#ThankYouRavi The Impact of Faithfulness
In this episode, Nathan and Cameron join the many voices thanking Ravi Zacharias for his impact on their lives, focusing on Christian hope in the midst of pain and suffering.
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Cameron McAllister: Hello and welcome to Thinking Out Loud. Thinking Out Loud is a podcast where we think out loud about current events and Christian hope. I'm your cohost, Cameron McAllister.
Nathan Rittenhouse: And I'm your cohost, Nathan Rittenhouse.
Cameron McAllister: Well, this is going to be somewhat of a somber, but also a celebratory podcast. Obviously in many ways a lot of people around the world were reeling from the news about our beloved founder of RZIM and President, of course, Ravi Zacharias, who has been given a grave diagnosis and has currently returned home. The doctors have said that they've done all that they can do for him. And so obviously this is extremely sad news. This is not what we wanted to hear. This is not what we expected to hear. And I know many of you listening, for many of you listening, this has just been such a strange year. A year full of all sorts of unexpected challenges and obstacles. And often a new cycle that just seems to be constantly negative and bad. But believe it or not, you know we've talked about death on this podcast before. As Christians this is a kind of bittersweet territory for us.
Because we know from scripture that we do not grieve as those without hope. And we also know that death is a part of life. It's part of the mortal condition. It's part of the fallen world, but it's also not the full story. And so it really is, it's my hope and it's our hope that this really is an episode that will leave you uplifted as well. Yes, it's challenging territory. Yes, it's very sad. But I think, you know, speaking personally, and I think this is the case with Nathan as well, we really just, I think we can just get the opportunity here to celebrate a man who has led by example and whose manner and generosity and eloquence and dedication and self-sacrifice has just had a massive impact on so many, including myself.
Nathan Rittenhouse: I think, yeah, I would certainly agree with all of that. If I can make it just a bit more somber...It's interesting, you used this, “somber and celebratory,” that's a unique Christian feature there. But just to speak personally for a moment before we continue, there is, and I think many within the RZIM connected world would feel a bit of a double gut because there are some unique parallels here between Nabeel and Ravi's case and...same hospital, cancer, powerful voices, their lives aren't playing out on the timeline that we would have written for them. So I don't know, have you felt any of that kind of odd double—and it's not to withdraw from the seriousness of each of their cases individually, but it's a compounded sensation for me thinking through what this all means.
Cameron McAllister: Definitely. Well, I think as soon as I saw the announcement that Ravi was headed to MD Anderson, you know, in Houston, that immediately came to mind. And if you look at the social media response, a lot of people are drawing that connection as well. And so, and of course it's impossible to ignore the kind of unique spiritual affinity between the two men, right? I mean, both zealous evangelists and deeply passionate about the gospel. I mean, of course we hung out with Nabeel a ton and you knew that you were with him, or if you were on the road with him, the gospel just poured forth from him. It was almost as though he was, he just had a kind of a one track mind when it came to that. But there's a similar...that there were some major differences in their personalities as well.
I mean, I can say with confidence that Nabeel was much more passionate about food, but it was always fun because whenever you hung out with Nabeel, I knew that two things would always be the case. I would stay up way, way too late and I would eat way too much food. It was great. So it was fun.
Nathan Rittenhouse: His argument always was, “Come on.”
Cameron McAllister: Yeah. He used to say, “I'm going to use my most powerful apologetic argument on you. Come on.” And I don't know. It really was. I don't know if it was powerful, but it worked every time. You decide, but even there. One of Ravi's favorite things to do still, I mean, as for all of his sophisticated speeches and his eloquence, one of the things he just relishes is just to sit down for a meal together with close friends and just to share food.
So there's that kind of connection as well. But also when you listen to Ravi, you notice that he thinks a lot like a novelist, he just notices details of people's lives, including names. Ravi has this amazing ability to remember names and remember faces and remember specific situations in your life that you maybe discussed with him. But whenever I was on the road with him, if we would get into a cab or something, he would immediately begin talking to the person driving us. And before the end of the ride, this person with whom he was discussing would just be giving him all the details about his wife and his children. And there would be this close connection, and Ravi would be sharing the gospel in an extremely organic, non-programmatic way. And it was just amazing to watch. And of course then, when he would speak, the stories of these interactions just emerge in every, I mean, you get the impression that Ravi just doesn't forget any conversation he's had and that's a testimony to how much he values human beings. It's truly a remarkable thing to see.
Nathan Rittenhouse: I think one of the things that people often ask me, if you know, what surprises you about Ravi, and this isn't a big surprise, but I think his sense of humor is one that would take most people off guard. And you can attest to this, you know, when we're together at team meetings and stuff, he loves a pun, a joke, and Nabeel is the same, in that just laughter was a big part of their non-stage persona as it were. And I think you actually see that Ravi uses jokes very powerfully in his speaking, but he was very, very quick. He was the sort of the comic MC of a lot of our gatherings. Very witty, not like prepared jokes, but just commentary on funny things that he saw happening and transpiring in that connected quickly for him in his mind. And that was something that I always enjoyed.
Cameron McAllister: Yeah, I think so. I mean, I remember always the, any kind of Christmas gatherings or anything like that with the staff, he just was sort of the master of ceremonies. And that was just joke after joke, after joke. There's a real, there's a beautifully lighthearted side to Ravi and it's, it's something that I've really grown to relish, also a sports guy. I think a lot of people don't realize that.
Nathan Rittenhouse: So you wouldn't see that one coming. I don't think from the, from the YouTube videos.
Cameron McAllister: Exactly. Right. Yeah. But follows cricket, follows baseball. So I mean, it's fun when you get to know people and you see their quirks emerge and some of their different interests, but certainly just, just a delightful guy to be around and so much fun as well. But I think for many people also, and this speaks to that personal side of Ravi, even though so many of you listening, haven't had the tremendous privilege of meeting Ravi, but you feel like you know him because he has a manner and a kind of personal approach that just, you feel as though you're listening to a very, a good friend when you hear him. And even when he's speaking at a high level, he's not speaking over your head, he's not lording his knowledge over you. He's a person who cares deeply about you and is sharing from his treasure trove of wisdom with you to help you.
Nathan Rittenhouse: It's an invitation to go farther, not a mocking distance.
Cameron McAllister: Yeah. And I think that was my...I remember the first time I ever heard...So my first, my introduction to Ravi was similar I imagine too many people listening. It wasn't a face. It was a voice. That voice, right? The first time you hear Ravi's voice, I mean, it's just, it's a very unique voice, very unique cadence. Let's talk about those “Ss” sometime, Nathan.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Well, especially here in the last few years, it's almost funny when he says, "Hello friends, this is Ravi Zacharias." Like when you're in person someplace. And he says that everybody laughs because it's so unmistakably him. That it's almost funny when he introduces himself. I don't know. I always get a kick out of that where everybody's like, "Oh, surprise, that suit." It's such a distinct tone, accent, mannerism, everything that you don't get him confused with somebody else.
Cameron McAllister: I remember one time he was in the office and he had stepped forward and one of his daughters walked up to him and she goes, "Oh, I thought I heard your Ss." So that was just, but yeah. So I was, at the time when I heard his voice for the first time, I was in Vienna, Austria, and I was a teenager. And in other words, very little could get my attention unless it was heavy metal in those days. And I remember I took my headphones off at one point and I just, I hear this voice. And I just looked at my dad. I said, "Who is that?" And he said, "That is Ravi Zacharias. And we're probably going to be moving to the States to work with him." And I couldn't stop listening to him. And also I was just blown away by again...
Ravi could tell you things that are very standard, but the way in which he communicates them, and the words that he'll use will just stop you dead in their tracks. He'll make the, again, like a novelist, he can make you hear the familiar and unfamiliar ways. Cause he makes the familiar strange with the way he phrases things. And just it's a goad to deeper thought.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah.
Cameron McAllister: I've always admired that about him, but also that deeply personal touch. Again, you feel as though he's right there in the room with you, in the car with you, talking right to you, even when he's kind of more proclamatory, you still feel as though he's right there with you. And that just that indelible personal touch is so amazing. And it's just, it's one of those features that's never absent from any of his kind of communications, no matter where they show up. And I remember that made an immediate impression, even on, really kind of attention challenged thirteen-year-old kid.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Cameron, to make a turn here for a second. Ravi has had an amazing impact, tremendously blessed in the opportunities and the places that he's been. On the other hand, he hasn't had an easy, or would I even count as an enviable life. Enviable, certainly in the fact that God has used him powerfully. But when you look at what that calling has cost him personally, and then even perhaps here physically, it's not. Yeah. I think, you know, oh, you know, travel the world and speak. Well, that's fun for like five days of midnight flights staying in hotels, traveling 200 plus days a year. Nobody would willfully sign up for that.
And so he is living a good life, but there's a sense in which none of it has been a cakewalk by any stretch of imagination. This is not this a...I'm struggling here to say this well, because there's a “both and” to it. One of which there's been incredible blessing. And I think incredibly deep meaning for him and what he's been called to do. But on the other hand, if you just looked at it objectively from the outside logistically, it's been a tough seventy plus years of going for him here. And so I think we, when we're talking about all the good there, we want to recognize the historic sacrifice, actually even the daily sacrifice, and what he hasn't been able to do all of his life because of his calling as an itinerant.
Cameron McAllister: Yeah. I was actually, I'm so glad you brought that up, Nathan. Because that's the necessary counterbalance here. I was thinking about that the other day, actually right after the announcement, Ravi has lived a life of...He's had amazing opportunities. He has been places, some of which can't even be named that are just, it's amazing. The doors that have been opened to him and the ways in which the Lord has worked through him. The way I will always see Ravi is as a tremendous vessel of mercy for so many. That's the way the Lord has used him. But on the other hand, it's been a life punctuated by huge self-sacrifice. Quite frankly, the man gives so much of himself away. And I remember talking to one of Ravi's travel assistance years ago, saying all those hours when, and so, yeah, Nathan, you mentioned the travel thing. Those of you who travel extensively know that the romantic side of travel wears thin very quickly, especially when you have a family and well, on the one hand, you may see all sorts of amazing speeches that Ravi gives on platforms and in amazing places.
The other side of that is being waylaid in airports for hours and hours and hours and being delayed on flights and being on flight after flight, which is very hard on you physically, it robs you of sleep. It's just such a depleting enterprise. And so I remember asking this travel assistant, “What is in those hours and hours in between, you know, just sitting around in airports, what does Ravi do?” And he said, "He sits there and he thinks, and when I asked him about it, once he just said, 'there's no other time for me to gather my thoughts.'" And it was amazing to me because he gives away so much of that time when he's not in the airport, when he's not speaking, he's often behind closed doors with people praying with them, helping them shoulder the burden.
I mean, I think about Paul's words in Galatians, "Bear one another's burdens. I mean the immense weight of burdens that Ravi has borne over the years and those who love him, his family as well, who have, that means self-sacrifice there as well. And Ravi draws attention to that repeatedly as he speaks, it really has been quite remarkable. And Nathan, I think what you're getting at here really came home to me once when...
I mean, we all have these conversations, if those of us who are on the team, but somebody, a young person, very excited and zealous was basically saying a very understandable, “I want to be just like that. I want to do just what he does.” And as this person talked to me more and more, I said, "Maybe, or maybe you don't." And I proceeded to tell them, I mean, think about so much of what the freedoms that you and I take for granted that we enjoy the time that we have, the space that we have. This man gives that away year after year traveling over 200 days every year. I mean, and then writing book after book. All of this time given away to others, it's a privilege and it's powerful, but it also, there's a tremendous cost to it. And I think you're so right to draw attention to that, Nathan.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Well, when you get to the point in your life where an airport terminal is a place of rest, that speaks volumes. Cameron, so let me just put this on the line here. Ravi's story is, is unique to Ravi, but as far as ministers of the gospel go, Nabeel be included in there, it fits within an overall theme of men and women who have run hard the race for the Kingdom of God. And then didn't Enoch-style, just walk off with God, but lived real human lives all the way to the end, with great delight and heartache all throughout their lives, and then dying, and physical bodies, sometimes through disease, sometimes through martyrdom, all sorts of reasons. And so I guess if you, if we wanted to put the apologetic question there, then as we think about the life of the apologist and from a medical perspective, what he has ahead of us, we could cynically ask “Is this then how God treats his servants?”
Cameron McAllister: We could that would be a very human question. And I know many, many of our listeners have that on their minds and-
Nathan Rittenhouse: It's okay to ask human questions, especially if you're human.
Cameron McAllister: 100%. And it's totally understandable because there's no way to, I think sometimes avoid thinking on those terms. But if we want to also think Christianly about this, we need to ask some other questions here. Does scripture set out an idealistic vision of reality that would say those who follow Christ and serve him with tremendous self-sacrifice will then because of that level of devotion get maybe an easier life? Is that a pattern that we observe really in scripture?
Nathan Rittenhouse: No. Definitively not.
Cameron McAllister: I mean, so, and I think I want to speak with real gentleness and sympathy and compassion here. It is the most natural course of, I'm going to say “fleshly,” not in a pejorative sense, in a descriptive sense, when the Bible talks about thinking with the flesh leading on your own understanding, basically flesh in the biblical sense describes, it's a more expansive term than your body.
It has to do with your own range of powers, basically your human capabilities. Right. But if we're thinking in those terms, it's natural to basically just think, "Look, if I'm following God with all that I am, then it seems to just, my life should get easier. There should be some sort of a break, some sort of an easier ingredient here." And yet again, if we look at the biblical pattern with so many heroes of the faith, we can take Paul, for example, the apostle Paul, he had it made before he became a Christian.
Nathan Rittenhouse: He had tenure and everything, probably.
Cameron McAllister: Everything, yeah. I mean, educated under the best. Power, influence. And then when he became a Christian. A life of hardship, of public floggings, of all sorts of difficulties. But again, I think what this really comes down to, Nathan, is a question also of where...I think you'll like this, because you like talking about home. But the question I think that's behind this is, “where is our true home?” I know we've both been in the book of Hebrews here recently. Talks a lot about pressing on for a better city. So in other words, if this were our destination, it would make a lot of sense to say, well, why can't things be better here? Why does cancer exist? Why? And especially why is it that some of the people who have set for us the finest examples can end just as, as normal mortals do?
Nathan Rittenhouse: Okay. So that's the right question. But I think where we want to challenge that, is in our definition of what the end is. So you said, end as mortals do, and that's where the gospel gets interesting of “what does it mean for something to end? What does it mean for something to be over?” My grandpa likes to tell the story of a young couple that he married, and then there's a reception and afterward, the groom says, "Whew, I'm glad that's over." And my grandpa is somebody, had been married, you know, sixty some years, thought that was the funniest thing ever. Like who thinks at the end of the wedding ceremony that it's over? Actually, that's just the beginning, son. And so, humanly our inability to see where the true end really is, to look at things beyond and above, I think is Paul's admonition throughout his writings.
And then that theme has carried over into Hebrews of, okay, where is the finish line actually at? And so from a moral standpoint, as much sooner than we would, like from an immortal standpoint, there's a depth and a richness that Ravi has spent his life speaking about and inviting other people into. And so we have to, I think if Ravi was commenting on this, that he would say that his view of reality here is internally consistent and his experience as a human corresponds to the reality of the world, and the way in which it works and functions in our physical bodies. But we live with the promise of Christ that gives us a peace, even in the midst of our pain, as we look into it. And so actually what Ravi has to live through here in the, who knows how long, perhaps a short time, if the doctors are accurate, actually gives credibility to everything that he said his whole life, because he's actually living through the reality of what it is that he has spoken into and out of and moving toward.
And so there's a sadness and a sorrow to it for us, but there's nothing that's happening within this, that disrupts his life's work, nothing that challenges any of the ideas that he has spoken about. In fact, I think that's why you can say there's a somberness and a celebration here. It's not like the train went off the tracks here at the end. This is, dare I say, the normal progression of a broken world, but living with peace and joy for what is yet to come. So it actually would have been weird if it would have been other than this in some way. This is just the way that Ravi comes to an end is the final exclamation point on all that he has said throughout his life.
Cameron McAllister: The way that Ravi comes to an end is the final exclamation point to all that he has said throughout his life. Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
Nathan Rittenhouse: But that doesn't mean that it doesn't hurt.
Cameron McAllister: Of course not. It does hurt and it's going to hurt tremendously and that's okay. We do grieve. But again, I think the difference between Christian grief and grief for those outside the church is that Christian grief doesn't include a note of despair. There's a massive difference between sorrow and despair. Sorrow is temporary. Despair runs the risk of sinking you permanently. And again, you were drawing attention to this, Nathan, the Bible, when you actually read scripture, it's remarkably unsentimental about the state of our world. We live in a world that is fallen and mortal. And so that includes limited lifespans. That includes diseases. That includes unforeseen circumstances. And of course, we're, again, I think some of this is compounded by the pandemic and the moment that we find ourselves in, where all of the uncertainty surrounding us is kind of being accentuated, but that uncertainty, Nathan, is always there.
There are just seasons where we can, either we have the luxury of not paying attention to it, or where we're just sort of swept into the rush of our days, and we don't notice. And then something like this happens. And then suddenly we're aware of the precariousness and the frailty of human life, but that's a constant feature of our world. And again, it's a reminder, it's a timely and powerful reminder that this world, beautiful as it is, and with the wonders that it has is not permanent. It's not our true home. And I think, again, that that's where all of the words of Ravi over the years have borne this out. And it has to be said, what was Nabeel talking about incessantly in those last videos that he was filming from his hospital bed? He was talking about the power of the promise and the hope of Christ's resurrection, which is just what Paul does in 1 Corinthians, chapter 15.
Nathan Rittenhouse: And our sorrow and our recognition to that, well, A) Jesus cries tears at death in the gospels at the death of a friend, certainly. So it's not a ungodly reaction. I mean, Christ himself does that. But on the other hand, the brokenness that we see reminds us of the question that the gospel is the answer to. And oftentimes you see that in Jesus's interactions where somebody asked him something and then he answers and you're like, “wait a second.” That answer doesn't seem like what the person asked and he causes you to slow down and go back and say, "Okay, what was the question that Jesus was really answering that was behind the question that the person asked." And there's so much fruit from reading scripture that way, but that's exactly what's happening in our moment when we see sorrow, brokenness, death, we're reminded of the question that the gospel is answering.
We're reminded of the problem that the gospel is the solution to. And so again, it's just, all of this just holds...It's like Jesus is teaching hard things. And then, you know, some of the disciples leave and Jesus looks at other disciples and says, "Hey, do you want to go to?" And they said, "Where would we go? You alone have the words of life." There's a clarifying reminder here of when it comes right down to the core things that matter the most in life, the gospel, which Ravi preached makes the most sense. And it almost sounds bad to say that in a pragmatic term, but it makes the most sense of the situation in which we find ourselves both intellectually and emotionally, and socially, all of that is tied together in such an intricate and beautiful way here that it's worth noting as we go by.
Cameron McAllister: And it's also worth noting that the gospel truly is good news. And the reason that that has to be stressed sometimes, is that in times past, the Middle Ages, Peter Crayft points this out, the gospel seemed too good to be true, to many people. They estimate that the average person in the Middle Ages experienced more pain, physical pain in six months than we do in a lifetime. So the human condition was unavoidable for many of these people, but in our own day, the reverse is often the case. We think the gospel isn't good enough to be true until we reached times like this, where we see the frailty of the human condition. So I think another part of that exclamation point behind all that Ravi has said, really has to do with the fact that the human condition is such that, we really do need to be saved.
We need to be rescued from our sin, from our mortal condition and that the great, wonderful, wondrous news is that such help is available. A savior has come to rescue us, and his love is available to us. And that has been Ravi's call down the ages of his very long ministry. He's never stopped saying that. And that's one reason why even these moments as dark as they are, do not in any way, just as Nathan said, undermine or in any way, take away from that message. They do the opposite. They confirm it. And again, Ravi's whole posture and his whole way of life, including that self-sacrificial element that we talked about communicates that he is devoted himself to that future city that awaits Christ's disciples. And I think that's something that we, and again, it doesn't preclude sorrow your right to draw attention to the fact that Jesus wept and that Jesus mourned, he mourned for his friend, John the Baptist as well, his cousin.
And that is, that's part of a healthy process. And maybe for a future episode, we can talk a little bit about what healthy grief looks like. Because, Nathan, you with your family dynamic, and the way death has been handled in your family, it's great. So I think that's a powerful reminder to us that death is sad. It's worthy of lament, but when we're talking about the life of a servant of Christ, it's just also occasion for tremendous celebration. And that's why it's been wonderful and heartening to watch all of these tributes to Ravi, just pour in online. And I think we're going to be seeing the fruit of his labors for many years to come. So many lives have been changed through Ravi. That Christ has worked through him as a vessel of mercy with so many. So thanks for bearing with us here, as we talk a very sad subject. Very sad for both of us personally, and very sad for you as you listen, but it's our sincere hope that this has also been an occasion for you to really receive some true encouragement as well, both in the oncoming days and in the oncoming weeks.
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