This interview focuses on what makes the Christian message so unique, espeically in the context of Eastern religions (1). Jesus Christ clearly stands out in world history, but what separates him from others who claim to be divine and prophetic? According to Ravi Zacharias, who has examined the claims of Jesus Christ, the evidence of his uniqueness is overwhelming.
1. Gordon Robertson: How did you come to become a Christian?
Ravi Zacharias: Well, technically, the Brahman background, Gordon, goes back several generations; five on one side and seven on the other. But my parents were nominally Christian. About five generations ago, from the highest caste of the Hindu priesthood, they were led to Christ. But somewhere along the line, the very Christian faith became nominal in that it was in name only. So in that sense, I did have the influence of Christendom, not so much of Christ himself. But all of my friends and those around me were Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, so I was really raised more neutrally in terms of a personal commitment, but culturally in a nominally Christian family.
2. GR: What has convinced you — because obviously you’re quite convinced — what has convinced you of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ?
RV: So much happens in life that it’s hard to sometimes reduce it. I became a Christian when I was 17 years old. I was on a bed of suicide in Delhi, searching for meaning, searching for the answers to life’s basic questions — especially in a religious country, you’re used to asking that. But how does one know that this way is true and another way is false? There are 330 million gods in the pantheon of Hinduism. And when I came to know Christ, it was in a crisis moment, on a bed of suicide. But as I began my pursuit and was willing to make that commitment, I came to believe that the specifics of Jesus’ answers are so unique.
When you think of it, Gordon, really there are four fundamental questions of life. You’ve asked them, I’ve asked them, every thinking person asks them. They boil down to this; origin, meaning, morality and destiny. How did I come into being? What brings life meaning? How do I know right from wrong? Where am I headed after I die?
When you take the answers of Christ to those four questions, there is no parallel that brings individually, correspondingly, true answers to those individual questions. And then you put the four together, there’s no other world view that brings such a coherent set of answers, correspondingly true individually, coherently whole when you put them together. The person of Christ is so unique that no honest seeker can deny it once you have looked at his answers to these questions.
3. GR: Let’s deal with the Western world view for a minute. You grew up in sort of a multifaceted religious society with Buddhists and Hindus and Muslims all living together. I think that’s unique in the world. But from a Western point of view, I think one of the reasons many Americans, for example, have rejected the claims of Christ or even the existence of God, is they say, `Well, how do you now explain evil? Why do bad things happen to good people?’
RZ: I think that is the most daunting question. It is sort of a hatpin in the heart of many a world view. But when a person asks that question, Gordon, they have to remember two things. The first thing is that it is a question everybody needs to answer, not just the Christian. The Hindu needs to answer it, the Buddhist needs to answer it, the atheist needs to answer it, and the skeptic needs to answer it. One of my chapters is given over to that question when Jesus was asked, `Why was this man born blind. Did he sin, or his parents?’ And Jesus’ answer is fascinating. So let me try and put the hatpin into the heart of the question first, because that’s where you begin the answer. When a person says there’s too much of evil in this world, they’re assuming there’s such a thing as good. When they say they assume there’s such a thing as good, they must assume there’s such a thing as a moral law on the base of which to differentiate between good and evil. But when they posit such a thing as a moral law, they must posit the moral lawgiver, but that’s whom the skeptic is often trying to disprove and not prove, because if there’s no moral lawgiver, there’s no moral law. If there’s no moral law, there is no good. If there is no good, there is no evil. What becomes of the question?
To raise the question actually posits or assumes the existence of God. So the questioner must ever remember that raising the question does not disprove the existence of God, it only necessitates the existence of God, because without God, good and evil do not actually exist. And therefore, the answer of God in the Christian faith is very unique.
In the Hindu world view, it is sort of karma, inherited, every birth is a rebirth, you pay, you pay, and you pay through millions of incarnations. In the Muslim world view, it’s fatalistic — it’s the will of Allah. You go on. There’s no real down-to-earth explanation. It’s just there. Within the Christian world view, there is a plethora of evidence as to how Jesus defends for us the reality of evil and the reality of good. When you go to the cross, you see the two converge — evil in the heart of man, goodness in the heart of God. That convergence in the cross of Jesus Christ is so unique that it even prompted Mahatma Gandhi to say outside of the cross, he did not know where else something so unique could be given as an answer.
Now you lead philosophically to these issues and then you see how the Bible does deal with it. So to raise the question demonstrates the existence of God.
I’ve taken you through the six steps of God’s answer that shows us how you deal with the problem of evil, Gordon, ultimately moving to this question: If the evil around me bothers me that much, I must ask the question: Does the evil within me bother me, then? And it must, and for that evil within, only Christ has the answer.
4. GR: Let’s deal with some of the major world religions. What would you say to a Buddhist? How would you contrast the uniqueness of Christ to a Buddhist?
RZ: That’s an excellent question because Buddhism is gaining a lot of popularity. It is a very much-pursued idea today. What I’ve done in the book is, rather than coming in an in-your-face response, because that could offend, I’ve taken questions that Jesus answered that neither Buddha, Mohammed nor Krishna would have answered the same way, and you see the uniqueness and the coherence very persuasively, I trust. The opening line in the Buddhist scriptures is every life is paying its karma for its previous birth. Buddhism is non-theistic, possibly atheistic, and when you deal with Buddhism, therefore, it really is an ethical theory about how to be good without positing God. You can have goodness without God is Buddhism’s fundamental assumption — and the answer is in you, through the Eightfold Path, and you go on.
There are many issues that one can raise. But let us suppose this one aspect of Buddhism that there is really no God. How does, then, one define goodness as you come back? Where does goodness come from? What really is evil?
Secondly, it tells you that you have an infinite series of rebirths. If there is an infinite series of rebirths, infinity – infinity is an unending, uncountable. But if Buddha attained nirvana, then it must be countable. He came to a number. It is a finite series of births. So if you talk of an infinite series of rebirths, but Buddha himself had a finite series of rebirths, in order to attain Buddhahood, you immediately begin to see the contradiction. What you really have to understand is that the human heart is desperately wicked and evil and cannot in its own self solve the problem. And at the heart of Buddhism, Gordon — and the listener must hear this very carefully — at the heart of Buddhism is the loss of the concept of self because Buddhism’s fundamental doctrine is that there’s no essential nature of self — anatman. Hinduism talked of atman, the essential self. Anatman is the non-essential self.
How wonderful to know that when Jesus Christ speaks to you and to me, he enables you to understand yourself, to die to that self because of the cross, and brings the real you to birth. When you’re crucified with Christ nevertheless you live, yet not you, but Christ lives in you. He retains the individuality and the identity, but brings it to fruition in your identity in the person of Christ. I think that’s so unique that one cannot escape the ramifications.
5. GR: I think for me, though, it’s almost a question of practicality. When you look at Buddhism, or you look at Hinduism, no one achieves nirvana.
RZ: That’s right.
6. GR: No one achieves moksha. In Islam, no one can possibly follow everything in the Koran.
RZ: That’s right.
7. GR: You cannot achieve it and Christianity is unique that you can achieve it and through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, you can become one with God. It is a unique claim. No other religion allows it.
RZ: You put it very well. The moksha, the release, the nirvana, the extinguishing, and that’s why the Muslim never has the assurance of going to heaven, unless he dies a martyr’s death or whatever. The assurance of heaven is never given to the person. And that’s why at the core of the Christian faith is the grace of God. If there’s one word I would grab from all of that, it’s forgiveness — that you can be forgiven. I can be forgiven, and it is of the grace of God. But once you understand that, I think the ramifications are worldwide.
For example, one of the issues that was raised in Jesus’ answers to the question, he refers to this body as the temple of the living God. Just think of that beautiful truth. You won’t find that in Hinduism. You go to the temple. In the Christian faith, you take the temple with you. In Islam, which is of this worldly nature, killing and all can be justified for other-worldliness. In many of these other religious world views, sensuality can still be real for them and Jesus says no, this body is a temple of God. So when you see what the grace of God does in forgiveness, it is not just a blanket absolution. It is a price that has been paid and the imperative to live with Christ himself living in you. I think that’s magnificent.
CBN. What Makes the Christian Message Unique? Available.