I hate to agree with Sarah Huckabee Sanders
When most people are asked what is their favorite speech by Abraham Lincoln, they mention the Gettysburg Address. For me, however, the greatest speech of his, indeed perhaps the greatest speech ever given, is his Second Inaugural Address.
For those who haven’t read it, it is worth your while. It is beautiful.
He started by giving a justification for the war:
“On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war — seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.”
This was a statesman, and it is worth remembering him at this time in our history, when somebody so unlike him occupies his position in the White House.
Interestingly, Lincoln was not always so. Indeed, when he first ran for state legislature in Illinois, he did his best to avoid taking political positions, instead relying upon glad-handing and joke-telling to win his election. His goal was to offend as few people as possible, and he succeeded in that goal spectacularly, winning the support of many Democrats in his campaign.
That history is hard to reconcile with the person whose election to the Presidency in 1860 was so divisive that it was the precipitating factor in the secession of the southern states. But he had evolved over the years.
Indeed, it would have been easy to imagine that Lincoln would feel angered and pushed to revenge the terrible losses of the war. He was deeply disturbed by the death and destruction, and the “radical Republicans” in Congress wanted reconstruction to be an act of vengeance against the south that had brought this disaster upon us.
That was not Lincoln, though. He concluded his speech by making a plea for forgiveness and conciliation once the war was over:
“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.”
This sense of unity, forgiveness, and charity is the part of his speech that is most often remembered. But again, here I consider myself a bit of a contrarian. It is the most forgotten paragraph that really moves me.
“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.
It would have been easy in that time to think that God had abandoned us. But instead, Lincoln found purpose in the suffering.
“[F]ervently 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.’”
According to Lincoln, God willed this terrible war. I am sure Lincoln must have doubted God’s purpose many times. There were many times that the South seemed on the verge of winning, and indeed, until the fall of Atlanta on July 22, 1864, everyone, including Lincoln himself, expected him to lose the election. But yet he never lost faith or purpose, and always knew that the Lord had higher purposes that were invisible to us limited humans.
As Proverbs 3:5 argues,
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”
Abraham Lincoln realized that the Lord has its own purposes. We cannot understand the Lord’s reasons or methods.
“No one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” — 1 Corinthians 2:9–11.
There is a reason the Lord allowed Trump to become President. Right now, we can have no understanding of why. While we play checkers, the Lord is playing 3-dimensional chess. It might seem so unjust right now, but don’t you think Lincoln thought he was on the side of the angels, and that it was unjust when the southern armies prevailed and northern soldiers died?
In retrospect, the Civil War was a seminal event in the creation of our country. Without the Civil War, for better or for worse, we would not be the nation we are now. Would we have been there to defeat Hitler 75 years later? Or to stand against communism? Maybe not.
Despite our current predicament, we are still the shining city on the hill. In a world where different nationalities kill each other over perceived wrongs from hundreds of years ago, the world stood in awe of us as we elected an African-American man President just one generation after segregation was the law of the land. We will get through this crisis, and one way or another, and perhaps not as we hope or expect, but one day we will see that it had its purpose just as we now see the Civil War and World War II and other crises did.
“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” — Jesus, according to Luke 12:6–7
God has not abandoned us, and somehow, Trump fits into God’s plan. It is not for us to know why or how.
God promises us guidance and meaning. God does not promise us an easy life or simple solutions. After the Civil War, we all know what happened. Lincoln was shot and reconstruction turned into a fiasco. The South would essentially recreate its antebellum society with segregation, which would last for another hundred years at least. You could easily say that God dropped the ball, but Martin Luther King Jr. wouldn’t have. He knew that the mercy of God was far above what we can understand, and that ultimately, the justice of the Lord will prevail. Again, if Martin Luther King Jr. could have had faith living in the times he did, shouldn’t we?
The Bible and God have been appropriated by the political right and Christian Evangelicals like Sarah Huckabee Sanders. It has been used to justify slavery, war and terrible sins. But at its base, it is a story of hope and justice. Did God give us Trump? Yes, just as he gave us Obama. Too many unlikely events had to happen for Trump to end up in office for it to be purely chance. Too many events out of our control happened for it to be the doing of people. There was certainly divine intervention.
Why God gave us Trump is a question none of us can know the answer to. Yes, he has appointed right-wing judges and promoted unjust policies and embarrassed our nation. But he has also helped activate young people, women and minorities politically in a way that I have been praying for for years. He has led to the election of a historic number of women to Congress. He has unified the Democratic party in a way I have been working to do since I was in high school. Do we ultimately know the endgame of the Trump Presidency? There is no way for us to know. But we can rest assured, as Lincoln was, that
“the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
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