Transcript of sermon by Billy Graham at the prayer service in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for the victims of the terrorist attack in that city.
Statewide Prayer Service
Oklahoma State Fair Arena
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Sunday, April 23, 1995
President Clinton, Mrs. Clinton, Governor Keating, Mrs. Keating, Mayor Norick and our visiting governor from the great state of Texas, Governor and Mrs. Bush, and so many people that have come here from all the country to join in this prayer service. For all that has been said, I don't know what I am going to say because we have had several messages brought here. One from the President which could be a sermon from a pulpit anywhere. Maybe that is what he will do someday (laughter)—ten or twenty years from now. (laughter)
But most important of all, all of those people who have been named from the fire department, the police department, those people that were in the building, those people who have lost loved ones, those who have been injured in the bombing -- our tears mingled with yours as we walked through the room a moment ago and shook hands with so many of you and had a little prayer with several of you. And you from the various agencies, like the fire, the medical, the police, the hundreds of volunteers who we have already heard about.
No matter how hard we try, words simply cannot express the horror and the shock and the revulsion we all feel over what took place in this city last Wednesday. That terrible and senseless tragedy runs against the grain of every standard, every belief and every custom we hold as a civilized society in the United States. And the images of devastation and human suffering we have seen here will be indelibly imprinted on each one of our minds and hearts as long as we live. That blast was like a violent explosion ripping at the very heart of America and long after the rubble is cleared and the rebuilding begins, the scars of this senseless and evil outrage will remain.
When we come together here today, not only to pray—and forgive and love—but to say to those who masterminded this cruel plot and to those who carried it out that the spirit of this city and this nation will not be defeated. (applause) Someday the wounds will heal and someday those who thought they could sow chaos and discord will be brought to justice as President Clinton has so eloquently promised.
The wounds of this tragedy are deep but the courage and the faith and the determination of the people of Oklahoma City are even deeper. (applause) A part of my family lives in Oklahoma. My father had a brother, an older brother, a giant of a man, and he came to Oklahoma, and he founded a business in Tahlequah and Muskogee. I came to Oklahoma City and held two or three crusades. The first one was here in these fairgrounds many, many years ago. Some of you might have been little children at that time. (laughter) But I have known something of the strength and the courage and the character of people that live in Oklahoma (applause).
The Bible says, in Psalm 147:3, "He heals the brokenhearted, He binds up the wounds." And so with this service today we stand together to say: Let the healing begin! (applause)
Since I have been here I have been asked the question several times, many times, Why does God allow it? Why does a God of love and mercy that we read about and hear about allow such a terrible thing to happen?
Over three thousand years ago there was a man named Job who struggled with the same question. He asked why? Because he was a good man and yet disaster struck him suddenly and swiftly. He lost seven sons, three daughters, he lost all his possessions. He even lost his health. Even his wife and his friends turned against him. His wife said, "Curse God and die." In the midst of his suffering he asked this question, "Why?" Job didn't know. "Why did I not perish at birth?" he cried. Perhaps this is the way you feel, and I want to assure you that God understands those feelings. The Bible says, in Isaiah 43:2, "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you and when you walk through the fire you will not be burned, the flames will not set you ablaze." Yet Job found there were lessons to be learned from his suffering, even if he didn't fully understand it. And that is true for all of us as well. What are some of the lessons that we can learn from what has happened.
First, there is a mystery to it. I have been asked why God allows it. I don't know. I can't give a direct answer. I have to confess that I never fully understand even for my own satisfaction. I have to accept by faith that God is a God of love and mercy and compassion even in the midst of suffering.
I can remember many years ago lying on a dirt floor in a field hospital in Korea and looking up into the face of a soldier suspended in a frame who was horribly wounded. The doctor said, "He'll never walk again." And I asked myself why? I can recall standing at the bedside of children who were dying and I have asked myself, "Lord, why?" I recall walking through the devastation left by hurricanes in Florida and South Carolina, and typhoons in India, and earthquakes in Guatemala and California, and I have asked myself, "Why?"
The Bible says that God is not the author of evil and it speaks of evil in Thessalonians as a mystery. There is something about evil we will never fully understand this side of eternity.
But the Bible says two other things that we sometimes are tempted to forget. It tells us that there is a devil, that Satan is very real and he has great power. It also tells us that evil is real and that the human heart is capable of almost limitless evil when it is cut off from God and from the moral law.
The prophet Jeremiah said, "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it?" That is your heart and my heart without God. That is one reason we each need God in our lives for only he can change our hearts and give us the desire and the power to do what is right and keep us from wrong.
Times like this will do one of two things. They will either make us hard and bitter and angry at God, or they will make us tender and open, and help us to reach out in trust and faith. I think that is what the people of Oklahoma are doing that I have met since I have been here these past two days. I pray that you will not let bitterness and poison creep into your soul, but that you will turn in faith and trust in God even if we cannot understand. It is better to face something like this with God than without Him.
But the lesson of this event has not only been about mystery, but as we have already heard, it's a lesson of a community coming together. (applause)
What an example Oklahoma City and the people of Oklahoma have given to the world because the television has been carrying it as much as any event I can ever remember like this. The cooperation between officials of every level of government and the community, no matter what religious group we belong to and what political views we may have, none of us will ever forget some of those pictures on television that have already been mentioned here today. Or the picture of hundreds of people standing in line to give blood.
The work of the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and a host of other humanitarian organizations, as well as the emergency workers and the doctors and the nurses, have inspired us and humbled us. A tragedy like this could have torn this city apart but instead it has united you in a way that you've never been united before.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of prayer groups around the world have been praying for you. I'm sure, as I've been told, that you've sensed their prayers and their support. The forces of hate and violence must not be allowed to gain their victory not just in our society but in our hearts. Nor must we respond to hate with more hate. This is a time of coming together and we've seen that already and have been inspired by it.
This tragedy also gives us a lesson in comfort and compassion. We've seen an outpouring of sympathy and help not only in Oklahoma City and Oklahoma but throughout the United States and throughout the world. We've been reminded that a cruel event like this which so vividly demonstrates the depths of human evil also brings out the best in us, brings out the best of the human spirit, the human compassion and sympathy and sacrifice. But this can also teach us about God's comfort and compassion.
Some of you today are going through heartache and grief so intense that you wonder if it will ever go away. I've had the privilege of meeting some of you and talking to you but I want to tell you that our God cares for you and for your family and for your city, and the Bibles says that He is "the God of all comfort, who comforts us in our troubles." Jesus said, "Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted." I pray that every one of you will experience God's comfort during these days as you turn to Him, for God loves you, and He shares in your suffering.
Difficult as it may be for us to see right now, this event gives us, as we've heard from the archbishop, a message of hope. Yes, there is hope. There is hope for the present because I believe the stage has already been set for the restoration and renewal of the spirit of this city. You are a city that will always survive and you will never give up. (applause)
Today it's my prayer that all Americans will rededicate ourselves to a new spirit of brotherhood and compassion, working together to solve the problems and barriers that would tear us apart. But there is also hope for the future because of God's promises. As a Christian, I have hope not just for this life, but for the life to come. Someday there will be a glorious reunion with those who have died and gone to heaven before us and that includes all those innocent children that are lost. They are not lost from God because any child that young is automatically in heaven and in God's arms.
But this event also reminds us of the brevity and uncertainty of life. It reminds us that we never know when we are going to be taken. I doubt if even one of those (people) who went to that building to work or to go to the children's place ever dreamed that that was their last day on earth. That is why we each need to face our own spiritual need and commit ourselves to God.
It's ironic that this terrible event took place just three days after the churches of this city were filled with people celebrating Easter -- just one week ago today. And today throughout the world the Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate Easter on this day.
Easter always brings hope to all of us. For the Christian, the Cross tells us that God understands our suffering, for He took upon Himself at the Cross all of our sins and all of our failures and all of our sufferings. Our Lord, on that cross, asked the question, "Why?" "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" And he received his answer, he knew. To redeem the world, to save you and me from our sins, to give us assurance that if we died we're going to heaven. He was saying from the cross, I love you and I know the heartaches and the sorrows and the pain that you feel. Easter points us beyond the tragedy of the Cross to the hope of the empty tomb. It tells us that there is hope for eternal life for Christ has conquered death. It also tells us that God has triumphed over evil and death and hell. This is our hope and it can be your hope as well.
I was deeply moved Friday night while watching Larry King talking to Edye Smith who lost her two little boys in that explosion. Her brother, a 28-year-old police officer, was dispatched to the crime scene to help, and in searching the rubble he found one of his nephews. The boys' grandfather is a Christian evangelist who said that conducting their funeral is the hardest thing he ever faced but that his faith had been crucial in helping him through the tragedy. He quoted Romans 8:28 "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him" and said that if that were the only verse he had in the Bible, it would work through all of his problems if we only believe it.
President and Mrs. Clinton will remember at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington earlier this year, Ambassador Andrew Young (who had gone through the terrible agony of losing his beloved wife whom he loved so much to cancer) closed his talk at our prayer breakfast with a quote from an old hymn "How Firm a Foundation."
The fourth verse of that hymn says:
"The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I will not, I will not desert to its foes:
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I'll never, no, never, no, never forsake!"
My prayer for you today is that you will feel the loving arms of God wrapped around you and will know in your heart that He will never forsake you as you trust him. God bless Oklahoma.
From BGC Archives Collection 360
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