I write this reflection as a follow-up to a tribute I wrote in light of the recent death of Ravi Zacharias, a globally influential Christian preacher and apologist. The obvious thing to reflect on here is, well, death. Death is something that has happened to nearly every human who has ever lived and will happen to each and every one of us given enough time. We are all mortal. And basically everybody has had someone deeply influential in their own life die. So even the living are affected by death. And even those of us who are living and have not seen anyone we know die are probably still from time to time afraid of death. This struggle is quite possibly the most universal human experience – we all die and are all afraid of death at one point or another.
It is therefore quite important to understand that death plays in the grand scheme of the universe. Is death the end? Is human death the absolute end, or is there some kind of afterlife? If there is an afterlife, is it a reincarnation (a return to a temporary life) or is it a resurrection (a return to an eternal life)? If there is reincarnation, how exactly does that work, and is there an escape to eternity out of this world? If there is resurrection, to what state of being will we resurrect? Is there heaven or hell?
There are many questions to be asked. I do not intend to give thorough answers to all of them here. Rather, I intend to give the sort of reflections that I would give at a funeral. This distinction is of course important – I hardly think I need to say why. These reflections ought to be no less true than more philosophical reflections that I might give to someone early in life and not suffering from emotional distress, but are of quite a different flavor.
The firs thing that comes to mind is the verse in the Bible that changed the entire course of Ravi’s own life. As a teenager, Ravi found himself in a hospital bed after drinking poison in an attempt to take his own life. A local evangelist brought a Bible to him, and Ravi heard the gospel of John read to him. Ravi’s life changed when he heard the following passage:
“Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.” (John 14:19 ESV)
When Ravi heard “Because I live, you also will live” his entire life changed course. And I am sure that this verse was regularly on his mind in his last days as well. Because this verse conveys in an incredibly succinct manner the Christian hope for the afterlife. But let me lay this out clearly – because it most emphatically is not the mere claim that there is an afterlife. It is much more than that. The phrase “you also will live” on its own could be taken as a claim that there is an afterlife, but that is not all the verse says. We live “because I live” – and in context, Jesus is speaking. So, we mean that because Jesus lives, we live.
This is a very deep claim, on which one could easily write an entire book. In summary, this passage means at least this paragraph. Since humanity fell into evil, separating ourselves from the love of the God who created us, we have brought upon ourselves both spiritual and literal death. We kill one another, we spread disease (as we all know well during this quarantine), and humanity is full of examples of hatred and cruelty. Even though most of us don’t rise to this level of atrocity, we know that we fall far short of perfection, we all hold hatred in our hearts towards someone. We all cling to and are held captive by our vices. Because we have all succumbed to these evils, we all experience death in the depths of our souls – we are separated from the ultimate source of all love and all goodness. However, God Himself came down to earth to help us. No human could help themselves, so God became a man in order to help us. Jesus Christ lived a truly perfect life and through his divine power took on upon himself our own evil deeds in order to redeem us. With all this context, we can now understand the truth depth of John 14:19 – because Jesus Christ lives even though he was executed, so we shall also live with him even though our evil deeds have destroyed our souls.
I see no way a rational person can deny the immense love conveyed by this story and the incredible sense of hope and joy and Christians can have because of this story. What is even more radical than this is that this story is true. This stuff actually happened. There is a God – and that God has such incredible love that He voluntarily humbled himself by taking on human form and a human life – working as a carpenter for years and voluntarily dying by the most painful and humiliating means ever devised by mankind. And why? Because He loves us that much. Like a majestic king who sees his son drowning in a muddy lake, He runs through all the mud and dirt, putting his majesty aside without thinking twice, in order to save him whom He loves. This is the message that Christians hold to, the message that brings many Christians to tears in worship of their God – that immense love.
There are numerous passages of the Bible that convey in equally powerful words the core of this very same message from many angles and perspectives. There is no need here to delve into each of these. Were I to write at this length on each and every one of these passages, the result would not be an article but a book. The main point is this – that death is not an irreversible evil for the Christian, because we know that death has already been reversed by our Lord Jesus when he walked out of his tomb, and that he has been given all power over death. We have immense hope as Christians, and that hope is based in the historical reality of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Therefore, while it is entirely appropriate to mourn over death, because death is a great evil in this world, we can also rejoice because we know that the dead in Christ have gone to be with the Lord God Himself who has defeated death.
Ravi Zacharias is one of these many who are now with Jesus. I had hoped to meet him in my own lifetime on this earth, but now that cannot be. Nonetheless, one day I will meet him face to face in the presence of our Lord and thank him for all that he did for my life and for the whole church with his life and ministry. And I pray that each and every one of us who believes in Jesus will bring this message of hope and joy and redemption to another who does not yet know the Lord.