CREDOS: Great wisdom — I

Abraham Lincoln, a sceptic and lifelong depressive, never assumed that God was on the Union’s side but accepted divine will. He shows how suffering can be bound up with spiritual purpose. He sank so deeply into that suffering and came away with a felicitous blend of humility and determination. Whatever ship carried him on life’s rough waters, Lincoln came to believe that he was not the captain but merely a subject of the divine force — call it fate or God or the “Almighty Architect” of existence. Yet, however, humble his station, Lincoln knew himself to be no idle passenger but a sailor on deck with a job to do. In his strange mix of deference to divine authority and wilful exercise of his own meagre power, Lincoln achieved transcendent wisdom, the delicate fruit of a lifetime of pain.

A revealing glimpse into his spiritual life came in the summer of 1863, when, as a president mired in Civil War, Lincoln faced fires burning all around him. In early July, costly military victories at Vicksburg, Mississippi and at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, opened a tremendous opportunity, Lincoln thought, to end the war. When the opportunity was lost, he described himself as “oppressed” and in “deep distress.” Around the same time, draft riots in New York City — which brought this jewel city of the North to its knees in bitter anti-black violence-accentuated the ongoing horror. Amidst this intense pressure, a grieved Lincoln found peace by acknowledging his own powerlessness. —