Billy Graham's Heart-Wrenching Tour After Katrina

This article, along with others celebrating the life of America's favorite preacher, is featured in Newsweek's Special Commemorative Edition: Billy Graham

In New Orleans in 2006 to preach to 1,000 clergy gathered at the First Baptist Church there—his first sermon in eight months—the Rev. Billy Graham toured the hard-hit city. Afterward, Graham, who had just published his book The Journey: How to Live by Faith in an Uncertain World, spoke to Newsweek by telephone. Edited excerpts:

This is your first trip to the coast after Katrina. What are your impressions?

This is the greatest disaster that I have ever seen, and I've seen many, all over the world. Mile after mile after mile, and not a house standing, not a thing that has been left untouched by Katrina. It's overwhelming to me. After my first tour, in fact, I was so emotional that I could not even talk to my wife for a while.

What do you tell people who ask how a loving God could let something like this happen?

Well, I spoke yesterday to the clergy, and I asked myself why, and I told them I don't know why. There is no way I can know. I think of Job, who suffered the loss of everything—seven sons and three daughters, all of his cattle, all of his sheep and his flocks, everything gone. He couldn't help but ask why, but he didn't find the answer immediately, and he really never had the answer at the end.

God came back and restored to him all these things, but the cause of the thing in his life was not God, it was the Devil. I didn't mention that yesterday, because I don't think this is the place to talk about Satan and the Devil because I don't know. The Devil might have had nothing to do with this, I don't know. But God has allowed it, and there is a purpose that we won't know maybe for years to come.

People are always struggling with the question of evil in a universe that many believe to be created and governed by a God whose central instinct is supposed to be love. Do you believe there is a personification of evil at work in the world, contending against that God?

Well, the Scripture teaches that there is a Devil, and his name is Satan, which means "destroyer." He's an accuser—he accuses us to God, and we are told that the victory over him has come through the cross. When Jesus died on the cross, he was not only dying for our sins, but he was also dying to destroy the power and the works of the Devil. We don't see that destruction yet. We are living in a period that Jesus predicted would be a very serious and difficult time, and as we approach the end of the age, it is going to get worse and worse. We see it on every hand today. But at the end of it, it's going to be the coming of Christ, and that's the hope that we really have….

I was born at the end of World War I and then came World War II, which was even worse. It's been one thing after another, through natural disasters, and men fighting men, the rise of communism, the rise of Nazism, and that all came in my short lifetime.

I don't see much improvement in man's heart. The whole thing is in man's heart: his desire, his greed, his lust, his pride, his ego. All of these things meshed together bring about sometimes a world war and sometimes a small war, but wars are going on everywhere, even in families. It's a personal thing with each of us.

And in your world view, the answer to those problems is through the Gospel.

Yes, absolutely. There is no other answer. But the Gospel that we talk about is good news to the individual that his own sins are forgiven…beyond that, national and international peace will come, I believe, when Jesus comes as the Messiah.

When do you think that will be?

I have no idea. Jesus told us not to try to set dates. And we are not to set a date, but he gave us signs to look for, and it seems to me that nearly all of them are being fulfilled right now. Maybe that's been true throughout history, but it's certainly true today.

How are you feeling physically?

I feel fairly good. I have my struggles at 87, and those are normal, I think, for men and women of my age. I was crippled when I fell twice—once I broke my hip and had to have a new hip put in, and I broke my pelvic bone in three places, and all those things take time to recover, and I have not recovered totally. I still walk with a walker because I don't want to fall again.

If a young evangelist asked you how much time he or she should spend on politics versus purely pastoral work, what would you say?

In my own life it's been a mixture. I've been concerned about our nation, our world and the political processes, but also I have regretted that I have not spent more time in prayer, in Bible study and in the pastoral ministry that pastors are usually called to do.

An evangelist is a little different. The word evangelist means "the spreader of good news," and my job, it seems to me, has been to go all over the world and proclaim that good news, and that's my primary mission. But I did learn a great deal in my travels about our world, and I became concerned about it, and I spoke about some issues in that period of time. To a young man today, I would say: "Put your emphasis on your Bible study and prayer."

From the Newsweek Archive, 3/20/2006, By Jon Meacham

This article, from the Newsweek archives, was excerpted from Newsweek's Special Commemorative Edition: Billy Graham. For more on the legacy of America's man of God, pick up a copy today.

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