Where is God in the Midst of Suffering and Injustice: Ravi Zacharias (Transcript)

Full text of Ravi Zacharias’ sermon titled “Where is God in the Midst of Suffering and Injustice?”

Best quote from this sermon:

“The marvelous thing and the marvelous reality is that He pulls the threads together and when you see the ultimate design, you will be the most shocked.”

TRANSCRIPT:

Ravi Zacharias – Apologist & Bestselling author

Thank you very much, Robert. What an honor to be here! A real delight to always come back here and we rough it out; we always come the evening before and go to our sacrifice meal at the closest barbecue, so that we can enjoy, begin the year in good order and find out where the beef is. We did that last night, had a great with Robert and Steve.

It’s not too often we get to do an extra day frankly. We’re always coming in at the last possible flight, leaving out at the first possible, and I am leaving first thing tomorrow morning.

The year began in full speed. I ended on the 22nd of December and I told Margie the rest of the year is off; she said big deal. Nine days, you know, 22nd of December and then began at the Passion Conference at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. What an exciting! I think a historic event… 65,000 backing that arena, mainly those in their 20s had the privilege of teaming up with our hosts Louie and Tim Tebow and several others and see what God is doing to see 65,000 of them with their hands raised worshipping. I mean it’s a foretaste of really what our eternal joy will be.

And then I’ve come here and early tomorrow morning I fly out to go to a country I cannot name; we’re in a closed country. I was there about four or five weeks ago and drove through the desert for about four hours to speak to a full audience, turned around, drove back four hours, took a flight and flew out of there, the two cities in that country and as the Anglicans would say this the third time of asking, so I’m there again for just one night, we go and do it and get out.

But we do it with a visa and I ask you to just pray as one man said, he’d been praying for 33 years in that land that we could have such an event. So I’m not to name it for you; after it’s all done I might just give you a little report. But that’s the way it is; we hit the ground running and the media may often talk about all that the churches are losing, maybe some of those churches needed to lose… some but where the gospel is preached, being preached, I want you to know there’s a greater hunger than I have ever seen and I have heard repeatedly that the fastest-growing church in the world today is in Iran, of all places and primarily amongst the young.

So here we are, but you know the fact of the matter is time flies tonight. So just so you know because you may have children, you may have plans, I’d like to follow a Robert Morris example: I’ll be speaking to you for 32 minutes. And then you can do everything after that so you can keep your concentration powers on and they’ve given me a good reminder.

But English is the only language that I know in which the watch runs. Every other language I know the watch walks. In Hindi, they say gaddi chal rahi hain… the watch is walking, and maybe that’s where we’re going nowhere where I come from but at least we… maybe that’s why we get less ulcers along the way as well.

Robert, a wonderful New Year to your friend. When you were in that critical stage, my goodness, I was another part of the world and our eyes were filled with tears. I was keeping in touch with Steve; it was touch and go; I was going to say nip and tuck but that would be too much of an irony. There was the nip and tuck going on but it was doesn’t go and God’s got some wonderful things for this man and this church to still do; it’s always thrilling to see how he intervenes.

You know, we often think… we often think that we are the only ones who ask questions, that all the great Saints before us never struggled with these issues. Nothing could be further from the truth. The man whom Jesus brought onto the Mount of Transfiguration, and both of them — Moses and Elijah gave God some of his biggest challenges, one on the verge of despair; another one saying why on earth do you want me to even do this? His prayer was: Here am I Lord; send Aaron. He didn’t want to go; he simply didn’t want to do it.

If you go through the Scriptures, you will see some of the most passionate people who served with a very devoted heart, had the toughest and the most emotionally driven questions. You know, faith is a perpetually defeated thing which survives all its conquerors.

“Faith is a perpetually defeated thing which survives all its conquerors,” so says GK Chesterton. It’ll always be hammered; it’ll always be attacked, but the Bible will always rise up to outlive its pallbearers. Those who try to bury the word find out it survives all those attacks.

So here’s a man struggling with questions and I’m calling this message: Though The Fig Tree Does Not Bud because as you look around what we see seems like a lot of death and destruction and despair. And a man raised those questions; his name was Habakkuk. Scattered verses beginning from Chapter 1.

The oracle that Habakkuk the Prophet received:

How long O Lord must I call for help? But you do not listen.

Or cry out to you violence but you do not save.

Why do you make me look at injustice?

Why do you tolerate wrong?

Destruction and violence are before me.

There is strife and conflict abounds,

therefore the law is paralyzed and justice never prevails;

The wicked surround the righteous so that justice is perverted.

Some of you might remember the war that was titled Desert Storm. That phrase was taken right out of this particular book when you see in verse nine: they all come bent on violence; their hordes advance like a desert wind. And so even our military was aware of all the kinds of oppositions that we were facing almost two decades ago and the storm in many ways still rages.

What Habakkuk raises here are three particular questions. I will go with them as time permits and give to you the answers that Habakkuk got.

But let me just prepare you for this: no other worldview, no other worldview, immanent or transcendent brings together such a coherent set of answers as the biblical writers do on this issue of pain, warfare, evil, suffering, even when history seems to be turning the tide against those who wish to follow him.

Three things he raises: how long must I cry out to you violence, injustice, evil, but you do not listen; you do not save. For a prophet to have raised that question was a challenge given to God and a constant demonstration of the grace and patience of God to listen to us when we raise such issues and how he answers.

It took Job volumes of complaints before God says to Job: Stand up like a man now and I am going to speak to you. It was about in the mid-thirties, nearly the 38th chapter that God began to respond to Job and so it is here with Habakkuk:

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Three issues: Violence: think of the world in which we live. If Habakkuk thought he saw violence in his day, think of the magnitude of violence in our time. Let me just give you statistics for the previous four centuries just in the microcosm of Europe, what has happened in warfare?

Seventeenth century in Europe: 3.3 million were killed in war. That was one of the lowest numbers: 3.3 million; it’s like a large mega city was wiped out in warfare. I’m not talking all of violence; just in the microcosm of Europe, 3.3 million.

In the 18th century: 5.2 million. 19th century: 5.5 million and in the 20th century going into 1970s or so the statistic at that time was 28 million in Europe alone. In the first three-fourths of the 20th century 70 million were killed in warfare.

Bear in mind this does not include the 60 some million in the purges in China and 60 some million in the purges in the former USSR. That was over 120 to 132 million just in those two countries and I’m talking about the 20th century then.

It was Nietzsche, the philosopher whose father was a pastor and both of whose grandfathers were in the ministry who coined and popularized the phrase God is dead. But here’s what he said: if God has truly died, and what he meant philosophically, because he talked about the blade of the philosophers that had plunged into the soul of belief, and he said if God has truly died in the 19th century, he said the 20th century will be the bloodiest century in history and a universal madness will break out.

He saw the logical outworking of the absence of God and man playing God. He saw it and when he says the 20th century will become the bloodiest century and a universal madness will break out, he almost figuratively took the first step in self where in the last 13 years of his life and he only lived to be I believe about 50 something like that, born in 1844 died in 1900, the last 12 to 13 years of his life he was partially in and out of insanity, was lying in bed saying almost nothing for days on end suddenly would break into verses of Scripture because he was raised at his mother’s knee with the Word of God.

But he reminded us since God had metaphorically died or figuratively died in the 19th century, the 20th century would become the bloodiest century in history.

Violence… people often ask me: you know, how do how does God shape a calling? And I think that’s one of those questions we can only partially answer, because we put together a few links but when we stand up before God we will suddenly see… you know, time is sort of that brush which bore God paints on the canvas of our hearts, eternity is the full picture in which you will see the finer points of how it all actually comes together.

I think we’ll be surprised and shocked at how God put together the entire canvas in our individual lives to place us in the place of his calling. For me it happened in my mid-twenties when I was in Vietnam. I was still another graduate student and traveled through the length of the country and saw the desolation of such kind of brutal killing that was going on in all kinds of places.

I knew then my calling what God had wanted me to do, because I knew the only hope for the human heart was the transformed heart that Christ alone could bring. But that was in the early 70s.

But then I remember in the 80s when the Cold War was still raging and at that time I just shortly finished my graduate studies in at Trinity in Chicago. And as I was speaking in Poland I had been asked if I had ever been to Auschwitz.

I said well I’ve been to concentration camps to visit Buchenwald, Dachau, Birkenau and all of those.

No, no have you ever been to a death camp?

I said no, I haven’t then.

So this medical doctor took me there. And when you walk through Auschwitz as recently Angela Merkel herself did, and was moved to tears as she stood there and publicly apologized to the whole world of what had happened .And the remnants of which are in Auschwitz just gives me goosebumps just thinking of what she must have felt to see what we had done to each other in what has been historically called the Third Reich.

But I remember walking into the gas ovens there outside of which are the words of Hitler: I want to raise a generation of young people devoid of a conscience, imperious, relentless, and cruel.

I want to raise a generation of young people devoid of a conscience, imperious, relentless and cruel.

Let me read for you. In the diary of Rudolf Hess who oversaw the camp at Auschwitz. What he says here, it’s terrifying to think that a highly educated trained man could put these words in his memorializing the whole thing: “I was not properly conscious of the first gassing of human beings. Perhaps the procedure as a whole made too much of an impression on me. I do remember much better the gassing of nine hundred Russians soon afterwards in the old crematorium using block eleven would have caused too much trouble. While they were still being unloaded several holes were simply knocked through the earth and the cement ceilings.” You can see those holes there by the way right now of the morgue. “The Russians had to undress in the outer room, and they all went quite calmly into the morgue since they had been told they were going to be deloused there. The whole transport walked right into the morgue. The door was locked,” — a huge iron doors and just clamps coming down on them as you see it – “the door was locked and the gas poured in through the openings, how long the killing took I do not know. The hum could be heard for quite a while however. When it was thrown in, some people suddenly cried gas and a great roaring began and a rush to both of the doors if it stood the pressure however, after several hours the room was opened and aired out. Then I saw the gassed corpses or mass for the first time but I must be frank this gassing had a calming effect on me since the mass extermination of the Jews was due to begin soon and neither Eichmann nor myself knew what method of killing might be used on the expected masses. Now we had discovered the gas and the procedure as well.”

Look at that and you say to yourself: is this how far the human mind can degenerate where people become just lumps of meat and descend to this kind of violence? But you see ladies and gentlemen, right from the first family, there was violence in the home, when a brother out of jealousy wanted to take the life of his brother.

This body is the temple of God. We have no right to violate that temple either a self-inflicted way or in others. So when Habakkuk was crying out like the desert storm coming with violence you can imagine in those days of primitive warfare, he was looking at God and saying what’s happening? Why aren’t you answering? Why are we seeing all this violence? You think that; I think that.

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And that was the first question he raised, but then he linked it to another area, and that is injustice. He said how long must I cry out to you for justice but you do not seem to answer.

Here’s where it comes closer to us in the United States. Justice has now become a political ideology rather than an antic referent of the character and the person of God. We are now politically driving what justice is, and it was Plato who said justice is the firmest pillar of good government. The firmest pillar of good government.

Now remember the Greeks never went much into a personal divinity, it took the Hebrews to bring us that. They talked of truth, beauty, goodness, liberty, equality, justice, and they talked of virtues. They had all these stories but the Greeks did not clearly anchor it in the person of God. It took the Hebrews: I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt — redemption — therefore you shall have no other gods before me — the very character of God and hence the Decalogue and hence the laws that were vertical and horizontal.

Here’s what Aristotle said justice of all the virtues is truly to be thought for another’s good because it is related to our neighbor. He does what is advantageous to another. The worst person is he who exercises his wickedness both towards himself and towards his friend. And the best person is not he who exercises his virtue only to himself but he who exercises it towards another.

Do you see what we have done to justice at our time? Those who exercise it towards another, that is the key towards justice, for this is a difficult task justice in this sense then is not a part of virtue but virtue in its entirety nor is the contrary injustice a part of vice but vice entirely. That’s why Micah took the 613 laws of Moses and reduced it to three: to do justice; to love mercy; and to walk humbly before your God.

So justice is at the core of a people’s character and yet we see that being flaunted and losing our way consistently in this. Learn to watch history carefully when justice dies, a civilization is dying. So he says violence, injustice, and then he talks of evil which is ultimately the source of all of this. And he talks of the wickedness that he was seeing all around him.

I want to read for you something, because it is fascinating how even medical science talks about these things now. Here’s what it says: Most psychiatrists assiduously avoid the word evil contending that using the word evil would precipitate a dangerous slide from clinical to moral judgment. They don’t like to use evil because it would be a slide from mere clinicians work to a moral pronouncement on somebody, the person writing this… I think this is in the New York Times, so it shouldn’t surprise you.

That’s what he says; the person writing this didn’t realize that this was a moral judgment itself, that very pronouncement is a moral judgment that we don’t want to slide into a moral framework, rather keep it in a medical framework, then you pop a pill for somebody who is evil, why call him or her evil.

But then he goes on to say this and that could end up people putting on death row unnecessarily: is that not a moral judgment?

What on earth you talk about a one ended stick? There’s no such thing; they are using moral categories to debunk moral categories because moral categories would be judgmental so we keep it clinical rather than moral all along saying because we don’t want to end up doing anything immoral.

I mean this wreaks havoc with the reason. What do you do with such things? So you’ve got evil, injustice, violence and I think when you look at the Judeo-Christian worldview, it’s the only one that even begins to answer it.

I’ll have to race to it. Number one, in Chapter 2 and verse 18 onwards“Of what value is an idol since a man has carved it? Or an image that teaches lies, for he who makes it trust in his own creation; he makes idols that cannot speak. Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Come to life!’ Or to lifeless stone, ‘Wake up!’ Can it give guidance? It is covered with gold and silver; there is no breath in it. But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.”

That number one answer is the actuality of God in distinction to atheism. The reasons you’re raising these questions, Habakkuk, is because you have moral reasoning within you. And I am telling you if you were to raise these questions to lifeless stone or to an idol, you’re wasting your breath. But the Lord is in his holy temple let all the earth be silent before him.

Somebody once asked me: what are going to be your first words when you see God? I said I’m going to be absolutely silent, because I’ll be terrified at what his words are first going to be to me.

I’m nowhere near concerned about what I’m going to say to him. I am truly concerned about what he’s going to say to me. And if I were to hear from him the words: well done. What do you say… the divine accolade that everyone longs for and dreams for.

You see what makes America unique which our naturalists and secularists hate to recognize but even Gertrude Himmelfarb, professor of ethical history and so on University of Columbia in her book Roads to Modernity makes this comment; she said “The difference between the United States and Great Britain on the one side and Europe on the other side is this:”– listen carefully – “for the European, French philosophers and the German philosophers and all of the great Spanish thinkers and all, for the Europeans reasoning was supreme. Reasoning… and hence René Descartes… “I think therefore I am”, logically he should really have said “I think therefore thinking exists. But he couldn’t stop from going to the personhood for the Europeans it was reasoning, thinking for the Americans and the English,” says Gertrude Himmelfarb it was not reasoning that was foundational – hear this now — “it was moral reasoning.”

Moral reasoning that there is an absolute right, there is an absolute wrong, and it is all based on that transcendent moral reality of the actuality of God. Ladies and gentlemen if God doesn’t exist these very questions are irrational because they are moral questions. And moral reasoning is ultimately anchored in a moral personal absolute first cause.

We draw our morality not from abstract thinking but from the very person of God. I have to flee but I probably have race to it, but let me just say this to you. One of my good friends William Lane Craig, so great Christian philosopher, one of the finest of our time, he and I were classmates at Trinity. I hardly understood the questions he raised in class, leave alone the answers he gave, but we graduated together, he’s now very prominent philosopher: William Lane Craig.

He was dialoguing with probably one of the greatest scientists of our time: Roger Penrose. I was sharing it at breakfast with friends this morning. You can see it on YouTube. So Craig is talking to Penrose and Penrose of course, a brilliant scientist talks about three realities: objects; abstractions; and consciousness.

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You take a box you’ve got an object; you’ve got logic or the scientific equations you’ve got abstract reasoning. But he says, then there’s the third reality: consciousness. He said I know what to do with the first two; I don’t know what to do with the third.

He knows what to do with boxes and chairs and tables; he knows what to do with e equals mc-squared. But he doesn’t know what to do with consciousness. May I dare suggest you it’s probably good because they don’t like where it leads: it leads to the ultimate consciousness: God is.

Ladies and gentlemen that’s the first answer he gives to you: DON’T DESPAIR, I AM.

Number two: the eventuality of his working in distinction to deism. Deists think God just got this… somebody got this whole thing going and then took off and now we’re on our own. How do you like that? Like buying a nice car for your two-year-old and saying it’s yours; see you in ten years. No, no no the eventuality of his working: God intervenes in your life and mine.

I think the biggest shock that awaits us is how often he intervened and we never knew it. Man is sitting right there for whom God intervened last year. I saw it happen to my wife at the age of 28: Margie. She got off a plane and as we were driving back home we lived in Toronto that time, she arrived in Atlanta. I picked her up and we were driving through the heavy traffic on 85; she started not feeling well, slumped over in the front seat of the car and she was unconscious. She was 28.

I’m driving here, looking at my wife and saying what on earth has just happened. She looked so lovely when she got off the plane and I pulled up on the side of the shoulder and drove turning my emergency lights on. I didn’t even know the city and so saw it was Holiday Inn, pulled up. A woman came up to the car seeing me struggling to get her out, helped me carried her in her arms for me. We placed her literally in the lobby of the Holiday Inn, then I’m standing in the body or out of the body, I couldn’t tell I was so dazed.

And they called the paramedics, they called the ambulance and rushed her. When I caught her to the hospital I was to be preaching that night. The doctor came out and said you’re going nowhere tonight; stay right here. And his words exactly what he said: we’ve got a belly full of blood out here. So your wife has been bleeding and she has lost 60% of her blood. Did you know she was expecting?

I said no sir.

He said we have an ectopic pregnancy on our hand; she’s lost 60% of her blood; you better stay right here.

My brother’s a doctor. When I spoke to him later that night he said Ravi, said that’s one of the highest mortality emergencies that ever comes in because they don’t know what’s happening. They go to bed and they literally bleed to death. And the doctor who said, looked at me said if this had happened one hour before, she let it or half an hour before she landed you would not have seen your wife alive. He protected her.

When our time comes we all have to go but until that time comes our Sovereign Lord will protect you from any intimidating, any terrifying reality.

God is… I don’t know what you’re going through in your life. I know what I’m going through in my life, what I went going through in our lives; I know that. But I also know this he will never take me through any fire but that he will put his arms around me and take the scars in the process so that he can walk me through and take me back.

The actuality of God, the eventuality of his working, he is a God who works and cares about you. He knows every bit of your DNA like nobody else does. And there’s 3.1 billion bits of information in that DNA in you. He knows it all. Actuality of God, the eventuality of his working.

And lastly the eternality of his perspective because here’s where he says… the second part I didn’t read to you when he said the righteous will live by faith in Chapter 2.

But here’s the third one:

I heard and my heart pounded,

my lips quivered at the sound;

decay crept into my bones,

and my legs trembled.

Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity

to come on the nation invading us.

Though the fig tree does not bud

and there are no grapes on the vines,

though the olive crop fails

and the fields produce no food,

though there are no sheep in the pen

and no cattle in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the Lord,

I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;

he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,

he enables me to go on to the heights.

Hinds’ Feet on High Places is what Hannah and I wrote years and years ago. A perspective — people say perspective is reality, no no, reality ought to shape your perspective. Perspective is not reality; it’s what reality should actually shape your perspective.

An eye has not seen; ear has not heard; neither has entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for them that love him.

And as I leave you with these thoughts and I say to you that the marvelous thing and the marvelous reality is that he pulls the threads together and when you see the ultimate design you will be the most shocked.

A great preacher W.E. Sangster tells about years ago, he is preaching and leads — and he was from Plymouth — and he was making a trunk call as they called it which found its way through the Midlands and you had to go from operator to operator to operator a little bit like The Andy Griffith Show type thing all right Gertie, get off, you know so I can finish this call.

So the operators are listening, and so he was waiting to connect to his wife. And as he was waiting he muttered the words of a hymn, my knowledge of this life is small, the eye of faith is dim. But ’tis enough that Christ knows all and I shall be with him.

And one of the operators said “Sir, could you say that again please? Please say that again?”

He said “My knowledge of this life is small; the eye of faith is dim. But ’tis enough that Christ knows all and I shall be with him.”

She said “You’ll never know, you’ll never know how much I needed to hear that tonight.”

We know very little and the eye of faith is dim, but ’tis enough that Christ knows all and I shall be with him.

Evil, injustice, violence — the actuality of God and distinction to atheism; the eventuality of his working, distinction Deism, the eternality of his perspective in distinction to Pantheism — God is, God acts, God changes; no wonder Habakkuk said I shall rejoice in God, my Savior.

Resources for Further Reading:

Human Healing Unlocked: Transforming Suffering into Wellbeing: David Reilly (Transcript)

God Knows When: Bishop T.D. Jakes (Full Transcript)

How to Become Your Best When Life Gives You Its Worst: Peter Sage (Transcript)

Denzel Washington: Put God First Speech (Full Transcript)

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