My grandfather, Frank Graham, was a simple dairy farmer who never went past the eighth grade in school. But in May, 1934, he met with some other businessmen in Charlotte, N.C., and together they prayed that God would raise up a man in America who would proclaim the Good News of peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ. His own son and my father became God’s answer to his prayer.
Billy Graham has become a true national treasure frequently referred to as America’s pastor. He has been beloved by Liberal and Conservative. Republican and Democrat. Catholic and Protestant. Secular and religious. The consistency of his faith, the humility of his character, and the simplicity of his lifestyle convey his authenticity as a man of God. But the value of his spiritual leadership has never been as evident as it was on September 14, 2001. Three days after America was attacked, the nation was still reeling from the images of the Twin Towers collapsing in a mushroom cloud of smoke and ash, of the Pentagon in flames, and of a crater in a Pennsylvania field which was all that was left of United Flight 93.
While the savagery and success of the terrorist attack caused some in other places to dance in the streets, most of the world reacted as we did. In horror. Unbelief. Fear. Grief. Anger. Confusion. How would Americans respond to such a vicious assault? How should we respond? The answer was eloquently delivered at the Memorial Service held in The National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., on the Friday following 9/11.
The eyes of the world were fixed on the assembly of national and international leaders who packed the sanctuary. And then the cameras centered on an old man with white hair making his way down the long center aisle and taking his seat at the front of the cathedral. Frank Graham’s son, Billy Graham. At the appropriate time, he arose, walked up the steps to the podium, and began to deliver a riveting message that was both courageous and comforting. Hope-filled and healing. The farm boy who was God’s answer to my grandfather’s prayer was now giving us all the answer to our own desperate prayers, as he refocused us on our national foundation of trust in God.
At the appropriate time, he arose, walked up the steps to the podium, and began to deliver a riveting message that was both courageous and comforting. Hope-filled and healing.
At this critical time of crisis in America, our nation’s pastor reminded us all of several important truths beginning with the mystery and reality of evil—while he confessed he didn’t know the answer to questions about human suffering, he said he accepted by faith that God is sovereign, and that He is a God of love, mercy, and compassion in the midst of our suffering.
He pointed out that we need each other. Instead of the diabolical attack that was intended to tear us apart, we were more united than ever.
And then, with his voice growing stronger with the familiar accent and cadence that have become so beloved, he underscored the desperate need for spiritual renewal that comes when we repent of our sin and return to God.
My father’s message concluded as he clarified the choice that faced us as a nation: Would we implode and disintegrate emotionally and spiritually? Or would we rebuild on a solid foundation of faith in God? Fourteen years later, I’m left to wonder… how does America today reflect the choice that we made then?
I took my father’s challenge seriously, and as a result of 9/11, I humbled myself, repented of my sin, and returned to God in a renewal of my faith, strengthening the spiritual foundation of my own life. I am proud to be an American who stands firmly on the foundation of faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Father of Jesus Christ. In God I trust.