Strength for Anxious Days

Twelve days ago, Americans were shocked and saddened when the news came that we had lost the Columbia -- and all seven astronauts on board. Within hours, President Bush was offering solace, reminding us of the moving words of Isaiah: "Lift your eyes and look to the heavens. Who created all these? He who brings out the starry hosts one by one and calls them each by name. Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing." It was a comforting display of genuine presidential piety -- and it echoes that of another U.S. president whose birthday we honor today: Abraham Lincoln. Many Americans are not aware that Lincoln actually instituted many forms of the public recognition of God that we take for granted today. During his presidency, Lincoln declared more days of prayer, fasting, and thanksgiving than any president before or since. And few realize that our traditional Thanksgiving celebration became a national holiday only after Lincoln's proclamation in 1863. Yet, despite these pious acts, Lincoln was not actually committed to orthodox Christianity until close to the end of his life. As a young man, he openly questioned the truth of Scripture. As Marvin Olasky writes in his book, The American Leadership Tradition, even after Lincoln became president, Lincoln's "god in 1861 and 1862 was [the] Union," not the God of the Bible. Then, in 1862, Lincoln's life took a dramatic turn. The war was not going well for the Union; Lincoln was being savaged in both the Yankee and Confederate press; and then personal tragedy struck as well. His beloved son, Willie, died suddenly. Lincoln's wife, Mary Todd, turned to spiritism and séances -- but her husband sought solace in the Bible. Confronted with the loss of little Willie, and yet another devastating Union defeat at the second Battle of Manassas, a humbled Lincoln finally embraced Christ. "My own wisdom . . . seemed insufficient," he wrote to a friend. He was, Lincoln confided, "driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I have nowhere else to go." Lincoln then became a regular churchgoer. He became so impressed with the importance of corporate worship that he refused to permit some churches to be converted into badly needed hospitals. Facing disunion and slavery, Lincoln saw no easy answers. He became convinced that blame for the war lay on both sides. Faced with the realities of the miserable conflict, he resigned himself to God's providence. It was the horrors of war that forced him to seek refuge in God; there, he found true peace. Lincoln's words speak for themselves. He told a friend: "When everyone seemed panic-stricken, I got down on my knees before almighty God and prayed. . . . Soon a sweet comfort crept into my soul." The heartbreaking loss of Columbia is the latest in a series of blows Americans have had to absorb over the last couple of years. But Lincoln's birthday is a time to remember and to reflect -- and to realize that our country has had to face huge challenges like this before, and we will face them again. Abraham Lincoln offers an example of how we can find comfort during the terrors and tragedies of our own time: on our knees seeking God's help, trusting His providence. For further reading: "President Addresses Nation on Space Shuttle Columbia Tragedy," The Cabinet Room, White House Office of the Press Secretary, 1 February 2003. "Vice President Cheney Speaks at Space Shuttle Columbia Ceremony," The National Cathedral, Washington, D.C., White House Office of the Vice President, 6 February 2003. BreakPoint Commentary No. 021022, "Life in Enemy-Occupied Territory: Why We Suffer." Read President Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865, from the U.S. Historical Documents Archive. Mark A. Noll, "The Puzzling Faith of Abraham Lincoln," Christian History, winter 1992, 10. Marvin Olasky, The American Leadership Tradition: The Inevitable Impact of a Leader's Faith on a Nation's Destiny (Crossway, 2000). Allen C. Guelzo, Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President (Eerdmans, 1999). Michael Novak, On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding (Encounter, 2001).


Chuck Colson


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