The Existential Cry
In Cries Of The Heart Ravi writes what he calls an existential apologetic, speaking of the cries of the human heart and how they are heard and met by God.
Skipping ahead in the book…,
“The Cry for Freedom in Pleasure” is for me the best chapter in the book. I was struck by the reference to The Screwtape Letters where the novice gives as a reason why his target has been converted that he took a walk for the purest pleasure of it and he read a good book, not to quote it but to enjoy it, and the walk and “between the walk and the good book, he came within the Enemy’s reach.” The pure joy and pleasure of God is so strongly contrasted to the overwhelming drive for fun of our day. Zacharias so powerfully references Neil Postman who contrasts Aldous Huxley and George Orwell on what will destroy western society, Postman sums up this contrast by noting: “[W]hat Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book…” (p. 125). So, joy is joy when it is grounded in meaning, and being grounded in meaning creates natural parameters for true joy, as opposed to joy that is in effect non-joy, or anti-joy, because it is evil. Zacharias points out these parameters as Anything that refreshes you without diminishing you, distracting you, or destroying the ultimate goal is a legitimate pleasure in life; Any pleasure that jeopardizes the sacred right of another is an illicit pleasure; any pleasure, however good, if not kept in balance, will distort reality or destroy appetite. This from the words of the wise Suzanna Wesley spoken to her young son John. Ravi ends the chapter by reminding us of the truth that those of us who might struggle to feel our faith need to be reminded of, the truth of Psalm 147:11, that God takes pleasure in us.
Here Ravi speaks of the awareness that people have, that each of us seems to have, that the world is bigger than we think, that it is full of something that we cannot comprehend fully. Frequently through the book he references C. S. Lewis who touched on this theme again and again. He begins with the quotation: “All philosophy begins with wonder” and proceeds from there to unpack wonder as it surprises us, not only as we interact with creation, but as we contemplate the story of our own life, a story which we misguidedly try to discover in sensual pleasure. Instead he tells us to contemplate our story as it is in truth, a story found in the Bible, a story full of wonder, the story of God coming to us to save us through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
No apologetic will have any traction if it does not face evil head on. I can say that Ravi has been facing evil, not as an abstraction, but as the fountainhead of human suffering his entire career. Sometimes he seems to feel compelled to shake his audiences into awareness of the dimensions of suffering and its ramifications for our belief in a nice God.
Perhaps the key to this work is Ravi’s exploration of evil in chapter 12 and the relation of God, redemption in Jesus Christ in chapters 13. Interestingly he begins with a story of being mugged in Moscow and how leadership in Moscow later said to him: “We have no hope to give our young people. They have a purposeless existence. Can you help us?” This story so poignantly brings forth the cry to be delivered from evil.
Ravi brilliantly characterizes evil as irrational, reflecting Berkouwer who clearly pointed out that if a rational reason could be given for sin it would not be sin, for by its nature sin is irrational. Ravi pushes on, as he frequently does, to the existential, speaking of the banality of evil, highlighted by Adolf Eichmann, showing that not only is evil not rational and therefore cannot be explained psychologically, but that the human spirit recoils at its banality and any attempt at trivializing it. And then he builds a case for facing evil as a reality and not merely a convention of thought or a cultural perspective. Wickedness is a fact, and as a fact we properly feel revulsion when faced with it.
Ravi is breaking ground here by building a case from subjectivity. Subjectivity can be attacked, and he himself will on occasion attack it. But, he senses that the revulsion against evil is so universal that it testifies to evil as something beyond social convention. Ravi recounts a conversation in which he said: “How incongruous it is, even by your own philosophy, that while denying the fact of evil you are unable to completely shake off the feeling. “[F]or even you, sir, said you would not like it [an example of witnessing the murder of an infant.“
Facing evil with no answers Ravi turns us toward the cross. Through the cross the soul can be recovered.
To be continued .......