What I have learned from Ravi Zacharias and RZIM, Part 2

The catastrophe of Ravi’s double life, and the failure of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) to notice it, much less provide accountability, are now well established facts. 

Instead of gawking at the accident, or burying our heads in the sand, I want to take a more redemptive posture: What can we learn from this tragedy?

Last week I discussed how the Lord is close to the brokenhearted. I suggested that:

  • We choose proximity to those who are suffering
  • We heal the damage that survivors have experienced
  • We send a signal that our communities will be safe

This week I want to look at another angle: the Lord opposes the wicked.

The Lord opposes the wicked

Sadly, the existential question: “Why do the wicked seem to prosper?” is not a new one.

It is an ancient question that arises — again and again — every day, every year, every generation.

Have you ever thought the alphabet could help make sense of this struggle?

Probably not. 

And yet Psalm 37 uses this simple mechanism to help us gain understanding!

Psalm 37 is an acrostic Psalm. That is, it starts with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and continues onto the twenty-second and final letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

I think this is suggestive of a few points of hope.

First, the acrostic arrangement is a demonstration of love. By painstakingly ordering the words to facilitate their memorization, the author has put the needs of his audience before his own. The arrangement says:

There’s no escaping the reality of prosperous, evil men, so you will need this wisdom in many situations. Let me make it easier for you to remember what you will need to know when you see evildoers appearing to ‘get away’ with their wrongdoing.

Second, part of the pain of suffering is that it lacks meaning.

What I call “the evil of evil” is the secondary suffering that occurs after the primary injury: this doesn’t make sense! This is part of the scarring that occurs after we are sinned against. And to some degree, there is a mystery and an incomprehensibility to suffering that is never resolved in this life. 

At the same time, by ordering a resolution to suffering in the acrostic format, the author provides hope. The acrostic poetry subtly says, ‘actually, there is an order to interpreting the disorder caused by the wicked.’

But to gain that new perspective, we need to look at the evil from the vantage point of the sovereign God. His words alone can provide order to the disorder of our lives. 

Third, the acrostic arrangement was likely selected in order to suggest that the topic has been ‘comprehensively’ discussed: here’s the “A to Z” of the matter.

While there is always something beyond our grasp in contemplating reality, much less the perplexity of evil, this arrangement indicates that God’s answer is sufficient. The Psalmists don’t claim omniscience, but they do provide the answers we need to navigate life. 

Part of the power that the wicked unjustly hold is the right to tell the story their way. 

For instance, Ravi “got away” with a memorial service where his name was honored around the globe.

But Psalm 37 tells us that another narrator — the Lord — has the final word on Ravi’s story. 

How does the Lord oppose the wicked?

On the face of it, the wicked look supremely powerful. They steal from the poor and needy. They plot and plan to kill others who stand in their way. They have “abundance” because they borrow but don’t pay back — and they fail to be generous. 

Their ruthlessness and selfishness seems to “work”: they have the money, power, and status. 

How can this be? How can there be an all-powerful, all-good God who knows about this situation — and allows it to continue?

In Psalm 37, we learn that the Lord opposes the wicked in many ways:

They will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb (verse 2)

The evildoers shall be cut off… (verse 9)

In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there… (verse 10)

The Lord laughs at the wicked, for he sees that his day is coming… (verse 13)

Their sword shall enter their own heart, and their bows shall be broken… (verse 15)

For the arms of the wicked shall be broken… (verse 17)

But the wicked will perish; the enemies of the Lord are like the glory of the pastures; they vanish—like smoke they vanish away… (verse 20)

Those cursed by the Lord shall be cut off… (verse 22)

The children of the wicked shall be cut off… (verse 28)

[The wicked man] passed away, and behold, he was no more; though I sought him, he could not be found… (verse 36)

Transgressors shall be altogether destroyed; the future of the wicked shall be cut off… (verse 38)

The Psalmist recognizes that the wicked look like green laurel trees.

They are at ease, successful, flourishing.

But God says… the wicked are like grass and smoke. 

This world does not offer the completion of justice that any of us want to see. 

That’s true no matter what you believe about God or the gods.

But the Psalmist provides a superior vantage point. From the Lord’s perspective, the wicked are fools. For a temporary season on earth, they seem to do well. But the Lord is watching… and the wicked will not escape judgment. 

The Lord opposes the wicked. 

… do we?

I suppose some might say, “Ok, God is going to take care of it, so I don’t need to bother.” 

Such passivity may be common, but it isn’t reflective of a passionate love for the God of the Bible. As Psalm 37:30-31 teaches,

The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice.

The law of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip.

God clearly identifies the righteous as those who speak and do justice. 

So how can we put this into practice? 

Name the evil

Homeland Security’s national campaign is clear: “If You See Something, Say Something®.” 

Well, how much more should the church do this?

First, in Psalm 37, we are given clear language and a moral vocabulary for the reality of evildoers.

“Evildoers” is a tough word. But it is a good word. We need this word.

In her book Redeeming Power, Diane Langberg states,

Speaking truth is often considered a threat to the church, a mind-boggling reaction when God makes it very clear that the true church is to bring light into darkness. That means seeing things as they are and calling them by their right name.

And as Wade Mullen writes in Something’s Not Right:

Bystanders must take sides, either to be active supporters of the wounded or to actively turn their backs. There is only deception and truth. People who choose to remain neutral are giving safe passage to lies.

When you see injustice, speak up. Your voice can minimize the power of the evildoer. 

Reverse the evil

In Something’s Not Right, Wade Mullen also advises this:

Knowing that the abusive person or organization wants to control your perception of them, it can be helpful to ask yourself, What does the abuser want me to do?whenever you begin to feel manipulated. Once you’ve identified that (and it’s not always clear), then the next question is, What would be the opposite action? If the answer to that question is clear, and the action is feasible and ethical, then one way you can resist an abuser’s manipulation is to do the opposite of what they’re telling you to do. That is the process of reframing, of using your agency to regain control of the situation.

The tragic reality is that wicked evildoers are part of every human society. They find vulnerabilities in politics, entertainment, law enforcement, and yes, the church.

Once there, they seek to compel others to be part of their story. Whether it is with their own charisma, PR firms, or co-opted allies, a wicked person works overtime to maintain their reputation at the expense of the vulnerable. And at the expense of the truth. 

So what can we do? As Mullen points out, we can choose to identify these tactics and then work against them.

And this is exactly how the Lord responds to the wicked!

The wicked gnash their teeth at the righteous…

But the Lord laughs at the wicked.

The wicked draw the sword…

Their sword shall enter their own heart.

My hope is that in every sector of society, including the church, we will gain the wisdom and the courage to reframe our understanding of the wicked in a way that aligns with God’s narrative. 

Do you really want to be co-opted by the wicked? Surely not. 

So act courageously to work against their tactics. 

Build the alternative

In A Church Called Tov, Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer explain how to build communities that oppose toxic cultures and cultivate goodness (‘tov’) cultures. 

Here’s what it looks like (p. 212):

As they summarize this agenda, 

There in simple language is the entire mission of the church and its pastors: to become like Christ and nurture others to become like Christ.

As we identify and name what a toxic culture looks like — and identify and name what a good culture looks like — we gain traction for resisting the one and building the other. This hard but invaluable work of love, dependent on God’s help, creates organizations that are not accessible to an abuser, but are safe for the vulnerable. 

Psalm 37:16 reads, “Better is the little that the righteous has than the abundance of many wicked.”

It may not look that impressive to build something good! You might be small and insignificant. I assure you: that is better than being large and important — but wicked!

The Lord opposes the wicked… do we?

These posts are made possible by paying subscribers to the Reasons for God newsletter. Would you consider subscribing today?

Photo Credit: Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash