|Abraham Lincoln led America through some divisive years|
The division in our country today reminds me of the story of another time when our nation was deeply divided after a presidential election. Things were already tumultuous in America as people debated the morality and legality of slavery. When Abraham Lincoln was voted into office in November 1860, he won only 40% of the popular vote, and before he was even sworn in, seven states had already seceded from the Union. Not only the states, but the Church was also divided, with denominations splitting over the question of whether or not the Bible supported slavery. Families were torn apart. Even Lincoln was unsure. He struggled with what was right and wrong. He wrestled with the question of God's will. At the beginning of the Civil War, his only intent was to preserve the Union, but with time he finally arrived at the decision that slavery must be abolished. Even then, it may have been politics as much as religion that pushed Lincoln in that direction. At least part of that story will be explored in the upcoming movie, Lincoln, which begins wide release in the U.S. on November 16. (CLICK HERE for release dates in other countries)
Lincoln may have felt at some points in his presidency that he was fighting for a lost cause, but his trials and the ultimate triumph of the Union should inspire us to struggle with our own questions of right and wrong - to hear those on both sides of the arguments, to search the Scriptures for ourselves and pray about it and wrestle with it - and then to cling to Biblical truth even when all the world is against us. At the same time, he reminds us that even when we have the strongest disagreements, we should at least try to seek peace as much as possible, because we are not the only ones doing our best to do right.
"Both [Northerners and Southerners] 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."Lincoln's story has inspired many over the years - including one Mr. Jefferson Smith, the character played by Jimmy Stewart in 1939's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. In the movie, Jefferson Smith is appointed to the Senate after another Senator dies unexpectedly. He is chosen because corrupt politicians believe him to be naive and expect him not to get in the way of their plans. When he discovers their unjust plot, however, Mr. Smith decides that he must stand up for what is right, even though everyone else in the Senate looks down on him and a powerful lobbyist even turns the media and the people of Jeff's home state against him. He stands his ground even when the villains frame him for a crime he did not commit.
- Abraham Lincoln, in his 2nd inaugural address
In two pivotal scenes, Jefferson Smith visits the Lincoln Memorial and reads the inscriptions. The first time is when he arrives in Washington, before he even goes to his office. He goes to get inspired for the job that lies ahead. Then later, when he is under persecution and doesn't know where to go, his secretary, Miss Saunders (Jean Arthur), finds him there and he is inspired once again to stand up and fight for what's right! Jefferson Smith decides to use every bit of strength and stamina he has to try to prove his innocence, point out the corruption he has witnessed and do what he believes to be best for the country. By all account, these seem to be lost causes, but he is determined to push forward anyway.
With Veteran's Day coming up this weekend, I want to pause and say how extremely thankful I am for those who have served - and especially those who have died - to preserve our freedoms, even when those fights may have seemed like a lost cause. We are forever indebted to these brave men and women. I'd like to once again borrow some words from President Lincoln - words also quoted in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington - from the Gettysburg address:
"I guess this is just another lost cause, Mr. Paine. All you people don't know about lost causes. Mr. Paine does. He said once they were the only causes worth fighting for. And he fought for them once, for the only reason any man ever fights for them - because of just one plain simple rule: 'Love thy neighbor.' And in this world today, full of hatred, a man who knows that one rule has a great trust. You know that rule, Mr. Paine, and I loved you for it, just as my father did. And you know that you fight for the lost causes harder than for any other. Yes, you even die for them..."
Mr. Smith (Stewart) reads Scripture on the floor of the Senate
- Jefferson Smith
"The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced... that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain - that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."Remembering their great sacrifice reminds me also of the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross, when he gave his life for all mankind, to save us from our sins. And as Jefferson Smith pointed out, these sacrifices all spring from the Biblical principle of loving your neighbor. If our soldiers did not love their neighbors, there would be no reason for them to serve and to die to give those rights to others. And if God did not love us, he would not have sent his Son to die for us. Who would die for another person's benefit without love?
"Greater love has no one than this,
that he lay down his life for his friends."
- John 15:13 (NIV)
It's because of love that we continue to fight for "lost causes" today. It's because of love that we should be willing to stand up for Biblical principles even when the whole world is against us - because we know the Word of God is meant to for our own good and the good of others (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It's because of love that we must be willing even to die for the message of the Gospel, because we know that it is the only true hope for the world! (Romans 1:16; Acts 4:12) We must be diligent to share the Gospel as long as anyone will listen, because a time is coming (and I believe is upon us!) when people will not listen to the truth anymore! (2 Timothy 4:1-5)
Whether your candidate won the election or not - and whether the principles you believe in are being promoted or not - we have an obligation to live honorably. Paul reminds us that ultimately, all authority comes from God (Romans 13:1-2), and he encourages us to pray for those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-4), that they might make good decisions and be blessed, so that we may live in peace and the Gospel can spread. Peter echoes similar sentiments (1 Peter 2:13-17).
Let us pray for those in authority and for the direction of our nation, that this "civil war" might end and we might be united again as "one nation under God". Never give up hope, even when all seems to be lost, because we know God is in control and eventually, he will make all things right (Revelation 21:1-8). And if we're ever called to die for the "lost causes" of our faith, let's pray for courage and strength in that day!