There is a line in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy from King Théoden of Rohan just as he was getting ready to lead his nation into the great war against Mordor. He threw the taunt of the evil wizard Saruman back in his face: “A lesser son of great sires am I, but I do not need to lick your fingers.” That courage came from a lifetime of learning from his earthly father—and with that lineage came the strength to lead and motivate his nation to a great victory against enormous odds and frequent counsel to the contrary.
It’s not often that a son gets to share something of his memories of an earthly father whose leadership is well known to readers of Acts & Facts.
The “Real” Dr. Morris
There is a little-known story among the Morris siblings about my father. When my brother John and I were working with ICR and Christian Heritage College some years ago, my mother called, as she frequently did, to speak to “Dr. Morris.” The receptionist was new at the time and asked my mother which Dr. Morris she wanted to speak to. Mother patiently told her that she wanted the Dr. Morris who had written books.
At the time, both John and I had written some published material and were beginning to build on our father’s reputation with careers of our own. Frustrated at that non-answer, my mother continued to identify the Dr. Morris who was frequently on the radio (no difference yet) or was often asked to speak (still no distinction). After some bantering back and forth about identifying the correct Dr. Morris, my mother insisted, rather sternly, that she wanted to speak to the “real” Dr. Morris—that stuck!
In much the same vein, both my brother and I recognize that we are “lesser sons” of a “greater sire.” God had his hand on the “real” Dr. Henry M. Morris from an early age and used him to start a movement among Christian men and women of science that continues to bear fruit more than a decade after the Lord took him home.
A Bible, Concordances, and a Yellow Pad
Long before computers were common, my early memories of Dad were folded around seeing him in his study, balancing a Bible, several types of concordances, and an ever-present yellow pad to take notes on the passages he was studying. I remember asking him why the multiple concordances instead of commentaries or scholarly tomes on the subject—he had a big library. His answer was always that he wanted to be as close to the words of God as he could be, without interference from the interpretations of other men—no matter how well known or respected they were.
His method was always the same. He would diagram or dissect the verse or passage under consideration, then use the key words to locate other verses in the Bible that used the same terms. With that data located, he would organize the many passages into parallel sections, delineating the information into an expanded outline of the biblical message about that topic or concept.
Obviously, he was keenly interested in how science confirmed the message of Scripture, but many of his later works were the fruit of those early years of diligent study and research among the pages of Scripture. His copious notes were later organized into the annotated Bible that bears his name—The Henry Morris Study Bible, published by Master Books.
By the way, none of us could ever get him to use a tape recorder or a computer. All of his books were written longhand on yellow pads. Sometimes he would deign to peck at a manual typewriter with two fingers when he wrote personal letters, but his mind seemed to function best when sitting in his study with a Bible, concordances, and a yellow pad. Yes, he read voraciously and was a hoarder of various articles and clippings from friend and enemy alike—but his legacy was written down on yellow pads.
Tumult and Tranquility
From my earliest memories, our house was noisy and busy. Most children do not understand the work of their fathers—except to know that they are busy. Although I was the first child, our family grew quickly until there were six siblings and countless friends roaming around the house. Added to that were the many Sunday dinners with guests from the various universities that surrounded our lives.
With houses that were often smaller than the needs of very active kids, the hustle and bustle of the Morris manor was usually right at the threshold of chaos. Except at breakfast and dinner (or supper, depending on which part of the country you live in). Those table times were family times, and we always read from the Bible and prayed together. Of course, Dad was the reader and the explainer. All of us had the freedom (in fact, were often encouraged) to ask questions about what we were reading. The Bible always had an answer. That was the way we learned to trust the Scriptures. Nothing was too dumb or silly to ask, and Dad always had a way of finding the verse or passage that would give the right answer. To be sure, some of those answers were difficult to understand or apply as a young child, but we were always assured the Bible had the answer—for everything and anything.
And there was another important lesson: Tumult would always be around, but tranquility could always be found in the Scriptures. “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Those lessons didn’t seem to leap out of unusual moments but seemed to grow and develop into a sure character over time. Consistent home Bible times provide just that kind of stable attribute among those who have been privileged to enjoy them.
The “real” Dr. Morris received his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. I have vague memories of living in Houston, Texas, while Dad was teaching at Rice University, but Minneapolis was my first “home.” It was also the place where the bulk of the rest of the brothers and sisters came into being—and I loved the delight of snow, ice skating, and playing cowboys with friends. Dad had a different view of snow and ice. And, of course, in the early days of academia, promotions were usually gained by moving from one university to another—usually at opposite ends of the country.
I’ve been told by many that moving is a major trauma for children and that families should seek the stability of sameness as much as they can. But my earthly father made the idea of moving a wonderful thing. To begin with, we had several family councils about moving to foreign lands as missionaries. Whatever was discussed during those times led me to look forward to new things and exciting adventures, always expecting the Lord to cover and provide. I didn’t understand much back then about the logistics of such things, but Dad always made these moves seem like fascinating explorations.
No, we didn’t go to Afghanistan (as once was possible) or India (as was discussed on another occasion), but we moved from Minneapolis to Lafayette, Louisiana. I’m not sure one could find more extremes. From the rather sophisticated university environment stimulated by 20 degree-below-zero weather to Cajun country with bayous and snakes! What a wonderful place to be a preteen and a young teenager. Romping through alligator-infested swamps as a Boy Scout and trying to understand the half-English, half-French of my Catholic friends was an adventure of monumental proportions.
And, oh, the questions. New friends, new religions, new schools—pagan culture. Those were challenging days, but our home was the place of answers. Answers from the Bible. Answers to the distortion of many doctrines. Answers to the cultural discrepancies. Answers to the segregated South and separate water fountains. Answers to the growing issues of foolish youth. Answers. Always calm, reasoned, Bible-related answers. Those half-learned, not-always-understood answers became the foundation of an adult commitment to a life in the Kingdom.
Patient, Restrained, and Reliable
Yes, we moved again and again. From Lafayette to Carbondale, Illinois, from Carbondale to Blacksburg, Virginia, and later to San Diego, California. By then I had moved into the U.S. Army, taking with me the years of a stable family and Bible-centered home that would always keep my heart and head pointed toward a godly father.
Surely you will recall the parable of the Prodigal Son. You should remember that the hero of that parable is the godly father who was wise enough to let his headstrong son leave, knowing that the son would endure much that was both dangerous and damaging—yet the father remained faithfully waiting until the son came to himself and returned to the home that was reliable still.
Those years were strained, to say the least. But all during the times of testing limits and trying to “kick against the goads” (Acts 9:5), my earthly father exemplified the great grace and patience of our heavenly Father. Praying often and long for his children, the “real” Dr. Morris interceded for each of us—especially the firstborn who bore his name.
Perhaps the greatest trial any of us must endure is waiting for answers to manifest themselves. Now with nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren of my own, I know something of the heartache my father carried during the years the Lord was testing me. Now that I have inherited the responsibility of the Institute for Creation Research that he founded, I know something of the patient waiting in prayer and longing for effective ministry that he carried for decades. Now that I can look back over the decades of his leadership and godly example, I can draw on a lifetime of godly wisdom and expectant trust in the Lord’s provision and guidance.
That legacy is priceless. One day we shall meet again as joint-heirs of the King and will share together the fruit of lives shaped by the Holy Spirit into vessels suitable for the work of the Kingdom.
The youngest Morris sibling, Rebecca Barber, is nearing completion of a biography of the “real” Dr. Morris that ICR expects to publish later this year. I’ve had the delight of reading the draft chapters as she completes them and am truly excited about the release of his life story. Many of you will enjoy getting to know that side of ICR’s founder—and the way God shaped him in his young adult life to become the leader of the creationist movement in the 20th century.
For many years, Dad had hopes of building a teaching museum that would provide a challenge for years to come to “profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge” (1 Timothy 6:20). Most of you are aware that ICR is in the middle of raising the funds necessary to make that a reality. Much is already done. It is our hope and prayer that we can fulfill that hope before 2017 is over.
As they sometimes say in radio, “Stay tuned.”
* Dr. Morris is Chief Executive Officer of the Institute for Creation Research.