By Billy Graham
And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. --Jeremiah 29:13
YOU started on the Great Quest the moment you were born. It was many years perhaps before you realized it, before it became apparent that you were constantly searching -- searching for something you never had -- searching for something that was more important than anything in life. Sometimes you have tried to forget about it. Sometimes you may even have felt that you were freed from the need to go on seeking this nameless thing. At moments you have almost been able to dismiss the quest completely. But always you have been caught up in it again -- always you have had to come back to your search.
At the loneliest moments in your life you have looked at other men and women and wondered if they too were seeking -- something they couldn't describe but knew they wanted and needed. Some of them seemed to have found fulfillment in marriage and family living. Others went off to achieve fame and fortune in other parts of the world. Still others stayed at home and prospered, and looking at them you may have thought: "These people are not on the Great Quest. These people have found their way. They knew what they wanted and have been able to grasp it.
It is only I who travel this path that leads to nowhere. It is only I who goes asking, seeking, stumbling along this dark and despairing road that has no guideposts."
The Cry of Mankind
But you are not alone. All mankind is traveling with you, for all mankind is on this same quest. All humanity is seeking the answer to the confusion, the moral sickness, the spiritual emptiness that oppresses the world. All mankind is crying out for guidance, for comfort, for peace.
We are told that we live in the "age of anxiety." Historians point out that there have been few times in all history when man has been subject to so much fear and uncertainty. All the familiar props seem to have been swept away. We talk of peace but are confronted by war at every turn. We grasp at every passing straw and even as we clutch, it disappears.
For generations we have been running like frightened children, up first one blind alley and then another. Each time we have told ourselves: "This path is the right one, this one will take us where we want to go." But each time we have been wrong.
The Path of Political Freedom
One of the first paths we chose was labeled "political freedom." Give everyone political freedom, we said, and the world will become a happy place. Let us select our own government leaders and we shall have the kind of government that will make life worth living. So we achieved political freedom, but we did not achieve our better world. Our daily newspapers give us reports of corruption in high places, of favoritism, of exploitation, of hypocrisy equal to and sometimes surpassing the despotism of ancient kings. Political freedom is a precious and important thing, but it alone cannot give us the kind of world we long for.
There was another very hopeful path marked "education," and many put their whole faith in it. Political freedom coupled with education will do the trick, they said, and we all rushed madly along the educational path. It seemed a bright, well-lighted, sensible path for a long time, and we traveled it with eager, expectant feet, but where has it led us? You know the answer. We are the most informed people in the history of civilization -- and yet the most confused. Our high school students know more about the physical laws of the universe than the greatest scientist in the days of Aristotle. But though our heads are crammed with knowledge, our hearts are empty.
The brightest, most inviting path of all was the one marked "higher standards of living." Almost everyone felt he could trust this one to carry him automatically into that better and more joyful world. This was felt to be the sure route. This was the "press the button and you're there" route! This was the path that led through the beautiful full-color magazine advertisements, past all the shining new cars, past the gleaming rows of electric refrigerators and automatic washing machines, past all the fat chickens cooking in brand-new copper-bottomed pots. We knew we'd hit the jackpot this time! The other paths might have been false leads, but this time we had it!
All right, look around you right this minute. At this very moment in history you see in America a country that has political freedom to an extent undreamed of in many parts of the civilized world. You see the greatest and most far-reaching public education system that man has ever created, and we are eulogized at home and abroad for our high standard of living. "The American way of life" we like to call this fully electrified, fully automatic, chrome-plated economy of ours -- but has it made us happy? Has it brought us the joy and satisfaction and the reason for living that we were seeking?
No. As we stand here feeling smug and proud that we have accomplished so much that generations before us only dreamed about; as we span our oceans in hours instead of months; as we produce miracle drugs that wipe out some of man's most dread diseases; as we erect buildings that make the Tower of Babel seem an anthill; as we learn more and more of the mysterious secrets that lie in the depths of the sea, and probe further and further into outer space, do we lose one iota of that empty feeling within us? Do all these modern wonders bring us a sense of fulfillment, do they help to explain why we are here, do they point out what we are supposed to learn?
Or does that awful hollow feeling persist? Does every further discovery of the magnitude of the universe comfort us or make us feel more alone and helpless than ever? Does the antidote for human fear and hatred and corruption lie in some laboratory test tube, or in an astronomer's telescope?
The Seduction of Science
We cannot deny that science has given man many things he thought he wanted. But this same science has now presented us the most dreaded gift ever bestowed upon humanity. The life and future of every living being on this planet is affected by this gift of science. It stands like a somber shadow behind our waking thoughts. It stalks like a specter of horror through our children's dreams. We pretend it isn't there. We try to pretend that we haven't received this gift, that it's all a joke, and that some morning we'll wake up and find that we haven't conquered outer space and that nuclear weaponry has never been perfected -- but our morning newspaper tells us a different story.
There are other paths, of course, and many are traveling them this very moment. There are the paths of fame and fortune, of pleasure and power. None of them leads anywhere but deeper into the mire. We are ensnared in the web of our own thinking, trapped so cleverly and so completely that we can no longer see either the cause or the cure of the disease that is inflicting such deadly pain.
If it is true that "for every illness there is a cure," then we must make haste to find it. The sand in civilization's hourglass is rapidly falling away, and if there is a path that leads to the light, if there is a way back to spiritual health, we must not lose an hour!
The Search for Solutions
Many are floundering in this time of crisis and finding that their efforts are leading them not up but only further down into the pit.
The suicide rate has sky-rocketed in the '80s. For children 10-14 the suicide rate has tripled in the last ten years. Leadership magazine estimates that half a million people attempt suicide annually -- and 50,000 succeed. In 1981 more people died by suicide than by homicide.
Last year, thousands of Americans, many of them teenagers who couldn't find even the wrong answers, took their own lives in preference to wandering any further in this man-made jungle we call civilization.
Over the past couple of decades, our divorce rates have soared, even within the church with one out of two marriages ending in divorce. The divorce rate has increased 100 percent since 1900!
We spend a fortune to "adopt" cute cabbage patch dolls, while our children are caught up in child abuse or subjected to the horrible atrocities of "kiddy-porn." We hear about abortion on demand, surrogate motherhood, sperm banks and so on. Our families are riddled with all kinds of abuses and aberrations.
So "Where are we?" you ask. "Where are we now and where are we going?" Let me tell you where we are and what we are. We are a nation of empty people. Our heads are crammed full of knowledge, but within our souls is a spiritual vacuum.
We complained in the past that the youth of this country had lost its drive, its push, its willingness to work and to get ahead. Every day I hear parents say that they didn't understand why their children didn't want to work but just wanted everything handed to them. Parents didn't seem to realize that their well-educated, carefully brought up children were actually empty inside. They weren't filled with the spirit that makes work a joy. They weren't filled with the determination that makes pushing ahead a pleasure. And why were they so empty? Because they didn't know where they had come from, why they were here, or where they were going!
Today our young people are asking for direction and perspective. They are looking for models to follow, for patterns of purpose.
They are like rows of beautiful new automobiles, perfect in every detail but with no gasoline in the tanks. The exteriors are fine, but there's nothing inside to give them power. And so they just sit and rust -- with boredom.
The Breadth of Boredom
America is said to have the highest per capita boredom of any spot on earth! We know that because we have the greatest variety and greatest number of artificial amusements of any country.
People have become so empty that they can't even entertain themselves. They have to pay other people to amuse them, to make them laugh, to try to make them feel warm and happy and comfortable for a few minutes, to try to lose that awful, frightening, hollow feeling -- that terrible, dreaded feeling of being lost and alone.
You may think that boredom is a minor matter. Everyone gets bored sometimes, it's only natural. But let me tell you something about boredom, and this dangerous apathy that is creeping over the land and over the minds and hearts of the people. Man is the only one of God's creatures who is capable of being bored, although I've seen animals in a zoo that look very bored! No other living thing except man can ever be bored with itself or its surroundings. This is very significant, for the Creator never does anything without a purpose, and if He gave man the capacity for boredom, He did it for a purpose.
Boredom is one of the sure ways to measure your own inner emptiness! It's as accurate as a thermometer for telling just how hollow your inner spirit really is. The person who is thoroughly bored is living and working in a vacuum. His inner self is a vacuum, and there is nothing that nature resents more than a vacuum. It is one of the unfailing rules of this universe that all vacuums must be filled, and filled immediately.
A Nation of Empty People
We do not have to go back to ancient times to see what happens to a nation of empty people. We need look no further than the recent history of Germany or Italy to see with what deadly speed nature fills up the vacuums that occur within us. Nazism in Germany and fascism in Italy could find no place in the heart and soul of a person who was filled with the Spirit of God, but false ideologies flood with the greatest ease into the minds and hearts of those who are empty and waiting. Nature abhors a vacuum, but it is up to us as individuals to determine with what our inner vacuums shall be filled.
So that is where we stand today -- nations of empty people. We have tried to fill ourselves with science and education, with better living and pleasure, with the many other things we thought we wanted. We have increasingly decadent capitalism at one extreme, and godless communism at the other. But we are still empty. Why are we empty? Because the Creator made us for Himself; and we shall never find completeness and fullness apart from fellowship with Him.
In a recent interview in the Presbyterian Journal (2 November 1983) the eminent Catholic columnist, Michael Novak, says of our situation: "Socialism is a system for saints, . . . democratic capitalism . . . is a system for sinners." That's why he feels socialism won't work in this world.
Jesus told us long ago that "Man shall not live by bread alone" (Luke 4:4), but we have paid no heed. We have tried to do just that.
We cannot stand the terrible emptiness of ourselves, we cannot look at the lonely, desolate road that lies ahead. We are desperately weary of the hatred and greed and lust that we know are within us, but we are helpless to be rid of them and be filled with something better.
"Time and tide wait for no man," said Sir Walter Scott. The tools of total annihilation have been placed within our reach. We cannot scurry up any more false paths, we cannot explore any more unknown roads, we cannot afford to be trapped in any more blind alleys. We don't have that much time! For our generation has accomplished what other generations only tried to do, or dreamed of doing in their most insane moments of power and ruthlessness! We have achieved the weapons of total destruction. We are witnessing the climax of man's madness -- the impending nuclear holocaust.
How the demons must have laughed as some of the most brilliant men on earth worked furiously for years to achieve this horror! The atom cleaved! Divide and conquer! Split apart, destroy, shatter crush, crumble! The great deceiver has done his work, and men have been eager to aid him. We see before us Satan's masterpiece, his clever counterfeit of the cloven tongues of divine fire. For this satanic fire and the pentecostal flames both fall from above, both are cloven, both illuminate, both instantly transform everything they touch -- but with such a difference. The difference of heaven and hell!
A Topsy-turvy World
We are living in a topsy-turvy world, where all is confusion. But you may be sure that it is confusion with a plan -- Satan's plan!
The Bible tells us that Satan is the great deceiver and he has devoted himself to the cause of our great self-deception and to the deceptions that lie between nations all over this world. He has led us to believe that things were getting better, when they are really getting worse.
We all recognize that the world has changed radically since the beginning of this century. We are aware of its increased tempo, of the spirit of revolution that is sweeping away the established landmarks and traditions, of the speed with which language, fashions, customs, housing and our ways of living and thinking are being altered and changed.
Only a few years ago children were delighted at the prospect of a trip to the train stations to watch the trains come in. Today they are blase about the space shuttle. How many know when the next shuttle flight takes off, or who will be aboard? We who once marveled at the telegraph, now take the far greater miracle of television for granted. Not so long ago many of man's physical diseases were termed hopeless and incurable. Today, we have drugs so effective that many age-old diseases are disappearing. We have accomplished much, of that there is no doubt.
But with all this progress, man has not solved the basic problem of the human race. We can build the highest buildings, the fastest planes, the longest bridges. We have successfully probed the far reaches of space and conquered the unknown. But we still can't govern ourselves or live together in equality and peace!
We may create great new schools of art and music, we may discover newer and better vitamins, but there is nothing new about our troubles. They are the same old ones that man has always had, only they seem magnified and more abundant. They may come upon us in new ways, they may seem to give sharper pain and deeper anguish; but fundamentally we are facing the same temptations, the same trials, the same testings that have always confronted mankind.
Forever since that tragic moment in the Garden of Eden, when man gave up God's will for his own will, man has been plagued by the same problems. Their cause is stated in the third chapter of Genesis. The terrible conditions that produced them are related in the first chapter of Romans. And the gospel of Jesus Christ gives us their remedy.
It is man's depraved and sinful nature that fills him with hate, envy, greed, and jealousy. The curse of sin is upon his body and he is forever haunted by the fear of death. His inventive genius has enabled him to change everything but himself. For man, in spite of the loudly acclaimed "progress" of our times, remains just as he was in the beginning.
Sin Is Still the Same
Sin, too, has remained unchanged, although man has done his best to alter it. We've tried to dress it up with other names. We've put new labels on the same old bottle of poison. We've tried to whitewash the rotting building and pretend it was sound (or new).
We've tried calling sin "errors" or "mistakes" or poor judgment," but sin itself has stayed the same. No matter how we try to salve our conscience, we've known all along that men are still sinners; and the results of sin are still disease, disappointment, disillusionment, despair, and death.
Sorrow hasn't changed, either. It began when Adam and Eve looked with broken hearts upon the lifeless body of their murdered son Abel and knew the crushing weight of grief. It has gone on, until today sorrow is the universal language of man. No one escapes it, everyone experiences it. It even seemed to one of Job's comforters that it was the aim of life, for he said, "Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward" (Job 5:7).
Death is also still the same. Men have tried to change its appearance. We have changed the word "undertaker" to "mortician." We place bodies in "caskets" now instead of "coffins." We have "funeral homes" instead of "undertaking parlors" and "memorial parks" instead of "graveyards." We try to soften the starkness of the last rites; but regardless of what we call it, or how lifelike we make the corpse through make-up, the cold, hard, cruel reality of death has not changed throughout all of man's history. A friend, struggling with terminal cancer, recently wrote: "It has dawned on me that cancer is not terminal -- life is!"
These three facts constitute the true story of man: his past is filled with sin; his present is overflowing with sorrow; and the certainty of death faces him in the future.
The Bible says, "It is appointed unto men once to die . . ."(Hebrews 9:27), and to the average person this seems a stark and hopeless situation. Hundreds of philosophies and scores of religions have been invented by men in their efforts to circumvent the Word of God. Modern philosophers and psychologists are still trying to make it appear that there is some way out other than the path of Jesus. But man has tried them all and none of them leads anywhere but down.
Christ came to give us the answers to the three enduring problems of sin, sorrow, and death. It is Jesus Christ, and He alone, who is also enduring and unchanging, "the same yesterday, and today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8). As the hymnwriter, Henry F. Lyte, wrote: "Change and decay in all around I see; O Thou who changest not, abide with me."
All other things may change, but Christ remains unchangeable. In the restless sea of human passions, Christ stands steadfast and calm, ready to welcome all who will turn to Him and accept the blessings of safety and peace. For we are living in an age of grace, in which God promises that whosoever will may come and receive His Son. But this period of grace will not go on indefinitely. We are even now living on borrowed time.