Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809-April 15, 1865) remained skeptical, and at times even cynical, about religion until into his forties. So it is a most striking thing how personal and national suffering drew Lincoln into the reality of God, rather than pushing him away.
In 1862, when Lincoln was 53 years old, his 11-year-old son Willie died. Lincoln’s wife tried to deal with her grief by searching out New Age mediums to contact the spirit of her dead son. Lincoln turned to Phineas Gurley, pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington.
Several long talks led to what Gurley described as “a conversion to Christ.” Lincoln confided that he was “driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I have nowhere else to go.”
Similarly, the horrors of the dead and wounded soldiers assaulted him daily. There were fifty hospitals for the wounded in Washington. The rotunda of the Capitol held 2,000 cots for wounded soldiers.
Typically, fifty soldiers a day died in these temporary hospitals, which Lincoln often visited. All of this drove Lincoln deeper into the providence of God, saying, “We cannot but believe, that He who made the world still governs it.”
His most famous statement about the providence of God in relation to the Civil War was his Second Inaugural Address, given a month before he was assassinated. It is remarkable for not making God a simple supporter for the Union or Confederate cause. He has his own purposes and does not excuse sin on either side.
Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war might speedily pass away . . . . Yet if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid with another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago so still it must be said, “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.
I pray for all of you who suffer loss and injury and great sorrow that it will awaken for you, as it did for Lincoln, not empty despair and hopelessness, but a deeper reliance on the infinite wisdom and love of God’s inscrutable providence. –John Piper
John 6:67-69 — “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Romans 11:33 — O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
Psalm 19:9b — The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
Help me, O Lord, to make a true use of all disappointments and calamities in this life, in such a way that they may unite my heart more closely with you. Cause them to separate my affections from worldly things and inspire my soul with more vigor in the pursuit of true happiness. Amen.
–Susanna Wesley (1669-1742), mother of John and Charles Wesley and 17 other children