By Lisa K. Robinson
During a turbulent flight between Dallas and Pittsburgh, I pondered the leading news stories in USA Today and clutched my husband’s hand just a little harder. An Iraq war veteran went off the rails and killed 5 people in an airport and wounded another 8. A mother allowed her boyfriend to rape and murder her adopted daughter. My mind and heart hurt. I have been a believer most of my adult life, and yet, when I see senseless violence and suffering, I confess to having doubts. Why doesn’t God stop this stuff in its tracks? If the plane went down, would my questions be answered?
Years ago, I read The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel. Honestly, the book was so heavy and my life was so full that I didn’t finish it. Sorting through a mass of books at Ollie’s, I found it again for just $4. I would try to get through it once again, although my life has not emptied out very much since it was first published 17 years ago. Strobel described an interview he had with Charles Templeton, who died just months after the interview at the age of 84 of Alzheimer’s.
In the late 40s and early 50s, Charles Templeton ministered all over the country with evangelist Billy Graham. Templeton and Graham were best friends and partners, and thousands were brought to faith through their work. Templeton was an intellectual with a quick, inquisitive, logical mind. His most pressing unanswered question: How a loving God could permit evil and suffering in this world?
Doubts plagued Billy Graham too. Could he trust Scripture as being inspired by God Himself? If he couldn’t trust the Bible, how could he go on? Templeton urged Graham that modern people wisely didn’t believe everything they read in the Bible. It was intellectual suicide. Faith and intellect could not coexist in the same person.
Graham took his Bible and went for an evening walk in the San Bernadino Mountains right before his Los Angeles crusade. Graham confessed in prayer that he could not answer the tough questions Templeton posed. Something supernatural stirred in Graham. He came to the realization that he didn’t have to have all the answers to all the questions. The human mind is finite, and even his best friend, Charles Templeton’s, brilliant, probing mind was finite. But God is infinite. The only thing Graham needed was faith that God was real. Faith bridges the finite to the infinite.
Strobel wrote that this was a pivotal moment for Graham and a disappointing one for Templeton. Templeton, fifty years later, had never accused Graham of being a fraud. In fact, although the two had lost contact for years, Templeton had nothing but respect and affection for Graham as a man of honesty and integrity. The two men simply took divergent paths in answering the same question. Graham went on to have an international ministry and had the opportunity to discuss issues of faith with every sitting president from Harry Truman to Barack Obama. Templeton taught and went on to write several books on atheism, his last and most recognized, Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith.
Strobel asked Templeton what pushed him away from his faith. Templeton described a picture on the cover of Life magazine depicting a grief stricken African mother holding her dead infant and looking up to the sky. North Africa had endured a severe and prolonged drought. He asked how a loving God could allow this terrible suffering when all that woman and baby needed was rain. Who controls the rain? God does, but He didn’t send it. Templeton spent his entire life thinking about why God didn’t send the rain.
Strobel pressed Templeton, whose Alzheimer’s was strangely at bay for the majority of the interview. Templeton praised Jesus’ simplicity but described him as a moral genius:
“His ethical sense was unique. He was the intrinsically wisest person that I’ve ever encountered in my life or in my readings. His commitment was total and led to his own death, much to the detriment of the world. What could one say about him except that this was a form of greatness?”
Templeton went onto say that Jesus was the most important thing in his life and that he adored Him. Later in the interview, Templeton confessed that he missed Jesus. A thin, frail 83 year man, padding around in corduroy slippers in his Toronto penthouse and dying of Alzheimer’s, cried real tears over the loss of his best friend, Jesus.
There is only one conclusion to Charles Templeton’s question that makes any sense at all but doesn’t address all the rabbit trail questions Billy Graham couldn’t answer. Some things can only be described in relationship to other things. For example, darkness is an absence of light. Evil is simply an absence of God. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 John 1:5: “This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all.”
When I was a little girl, I asked my dad the Charles Templeton question. My dad, one of the smartest people I know or know of, advised me to do my part to do good and be kind, even in the smallest of ways. He told me my little light would chase away just a little bit of the world’s darkness.
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.