Monday, June 18, 2007

The Christian Century: Untribal God

The Christian Century: Untribal God:
"The Second Inaugural contains Lincoln's notable words about the war: 'Both sides read the same Bible,' Lincoln said, 'pray to the same God and each invokes His aid against the other. . . . The prayers of both could not be answered: that of neither has been answered fully.' White says that Lincoln was 'inveighing against a tribal God' who would take the side of one part against the other, 'and building a case for an inclusive God.'"
I saw this linked today in Presbyweb and was intrigued enough to follow the link and read the entire article. It's fairly short and is a history of Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address and the relationship Lincoln had with the Presbyterian Church leading up to that speech.

While I agree with John M. Buchanan's assessment of the importance of Lincoln's speeches and the Second Inaugural in particular, I find his favorable citation of Ronald C. White's statement that Lincoln was "inveighing against a tribal God ... and building a case for an inclusive God" to be questionable. I do not think this was what Lincoln was attempting to do. Our 16th president seems to have had no difficulty with the idea that God knew right from wrong. It was just figuring out which side that was that was the problem.

An important clue is found in a hand-written note Lincoln wrote in 1862, probably just before the battle of Antietam. His secretary, John Hay, found it as he was packing Lincoln's effects following his assassination. Hay titled it "Mediation on the Divine Will", and its themes were incorporated into the Second Inaugural Address delivered in March of 1865:
"The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God's purpose is something different from the purpose of either party--and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect his purpose. I am almost ready to say this is probably true--that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet. By his mere quiet power, on the minds of the now contestants, He could have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And having begun He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds."
Lincoln showed a great deal of humility, wisdom, and discernment in trying to determine the will of God. God could not be for and against slavery; he had to be one or the other. God is not neutral on moral issues. We may not see things as clearly as we might; Lincoln knew that and was willing to concede that he might misconstrue the will of God in whole or in part.

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