“Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”—Billy Graham (1918–2018)
photo from here
In my faith, we say that, after faith, repentance, and baptism, then you still need to endure to the end[i]. I think it’s safe to say Billy Graham did that. He passed away this week at age 99.
In honoring him, Andrew Klavan yesterday was talking about the ability to change lives. And he compared that to, say, the atheist, science view.
There’s a dearth of hope, even when conditions here and worldwide are pretty good. He says,
And that’s seems to be true in this country and throughout the West. In Europe they’re not even having children anymore. In Japan they’re not having children anymore. They’re dying out….
You know, I said this to somebody the other day.... He was from another country; I won’t say which, because it was a private conversation, but he said, “We have to bring in immigrants, because we’re not having children.” And I said, “Well, why don’t you get people to have more children?” And he said, “We’re already, we’ve got all kinds of benefits for people to have children.” And I said, “Well, maybe that’s not—giving people benefits is not what gets them to have children. Maybe it’s hope, and a sense of themselves, and a sense of a mission in life, and a sense of purpose.”
Klavan spends a bit of time reviewing the life of Louis Zamperini, whose story is told in the book Unbroken, and the recent movie by that name. I recommend both the book and the movie, even though both are very painful before you get to the final relief. Klavan tells us:
He was an Olympic distance runner. He ran in the Jesse Owens Olympics in ’36. He shook Hitler’s hand afterward and all this, and he became an American soldier, and he was captured by the Japanese. And he was tortured. I mean the scenes of torture in this book, [author Laura Hillenbrand] writes the book so well that it’s not unbearable, but it’s horrible. It is horrible.
He was tortured beyond ability of a normal human being to imagine. And he came back, and he was, of course—he was of course broken. The fact that he lived, the things he lived through, the time he was on the raft before he was rescued by the Japanese, and then the torture he went through afterwards—that anybody could live through this is a testimony to his internal fortitude.
But after that he was broken. He became a drunk. He loved his wife, and one day he woke up with his hands around her throat, because he… had a dream that he was strangling the guy who tortured him. He was filled with rage. He was unreachable. His wife—even though he loved his wife, he was going to lose her, because he was unreachable.
|from the Billy Graham Quotes Facebook page|
After all he had gone through, I remember feeling very upset in this part of the book.
Fortunately, things got better again. And Billy Graham was part of that. Zamperini walked into one of Graham’s early tent revivals, and heard one of his sermons. And he was saved. Not instantaneously—and Graham wouldn’t approve of instantaneous “saving,” because that’s a lifelong process. But, looking at the totality of Zamperini’s life, we can say he was saved.
And when I say he was saved, never mind what happens to him after death; let’s put that aside for a minute. He was saved in this life too, because God came into his life, and the last half of his life was just as beautiful as the first half had been—more so, because he was suddenly helping other people. That anger fell away from him. He forgave the man who tortured him, which is an amazing thing to have done; I don’t think I could have done that. But it transformed him.
Of Billy Graham transforming lives, Klavan says,
You only have to do that once. You only have to do that once, as far as I’m concerned, to get the toaster [the bonus gift] when you get to heaven. Billy Graham did this tens and tens of thousands of times. I don’t know how many times. Probably millions of times.
Millions of lives transformed into happier, healthier lives—here and now in this world, ahead of what happens in the afterlife.
We have a scripture that says,
And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!
And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!—Doctrine & Covenants 18:15-16
That’s why we do missionary work—to spread the joy. Which isn’t all put off until after death; we find the most likely way to live happily while still in this fallen world. I think Billy Graham must have lived a very happy life, and brought many others along for the ride.
Next, Andrew Klavan considers the atheist alternative. He plays audio of Steven Pinker on “why he doesn’t believe in God, and why it’s not a scientific idea”:
Pinker: I think that using the word god, or the attitude of faith toward that which you don’t know is a copout. It’s a way of slapping a label onto something, rather than trying to understand it. Or, since we may not understand everything, just say, “There’s some things we don’t understand.” To invent stories that sound as if they were true or could be true, to pretend that they’re true just so that we can have a story, I think is unsatisfying, and it could even be immoral, because it could lead you to mistaken policies, to getting in the way of your best understanding of how the world works. Um, to doing things that lead to more harm than good.
More harm than good? By what measure? Klavan comments on that:
And this is a narrative that a lot of these guys—Sam Harris too; Christopher Hitchens, a guy whose prose I just love—sell. And the way it works is, they compare the best of science with the worst of religion. So they compare, you know, a cure for diseases from science, and then they compare a Christian bigot who goes out and hurts somebody in the name of his religion. If instead they compared the atom bomb to Christian charity, then they would have a harder argument to make. No science—there is no science for taking the rage out of Louis Zamperini’s heart.
Klavan talks about how he knew, almost from the moment he met her, that his wife was the woman of his dreams, and he still feels that way 40 years later. The point he makes is:
The evidence of what God does in people’s life is evidence. It lasts over time. Just like my love for my wife; it lasts over time. And it can be experienced.
So, what do you get out of listening to the atheists?
These guys, without meaning to, without being bad guys, are contributing to this crisis in America. When you tell people that they’re just a bunch of chemicals, and they can solve their problems by opiates, they’re going to die of opiate overdoses. When you tell them that there’s no purpose to their life, that nobody made them, that nobody loves them, their sense of right and wrong comes—it’s just a kind of random, relative idea—you take away from them every single thing they have of value. Everything they have of value. Their house is not valuable. Their love is not valuable. Nothing is valuable if they themselves are not there; if you tell them they have no free will, they have no soul, they have no spirit.
These guys, with all the best wishes in the world, thinking that they’re saving us, are really starting a crisis.
What these scientific types fail to realize is that a transformed life is actual evidence that God’s word is real, that His way is the way to a better life. There's a lot of religious truth that we don't know yet, and there's a lot of scientific truth that we don't know yet. This life is better lived humbly than as a cocky know-it-all who dismisses all kinds of evidence because you don't want to see it.
Klavan ends the segment noting that we won’t be able to hear Billy Graham again, but…
Billy Graham is silenced. God is still speaking. If America stops listening, that will be the real crisis.
I know in my life, the evidence of God is so present, so full, that I am often puzzled by those who say religious people are just delusional. Is there something about them that doesn’t allow them to perceive what I do? Then there are others I know whose perception is far more developed than mine. Now that I think about it, the more developed that perception of God, the more abundant the life. Life still isn't painless, but it's rich and full.
One good voice is gone. But he gave us 99 good years, so we shouldn’t complain. Maybe the best way to honor such a voice is to continue to share evidence of God's transforming power by living a good life, and maybe even being happy about it, despite the fallen world we're in.