With JFK Jr.’s death, Billy Graham once again called upon for reflect

by Art Toalston, posted Friday, July 23, 1999 (20 years ago)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)--With the death of John F. Kennedy Jr., the media once again has turned to evangelist Billy Graham for a spiritual perspective in a time of societal agony.

Graham was among several notables whose reflections appeared in USA Today July 23 on a page titled, “Words of admiration and remembrance.” And Graham was featured during the latter half of “Larry King Live” on CNN July 20.

Kennedy was buried at sea July 22 along with his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and his sister-in-law, Lauren Bessette. The three died the evening of July 16 when the small aircraft Kennedy was piloting crashed into the ocean near Martha’s Vineyard.

In USA Today, Graham is quoted as saying:

“John and his wife, Carolyn, came home from their honeymoon three days early to interview me for his magazine, ‘George.’ We had a wonderful time together, and I could see a great deal of love between them.

“John Kennedy Jr. was one of the most terrific young men I’ve ever met. I thought he could be anything he decided to be. He had humility, he was kind, he was gracious, and he was knowledgeable. Most important, he had a religious faith, but I think at that time he was searching for something more definite.

“I talked to him in terms of his own personal relationship with God. He was very attentive and he seemed to want to know all about his father [President John F. Kennedy] and his faith. He asked me, ‘In this life, where does our own free will end and God’s will begin? Are we always responsible for our own actions, or is there a point at which God’s will takes over?’

“I told him there is a mystery to all of this and that I really didn’t know, but that I did know if he had faith in God and put his trust and confidence in Him, He would provide a peace and a joy and settle his life with certainty.”

Graham, speaking on Larry King Live from Jacksonville, Fla., said he had learned from some of the “people that know [Kennedy] very well that he was really a searching Christian,” according to a transcript on the CNN Internet site, cnn.com.

“He [Kennedy] was searching for something more in life than he already had,” Graham said. “And it seems to us, you know, that he had everything. But he wanted more. And I think that he really wanted Christ to come and take over his life.”

King said to Graham, “… you're kind of America's voice to the heavens in a sense. What do you say to family in a case like this? And then what do you say to America? What do you say to parents who've lost a child?”

Graham replied, “I would say that God loves you. God has a plan in your life. No accidents happen to a true believer, that this was in somehow the plan of God, but we cannot understand it. And to try to analyze it as to why, it's impossible. We have to say by faith that God had a plan, and I believe he did have a plan.

“And there's a passage of Scripture that John Kennedy Jr. [asked to be] read at his mother's funeral. … It says: ‘For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are live and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord.’ And then he says: ‘Encourage one another with these thoughts.’"

Graham recounted telling John Jr. about the last time he was with President Kennedy:

“… I spoke at all the presidential prayer breakfasts when he was the president. He's reportedly said that ‘Billy Graham is the only Protestant I feel comfortable with.’ … And so at the end of the breakfast, he and I would walk out together to his limousine. And we went out -- I had flu. And it was in the -- February. And … he said, ‘Can you ride back to the White House with me? I want to talk to you about something.’ And I said, ‘Mr. President, I'd like to postpone that if possible because I have flu and I don't want to give to it you.’ And I had a fever. And he sort of thought a minute, and he turned and said goodbye and got in his car.

“But I have often wondered, what did he want to talk to me about? And I have been haunted by that, because I know that he wanted to talk to me about something religious, because the first time I was over with him, I played golf with him in Palm Beach at his father's place. … And on the way back, he stopped the car and he suddenly turned to me and he said, ‘Billy,’ he said, ‘I want to ask you a question.’

“He said, ‘Do you believe that Jesus Christ is coming back to this earth again?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I do. I believe the Bible teaches that.’ He said, ‘Does my church believe that?’ I said, ‘Yes, it's in their creeds.’ He said, ‘Well, why don't I hear more about it?’ I said, ‘I don't know. I wish that we all could look forward to that day when Christ is going to come back and he's going to rule in peace and all the suffering and pain of this world will be finished.’”

A caller to the Larry King program asked Graham, “I lost my mother about 10 weeks ago and she was 76. And it's so very hard to say goodbye to anyone. But you know, how do I say goodbye to someone that I so wanted to watch grow old, where my mother had the chance to do it? And I am of John's generation, his age. I'm just a couple of years older than him. This whole weekend has been awfully, awfully hard. And how do I grieve? I'm not able to be in New York to give flowers or -- candles.”

Graham replied, “I think we grieve by surrendering totally to the Lord in all of our thinking and read the Bible -- every day, if you possibly can. And go to the Gospel of John or one of those other -- the Book of Isaiah in the Old Testament, and you find so many things that will encourage you. And there are many devotional books that you can get. I wrote a book on death, and even I read my own book and find hope.”

Graham, in a statement released by his evangelistic association, also told of other things he mentioned to John Kennedy Jr. during their interview for his magazine, including: “… I told him about the faith of his grandmother, Mrs. Rose Kennedy, and how she read the Bible, how she knew the Bible, and how strong she was.”

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