One of the truths sharpened in me as I’ve grown in adulthood is the need to sit under the wisdom of someone else. In other words, there is great sagacity in learning to submit to another. Submission isn’t a form of weakness, friends; rather, it is evidence of both humility and strength.
We see that strength in history’s wise men and women. None have ever been convinced that they are the wisest person they know.
I keep thinking of those wise men and women — something the Intramuralist craves. Hence, the below interaction caught my eye last week — the relationship between Billy Graham and George W. Bush. The former President spoke candidly as to the keen, deep influence of Graham — a man who befriended and influenced so many — including (I love this!) those named Eisenhower, Kennedy, Reagan, Obama.
Bush 43 spoke of first meeting Graham in 1985 on his grandmother’s porch. He would later spend extended time with the Reverend. According to the President, Graham “changed my life”…
“… I was captivated by him. He had a powerful presence, full of kindness and grace, and a keen mind… I mentioned something I’d been thinking about for a while—that reading the Bible might help make me a better person. He told me about one of the Bible’s most fundamental lessons: One should strive to be better, but we’re all sinners who earn God’s love not through our good deeds, but through His grace. It was a profound concept, one I did not fully grasp that day. But Billy had planted a seed. His thoughtful explanation made the soil less hard, the brambles less thick…
God’s work within me began in earnest with Billy’s outreach. His care and his teachings were the real beginning of my faith walk—and the start of the end of my drinking. I couldn’t have given up alcohol on my own. But in 1986, at 40, I finally found the strength to quit. That strength came from love I had felt from my earliest days and from faith I didn’t fully discover until my later years…
Perhaps his most meaningful service came on Sept. 14, 2001. After the 9/11 attacks, I asked Billy to lead the ecumenical service at Washington National Cathedral. It was no easy task. America was on bended knee—frightened, angry, uncertain. As only Billy Graham could, he helped us feel God’s arms wrapped around our mourning country.
‘We come together today,’ he began, ‘to affirm our conviction that God cares for us, whatever our ethnic, religious or political background may be. The Bible says that he is the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles.’ God comforted a nation that day through a very special servant.
In a difficult moment, Billy reminded me—and us all—where we can find strength. And he helped us start to heal by offering three lessons: the mystery and reality of evil, our need for each other, and hope for the present and future. ‘As a Christian,’ Graham said at the 9/11 service, ‘I have hope, not just for this life, but for heaven and the life to come.’
A final story: One night while dad was away on a trip during his presidency, mother and I had dinner at the White House. Eventually we got to talking about religion and who gets to go to heaven. I made the point that the New Testament says clearly that to get to heaven, one must believe in Christ. Mother asked about the devout who don’t believe in Jesus but do God’s work by serving others. She then took advantage of one of the benefits of being first lady. She picked up the phone and asked the White House operator to call Reverend Graham.
It wasn’t long before his reassuring Southern voice was on the line. He told us, as I recall, ‘Barbara and George, I believe what is written in the New Testament. But don’t play God. He decides who goes to heaven, not you.’ Any doctrinal certitude gave way to a calm trust that God had this figured out better than I did.
Those of us who were blessed to know Billy Graham benefited from his deep convictions and personal example, his wisdom and humility, his grace and purity of heart. We knew that his life was a gift from the Almighty. And I rejoice that he is now in the company of God, whom he loved so much and served so well.”
I love the wisdom of Billy Graham — a man who sincerely and passionately offered hope for all regardless of ethnic, religious or political background… a man who knew life was a gift… who was humble and strong and recognized both the reality of evil and our need for each other… who knew that God will always have this life figured out way better than we do… and who, no doubt, was incredibly wise.