Pope Benedict XVI, left, and evangelist Billy Graham. Register file photos.

Unlikely allies share a common struggle

  • April 23, 2014

Ninety-five years old, in failing health, evangelist Billy Graham has summoned his energies to write what will almost surely be his last book: The Reason for My Hope. As I read it, I was struck by the extent to which Graham’s prose carries out the “new evangelism” to which Pope Benedict XVI insistently called the Catholic Church.

A half century ago the foremost Protestant evangelist and the Roman pontiff would have been unlikely allies — poles apart, occupying different theological planets. Today they wage a common struggle against the spiritual miasma of modernity. This is the real ecumenism of our time, not interfaith blathering or “dialogues” in which the Catholic Church invests time that seldom produces any discernible result.

“Were it not for hope, my heart would break,” says an old Scottish proverb. But hope in what? For what? What is hope? These are the themes Graham explores through personal recollections and many anecdotal accounts of others.

For decades the world marvelled at what was once a crown jewel, the Hope Diamond — a dazzling blue 45-carat gem with an estimated value of $250 million. Its last owner donated the diamond to the Smithsonian Institution as “a gift to the world.” Solitary, it now sits encased in a thick, bulletproof, glass carapace.

What hope does this jewel bring to gawkers? None at all. Protected from the world, locked up, it gives nothing, a metaphor to those who seek hope in the wrong places.
Graham writes: “The ‘Gift to the world’ is not on display, locked away under glass in a museum. The gift to the world came in the form of a personal Saviour who paid for our freedom with His priceless life. His Spirit remains with us today, bringing salvation to all who will take hold. This hope is an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast.”

Catholics seem more reluctant to talk about their hope than Protestants, yet St. Peter exhorted all Christians: “Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). Graham has spent a lifetime doing that, and in this book he tells what has sustained his hope through the years.

Graham has met people from every corner of the world — from presidents to paupers, from the powerful to the penniless — and he has heard their stories. In each chapter he relates the experiences of ordinary people to the great biblical themes: redemption, forgiveness, atonement and pardon. This makes the book somewhat jerky and episodic, but it is also effective — in fact not altogether dissimilar from the way Jesus spread His message by telling stories called parables.

“The message of the cross,” Graham writes “is for everyone. ‘For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved’ (John 3:17). The cross shows the seriousness of our sin, but it also proclaims the immeasurable love of God. Jesus says to the human race, ‘I will meet you at only one place, and that’s the cross — the place of victory.’ ”

I admire Billy Graham’s willingness to fearlessly assert the uncompromising truths of Christianity, many of which are apparently too politically incorrect to be heard from the pulpit today. For example, he writes: “Buddha never claimed to be God. Moses never claimed to be Jehovah. Mohammed never claimed to be Allah. Yet Jesus claimed to be the true and living God. Buddha simply said, ‘I am a teacher in search of the truth.’ Jesus said, ‘I am the truth.’ Confucius said, ‘I never claimed to be holy.’ Jesus said, ‘Who convicts me of sin?’ Mohammed said, ‘Unless God throws His cloak over me, I have no hope.’ Jesus said, ‘Unless you believe in me, you will die in your sins.’ ”

To outward appearances it seems unlikely that we shall have either Billy Graham or Pope Benedict XVI among us for much longer. Both are old and in failing health. Each man has been sustained throughout his life by hope — hope in the Saviour that each man has faithfully served.

As far as I can discover, the two men have never met face to face in this life. What a joyful meeting awaits them in the heavenly precincts.

(Hunter is Professor Emeritus in the Faculty of Law at Western University.)

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