“Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by 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.” Abraham Lincoln; Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865
The mighty scourge of war has not yet passed away. Slavery’s legacy of violence continues. Perhaps hoping he could end it by taking race off the table once and for all, many members of the white working class who voted for Donald Trump this year voted for Barack Obama in 2008.
He,did not, and waves of disappointment with this failure are troubling the body politic. Lincoln would not be surprised. He held a Biblical view of history, which does not include the modern idea of progress. He would have agreed with Richard Niebuhr’s claim that history matters not because it leads to the definitive resolution of the issues that vex us, but “because it stands under the judgment of God.” With most divisive issues we can manage, at best, provisional arrangements. They allow us to live in relative peace for a time but do not endure as we wish. They stand, as does all human endeavor, under divine judgment.
The nation chafes under the continuing burden of race. Many have grown angry at its persistence, lashing out at those they hold responsible. But Lincoln’s words ring more true now than they did in 1865. Provisional arrangements, needing to be re-thought, re-defined, re-negotiated and renewed in each generation, remain the order of the day. This reality represents God’s judgment on the nation’s original sin. It is, by definition, “true and righteous altogether”.