At the launch of Ravi Zacharias’ book Why Suffering? (written with Vince Vitale) in 2014, we caught up with him to ask a few questions about the challenges to Christian faith and how Christians should engage in public life.
- What are the greatest challenges for Christians in understanding and living out their faith?
I think strangely enough in the last 5-10 years some of the challenges have changed. They have become more rigorous and navigating through that terrain will be tough. As you go back across history, of course, there was always the challenge of naturalism versus theism, the framework of can all reality be explained in naturalistic terms, from scepticism to atheism to anti-theism, those movements have been rolling and gaining momentum, how to respond into that kind of a framework is important. The issue of pluralism that has a reality in the west, how do you deal with a pluralistic culture without seeming exclusionary – not exclusivistic because the fact is that all religions are exclusive – but how do you live in a culture without seeming exclusionary, that’s a challenge. I think social morals and issues of our time have presented new challenges, and the ultimate one is of course, Christendom has to deal with some of its past, whenever religion became politicised there were abuses and society at large will not let the church forget that.
- How can church leaders equip their congregation to understand suffering in their own lives?
I think one of the most important things in the book of Job is the failure of the friends. The friends came and started piling verse upon verse, and theological proposition upon theological proposition, Job was thoroughly offended by it all and was in deeper pain. I think the Church needs to be a community that reaches out to the hurting and makes it possible for people to share their doubts, their struggles, their aches, I think friendship and community help is the best way of showing that God cares.
- How can church leaders equip their congregations talk to non-Christians about suffering?
I think that’s the hard part because suffering is no respecter of persons. I think the most important thing, before even giving answers is to be a good listener and a good person present with the friendship. And then when the questions are asked determine the right time. Philosophical answers by a graveside are not exactly helpful, but an arm around the hurting can be helpful as they work through, in time, what it is that they are ready to listen to and when. I’ve seen people go through the heartache and go through the pain and at the end of it say they were able to come to conclusions through my suffering that I would never have come to before. You can quote hymns, you can quote verses, you can quote friends but just being present and waiting for the right time to unpack the issue is important; virtually everyone I have known who has gone through that period says I am better for what I have gone through. We in the West act so dramatically to any depravation that we do not realise that some of the greatest lessons are learnt through the pain and suffering that may come our way.
- What role should Christianity play in public life?
It is a hard road to walk because the sceptic says you have no right to dictate your private belief in public, and yet the sceptic brings the private scepticism into public life. We need people who are well trained and well qualified to be in public life. Change will ultimately come from the inside not from dictating from the outside. We need them in the arena.
- What do Christians need in order to transform society?
I think Christians need a lot of understanding of the issues, what the options are, Christians need a lot of patience and need to realise we’re not going to change culture just by changing laws, God gave a perfect law to his people and it never accomplished what it could accomplish as a law itself. The heart has to be changed for the law to be loved. So what they need is an understanding of issues and at the same time a gentleness of approach and to know how to respond to the divisive issues of our time.