In the terms of humanity, Canadian preacher Ravi Zacharias died this week. Yet, in reality, Ravi actually "died" when he was 17 ... for it was then that he willingly gave up the life he had been living and traded it in for something more. And he has been alive ever since.
Regularly beaten by his father for being a disappointing student, written off as a disgrace to the family for preferring cricket over studies, Ravi Zacharias, who overcame his early adversity to become an internationally beloved public figure, died on May 19, 2020 of a rare cancer. He was 74.
Born in Delhi and moving to Canada with his family as a teenager, Ravi was a leading, if not the foremost, Christian apologist of his time. A Christian apologist is someone who is able to argue clearly and intellectually for the truth of the Bible and the existence of God. Never offensive, always measured, Ravi presented compelling arguments with wit and wisdom.
He was a coveted guest at seminars and conferences, speaking not only at Christian events but also in colleges and universities, including Harvard. His signature question-and-answer sessions at the end allowed attendees to ask him anything they wanted.
Far from being an academic failure, he had an extraordinary intellect. A prolific author, he wrote 30 books, including the bestseller Can Man Live Without God? and the award-winning The Logic of God. His ministry's weekly radio program and television show, both called Let My People Think, are broadcast to thousands around the world.
Yes Ravi's story reads like a fairytale, but as in all fairytales, he had to overcome tremendous odds to get to his happy ending.
At 17 he was a nominal Christian at best, an atheist at worst. The regular beatings by his father and the feelings of failure led him to attempt suicide by drinking poison. The housekeeper heard Ravi cry out as he collapsed and broke down the bathroom door, saving his life.
"I tried to kill myself because I had lost hope," Ravi remembers about that dark time. "I had nothing to live for. My dad had an uncontrollable temper.
"Once, he had my head against the wall. If my mother had not intervened he would either have permanently crippled me or fatally injured me. Occasionally he would beat my mum up as well. Till this day I don't know why he had it in for me. Maybe I was the least resistant or the weakest."
While in hospital recovering fromt he poison, Ravi was visited by a Christian friend, who prayed with him and read him this verse from the Bible: "Because I live, you will live also" (John 14:19).
"I had no idea what it meant, but as she read it to me, I broke down and cried out: 'Jesus, if You're real, get me out of here and I will leave no stone unturned in my pursuit of truth'," Ravi recounted.
"That's where it all happened. Something of an eternal transaction took place that day. Five days later I walked out of the hospital a totally different person.
"I have been living for Christ for over five decades and I am absolutely convinced there is no other answer to the questions of this life than the person of Jesus Christ."
Ravi's life made a dramatic 180-degree turn. From being at the bottom of every class, he became a star student, never going lower than third place. "I didn't magically become brilliant but now I had a purpose and I knew I had to work hard," he said.
When the family moved to Canada, Ravi's father wanted him to go into business but he refused and went to theological college instead. His father didn't speak to him for five weeks.
"And then remarkably, through a series of events, my father gave his life to Christ," said Ravi. "The transformation in his life was so dramatic. I'd never ever seen anything like it."
And when his father was 67 and ill, he called on his middle son, with whom he had such a fractious relationship, to bring him to hospital. At that time Ravi lived nearly two hours away and was surprised his father did not ask any of his other siblings, who lived much closer, to take him.
As they drove to the hospital together, his father talked. "That conversation was life-defining," Ravi said.
"My father told me 'Son, what God has done in your life...all I want to say is that I will be eternally grateful that He found it fit to select one of my children to be one of His spokespersons and I want to apologise for all the years of hardship I inflicted on you and I want your forgiveness. You are in God's hands. You are His anointed servant.'"
After being diagnosed just three months before, Ravi leaves behind his wife of 48 years, Margie, and three children.
His daughter, Sarah Davis, posted a message on the website of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), titled "Ravi Zacharias, Now With Jesus."
"It was his Saviour, Jesus Christ, that my dad always wanted most to talk about. Even in his final days, until he lacked the energy and breath to speak, he turned every conversation to Jesus and what the Lord had done," she wrote.
"He perpetually marveled that God took a seventeen-year-old skeptic, defeated in hopelessness and unbelief, and called him into a life of glorious hope and belief in the truth of Scripture—a message he would carry across the globe for 48 years.
"Today my beautiful father is more alive than he has ever been. We thank God for him and recommit our lives to sharing this truth with all who will hear, until He calls us to our eternal home."•