Abraham Lincoln’s Struggle With God

Early on, Abraham Lincoln attended a Baptist church. His parents, Thomas and Nancy were Baptists.  Later in life, Lincoln attended the Presbyterian church. Yet, he never joined the church-any church. Some are critical of Lincoln for this-they cite it as a sign that he wasn’t a believer. Other critics of Lincoln, who also claim he wasn’t a believer, say that he merely used God and religious terminolgy in his speeches and writings for political ends only. Finally, there was Lincoln’s friend and law partner William Herndon -who  made the claim that Abraham Lincoln was a flat-out athiest.

In all fairness, the matter of Lincoln’s belief (or not) in God is complicated. He did seem to have a period in his life (the New Salem years) where he was at least doubtful. He had been reading the works of Thomas Paine and other thinkers. I think as a young twenty-something year old man he was influenced to not believe. William Herndon took that period of Lincoln’s life and “ran with it.” Many young people people lose their faith in God with obtaining some education!

That being said, it should be noted that Lincoln also seemed to gain an understanding of God back- as he grew older.  He consulted with a trusted pastor. He wrote notes to himself on issues pertaining to the divine. He read the Bible. And he prayed. A politician “using” religion to gain advantage would not be devout privately.

Why did Lincoln change? One cause: the war. Lincoln struggled with the God question because the war undermined his deep-rooted belief in the United States of America. He believed in the Declaration of Independence.  He believed that the country was the “last best hope” on earth. He must have thought: “Where was God?” “Will the nation cease to exist?” Were the founders misguided?” “What side was God on?”

Lincoln knew slavery was morally wrong. It was evil. He understood-and began to understand more deeply that God was not pleased with America. This, I believe, was one of the main reasons Lincoln changed the war aim of “saving the Union” to “saving the Union and ending slavery.” He then saw that if the North were to win the war it would not be a return to the old way of life in America. The United States was to have a “new birth of freedom” never before realized in the land-a nation where there was no slavery-all men were equal.  Lincoln came to terms with God and saw that the North as well as the South had a debt to pay for slavery. It was a debt paid in blood-the Civil War.

To test this understanding of the divine will, Lincoln prayed to God and asked for a sign. He told God that he wanted to issue what would be the Emancipation Proclamation. He felt afterward that if the Union experienced a victory in battle, it was the sign from God that the Northern cause was just. The battle of Antietam was Lincoln’s sign. A short time later, Abraham Lincoln officially signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

Lincoln questioned God why the war dragged on. Why was there so much blood being shed? Why the ruined lives, the broken hearts, the destroyed property? Why-why-WHY? He didn’t know why. God had “his purposes.” 

The victory of the North was Lincoln’s seal of  faith in God. He had struggled with it his whole life. He went through periods of disbelief and doubt. In the end, it was resolved for him. And at the pinnacle of his quest for the divine, having acheived an understanding of His purpose for that which he had given his all to carry through until it’s conclusion,-God took Abraham Lincoln home. His struggle with God had ended.







Pic of Lincoln

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4 Responses to “Abraham Lincoln’s Struggle With God”

  1. Kelly Nash-Palmer says:

    Beautiful post. I believe a lot of Christians go through a period in their lives where they question their beliefs and God. Funny how getting educated plays into that.

  2. B. Nash says:

    Alright Chris-you’re on! Check out the posting: “More on Abraham Lincoln and the 13th Amendment.”

  3. B. Nash says:

    Hey Chris! Thanks for dropping by the cabin! Yup, you’re right. Keep checking :)

  4. Chris says:

    U still gotta add the pic of me!

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