Everything has been figured out except how to live.
Jean Paul Sartre
I struggle with that—how to live. I didn’t know I needed to struggle with it for many years, but with age comes wisdom—if we pay attention—and I’ve struggled for longer than I can remember. How can we be good people? How can we get over ourselves? How can we live a meaningful life? How can we leave others better for having known us? How can we leave the world better for our having spent an all-too-brief time there?
I don’t have those answers, not completely, but I’m working on them.
Billy Graham had them. He knew, and he lived them, though I’m sure he would have said, until his final moment, he was working on them.
His accomplishments are generally assumed, yet few know their number and importance. In many ways, their depth is unknowable to any but God. His profile at The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association reads in part:
Mr. Graham has preached the Gospel to more people in live audiences than anyone else in history—nearly 215 million people in more than 185 countries and territories—through various meetings, including Mission World and Global Mission. Hundreds of millions more have been reached through television, video, film, and webcasts.
There are tens of thousands of ministers and evangelists. They have varying degrees of success in their most important task: bringing people to Christ. None have succeeded like Billy Graham. How did he do it? It began, of all places, in Los Angeles:
The Los Angeles Crusade in 1949 launched Mr. Graham into international prominence. Scheduled for three weeks, the meetings were extended to more than eight weeks, with overflow crowds filling a tent erected downtown each night.
Many of his subsequent early Crusades were similarly extended, including one in London that lasted 12 weeks, and a New York City Crusade in Madison Square Garden in 1957 that ran nightly for 16 weeks.
In Billy Graham, people heard not only the Word of God, but the voice of God, spoken through his good and faithful servant, and they responded, by the thousands, tens of thousands and millions. Even in places like New York and Los Angeles, people heard, and recognized in Graham the outstretched hand to the way, the truth and the light. Graham refused to preach to segregated audiences; he knew all are the children of God. He was careful never to be alone with a woman not his wife, long before Mike Pence, who is so roundly criticized for that by the self-important, self-imagined elite, people like one Lauren Duca, a writer for Teen Vogue who expressed the wisdom of such people:
Billy Graham would have forgiven her—has forgiven her. He knew how to live. She, demonstrably, hasn’t a clue.
Only a few years ago, asked what he would have done differently, Graham replied that he would have traveled less. He felt he traveled to too many countries. He would have taken more time to meditate and pray. I suspect, that to the last, Graham wasted no time thinking himself above reproach. He probably thought himself unworthy. He probably thought himself an imperfect vessel carrying a perfect message, a charge far beyond his poor abilities, beyond the abilities of us any of us. With age comes wisdom; with wisdom comes humility.
In hearing Billy Graham, millions were touched by God, their lives forever changed for the better. For having Billy Graham in it, the world is a better place. He was inspired, touched by God, and through him, so were we. What better epitaph for him—for us all—than that he was a useful and effective servant of God?
Ave atque vale, Billy. Requiscat in pacem.