This story happens shortly before the defining Los Angeles crusade and illustrates the crisis that often precedes great blessing (think Jacob’s wrestling in Genesis 32). What is striking about Billy Graham is that he took his questions to God, and it was in that act that, like Job before him, that he did not receive answers, he received something more, he received God himself.
So to set up the story…
Graham had been wrestling with the doubts about the Bible partly through coming into contact with the writing of Karl Barth and Rheinhold Neihbuhr, and through long conversations with his great friend Chuck Templeton.
On the other side of the argument there was the famed Californian Bible Class teacher Henrietta Mears:
During the week, I had times ofpraye and private discussion with Miss Mears at her cottage. Rarley had I witnessed such Christian love and compassion as she had for those students. She had faith in the integrity of the Scriptures, and an understand of Bible truth as well as modern scholarship. I was desperate for every insight she could give me.
By contrast, Chuck Templeton had a passion for intellectualism that had been stimulated by his studies. He made no attempt to hid his feelings about me. “Billy, you’re fifty years out of date. People no longer accept the Bible as being inspired the way you do. Your faith is too simple. Your language is out of date. You’re going to have to learn the new jargon if you’re going to be successful in your ministry.
My friend Bob Evans, who had been at Wheaton with me, was also at Forest Home. He overhead Chuck say, “Poor Billy, I feel sorry for him. He and I are taking two different roads.”
This cut me to the quick; the friendship and fellowship we had enjoyed meant a great deal to me. Ironically the Christian Business Men’s Committee of Great Los Angeles (which was taking a great step of faith in having an unknown evangelist like me) had invited Church to speak in July at a “booster dinner” for the Campaign.
I ached as if I were on the rack, with Miss Mears stretching me one way and CHurck Templeton stretching me the other. Alone in my room one evening, I read every verse of Scripture I could think of that had to do with “thus saith the Lord.” I recalled hearing someone say that the prophets had used the phrase “the Word of the Lord said” (or similar wording) more than two thousand times. I had no doubts concerning the deity of Jesus Christ or the validity of the Gospel, but was the Bible completely true? If I was not exactly doubtful, I was certainly disturbed.
I pondered the attitude of Christ toward the Scriptures. He loved those sacred writings and quoted from them constantly. Never once did he intimate that they could be wrong. In fact, He verified some of the stories in the Old Testament that were the hardest to believe, such as those concerning Noah and Jonah. With the Psalmist, He delighted in the law of the Lord, the Scriptures.
As that night wore on, my heart became heavily burdened. Could I trust the Bible? With the Los Angeles Campaign galloping toward me, I had to have an answer. If I could not trust the Bible, I could not go on. I would have to quit the school presidency. I would have to leave pulpit evangelism. I was only thirty years of age. It was not too late to become a dairy farmer. But that night I believed with all my hear that the God who had saved my soul would never let go of me.
I got up and took a walk. The moon was out. The shadows were long in the San Bernardino Mountains surrounding the retreat center: Dropping to my knees there in the woods, I opened the Bible at random on a tree stump in front of me. I could not read it in the shadowy moonlight, so I had no idea what text lay before me. Back at Florida Bible Institute, that kind of woodsy setting had given me a natural pulpit for proclamation. Now it was an altar where I could stutter into prayer.
The exact wording of my prayer is beyond recall, but it must have echoed my thoughts: “O God! There are many things in this book I do not understand. There are many problems with it for which I have no solution. There are many seeming contradictions. There are some areas in it that do not seem to correlate with modern science. I can’t answer some of the philosophical and psychological questions Chuck and others are raising.”
I was trying to be on the level with God, but something remained unspoken. At last the Holy Spirit freed me to say it, “Father , I am going to accept this as Thy Word – by faith! I’m going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe this to be Your inspired Word.”
When I got up from my knees at Forest Home that August night, my eyes stung with tears. I sensed the presence and power of God as I had not sensed it in months. Not all my questions were answered but a major bridge had been crossed. In my heart and mind, I knew a spiritual battle in my soul had been fought and won.