If Jesus is the truth, why do so many people reject him? If Christianity is true, shouldn't it ultimately triumph? That's not what the statistics show, however. Christianity is making relatively little progress in winning converts from other major world religions. Basically, people around the globe tend to adopt the religion of their parents.
I asked Zacharias about this, and he said these issues trouble him as a defender of Christianity. There are, though, some explanations, he said.
"To look at this from a different perspective, why is Buddhism so popular in America today?" he asked. "My answer is simple: because you can be good without having God. If you can have a nice little dose of spirituality from three to five in the afternoon and then dichotomize your life once again and go live it any way you please-well, why not? A religion like that would have a lot of attraction.
"Why is Islam attractive to some? Because of geopolitical considerations. What is it about the Hindu faith that's attractive? It is rich in philosophy, and its tenet of treating the earth with reverence has some appeal today."
"Why not Christ?" I asked.
"Because he calls you to die to yourself," he replied. "Any time truth involves a total commitment in which you bring yourself to complete humility, to the surrender of the will, you will always have resistance. Christ violates our power and autonomy. He challenges us in areas of purity. John the Baptist came giving the law. People did not like it. Jesus came giving the message of grace and they said, 'Why don't you give us the firmness of the law?' Whatever Jesus brings into culture, culture will want to change it. At the heart of the rejection is resistance to the claim of who he is.
"Buddhism and other religious systems basically tell people how to pull themselves up by their ethical bootstraps. I have never had a problem knowing what is right and wrong in most situations; what I have lacked is the will to do what is right. That's where Christ comes in. He says if you'll bring all of yourself to him, he will not only give you eternal life, but he will change what you want to do in this life."
Given the level of commitment required by Christianity, I was curious about what prompted Zacharias to respond positively to the message of Jesus. "Tell me a bit of your story," I said.
He looked down for a moment, brushing a crumb off his shirt sleeve. Then he reached over to his cup of tea and took a sip before answering.
"In India, you are what you are born into," he began. "My father and mother were nominal Christians; in fact, the reason they were Christians was simply because they were not Buddhists, Muslims, or Hindus. I don't recall ever hearing the gospel preached at my church, which was very liberal-minded.
"Just prior to my coming to Christ, my sisters were exposed to the gospel and made their commitment. I came to believe in Jesus in two stages. The first stage was when I heard the gospel publicly proclaimed in an auditorium when I was seventeen. I said to myself, 'Something about this is true and I want it.' I went forward and was counseled, but I did not really understand. The baggage was too much.
"At the time, I was under a lot of pressure in a culture where academic performance was of supreme importance. If you're not at the top of the class, then you're not going to succeed. I couldn't cope with it. I also had a very strict father, and I struggled with that. I took a lot of punishment physically.
"So a few months later, I decided to end my own life. I was not depressed; my friends would have been shocked to hear suicide was on my mind. But for me, life had no meaning or purpose. I went to school one day and used the keys to the science lab to check out some poisons. I put them into a glass of water, gobbled it up, and collapsed on my knees."
I stared in disbelief. With Zacharias being as sophisticated, as erudite, as articulate, and as influential as he is today, it was impossible for me to visualize him as a confused and hope-starved teenager crumbling to his knees and gasping for breath as self-administered toxins coursed through his veins.
"My servant in the house rushed me to the hospital; if he were not there, I would be dead," he continued. "They emptied all of the poisons out of me. As I lay in bed, a friend walked in with a New Testament and showed me John chapter 14. I couldn't hold the book; my body was too dehydrated. My mother had to read it to me.
"There she was, reading where Jesus was talking to Thomas and saying, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.' Then she came to verse 18, where Jesus tells his disciples, 'Because I live, you also will live.'
"That verse touched my soul. I said in a prayer, 'Jesus, I don't know much about who you are, but you are telling me you're the author of true life.' I didn't understand the concept of sin. In that culture, I couldn't have. But what I did understand was that he was offering himself to me to give me life.
"So I said, 'If you take me out of this hospital room, I will leave no stone unturned in my pursuit of truth.' And I walked out of that room five days later an absolutely brand new man. I began to study the Bible, and it dramatically changed my life. My brothers then came to follow Jesus, as did my parents before they died.
"But it was in that hospital room where Christ told me-through nobody explaining it to methat he could give me what life was really meant to be. And I've never looked back. Years of study have only confirmed my decision to follow him. I took some philosophy courses at Cambridge under a renowned atheist, and I remember thinking in astonishment, These are the best arguments atheists have?' It merely confirmed the truth of Scripture."
"You deal with a lot of spiritual seekers now," I said. "What do you tell them?"
"The Bible says, 'You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.25 Think about thatthat's an amazing promise. I encourage them to bring their heart and mind into a receptive mode and to not spare their intellect in testing the truth of the Bible. For any genuine person who brings an unprejudiced view, I don't see how he or she can walk away except saying there is nothing like this on the face of the earth.
"I have traveled the world. I have searched high and low. I have found nothing that satisfies my mind, my heart, and the deepest longings of my soul like Jesus does. He is not only the way, the truth, and the life; he is personal to me. He is my way, and my truth, and my life-just as he can be for anyone who reaches out to him.
"Because remember what Paul told the Athenians: He is not far,' he said, from each one of
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