Finding the light in a darkness of doubt

Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.  Psalm 30:5b

In 1949, just months before the breakthrough crusade that launched Billy Graham’s remarkable evangelistic career he went through a personal crisis of faith that could have taken him out.  As is often the case, a dark night of the soul invariably precedes the dawning of a new day of promise. A common demonic tactic is an attempt to abort the Godly seed of ministry before it can see the light of day.  That is why the King of Egypt sought to kill all the male Hebrews at birth because God’s intention was to bring forth Moses, Israel’s future deliverer.  That is why Herod attempted to kill the Christ child at birth when he slaughtered all the little children two and under in Bethlehem and vicinity.

Billy’s crisis of faith was not unlike the crisis of faith that every Christian at one time or other must go through.  It is a necessary passage through the darkness of questioning doubt that is meant to lead us to the dawning of unquestionable faith.  The apostle Peter, whose own faith in Christ was tested mightily, encourages us in this regard that our faith must be tested in order that it “may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:7)

The crisis of faith at its core is wrestling with the question, “Can I trust God to be who He says He is?”  And that is intricately tied to the question “Is the Bible true?”  You can see how both questions are one and the same because the Bible claims that its source is God Himself, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:21)  And the Bible, under the illumination of the Holy Spirit, is our sole source of accurately knowing who God is, His nature and His dealings with humankind. (1 Corinthians 2:9-12) Therefore when we doubt God we are actually doubting the Bible and when we doubt the Bible we end up doubting God.  It is a vicious cycle.

Billy had been reading Reinhold Niebuhr and Karl Barth, neo-orthodoxy liberals of the day who questioned the authority of the Bible and placed intellectualism above faith.  What complicated matters for Billy was that a close friend and fellow evangelist, Charles Templeton, had bought into this teaching and was badgering Billy to join him.  “Bill, you cannot refuse to think, to do that is to die intellectually.”  From his reading and Templeton’s persuasive arguments Billy was deeply shaken in his faith.  (Templeton later rejected his faith altogether, never to return.)

At that time, in the midst of wrestling with great spiritual darkness, Graham accepted an invitation of an influential Christian woman of the day, Henrietta Mears, to speak at her Forest Home Retreat Center, located east of Los Angeles.  For Billy this retreat in the foothills of the San Bernadino Mountains, like Moses in the back side of the wilderness, became his place of encounter with God that would forever set his course of ministry.  While there he had the opportunity to talk to Henrietta, a strong woman of faith, about his questioning of the Bible’s authority.  Her wisdom and references to the Scriptures gave much needed direction to his heart. 

One night, while roaming the foothills in the moonlight the crisis came to a head.  Billy left the trail, found a tree stump upon which he placed his open Bible and cried out to God.  “Oh, God, I cannot answer some of the questions Chuck and some of the other people are raising, but I accept this book by faith as the Word of God. I am going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe this to be your inspired word.”

That encounter with the living God settled the authority of the Scriptures once for all for Billy.  With the dawning of day he felt a remarkable intimacy with Christ and renewed confidence in the Bible.  As every anointed servant and hand maiden of God must do, he passed from the darkness of doubt into the joy of trust and confidence in God and His Word.  From then on the world would hear time and again, from the lips of the greatest evangelist of the last century “The bible says…” “The bible says…” “The bible says…”

The Los Angeles Crusade that followed this encounter broke into a revival that thrust Billy onto the world stage of evangelism – and the rest is history. 

It has been said that the night is often its darkest just before dawn.  When we doubt God or His Word, you cannot doubt one with doubting the other and we find ourselves engulfed in just such darkness.  The brightness of the Son’s rising beckons us to hold on, to cling to Him and His Word even though we see or feel nothing to convince us otherwise.  The morning light will come!  He promises us it will come.  God is faithful to grant to us, like He granted to Billy, an answer to our questioning, doubting hearts.  “My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.”  (Psalm 130:6)

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