Oral Roberts University. I don't really remember Christian TV being on at my house that much when I was a kid; probably I first heard Oral Roberts on TV growing up, but I certainly don't remember much about it. When I was in high school I was a pretty Bible-thumpin' guy... I even hauled my NKJV Open Bible to school with me every day... but I was too shy to be very good at sharing my faith with people directly. I did know one thing, though: I wanted to go to college, but I wanted to go to a "Christian" college. If you had asked me why I wanted to go to a "Christian" college as opposed to the state schools that were way cheaper (or other private schools that were maybe more prestigious and which my SAT scores could have gotten me into), I don't know that I could have given you a coherent answer, but I knew what I had on my heart. And for some reason, ORU was the only Christian school that seemed like a likely candidate. (I did briefly consider a denominational school or two, but once I had visited the ORU campus on one of their "college weekends", my mind was made up.) I wound up on campus for classes not knowing too much about Oral Roberts, or Richard Roberts, or honestly, about Tulsa or Oklahoma. But I showed up, and I stayed for four years, and my life has been drastically different because of it.
I've noticed as I've lost loved ones through the years that there seems to be an astounding amount of clarity about the person's character after they die. Whether it's because I finally get to hear what people really think, or it's because I'm finally comfortable taking sides because the person is no longer able to change on me, I don't know. But whatever the reason, after attending the memorial service today, I feel like I understand Oral Roberts now even better than I did the semester he personally taught one of my classes in Mabee Center every week. (Aside: one of my favorite memories of that class is the first time Oral Roberts came up to speak, and started his trademark line, "Something GOOD...!" and the place went to pieces. Like the guy or not, it was fun to hear him say it! The rest of the line, for people born too late to be familiar with it, is "...is going to happen to you!") Anyway, in the newspaper articles that were in the Tulsa World last week and in the things people said today, a picture of Oral Roberts emerged for me that is much simpler, I think, than the one mentally painted by most people. Oral Roberts was born into poverty. He had some college work behind him, but he wasn't particularly sophisticated. It seems to me that Oral Roberts was actually a quite uncomplicated man; he read his Bible, chose to believe what it said, and... well, that's about it. If the Bible said it, he hung on until the world around him reflected what he saw in the Word.
Even in the immediate wake of his death, I've heard people blasting Oral Roberts as a charlatan. Saying that he bilked people of their money, saying that he trumped-up death threats for God to get people to enrich his coffers. I just don't think Oral Roberts was a complex enough character to have that kind of deceit in him. In interviews and in person, he just seemed to kind of say what was on his mind. I don't think Oral Roberts could have swindled people if he had wanted to. (In fact, I understand that the first time he asked people to give as a seed, he told people if they were unhappy about their gift, let the ministry know and they would give the money back. No one took him up on it.)
I do think Oral Roberts made a few colossal blunders in his day, the most public ones surrounding the City of Faith hospital, about which I blogged a few months ago. Oral Roberts planned a huge hospital complex for Tulsa, and then he went on TV and told the world that God said to him in a vision that if Oral didn't raise the money to build the hospital, God would take Oral home to heaven. It was the only thing approaching a scandal to ever directly hit Oral Roberts' ministry. Ultimately he did raise the money and he did build the hospital... but after only a few years of operation, it was basically closed down (later it became the home to a Cancer Treatment Center of America, and now I don't think there's a medical facility there at all.) Now, I don't know whether Oral Roberts' vision came from God or not, but I can see that the hospital failed. And I would also have to say that even if God gave Oral that kind of vision, it might not have been the right kind of thing to share on television... it sounds like a personal challenge to Oral himself to me. As in a marriage or any other kind of intimate relationship, some things are to be shared only between the participants. Maybe Oral felt like his partners were as close as family members. And maybe they were, but not everybody watching him on TV fell into the "partners" class. But it seems clear to me that whatever Oral Roberts heard or saw, he misinterpreted. Otherwise the City of Faith Hospital would still be seeing patients and preparing medical students to this day.
But the two biggest things in Oral's life that were not blunders were his healing/TV ministry, which reached millions or billions with the Gospel and with healing, and Oral Roberts University itself. Oral Roberts was given both of those dreams by God at the age of seventeen; one of them began to happen immediately as Oral began to hold evangelistic crusades, and the other took a bit longer, but Oral's obedience to God allowed both to come to fruition. Both reached countless people with the Word of God, and as an alumnus of the school who has seen the post-ORU lives of my college acquaintances, and knowing that my graduating class is only one of some forty that have passed through, I can tell you that the impact on lives has been enormous. Whether you agree with everything Oral Roberts said or not, it's hard to deny that he was able to reach people with his message. I loved how he summarized it himself in the biographical video today: "If God says to jump through a wall, jump! And trust God to make a hole in the wall!"
Let me tell you a story. Many years ago, right here in Tulsa, Oral Roberts made a trip to an area hospital. He went up to the pediatric intensive care unit and began to pray for the healing of the babies. I'm told that as he prayed for them, the babies began to improve immediately! One of the babies, a little girl named Linda, had been born with congestive heart failure. She had been in the hospital for weeks, and she was not expected to survive. After Oral prayed for her, her health improved, and she grew up knowing she had almost died but had been healed when Oral Roberts prayed for her when she was an infant. When I met her as an adult, she was going by her middle name, Cathy, and the only trace of her infant heart trouble was a minor case of mitral valve prolapse which was not life-threatening. And even that was healed several years later when someone prayed for her during her pregnancy... with our first child!
Oral Roberts' ministry has affected many, many people in as many different ways as there are individuals. What would my life be like if he hadn't driven down to the PICU that day? Would my future wife have survived? What if he hadn't built the university he had dreamed of for so many years? Would I have been able to formulate the solid worldview that I was presented with there? Would I have ever come to Tulsa at all? Would I have met my wife, or all the fantastic Christian people I've met? Would I ever have done the kinds of things I've been able to do? I don't know how my life would have turned out, but I am grateful that Oral Roberts listened to the voice of God and did what he did. Because he was obedient, "Something GOOD!" certainly happened to me.