My initial introduction to Ravi Zacharias happened rather unexpectedly. During a particularly aimless time in my life, I was wandering through the downtown streets of my hometown. Looking for something, not precisely sure what. I managed my way into a tiny, signless storefront. In the small room there were two or three rows of neatly organized plastic folding chairs. At the front of the room there was a large man, with an even larger smile, speaking confidently to the six or seven people who were assembled. It turned out this small assemblage of people was a church group––this was not something I was expecting or looking for.
After listening to the man, I awkwardly shuffled around until he was available to answer a few of my questions about God. It was evident that my questions made this welcoming man feel uncomfortable. I suspect this was not the sort of line of questioning he was accustomed to receiving. Nevertheless, that evening turned out to be life-changing. Before I headed back onto the lonely downtown streets, the man handed me a book that he said might answer the sort of questions I was asking: Jesus Among Other Gods by Ravi Zacharias.
I devoured the book in a couple of days. I promptly reread it. Then I began ordering other books written by Ravi, all of them similarly relating to the relevance of Jesus for all of life. As I was exposed to this different way of seeing the world, I wondered: How could it be that I had grown up in Canada, in a town with a church on every major street; yet I had managed to go 25 years without hearing the message of Christianity presented in a thoughtful and relevant way?
Ravi communicated Christ and the Christian worldview precisely in such a manner. He presented life as meaningful and worth living. He showed the importance of Jesus not simply as a historical figure, or his teachings as a set of abstract religious principles––but Jesus as someone who still is hyper-relevant in every dimension of life. I was challenged to the core by Ravi and the Jesus he presented. Ravi had named the cancer in my life, and perhaps that of the culture in which I was raised: meaninglessness.
I was challenged to the core by Ravi and the Jesus he presented.
I remember quite clearly when the clash between the hollow way I was living and my existential desire for life to be meaningful came to a head. I was sitting alone on a wooden bench, in a dark park, about two city blocks from downtown. A multi-storey apartment building loomed to my right, making me feel small and distracting me as I tried to rationalize my predicament of living life when it was devoid of meaning. I was still young––only 25 years old––so if I continued on the trajectory of meaninglessness, I realized that whatever self-destructive behaviour I was engaged in, or was subjecting others to at the moment, was only the beginning. It seemed probable that this cancer would spread and my condition would worsen. How bad could it get? And what could possibly lift me out of such a destructive pattern? This riddle isn’t too difficult to figure out; if life is meaningless, you can hope for nothing.
Ravi’s words that ideas have consequences seem inescapable to me. He too had worked through the down-to-earth ramifications of a life bereft of meaning, a journey that included time on a suicide recovery bed in the Indian city of Madras. That seemed to be like the logical last step on a life journey empty of meaning. I wondered out loud to the night sky if that was where I was heading.
However, Ravi’s story had revealed an alternative way forward. On that dark hospital bed, he encountered the source of human significance and purpose in the person of Jesus. On my dark bench, this path seemed to offer a sliver of divine light and presented a shining vista, even from within the clamour of my crowded mind. A vista of life where every moment of life was pregnant with purpose and possibility. Because if there was a Grand Someone who wanted me precisely as and where I was, for purposes far bigger than just me and my imagination, life would have meaning and purpose. Could I courageously face the prospect of a life of purpose in Jesus, regardless of the challenge and responsibility that might entail?
The sun is bright now as I sit in my backyard, squinting to see my dim laptop screen while I work from home. My kids are laughing while they bounce on the trampoline, not in school, and joggers frequently run past at a safe distance on the trail behind our house. Ravi’s passing has come during strange times, maybe the strangest I have experienced yet. A global pandemic: the closest thing to a dark cloud of purposelessness over the world that I’ve ever known. It’s hard to make any plans for the future; everything feels uncertain and confusing, though not meaningless the way I once knew meaninglessness.
But not being able to leave my house has afforded me the opportunity to look back. It has been almost 20 years since the kind man with the large smile gave me Ravi’s book. I still have it on my shelf. Ravi has had a tremendous influence on my life. Over the past decade and a half, I have spoken to thousands of young people, on 3 different continents, about the meaning in life––because Ravi helped show me that God created us purposefully. Ravi passed without ever knowing what kind of an impact he had on me. But there is something encouraging about that: that we can dramatically touch the lives of others and yet never be the wiser. Our stories have meaning because there is an author who has purposefully written us in as characters in a cosmic drama, even if we only know only a small part of his Grand Story now.
I do know for myself that I once was disoriented in life, suffocating under a heavy sense of meaninglessness because I had no clue I was created purposely. Ravi’s life intersected with mine, helping me to breathe the fresh air of living meaningfully. For that, I am deeply grateful to God.