Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling
For February, in honor of Presidents Day, we are looking at a world-changer president who has had more books written about him than all other US presidents combined: Abraham Lincoln. I am borrowing mostly from Joe Wheeler’s biography, Abraham Lincoln, a Man of Faith and Courage, for this article. Wheeler combed over 70 books on Lincoln to provide his readers with a balanced account of our 16th president’s evolving faith and how it informed his executive policy.
One notable shift in Lincoln’s thinking emerged not long after his father died in 1851. Understanding the Bible as God’s narrative about his people, Lincoln had always assumed that the focus was on the individual (very much our Western culture’s way of thinking). But during this solemn season of reflection, Lincoln encountered an epiphany of sorts when he realized that God cares about the nations as much as he does the individual. This revelation played an important role in shaping his politics and future use of his executive power. Leading up to the National Election, two passages of Scripture honed his thinking on slavery and our fragmented nation. First, even though the Bible did not prohibit slavery, Lincoln seized Genesis 1:27 (that God created male and female in his own image) as evidence of the marred image that slavery imposed on our nation. Understanding the gravity of this issue, on June 16, 1858, Lincoln delivered his famous House Divided speech based on Jesus’ words from the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 12:25, Mark 3:35, and Luke 11:17):
A house divided against itself cannot stand!… I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.
Confident of God’s heart for the nations, early in his presidency Lincoln assumed that God would be on the side of the North. This assumption was based on the biblical principle that when we are obedient to God’s will, we will come under his blessings. Yet, the first two years of the war weighed heavily in favor of the South. Confused and concerned, Lincoln more intently scrutinized and reflected on Scripture. It was during this season of doubt that Lincoln experienced a second epiphany. Like the Commander of the Lord’s Army who told Joshua that he was neither on the side of Israel nor for their enemy (Joshua 5:13-15), Lincoln realized that his motives were not altruistic. He was more concerned about keeping the United States intact than he was for the cause of those we were oppressed under the weight of slavery. This began a journey toward using all his energy (bathed in prayer) to press forward the Emancipation Proclamation and eventually the 13th Amendment to our Constitution—which would finally end the blight of slavery from our land.
As Lincoln’s faith matured through his wartorn presidency, his understanding of God’s grace and mercy would prevail with conciliatory words toward the South in his second inaugural address. Here is the last paragraph of his speech:
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 a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.
Two months later, Lincoln would be assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, a disgruntled resistance fighter from the South. Historians have speculated that if Lincoln had been allowed to serve a second term of office, both the South and the North would have fared far better. Nevertheless, this world-changer president left our nation with a legacy of what it means to stand up for the dignity of all God’s people, to pray for those who persecute us, and to love our enemies!