Many of you who have read this blog know that outside of the New Testament and related studies, my special field of interest is in Abraham Lincoln. I admire the man on many fronts. He had an inquisitive mind, teaching himself law and even Euclidean geometry and much later became proficient in military history and became an effective strategist during the Civil War. Lincoln also imputed the best qualities to people, at times, to a fault. This is evident in some of the inept generals such as McClellan that he gave several opportunities to prove themselves, and the fact that most of his entire cabinet was made up of political rivals, who in the case of Salmon Chase, Secretary of Treasury, often undermined Lincoln and attempted to run against Lincoln in 1864.
I wanted to close this post and mention appreciation for the work of Ronald C. White, Jr. in his splendid biography A. Lincoln. What makes this biography a must-read is how White wrestles with Lincoln's words as a way into the oft-debated subject of Lincoln's view of God. White stresses that Lincoln was comfortable with ambiguity in his relationship with God, and I think he is spot on. Like the search for the Historical Jesus, we often make Lincoln appear more like us than the man himself. This is why White's insistance that we examine his words is a welcome suggestion.
Here are some of Lincoln's words about God in his Second Inaugural (March 4, 1865):
One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.