Ravi Zacharias - Questions From United States
Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. I'm John Ankerberg, thanks for joining me today. As you have just heard, we have a brilliant guest with us, Christian apologist, philosopher, theologian Ravi Zacharias. And we are talking, we are answering the questions that students have given to him, on campus live, in different parts of the world. And we have already covered the Far East and the Middle East and last week Europe. And today we're going to talk about questions that have been asked of Ravi about God, Jesus and the Bible at places like Harvard and Dartmouth and Princeton and other places.
And so, Ravi, I am glad that you are here. And here's the first question from a student here in America: how can a God of all power and all love allow for evil in this world, especially if he knew in advance that the world would fall apart after he created it, and we would have atrocities and the sickness and the suffering that we have?
Zacharias: I think, John, this is the thorniest question, truly the one that probably most people ask. Someone put it in these words, "Virtue in distress, and vice in triumph has made atheists of mankind". Or what Alfred, Lord Tennyson said, "Nevermore morning were to evening but that some heart did break". It is a... It is a painful question in itself, because it deals with pain. Pain is a real thing: it's not an imaginary thing. There are many ways that one can approach an answer, but C.S. Lewis used to remind us that it is critically important to examine the assumptions within a question. And I remember years ago at the University of Nottingham when I'd finished a talk, when a student stood up and shouted from the floor and he said, you know, "There is too much of evil in this world, there can't be a God: there's too much of evil and suffering in this world".
And the irony of that question to me was, you know, I come from the East, I now live in the West. I don't ever remember being asked this question in the East. Now they do because of all the cross-pollination of thinking and all of that. But it's hardly ever addressed. In Islam you hardly ever find a book dealing with this subject. It's insha'Allah, it's the will of Allah, you know. And in the pantheistic system it's karma: you are paying your debt and so on. It's in the Western world, where we actually live with the greatest comforts, that we raise the question about pain and suffering. But this Englishman raised it, and I said to him, "Why don't I make it clear first, why you are asking this question, and what your assumptions are". I said, "When you say there is evil, aren't you assuming there is such a thing as good"? He paused and he said, "Yes". I said, "When you say there's such a thing is good, aren't you assuming there is such a thing as a moral law on the basis of which to differentiate between good and evil"?
He struggled with this and we interacted, and finally he said, "Yeah, there would have to be an objective moral standard from which to differentiate between good and evil". I said, "When you say there is a moral law, you must posit a moral lawgiver. But that's whom you are trying to disprove and not prove. Because if there is no moral law giver, there is no moral law: if there's no moral law, there's no good: if there's no good, there's no evil. What is your question"? And he looked at me, paused and he said, "What then am I asking you"? Now this was years ago. I said, "I know what you are asking me, and I'm not trying to make it hard for you. It's an existentially felt question that often doesn't examine the logical presuppositions within this. God has to remain in the paradigm for the question to be real, and therefore the answer has to come from what God's purposes and God's description is all about reality".
In a recent book that I co-authored with Vince Vitali, my colleague from Oxford, we called it "Why Suffering"? My opening chapter was what is called the trilemma. God is all powerful, God is all loving and there is evil: that's the trilemma, the three realities that J.L. Mackie, the Australian philosopher, says are incoherent. God is all powerful, God is loving, evil exists: he says it's an incoherence. So my question is, why is it a trilemma and not a quadrilemma or a quintillema? Introduce one more: God is all-knowing. That's also a belief we have. And number five, God is eternal. God is not judging everything just in time, there's an eternity. So, the question is stacked when it is stacked as a trilemma. God is also all-knowing and eternity also exists as a reality. And maybe those explanations can come in eternity.
Let me just move to two quick answers on this. There is a young gal in Georgia where I live. I live in Atlanta. And she, her first name is Ashlyn. And one day her mother was on a television program discussing a strange problem that she has, which is called CIPA, Congenital Insensitivity to Pain with Anhidrosis. She cannot feel pain and her sweat glands don't work. The problem may sound good-you don't feel in any pain. But the reality is, if she steps on a nail while she is on the sports field, it could puncture the skin, create an infection, and nobody could be even aware of it. The mother said the problems it has created in her life, for what this malady brings into her body. She says, "I pray one prayer every night, 'God, please let my daughter help to feel pain'". She could put her hand on a burner and not know that her hand is burning.
Now my question is this. If, in our finite existence, we can see the role of pain to warn us that something is wrong, is it impossible for God, in his infinite wisdom, to allow pain in our lives to help us know that something is wrong? Pain is felt with moral connotations in the human framework. That is because we are moral beings: therefore, the answer has to come from within a moral spiritual framework as well. The question assumes moral reasoning, and that can only be assumed if God is in the paradigm, not outside of it.
Ankerberg: Yeah and you've also said there's only three or four options for existence that we can imagine. Go through those options for the folks so they can hear them.
Zacharias: Yes. I think you can have it this way.
1: God could have created nothing at all, that is four possible worlds, as it were-God could have created nothing: so we wouldn't be there to blame him and he would be self-existent and so on.
2: God could have created a world where there were no such thing as good or evil: it would be an amoral world.
3: God could have created a world where we would only choose good, programmed just to choose good.
4: God could have created this world where there's the possibility of good and evil, and we will then choose good for what is better for us. The fourth world is the only world, John, in which love is possible. In the other three paradigms there is no possibility of love, no world created, no created order for finite beings. How do finite beings love? Where there is an amoral world, no such thing as good or evil, therefore love could not be the supreme ethic. Where we would only choose love, then it is not a choice, it is programmed for you, you are then a machine. Or this world, where good and evil were possible, and love could be chosen. If love is a supreme ethic, which it is, supererogatory love is a greater love, where sometimes you could even rescue, at the cost of your own life, rescue a total stranger: that supererogatory act where love is seen as, seen as a supreme expression. All of those realities are only possible in this world.
And then, I actually have to say one more thing, John. When you read other worldviews. And in my book "Why Suffering?", I point out the writers what they have said in other worldviews-only in the Judeo-Christian world is there really an answer, brought about by sin and the healing within and the comfort God gives.
There was a woman whose biography I read, Annie Johnson Flint. Suffered immensely, she was, with rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, blindness and incontinent. Lived years with pillows around her just to cushion the sores on her body. And she wrote many hymns. One of them was this, "He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater he sendeth more strength when the labors increased to added affliction he addeth his mercy. To multiplied trials his multiplied peace. When we have exhausted our store of endurance when our strength has failed and the day is half done when we reach the end of our hoarded resources our Father full giving has only begun. His love has no limit, his grace has no measure his power has no boundaries known unto men. For out of his infinite riches in Jesus he giveth and giveth and giveth again". God sustains us in our pain and suffering".
When I endured my back, I lived with pain I never ever thought was possible. I would sit in the, my car sometimes, head on the steering wheel, and just cry because of three herniated discs and stenosis. Wondered where I was headed with all of this. But I will tell you what: it has taught me how God's grace is sufficient and made me forever dependent on him. In effect, pain can become God's invitation to live. One more thing: "Now abide these three: faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love". These are the 3 excellencies of life. They are impossible without suffering.
Ankerberg: We're talking with Ravi Zacharias and, Ravi, here is the question. A student asks, "What about the law of non-contradiction? I feel like Christianity at its core violates the doctrine of non-contradiction. The Christian doctrine of God as Trinity claims that God is both one and three. Are Christians violating this law of non-contradiction"?
Zacharias: Good question. I think we as Christians think a lot about it. And especially if you are in the Middle East it is a real enigma to the muslim mind who thinks we are polytheistic. And now here in the West it is raised as a problem of violating the law of non-contradiction. But, two or three things as a backdrop that are important here, John, for the listener to understand. And the first thing is this. When we talk about God, when we use language about God, Thomas Aquinas was so good in this. He said there are three ways we can use language, univocally, equivocally or analogically. Univocally meaning when we use the same word in two different sentences we mean the same thing.
So if I say I love you and all of your friends love you, you immediately take it to mean the same thing: it's the same word. But then comes along the equivocation. I say to you, "I love you, John, and God loves you too". I have used the same word, but all of a sudden you know there is a difference in what I actually mean, because God loves you in a different way to the way I love you. You say, well, if it's an equivocation there, what does it help me to know that you are using the same word? Aquinas said there is an analogical usage. By analogy we use language about God. So if I say I love you and you refuse to love me, I will hurt. I will hurt because I have lost something. But if I say God loves you and if you don't love God, God hurts too. I said but, John, God hurts for a different reason. I hurt because I have lost something: when God hurts, God hurts because you have lost something.
The analogical usage raises the whole question of God. That's why Aquinas said God is oftentimes more the question than the answer, because to understand him. So here is what I say. When we are talking about the Trinity, he is one in one sense and three in another sense. He is not one and three in the same sense. Why do I say that? God is not a physical quantity or an entity. You and I are physical beings: we talk of one in three physically. God is a spiritual being at his core. And so, when we talk of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, C. S. Lewis puts it in these terms. He said if you have one dimension you can have a line: you have two dimensions you have figures: you have three dimensions you have an object. He said the more you rise in the capacity of dimensions, you have the same basic information, but in a more complex form as you rise with each dimension.
God is not in the dimension of finitude that we are. He is an infinite being. The disciples were fisherman: they knew one fish and three fishes were not the same. They could quantitatively know the difference. But when they came to this truth of the Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Father who sends the Son, the Father and the Son who send the Holy Spirit, they recognized the complexity of this truth for what it was: God was a being in relationship. And I think this is key. He is a being in relationship.
Now, go back to the abstract notion of one and three. The greatest pursuit of the Greek philosophers was to find unity in diversity. They saw unity as a pursuit, diversity as a reality. That's why they created universities. Define unity in diversity: that's why America was created-e pluribus unum, out of the many one. But what they could not find in education, we find unity and diversity as a pursuit: because there's unity in diversity in the first cause-the unity in diversity in the community of the Trinity. God is a being in relationship. That's why we hunger for relationship. That hunger is planted within us: whether it's husband, wife, or friend or parent and child: all of these are realities. And so I say if God were not a being in relationship, what would it mean to say God is love? Or you say God has spoken. Who is he speaking to? Who is he loving? He would end up as a monad in need of a created order in order to express both love and communication.
I think we are to leave it, as Mortimer Adler said, "In the mystery and the majesty of the complexity of the Godhead". That he is a being in relationship who loves us, and there is a hierarchical reality within that's also a true aspect. To me the Trinity is not only a beautiful answer, I think it is the only explanation of the greatest pursuit of philosophers and experience.
Ankerberg: Yeah, great answer. And I want you to follow that up with a story, a parable, that you have told in different places, that talks a little bit about what this Gospel is in other terms. That's what I would call it. It's the parable of Desert Pete.
Zacharias: Yeah. It always dates me, you know. My wife says to me that my music days died in the 60's: all of the music, the songs I hum, you know. Actually, you know, even in India, even those that are listening from India, you know, some of the greatest songs, you know, that is Mohamed Rafi, or Manna Dey or Lata Mangeshkar, they were all great musicians of the 60's in India. And here we have the great singers like Presley and all of those who made big-time. But when I was listening as a youngster in Delhi, there was a song by the Kingston Trio. It's called "Desert Pete". Talked about a man who was walking through the desert. And he is using up all the bottles of water slung around his shoulders, and realizes the water is gone. And he is going to die of dehydration. Until he sees a pump and he walks over to,... And you know, I'm listening to these things with the hidden meanings, you know.
He looks at the pump and he wants to find water there, but he lifts the arm: the sound of metal upon metal, no water. Until he sees a tin can slung around the nozzle. Inside the tin can is a paper. In the paper is a message. It says, "Dear passerby, don't despair. There is a lot of water here, just follow the instructions. Look below the nozzle, the portion of sand, dig it out. Under the sand is a bottle of water. It should be full. Don't drink it. Empty it out into the cylinder, gradually priming the pump with the other hand, and the suction system will begin to work. Water will come gushing out. Drink all the water you want, refill all the bottles you've got. Don't forget to fill up that one bottle and put it down for the next person who comes. Warning: you are going to be tempted to disbelieve this note and consume that one bottle of water on yourself because you can see it and feel it. You will soon be thirsty again and so will everybody else who comes by. Empty it out as I have instructed it to you. You will have all of the water you want and so will the next person who comes by. Signed, Desert Pete".
You know, that's like the signature of our Lord, in a land where we are parched and thirsty for meaning and hope and salvation. He tells us we have a choice. We can consume our lives upon ourselves. And where do we end up? You see, the loneliest person in the world is not one who's weary of pain, but one who is weary of pleasure. There is no place to go. We end up empty. Jesus said, "Empty, empty your life into my hands. I will give you eternal life. If you consume it on yourself, you will soon be thirsty again: you will soon be longing and meaning will be gone". That's what he said to the woman at the well, "I can give you the water so that you will never thirst again".
And so to the listener I say this, are you honest with yourself in your search, that you really are bereft of meaning and purpose? With all of the wealth you may have and all of the education, where has it brought you? Deep inside you are still longing for the most meaningful relationship of all. That will come in your relationship with Jesus Christ. Submit yourself: pour your life into his hands. That's the story of the parable of Desert Pete, John, and it's the story of our lives with Jesus Christ.
Ankerberg: I love that story. And in the few minutes that we've got left, think of the folks that are watching in India right now. Think of the folks that are in the different states of Europe: down in Africa. And I want you to explain to them, because they may be confused, okay. They know Jesus Christ was a historical person, and that's about as far as they've got. They want to know, how does it impact me that he lived? And maybe you could take them back to your own story of how you started, how you came in contact with Jesus Christ. And I want you to lead them to Jesus and maybe offer a model prayer that they could invite Christ into their life.
Zacharias: You know, some years ago I was at one of the most dangerous prisons in America. It's called Angola Prison: over 5,000 prisoners, 85% of them on life without parole. And as I looked at them and talked to them, some amazing stories emerged. One of them told me it took prison to bring him to Jesus Christ, and if that's what it took, he was now freer than he had ever been. And as I saw that, I realized, the worst effect of sin is not manifest in pain or bodily defacement but in the discrowned faculties, the unworthy loves, the low ideals that brutalize in the enslaved spirit. We are enslaved in our spirit.
That's where I was: and at the age of 17 invited Jesus Christ into my life. And then years later I saw my father do it, highly-powered man in India who walked up at a church service and bent at the altar and surrendered his life to Christ. My wife said by looking at his picture she could tell when he gave his life to Jesus Christ. From a hard angry man to the most tender man I had ever known. You are watching this program for a purpose. You are enslaved on the inside: all of us is enslaved on the inside. And so I say to you, are you, do you want to be free? Do you want to that, have that freedom for which God has created and designed you? If so, why don't you bow your head with me and pray with me one line at a time. He is the liberator: he is the redeemer: he frees you from that enslavement from within, whatever it may be. Just bow your head now and pray with me.
Heavenly Father, you brought me to listen to this by your will. This is no accident. I am watching this program because you wanted me here. Today I cry out to you. I am in chains on the inside. Free me from my sin, forgive me for my sin. Take my will and make it yours. Make me a new person and let my life follow your roadmap. I need you. I want you. I submit to you, Lord Jesus. Be my Savior from now on. Thank you for answering my prayer. In your holy name I ask this, amen.