I want you to share with the folks a private meeting that you had with one of the four founders of Hamas, and what you said, what God led you to say, and the results of that.
Zacharias: That's fantastic. And if I may take a 30 second preamble to that, because I came to that meeting a little while before, you know, I don't know if it was immediately before or after with sheik Hussein in Damascus. And I have his permission to tell the story. Sheik Hussein, the leading Shiite cleric in Syria. We're talking, and at the end of it he looks at me in the dialogue in a public forum and says, "Professor, he said, maybe it's about time for us Muslims to stop asking if Jesus died on a cross and to start asking why"? I said, "Sheikh Hussein, do I have your permission to quote you, sir"? He pauses and said, "Yes, you do". But the conversation with one of the four founders of Hamas, one of the sheiks, was when we were, along with the archbishop of Canterbury and a few others, in Ramallah. We were meeting with Jewish and Islamic leaders, and we were trying to bring some sense of cordiality between the two so that they would talk and so on. This was on the last day.
And so the six or seven of us were in the room, smoke-filled room, a lot of people there. And the sheik is very strong physically. He talked about the years he'd spent in prison, the family members that he had lost. At the end of it we were told to ask one question each of him, the rest of us who were not the chief guests. Since it was a private meeting I won't give the question, but I asked him a question and I didn't like his answer. I said, "Sheik, I really don't like your answer, sir," I said, "And I'll tell you why," and I went on to explain. I said, "But let me say this to you, not far from here is a mount. Five thousand years ago Abraham took his son up that mountain to offer him as a sacrifice of an expression of his faith in God. Do you remember the story"? He said, "Yes". I said, "Let's not discuss now which son, let's just agree he took his son". And the sheik said, "Alright".
And I said, "And as the axe was about to come down, God says stop"! And I said, "What did God say then"? He was silent. I said, "God said, I myself will provide". He said, "That's right". I said, "Sheik, very close to where you and I are sitting now is a hill called Calvary. Two thousand years ago God kept that promise and made the provision. He took his own Son up that hill, and, sheik, this time the axe did not stop. God sacrificed his Son". I said "Until you and I receive the Son God has provided, we will be offering our own sons and daughters on the battlefields of this world for position and power and land and prestige". There was silence. And the archbishop said, "Well, I guess it's time to go now".
So we start to walk away. And as I was about to go down the steps he put his arm around me and he said , "Ravi," the archbishop did. He said, "Ravi, that was of God". I said, "I sure hope so". But I was not the chief guest, the archbishop was. We were about to get into our car and I hear the patter of feet behind me. And it's the sheik coming towards me. He twirls me around. You know, I have two titanium rods in my back. And I said, oh, oh, this is crunch time, you know. But he looked at me and he said, "You are a good man, Mr. Zacharias. You're a good man". And with tears in his eyes he said, "I hope I see you again," and kissed me on both sides of my face.
You know, the interesting thing is, John, I told this story at the Islamic University in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The oldest one. The head of the department of Islamic studies was a woman, there I won't name her right now. When we went back to her office after I had finished my talk there giving the defense and the uniqueness of the Christian faith, this is exactly what she said to me, I had two of my colleagues standing next to me, "If it were not improper, I would give you a kiss on both sides of your face too. Thank you for coming and presenting it here".
And to you as a listener, the world is a horrible place right now. The slaughter, the killing, the hate, the destruction of so much. You see, until you and I know why Jesus came, we will never really have the answer to the transformation of our own heart. And we will keep killing one another for land and position and power and prestige. And gain what? The next generation could squander it all. So you have to deal with what Jesus Christ has to say to you. He is offering you eternal life and a transformed heart because of his grace and mercy. In a simple prayer you can trust him. And I assure you, if you mean that prayer, you will end that prayer knowing you are a new man or a new woman, because he answers your prayer.
Ankerberg: I'd like you to close by saying a personal word about how you came into a relationship with Jesus, and then I'd like you to offer a prayer that, if folks are searching, it's the prayer that you actually gave to the Lord, that changed your life, that he came into your life-experientially, besides intellectually, you came to know Jesus. And folks want to have that experiential power of knowing God. They don't think they can have it. Talk from your own personal experience.
Zacharias: You know, this is all not just theory. Nor is it just intellect. In fact, when Jesus comes into your life, he helps you cross the greatest bridge-from the head to the heart. I experienced that at the age of 17. The fact that I could pray and invite Jesus Christ into my life: a simple prayer asking him to become my Savior and the transformation he brought, how he changed not only my life but years later my father's life. And I would like you to bow your head with me and repeat a simple prayer if you want this to happen in your life. Just pray for me one life at a time, one sentence at a time. For you personally: Heavenly Father, I thank you for loving me. I need your forgiveness. I need your salvation. Lord Jesus, enter into my heart, change me, fill me with your presence. Help me to follow you. I receive you this moment and commit my life to you. Thank you, Father. In Jesus' name, amen.