CREDOS: Great wisdom — VIII

The US, Lincoln said, was almost chosen — that is, not yet chosen or not in fact but very close to being chosen. This phrase suggested a key strain of Lincoln’s thinking. While many invoked the favour of God, Lincoln explored the dynamic space between mortal works and divine intention.

We now return to the summer of 1863 when Lincoln found comfort in the Book of Job. It is instructive that he would turn to Job in a moment of darkness for it is about the value of questioning one’s faith. As the story goes, God has gathered his angels around him, and he boasts of his pious servant Job. Satan scoffs at this, saying that Job’s piety reflects his good fortune. As if to settle the argument, God permits Satan to take away Job’s possessions, kill his children, and afflict him with boils. Job at first struggles to stay pious, then lashes out in anger at God and demands to know the reason for his afflictions. The story ends with God rewarding Job, praising his skepticism and his demands for the truth, while punishing those who tried to comfort Job with the bromides.

Lincoln saw the parallels: Job lost his family. Lincoln lost his child, many friends, and vast numbers of soldiers. Job lost his great estate. Lincoln had lost his country, for by 1863 the war was no longer about preserving the Union; it was about building something new. What distinguished Lincoln was his willingness to cry out to the heavens in pain, and then turn, humbly to the work that lay before him. — (concluded)