Two things happen simultaneously when a well-known Christian dies. First, Christians wonder what will happen to his or her ministry, who will fill such big shoes, “what will we do without so and so?“
Second, the naysayers begin dredging up every negative fact and scandal to smear his/her name while the deceased teacher’s followers go near apoplectic with denial. It was no different when Ravi Zacharias died.
And while I greatly admired Ravi and was emboldened by his ministry in many ways, the purpose of this post isn’t to come to his defense nor is it to echo the naysayers. Rather, I’d like to address these simultaneous happenings and tackle the larger issue to which they point…the bad habit of elevating teachers to idols.
I’ll do this by way of two points:
- God’s plan isn’t limited or thwarted by man’s lifespan.
- Humans don’t belong on pedestals
1. God’s plan isn’t limited or thwarted by man’s lifespan
Great men and women of faith have been dying since the Fall yet still God’s plan unfolds. This is an assuring yet humbling truth. God raises mighty men up, allows them to soar where eagles roam and then brings them low—low even to the dust.
The assurance…God’s plan doesn’t rest on our finite shoulders but on His eternal ones. The humbling truth…God doesn’t need us.
Yet too often Christians elevate great teachers to idols, reversing the roles and seeing man as crucial to God’s plan—like our deaths catch him off guard and He has to fumble to find a suitable replacement.
We are mere instruments in God’s hands, He the skillful player. And while He plays some instruments louder and longer than others, they’re still instruments, completely reliant on God to function.
So when a great teacher like Ravi dies, rest assured that God’s song of redemption will continue without a hitch. He’ll just be using a different instrument.
“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”Job 42:2
2. Humans don’t belong on pedestals
Pastors and teachers should be held to a higher standard but they should not be placed on pedestals. The danger in this is that, one, they become larger than life in our eyes. This can cause us to put our faith in them instead of in God, overlook gross sin and even make concessions for their sin. They become such giants that no one dares confront their sin or urge them to repent.
Two, placing people on pedestals causes them to become larger than life in their own eyes. They begin to believe the hype, puff themselves up and think even God must be impressed.
And three, when we put too much faith in flawed humans and they stumble (as fallen people do), it can harden our hearts towards God and the things of God. We see this happen when a well-known pastor/teacher commits adultery or publicly renounces their faith. Their followers begin to question the validity of their own beliefs and their ability to conquer sin if the great and mighty so-and-so failed on one or both accounts.
This was the reaction when serious allegations surrounding Ravi Zacharias surfaced after his death. “How could he do that?” “There’s no way that’s true!” “Are there any upstanding Christian leaders?”
I don’t know if the allegations are true, but if they are and he never repented, shame on Ravi and on the people who knew but turned a blind eye.
If they’re true but he repented, He is forgiven by the only authority that ultimately matters.
If they’re not true, shame on the world for fabricating such lies.
But whether these specific sins are true or not, Ravi, like us all, was flawed. God raised him up to do mighty things in His name and while he may have seemed like a giant–there are no such things as giants.
Train your eyes on Christ instead, seek after Him alone, thirst for Him alone, trust in Him alone—the only perfect one who will NEVER disappoint or leave us ashamed.
You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.Psalm 63:1