A Parable from the Dead
Evangelicalism received crushing confirmation last week that allegations against Ravi Zacharias have proven true. Ravi, who died in May, was a world-renowned apologist for Christianity. But his outward influence and popularity disguised a deep wickedness. Graphic as it is, it needs to be said. In his death Ravi has been accused by several women who gave him massage therapies in spas he owned of non-consensual touch, public masturbation, sexual advances, and requests for explicit photos. The international ministry that bears his name recently reported: “Sadly, the interim investigation update indicates this assessment of Ravi’s behavior to be true — that he did engage in sexual misconduct.”
Maybe it’s easy for the living to point the finger at the dead. But let’s not make it too easy. Sadly, every situation and circumstance like this is, I believe, a parable for the church. Heinous as this revelation is it’s a tired and worn truth. Tragically, but perhaps not undeservedly, to the listening world the word “church” has, at times, become almost synonymous with sexual abuse, trauma, cover up, and grooming. Such crimes are widespread from Roman Catholicism to confessional Presbyterianism. In other words, the sinful failings of an individual man reflect the sinful failings of many churches.
Of course, every parable has a lesson. Jesus didn’t speak the parables of his earthly ministry simply as some attention grabbing illustrations, but he used them to bring people into direct confrontation with the word of God. We too should be quick to bring the eternal Truth to every exposed fact, to every discovered sin, and to every victim’s tragedy. In other words, when these things become known we need to bring ourselves face-to-face with God himself. So, what is the parabolic instruction?
First, we need to learn that the light matters. A basic biblical truth is that “God is light” (1 John 1:5). Jesus came as the “light of men” (John 1:4), and the Holy Spirit burns as the “seven torches of fire” (Revelation 4:5). As such we are "children of the light” (1 Thessalonians 5:5) because we “have the light of life” (John 8:12). It’s a rich metaphor. Part of what it means to be in and of the light is that we have nothing to do with the darkness. The church isn’t a place for secrecy, cover-up, concealment, or whispers in backrooms. Rather, difficult and painful as it can be part of our glory is to drag the things of darkness into the light: “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Ephesians 5:11).
Second, we need to learn that God’s impartiality matters. The Apostle Peter wrote: “And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile” (1 Peter 1:17). God isn’t a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34). He’s not bedazzled by appearances, contagious personalities, strong ministries, gifted preaching, big budgets, or packed buildings. His justice doesn’t yield to influence and popularity, and he has no qualms about shattering the idols and altars erected to those who wield them.
Third, we need to learn that the mercy of God matters. The suffering and trauma of countless victims may seem to go unnoticed and unaddressed by those who should know better but it’s never unseen or ignored by God. The riches of his mercy — yes, God’s riches aren’t measured in gold and silver but in mercy — are toward the oppressed: “The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed” (Psalm 9:9), “The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed” (Psalm 103:6), and “he rebuked kings on their account” (Psalm 105:14). God is glorified in the help and refuge he gives to the suffering.
Fourth, we need to learn that the protection of the weak matters. Jesus minced no words when he said: “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:5-6). Have you ever read about the physiology of drowning? What Jesus says here isn't pleasant but it shows how he won't long tolerate those who ruin and harm the most tender of his flock. The church should be a spiritual womb where the weakest and most vulnerable are protected and defended at all costs against the spiritually abortive practices and physical harm of abusers.
In short, the church needs to be a place where the light exposes the darkness, where impartiality blinds us to earthly influence and power, where mercy is not withheld from victims, and where the weakest are protected by any and all lawful means. In death, Ravi Zacharias bears his deserved shame. What that means only the Judge of all the earth knows and He will do right (Genesis 18:25). But let every church and congregation take heed unless He who holds the seven stars in His hand should remove the lampstand from its place.