Abraham Lincoln, Israelis, Palestinians and God

In 1865 Abraham Lincoln offered up a prophetic lesson that is directly relevant for the Israelis and Palestinians at the end of their long and costly conflict, whenever that will come.

Lincoln's second inaugural address of March 4 of that year stands as one of the greatest of all speeches. It is a profound document delivered amidst the certainty of the victory of the Union over the Confederacy after a bitter war that claimed 620,000 lives. The London Spectator reported that the address had, "a sacred and almost prophetic character."

Remarkably, Lincoln in his time of triumph did not gloat or even celebrate his great victory. He took the occasion to make a brief but deep and meaningful theological inquiry - to explain the role of God in the conflict and the role of humanity in its aftermath.

Lincoln observed that both North and South claimed God on their sides. He opined that God clearly must have ordained that a tragic war should occur. He saw the war theologically, both as a result of the offense of slavery and as the means that God provided to remove it. No matter how bloody and how long the conflict would be, Lincoln defended it as the Lord's judgment. Though not a conventionally religious man, Lincoln fervently believed that God's universe was orderly and just.

Most noteworthy, he concluded his speech not with a call to vengeance or a cry to punish the enemy. He called for a peace by expressing what has become the epigram of American magnanimity, "With malice toward none; with charity for all."

Though known for his melancholy disposition, Lincoln called forth finally a great national optimism to bind up wounds and to achieve a just and lasting peace.

What should Israelis and Palestinians learn from Lincoln? Both have claimed God on their sides in a conflict that has been long and costly. Both ought to heed Lincoln's determination that God wanted this strife to occur - because the universe is based on order and justice.

Most of all, Israelis must follow Lincoln's lead at the near-conclusion of a struggle that they clearly have won. Without triumph, rejoicing or calling for punishment or recrimination, they must turn and affirm, "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 do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."
The Conclusion of Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865

...Neither party expected for the war, the magnitude, or the duration, which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding.

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. "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?

Fondly do we hope--fervently 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 bond-man'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."

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.
[repost from 2006]

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