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Lincoln's Battle with God: A President's Struggle with Faith and What It Meant for America Hardcover – November 12, 2012
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Lincoln's Battle with God: A President's Struggle with Faith and What It Meant for America
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Most of what is written about Lincoln and faith is loaded with one perspective or another, with some insisting his words clearly prove he was an atheist and others making the same case that he was an unmistakeable Christian. The author with impressive precision and research shows that both were true at different points in the beloved president's life. For anyone who wants to explore this aspect of Lincoln's life, this is the perfect source.
However, there was a 3rd party who had a vested interest in this conflict, and who saw to the heart of the matter long before most White people in either The Union or The Confederacy.
African-Americans who had long-been held as slaves for close to 250 years at that point, had been praying for eons for God to release us from our bondage. We looked for signs and kept the faith. So, when the conflict erupted in 1861 between what was primarily two sections of White folks, African-Americans saw and intuited God's hand in the conflict as the source of our eventual emancipation long before any significant group of White people could “see” it. Any careful study of slave testimonies and the writings and words of free Black people documented at the time shows the spiritual and divine hand of God in the messages of African-Americans who saw to the heart of the conflict.
What does this have to do with Abraham Lincoln? Well, like many others, it took Lincoln years to evolve to the position that the emancipation of my ancestors was a purpose neither sought by White folks in the North or South in general at the outset of the conflict, but God's mightier Will was revealed in time to match what African-Americans had been saying for some time—that The Civil War was God's way of bringing about an end to slavery in America.
This book, is, in large part, the evolution of Lincoln's religious life over the course of it. While the author is a partisan for religion, this book may be the best, most open-minded and fair assessment of Lincoln;s religious life to date. The book takes the reader through the spirit and mind of Lincoln over the course of his life, in an attempt to get at his faith. This is a mighty effort and one that is worth reading, leading Lincoln to ultimately come to the conclusion, as worded in his Second Inaugural, that God's purpose in The War was to bring an end to slavery. I salute Lincoln for eventually coming around to the position maintained by a great deal of African-Americans, who lived at the same time that he did. This a great book on an often disregarded aspect of Abraham Lincoln—his faith. It is well-worth the effort of giving it a good read. A great job, this!
Lincoln seems to have been exposed to the best and worst in Christianity of his day by being strengthened in his faith through the writings of Presbyterian Pastor Reverend James D. Smith of Springfield, whose apologetic writings contained in The Christian's Defence, Lincoln is known to have read. At the same time Lincoln was likely exposed to some of the church pettiness of his day. As he attended Smith's church in Springfield, the Presbyterian session was charged at one point with investigating a church member for the sin of dancing. (Lincoln and his wife had met at a dance.) Even in death, Lincoln couldn't escape the cultural bias of his day. Pastors lamented the fact that his death took place in a theater. Or in the words of one Presbyterian Pastor, "the theater is one of last places to which a good man should go."
Despite many challenges, Lincoln's faith eventually took form. Perhaps its strongest statement is Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address. Here Lincoln lays out an overwhelming case for God's sovereignty in history and the case against slavery, but he charges both the North and South with the collective crime of slavery that God must judge. Lincoln also lays out a Scriptural philosophy of history in which God is portrayed as allowing the crimes of humanity to go so far, but no further, until evil has reached its fullness and is judged.
This is a good book. It's made that much more enjoyable in that Mansfield is able to keep things complete, yet brief. And even while being brief provide several mini-histories of various topics. We see the sad picture for example of Mrs. Lincoln's interest in spiritualism after her son's death, even as her husband turns closer to his Christian faith as a way of coping with his grief. More examples could be mentioned. But it suffices to say that this is a book that is well worth it.