The Theological Crisis of the Civil War


Springfield, Illinois sky photo by Karrie Nash

It was a time of lost hopes and broken dreams-and prayers.  Bibles were read, sermons preached, and the Divine was petitioned. There was war in the land. That which seemed so right had caused so much pain. But, of course, most still believed in the cause. Young men left home convinced that God was on their side. Perhaps, the horrors of battle gave birth to doubt. Many did not return home. Many would return home never quite the same physically, mentally, or spiritually. 

How could two opposing sides in a war both believe that God was on their side? This was the theological crisis. Both sides prayed to the same God. Both sides read the same Bible. Both prayed for the destruction of the other. Both sides were comprised of people who went to church and heard sermons on the righteousness of their cause. This was the North vs. the South. These were all Americans-but a people divided.

Abraham Lincoln had considered the matter deeply. While each side claimed to be in the will of God and to be on the “right”  side, he wasn’t sure. He reasoned that God couldn’t be for both sides. As president of the United States it might have been a “normal” position to take to affirm God on the side of the North. But he didn’t do that. Instead, he argued that maybe God wasn’t exactly on either side. Lincoln considered that, perhaps, God was actually punishing both sides for the injustice of slavery.  He also felt that the war wouldn’t end until it was God’s time for it to end. Until that time came no amount of Bible reading, praying, sermonizing, nor bloodshed would end the conflict. That time came in April 1865-and no time sooner.


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