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#706 When Idols Fall

November 01, 2020

Dr. Craig,

All indications from you seem to suggest a deep admiration, respect and friendship with the late Ravi Zacharias. I wanted to see if you could offer advice for a Christian, like myself, who appears to be guilty of the unhealthy placing of a believer on a spiritual pedestal that results in worshipping that individual in an idolistic and sinful way. Specifically, I only this week learned of very stunning accusations of moral failure by the late Mr. Zacharias. I certainly do not want to sit here and try and speculate on someone else’s moral standing in comparison to others, or to render judgment or conclusions about what someone else may or may not have done - especially when that person is no longer alive to speak for himself.

Having said that, these developments have released a tidal wave of emotions within me. To begin with, I am profoundly sad. In addition, I fear I had an extremely unhealthy perception of what a spiritually regenerate Christian was to look like. When I compare his seemingly loving and humble speaking engagements and his visible heart for people with whom he came into contact with what could very well be egregious sexual sin going on at the exact same time, I find myself thinking, “what I thought was a spiritually vibrant human is in fact not possible.” I have a mental discouragement at the now-apparent impossibility of spiritual growth and maturity.

Of course I can read your arguments here on the website to reinforce the truth of Christianity, the truth of which depends in no way on the moral character of any one man, including Ravi. But what would you suggest to those of us who perhaps now feel that a spiritual wilderness is all around us because a man whose books we have on our shelves and radio broadcasts we listen to - whether Ravi or anyone else - might well one day be revealed to be nothing like the persona, temperament and character that we ended up associating with the ideal Christian life? Is this emotional betrayal something you can offer wisdom to us about - how does one persist in faith when that vision of spiritual regeneration is betrayed?

Thank you for your ministry and time.


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Dr. craig’s response


I take it, Jeremy, that your question is not about the serious allegations made against Ravi, of which I know nothing more than you do, but rather about how to handle the emotional devastation that results from seeing one of your cherished idols fall. Your profound sadness is entirely appropriate and will take time to work through. In the meantime, let me make a few comments that may be of help.

First, recognize that you were wrong to idolize another human being. Stories like this are like a slap in the face, reminding us of our inappropriate idolization of another flawed human being. It worries me, Jeremy, when you speak, as you do, of the betrayal of your “vision of spiritual regeneration.” What? Ravi Zacharias was your vision of spiritual regeneration? That’s inappropriate, Jeremy, and bound to lead to disappointment. You should have only one idol: Jesus of Nazareth. He will not disappoint you or fail you. Focus on him as an example of what “a spiritually vibrant human” should look like. You did have “an extremely unhealthy perception,” but not, as you say, “of what a spiritually regenerate Christian was to look like.” That perception was probably correct and something Jesus exemplified and we should strive for. Rather you had an unhealthy perception of another human being as beyond failure and sin. You associated him with “the ideal Christian life.” It was a form, however understandable, of idolatry.

Second, reflect upon the Christian doctrine of sin. My fear is that too many of us do not have a truly serious doctrine of sin. When I read what the Bible says about fallen human beings and the sin that besets even us as regenerate Christians, then I’m not completely shocked by reports of moral failure in the lives of seemingly impeccably moral Christians. Think of someone like David in the Old Testament: he clearly loved and was devoted to God yet fell into the most horrible and heinous sins of adultery and murder. If it can happen to him---! One of the manifestations of our sinfulness is our uncanny ability to rationalize. Even as we continue in our secret sin, we may engage in loving and humble service with all sincerity. That’s part of the deceitfulness of sin.

Third, don’t make invalid inferences. Seeing the moral failure of someone we admire can bring profound disappointment and sorrow. But it in no way follows from such failure that “what I thought was a spiritually vibrant human is in fact not possible.” What follows is at most that someone you thought was a spiritually vibrant human was in fact not. But that in no way shows that there aren’t multitudes of spiritually vibrant people who have gone before us and are all about us. I know there are; I know them. Yes, I could be wrong in any given case, but that doesn’t show that none exists, much less is impossible. I’m surprised by your statement that you “have a mental discouragement at the now-apparent impossibility of spiritual growth and maturity.” Why? Don’t you yourself experience spiritual growth and maturity? Can’t you look back and see how you’ve grown? Doesn’t your own experience falsify this radical claim? (If not, then the shattering of this idol may be very healthy for you, alerting you to your own lack of growth and maturity.)

Fourth, take advantage of this situation for self-examination. These sorts of incidents ought to be sobering reminders that this could happen to us. None of us is immune. The sin that undid the disciples on the night of Jesus’ arrest was presumptuousness. “‘Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ And so said all the disciples” (Matthew 26.35). Paul reminds us to examine ourselves to see if we are holding to the faith (II Corinthians 13:5).  “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (I Corinthians 10:12). Our overriding impression in these situations ought not to be the weakness of the one who has failed but rather our own weakness and danger of falling.

- William Lane Craig