Death is never timely. No matter how much time we’ve had to “prepare” for it.
That’s how I felt last night when a friend forwarded me a photograph of a smiling Ravi Zacharias with the numbers “1946-2020” displayed across it.
Since receiving the sobering news just over a week ago that Ravi was in his final stages of life—after treatment was no longer deemed effective for his bone cancer (a rare form called sarcoma)—I joined thousands across the world praying for him, reading #ThankYouRavi tributes, and waiting with bated breath for any updates on the man, whose death would invariably send ripples across the world.
Yet, hearing that the popular Christian apologist had passed away on 19 May at the age of 74 was still a punch to the gut.
Secretly, I was hoping (probably like many others) that God would miraculously heal Ravi, saving him from the clutches of death. A remarkable recovery would show the watching world a glimpse of God’s healing powers, and propel Ravi’s global namesake ministry (which he founded in 1984) to new heights.
But the one who wipes away every tear has taken Ravi back to glory, just like many giants of the faith before. Ravi is probably now receiving a rousing welcome in heaven and being reunited with dear loved ones and friends who have gone before him (such as Billy Graham and Nabeel Qureshi). The rest of us on earth, on the other hand, will be spending the next couple of days, weeks, or even months, mourning him, and penning moving tributes about him.
To many, Ravi is arguably the most prolific and renowned Christian apologist and evangelist of our generation. The Washington Times wrote that he “may be the greatest Christian expositor of the 21st century”. Both a master orator and a bestselling author, the Indian-born Canadian-American’s appeal was global. He spoke at packed venues and his YouTube videos have on average a million views each. It’s easy to see why.
Ravi never shied away from controversial topics (like morality, religion, or sexuality) or offered trite platitudes to complex issues (such as existentialism, suffering, and death). He defended the faith in such a winsome and reasonable way that you couldn’t help but applaud by the end of his answer—whether you agreed with him or not. I remember spending hours watching video after video of him defending the Christian worldview convincingly, wishing that I could hear him speak in person someday. (Sadly, I never got to do so.)
What stood out to me the most was his unwavering dedication to the gospel of Jesus Christ, coupled with an empathy and kindness for his listeners that not many of his intellect and caliber had. Ravi respected his questioner, and would address the person, before delving into illustrations, stories, poems, bible passages, and even quotations from atheists that proved the coherency and validity of the Christian worldview. As a friend of mine described beautifully in a moving letter to Ravi Zacharias, he “disarmed the questions—never the questioner—that were thrown at [him] with gentleness and dignity”.
Ravi was a firm advocate of holding onto the truth with compassion, kindness, and courtesy, and had said in one of his videos that “if truth is not undergirded by love, it makes the possessor of the truth obnoxious, and the dogma he possesses becomes repulsive.” Having attended numerous RZIM events in recent years, it’s clear that this conviction reverberates throughout his ministry and is a trademark of all its itinerant speakers.
Beyond just how he defended the faith, the gospel was his life, which he attested to whenever he shared his own testimony of how the gospel of Jesus Christ had literally saved him from death. It was after attempting suicide at the age of 17 that Ravi heard the words of Jesus’ words from John 14:19, “Because I live, You also will live”. Those words changed his life forever. Ravi promised that very day that he would “leave no stone unturned in [his] pursuit of the truth”.
From the moment he accepted Christ till his dying breath, Ravi made the proclamation of the gospel his sole preoccupation, whether on the pulpit, the airwaves, or the pages of a book. Even in his final days when he could only speak in a whisper, his daughter shared that his message was very straightforward: Keep following Christ and keep preaching the Gospel.
And that’s the call we all must heed, regardless of whether we are as eloquent or brilliant as Ravi Zacharias. Because what Ravi showed us ultimately was not his gift of the gab, but how he faithfully stewarded the gift God gave him, just like the man who multiplied his talents by gaining five more (Matthew 25:14-30). In the same way, we must faithfully steward the talents God has given us, whether it be five, two, or one.
Instead of mourning over the fact that the world has lost a bright spark for the gospel, let’s celebrate that Ravi’s pain is now over (as he himself wrote in a tribute to his former colleague, Nabeel Qureshi), and he is in his eternal home with his eternal friend. And let’s spend the next few days celebrating Ravi’s life and legacy, whether it’s by rewatching his old videos, perusing tributes on him, or poring over books he’s written.
Just like Ravi did, let’s be encouraged to faithfully heed the call of the gospel in our lives: to present and defend the truth of Jesus Christ with compassion, kindness, and courtesy, that others may find life in Him.