I had the rare pleasure of attending a lecture by renowned Christian apologist and prolific author Ravi Zacharias tonight. His published topic was “why believe in God,” but his subject was far more applicable to our current political season.
While Ravi disdains political discussion (unlike Pope Francis), he occasionally dips his toe into the fray, especially when President Obama speaks unbelievably hard-hearted and thumbless words to Christians at the National Prayer Breakfast. If you haven’t read Ravi’s response to Obama, it’s worth a read, but here’s a relevant section.
But let me get to the President’s final statement, after he had wandered off into erroneous territory. That final remark was true. He said, “It is sin that leads us to distort reality.” He was right. In fact he embodied it in his talk. But there is good news for the President. At least in the Christian message forgiveness is offered for sin. In Islam it isn’t. You must earn it. May I dare suggest that if Christians had been burning Muslims and be-heading them, he would have never dared to go to Saudi Arabia and tell them to get off their high horse. He unwittingly paid a compliment to those who preach grace and forgiveness. That is the dominant theme of the Gospel. That is why we sit in courtesy listening to the distortion of truth, the abuse of a privilege, and the wrong-headedness of a message.
I cannot recall when I have heard such inappropriate words at so important an occasion, in such a time of crisis. The world is burning with fear and apprehension. We need a message that will inspire and encourage and redeem. Ironically, two years ago when Dr. Ben Carson spoke and made some comments about our medical plan and the tax system, the White House demanded an apology from him for straying into controversial terrain, because it felt his comments showed disrespect for the President.
Of course, it’s over a year since Obama made those remarks and now Ben Carson is running for the job of president (with barely a scintilla of a chance of attaining it). Yet what Carson, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio–and even John Kasich–all know is that Christianity is about forgiveness offered for sin. (I won’t speak about former candidates, argue over Rand Paul or Jeb Bush on Tumblr or Reddit if you like.)
The question isn’t “who’s the best Christian?” Even asking it betrays a shocking ignorance of the basic foundations of forgiveness of sin. We all sin. We all fall short of the glory of God. We all fail to meet his righteous requirements for a sinless life to enter heaven on our own merits.
Poignantly, Ravi quoted a story from People Magazine in 1989 about the funeral of the last of the Hapsburg dynasty, Queen Zita, who died after a long life devoted to her God and her church.
The 8,000 mourners filed out of Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral and fell in line behind the catafalque drawn by six black horses. Two hours later the procession ended at the Capuchin Church, where, in keeping with tradition, a member of the funeral party knocked on the door and a priest asked, “Who goes there?”
The titles were read aloud: “Queen of Bohemia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, Galicia. Queen of Jerusalem. Grand Duchess of Tuscany and Cracow…”
“I do not know her,” said the father.
A second knock and “Who goes there?” brought the response, “Zita, Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary.” Again the reply, “I do not know her.”
When the inevitable question was put a third time, the answer was simply, “Zita, a sinning mortal.”
“Come in,” said the priest, opening wide the door not for royalty, but for a faithful member of the Church, whose life had finally reached its end.
Zita had many titles but only one mattered.
We can argue over the best way to keep illegal aliens from living on American soil. We can argue over the Chinese and how they manipulate their currency for fun and profit. We can argue over healthcare, taxes, and the federal budget. We can argue over the military, the Middle East, and who is really responsible for 9/11.
I kid about the last one.
Two things are inevitable. One is that we will all end up in the dirt–or as ashes if you prefer (barring an eschatological event). The other is that upon crossing that threshold, there’s no return to settle unpaid accounts. Even atheists die, and are given over to their eternal destiny with no do-overs.
There’s only one proper way to make that journey, of which we know not the date or time of our passage, and it’s the way Zita entered Capuchin Church.
After hearing Ravi, I felt I should pray for the one man in the Republican presidential race who most needs to learn the lesson from tonight. Donald Trump is a man who laughed off “I said I drink the wine, I eat the cracker,” who asked “Why do I have to repent or ask for forgiveness, if I am not making mistakes?”
A man who would say those things needs to know that we all face the final knock, and that there’s but one way to enter into the joy of the Lord: As a sinning mortal.