God has opinions about human affairs, but His opinions are not easy for any human to see.
Abraham Lincoln faced the Civil War, the greatest test the American Republic has endured, but he was not foolish enough to assume the government was on God’s side. In his second inaugural address, Lincoln pointed out that both sides asked God’s help and “the prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully.”
“The Almighty has His own purposes.”
Lincoln did not hesitate in judging the institution of slavery: It was immoral. He knew that rebellion and disunion, corrupted by a peculiar connection to slavery, was intolerable, but he also knew that the Union was not guiltless. The Constitution had tolerated slavery and the Union had profited from the unpaid work of slaves forced from them by the lash of the masters.
The factories that churned out the Northern arms were not models of equality or justice.
Saying that God Almighty was not “on the side” of the Union is just American Civics 101. Lincoln taught Americans that we must invoke God’s aid, but do so with humility. We can fight for justice, but with charity toward all. Our cause may be righteous, but we are not.
Lincoln accepted that the City of God and the City of Man never fully overlap. Subjects of King Jesus are always in tension with the demands of being a citizen of the Republic. This is not God’s nation (though it is His country), but this side of Paradise I am a member of the American commonwealth. When the judgment comes and all tribes and nations stand before the Almighty, I will stand with shame and pride before His throne as an American.
Practically speaking, this will matter in my vote for president of the United States. I am confident of the righteousness of the pro-life cause and of the morality of traditional marriage. My cause is just, but those are not the only issues that will be decided in the next great election.
And no party, certainly not the Republican Party, is righteous, because I am in it and I am not righteous. I stand before God imperfect, and His judgments, with eternity in mind, are inscrutable. Many a slave owner was just in some area of his life not related to slavery; many a pro-choicer may be more loving than I in many ways not related to abortion.
Otherwise just men end up in unjust causes.
So I must press on with humility to do right as God gives me to see the right. For most of us, the realization that there are righteous causes, such as conservation, but no simple “bad guys” to oppose leads to impotence. Lincoln had no malice and great charity, but ran the largest armed force on the planet to do justice.
He was willing to act with determination, but not with ego. As a result, Lincoln was no tyrant and the bad he did, such as suspending some civil liberties, died with him, but his righteous causes, union and liberty, lived to inspire other great men and women.
Let’s vote and disagree with this in mind. Our foes are wrong, but they are not Satan’s minions. We are not angels of God, but merely people sullying the flag by our raising it. "With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in ..."
John Mark Reynolds is the founder and director of the Torrey Honors Institute and professor of philosophy at Biola University. In 1996 he received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Rochester. Reynolds can be found blogging regularly at Scriptorium Daily.
Publication date: November 16, 2011