In the last few weeks the world saw the departure of two very intelligent men. Both recognized all over the world. Both published several books. Both were recipients of the highest civil honor in the United States: the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the first one received it from Ronald Reagan in 1983, the other from Barack Obama in 2009). Both influenced many lives. Both were named William.
You may have guessed the first one: “William Franklin Graham”, or simply “Billy Graham”.
Unquestionably one of the most admired persons of our time, Billy Graham is remembered among other things for his more than 400 evangelistic crusades, where millions heard his clear message about God’s love and redemption plan. He frequently quoted John 3:16 in his messages: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”.
At the same time he was spreading that simple message, he was writing over 30 books, some with deep theological matters, and was counseling American presidents and international leaders with his wisdom and integrity.
He frequently stated he was ready to be with the Lord, particularly after the departure of his wife Ruth: “Because I know where I came from and I know where I am going”.
The second one may have been a little harder to guess: “Stephen William Hawking”, or just “Stephen Hawking”.
Also widely recognized, the theoretical physicist became famous for his cosmology studies including the prediction that black holes emit radiation, which became known as Hawking Radiation. He frequently indicated his view that “scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge”.
Hawking became a symbol of perseverance while his ALS progressively paralyzed him over the decades, affecting his motion and speech. He also authored many books, including the best seller “A Brief History of Time”.
In an interview he stated “We are each free to believe what we want and it is my view that the simplest explanation is there is no God. No one created the universe and no one directs our fate. This leads me to a profound realization. There is probably no heaven, and no afterlife either”.
Hawking was correct when he stated that we are each free to believe what we want, and that reminds me of an interview with Billy Graham when the reporter asked: “But Dr. Graham, you have dedicated your whole life to what you believe, what if it is not true?” His answer was “What if it is?” How prepared are you for that?
When I was watching Billy Graham’s funeral I curiously thought about the death of another Stephen. The one that was stoned to death for his faith in Jesus Christ in the early history of the church. Not because of the form of his death, but because of his statement: “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God”.
At that moment I pictured our Lord standing to welcome Billy Graham to His presence: “Well done, good and faithful servant”.