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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Civil War: Which side was God on?

(A Civil War Worship Service)
During his second inaugural address, Abraham Lincoln noted this
about the Union and the Confederacy:  Both read the same Bible
and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other…  The prayers of both could not be answered.  That of neither has been answered fully.  The Almighty has His own

Nevertheless, Lincoln goes right on to “suppose” that it is slavery that underlies the lengthy ferocity of the Civil War.  He quotes Matthew 18:7 (“Woe unto the world because of offences…”), and then names slavery as the offence that God is purging from America through the blood sacrifices of both
sides.  He intimates that the war might need to continue until the sin of slavery has been completely atoned for, and concludes this line of reasoning with a quote from Psalm 19:9:  “…the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

Lincoln was not the only one to “suppose” what God’s Civil War intentions were.  North and South were both convinced that God was on their side, and each reiterated their reasons for supposing so in churches throughout the land.

According to James Howell Moorhead, Northern Protestants were convinced of these three divine reasons for the Civil War:  America’s special calling to advance liberty throughout the world by proving to all that a republican form of government can survive even a civil war of this magnitude; a Union victory that would pave the way for the final millennium of God’s Kingdom here on earth (as referred to in Revelation 20:1-6); and the growing belief in the atonement for slavery that Lincoln had spoken of.

According to Harry S. Stout, Southern leaders had equal faith in their own jeremiads.  These went hand-in-hand with the following:  the Confederate Constitution's deliberate challenge to “separation of church and state”; the national motto Deo Vindice (“God will avenge”); Christianity as a national identity; and the belief (by white owners) that slavery was a divinely-ordained, biblically-sanctioned institution.

Perhaps Lincoln himself provided the spiritual antidote to all this “supposing” of God’s will when he famously declared:  Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.


Copyright April 10, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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