Still, my mind was on Gandhi. "He didn't follow Jesus," I said, "so I suppose you would say he was not redeemed."
"That is something that will be determined by God," Zacharias replied. "However, what is it Gandhi believed? He summarized it in one statement: God is truth and truth is God.' My question to him would be, 'What does that mean?' We are sitting in a room; that is a true statement. What has this got to do with whether this room is god or not? It doesn't. It only conforms to a statement I have just made. God exists-is that a true statement? If that is a true statement, who is this God?"
I interrupted. "Yet here you have a person like Gandhi, who in the eyes of most people lived a good life, whereas a serial killer like David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam, murdered several innocent people and now says he's prayed a prayer to become a Christian. Christians would say Berkowitz is going to heaven but Gandhi isn't. Where's the equity in that?"
"Because we are moral human beings, we want to see equity. But when we reduce equity to issues of who behaved in what way during a given span of time, we miss the whole concept of equity. We are judging this from the point of view of our system. If God were to truly give what every one of us deserved, none of us would get to heaven.
"There's the joke about two brothers who lived scandalous lives, and when one of them suddenly died, the surviving brother went to a minister and asked if he would preach at his brother's funeral. He said, 'I just have one request: that you refer to my brother as a saint.' The pastor said lie would do his best to accommodate him.
"The funeral came and the minister was eulogizing the deceased. 'I want you to know this man was a swindler, a liar, a cheater, and a thief,' he said. 'But compared to his brother, he was a saint!'
"Now, there is a sharp edge to that story. We try desperately to claim goodness by comparing ourselves to others. David Berkowitz can say, 'Wait a minute; I'm not Hitler! I didn't kill millions, I just killed a few.' Or 'I wasn't Jeffrey Dahmer; I didn't eat my victims.' We tend to do the kind of comparisons by which we always emerge better than someone else, and so we think we're good. But by the perfect moral standard of God, we all fail. We all need God's forgiveness and grace.
"Admittedly, what David Berkowitz did was violent and evil. There's no question about that. However, we have to look at this in the whole scheme of God's plan. You see, there are worse things than death or murder."
"Like what?" I asked.
"Though it's hard to comprehend," he said, "the worst thing is to say to God that you don't need him. Why? Because a dead person can be restored to life by God; a bereaved person can find peace from God; a person who has been violated can find God's sustenance and strength and even see God conquer through the dark mystery of evil. In other words, there is recourse through these atroc ities and tragedies. But to a person who says he or she doesn't need God, what is the recourse? There is none.
"So the question is not whether I'm a David Berkowitz, a Mahatma Gandhi, an Adolph Hitler, or a
Mother Teresa. The question is, Have I come to the realization that I've fallen short of God's perfect standard and, therefore, apart from the grace of God, I have no possibility of being with him in heaven?'
"Frankly, if I have lived a life that I think is so good that I don't need God, then ironically Berkowitz will have found the ultimate truth to which my own arrogance and confidence have blinded me. What is hell but the absence of God? And for me to live my life with the absence of God is to already be on the road to hell."
"But," I protested, "is it fair for a killer like Berkowitz to get off scot-free?"
"I'm not sure he has," Zacharias said. "Yes, God has forgiven him if he has confessed and repented and sought God's mercy. But the more he is in tune with who Christ is, the deeper will be his pain for what he has done.
"Let me give you an example. Suppose you're driving and your mind wanders for a moment. Suddenly, a child runs in front of you and you hit that child. The closer you are in touch with the tragedy, the greater will be your burden for the rest of your life. You will never be able to look into the face of another child without thinking, 'What did I do? What did I do?'
"We may think Berkowitz got away in the sense that he didn't go to the gallows, but there is such a thing as the gallows of the heart. Your heart can be very attuned to the hell that you unleashed. I do not believe that a truly converted person would sit in his prison cell and think, 'Well, I've come to know Christ and so I'm off the hook on that.' No. Sometimes the hell of an inner heart may be very deep and painful.
"I believe there is a hell to a delayed salvation because the tears that flow are tears of what was lost before you came to know God. Does he forgive your past? Yes, but sometimes you cannot forget it."
Having said that, Zacharias paused and leaned back in his chair. When he resumed, he said: "Any time grace is misunderstood, it will always lead to comparison and jealousy or discontent and the charge of inequity. Interestingly enough, Jesus addresses this very issue.
"In one of his parables, the workers who labored all day were distressed that those who had come in at the last moment had also received the grace of the landlord." One of the most staggering truths of the Scriptures is to understand that we do not earn our way to heaven. Also, we read in the Bible the story of the woman of ill repute who Jesus received. The Pharisee looked down his merit formed nose and sneered at the mercy of God.20 Works have a place-but as a demonstration of having received God's forgiveness, not as a badge of merit of having earned it."
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