How Billy Graham and C.S. Lewis Responded to Their Doubts
There was a time in my life when I was moving toward atheism. I recall two periods actually, one when I was around 13 and one when I was in college. The former was just adolescent nonsense that didn’t last long, and the latter was a period of genuine doubt.
The reason I know I had genuine doubt is because it was involuntary. That is, I didn’t want to doubt. But I had questions about the existence of God and the church that I couldn’t answer, despite the fact that I was looking for answers.
The answers found me.
Someone gave me a copy of Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, and I took it with me on vacation with my then girlfriend (now wife) and her family to Gulf Shores, Alabama. I remember the room I stayed in. It was beach-themed, with shell lamps and paintings in light blue. You could smell the gulf air wafting though the condo.
I opened up the book and sat on the bed. And it changed my life.
C.S. Lewis is way smarter than me, and his doubts were sharper than mine. And as he brought me on his journey of overcoming doubt—which happened accidentally, if you believe in accidents —my doubts crumbled. I learned about the philosophical strength of Christianity. I considered the divinity of Christ.
My faith solidified.
C.S. Lewis pursued his doubts with intellectual curiosity. He turned them over in his bright mind and considered the claims of Christianity in relation to the realities of the world. And as Lewis pursued his doubts in an effort to bolster them, his belief emerged. Mere Christianity is a taste of his journey, and I will be forever thankful to God for that book. It changed my life.
Billy Graham and The Tree Stump of Innerancy
Recently I watched Billy Graham: An Extraordinary Journey. It is a one-hour documentary on the life and ministry of Billy Graham. I highly recommend it.
What struck me about the story of this extraordinary man was his tight grasp on the gospel of Jesus Christ. He didn’t preach behavior modification; he preached Christ crucified. And he didn’t depart from the message.
One scene showed one of the massive crusades with hordes of people in a stadium. Reverend Graham, fired up as usual, belted out that the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation is about Jesus. Yes. The centrality of Christ.
But Reverend Graham was not immune to doubts. In fact, you might say the ministry of Billy Graham almost didn’t happen on account of his doubts.
A good friend of Graham, Charles Templeton, almost convinced him that the Bible was flawed. Templeton was in the midst of losing his faith, and he shared his doubts with the reverend. Of course, there are questions we cannot answer about the Bible, and Templeton brought them to bear upon Billy Graham.
As a man who relied solely on the truth of Scripture, Reverend Billy Graham’s faith wobbled.
One night while walking in the woods at a Christian retreat where he was speaking, Reverend Graham wrestled with his questions. As he walked, he was overcome by the Spirit of God. He set his Bible on a tree stump and fell to his knees and cried out:
“Father, I am going to accept this as Thy Word—by faith! I’m going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe this to be Your inspired Word!”
Billy Graham accepted the Bible as God’s word by faith. He didn’t have all the answers, but he chose to believe. It was an act of will, or you might say - and this is what I believe - that the Spirit overcame him and solidified his faith as a gift (per Ephesians 2:8).
What About Your Doubts?
C.S. Lewis overcame his doubts by leaning in with his brilliant mind. Billy Graham overcame his doubts in an act of faith.
How will you overcome your doubts?
We all have them. The Christian faith is tenable, but it’s also mysterious.
In Mark 9, Jesus comes upon a boy possessed by an unclean spirit. The boy has been tormented physically by the spirit his whole life. He has thrown himself into fire and water as the spirit inside him tried to destroy him.
The boy’s father comes up to Jesus and asks for help. And he asks Jesus to help the boy if he can. If he can. Jesus calls him out:
“‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” (Mark 9:23)
The man sees his error. He has doubts, and even though here stands the Son of God in front of him, he can’t just will them away. So he responds to Jesus:
“I believe; help my unbelief!”
We don’t know what happened to this man, but I have to guess his faith was made strong that day by Jesus. Why?
Because he put his doubts at the feet of the Lord.
He admitted his doubts to Jesus’ face. He asked for help. And as he watched Jesus heal his son and cast out the evil spirit, one can only imagine he doubted his doubts.
If we try to deal with our doubts alone, we are limited. If we think we’re smart enough to figure out all of the workings of the God of the universe, we are fools. But we can pursue them like C.S. Lewis did. We can slay them with faith like Billy Graham did. We must realize, however, that neither man actually overcame his doubts by his own doing. It was the Lord that stepped into the void of their unbelief and stirred their hearts to conviction. Lewis and Graham moved toward the Lord with their doubts, and the Lord met them there. And thus their faith changed history.
When I had doubts, the answers found me. The hand of God delivered them through the pen of C.S. Lewis.
What will you do with your doubts? Will you let them fester or will you move toward them?