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The Second Inaugural Address

“‘Woe unto the world because of offences! For it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh.’

If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offences 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 offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?”

By the time of the second inaugural address the country was torn asunder by war.  Lincoln had been re-elected, but it was a tough fight and his reward was another term of gut-wrenching presidency.  In the beginning of the war, his chief concern was preserving the Union, whether that meant ending slavery or not.  The issue of slavery was secondary.  But as the war advanced he became more convinced of the evil and more public about abolishing it.  His second inaugural address is transcendent in its grasp of the core struggles of mankind.  Perhaps this is why it is the one engraved next to the Gettysburg Address in the Lincoln Memorial.

In the first line of the excerpt you will likely see that he is quoting Jesus.  We can believe that Jesus was well aware of the reality of the broken state of humanity.  Offences will come.  There will be pain and wrong doing, it is inevitable in a world of sin-stained free will, but woe to the one who does it.  We still, after all, have a choice and a responsibility and each one of us, without exception will give an account for our behavior.  Lincoln, too, saw the reality of our nature. Divisiveness and prejudice were not new.  Neither was greed.  He was clear-headed and precise in his connection between the sin and the consequence.  What astounds me about his conclusion, however, is that he also justifies God’s nature in the punishment.  This is the bone on which most of humanity chokes.  We find it much easier to make God the bad guy.

And not only does Lincoln justify God, he clearly states that it takes nothing away from the divine attributes we ascribe to Him, the inference being that God is being as majestically Himself here as anywhere else.  And when we think of God as the Just Ruler of the Universe, it makes sense.  But when we are the ones being judged, especially if we are caught in a corporate judgement, it’s not a facet of His nature we like to think about.

As I ponder this dynamic it leads me to the issue of parenting.  God takes great risk by leaving us options.  Do you think He likes to watch us blow each other up or destroy His beloved creation?  Yet, He has not turned us into puppets.  He is a Father, not  Mr. Stromboli.  He puts us into situations where we have to make choices.  A parent may give their teenager the keys to the car with instructions of how to get to the library, but when the car leaves the driveway, the teen has a choice. Library or … ?  The parent doesn’t remove the option to fail, but if the kid messes up, he or she will get punished.  It’s an essential part of growing up.  When faced with a crossroad, which branch will you take?

God does this with us, only on a larger scale and with much more at stake.  Will we be a slave or a son?  What will we do with the options we have?  How will our decisions impact our lives, our communities, our nations?  As adults we have a whole lot more power than a set of keys and a few bucks in our pockets.  The Civil War didn’t happen overnight.  Individual men and women made a lot of bad choices, many of which were part of an accepted lifestyle.

So, while we must recognize the righteousness of God in punishment, we must also remember His wisdom in parenting.  Think about the options He has given you and what does it look like to be a son?  Let not the offence come through you!

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