Lesson 3: We are in the Hands of Providence
Even though Lincoln wasn’t a Christian (although my college professor Ron Rietveld thinks he might have come to faith after his son died during his term), he had a very strong belief in Providence. His thinking went something like this. The North says that they are fighting for what God wants. The South says that they are fighting for what God wants. Both sides cannot be right. Perhaps both sides are wrong. Perhaps God is on his own side and has his own plans and purposes for the terrible war that was upon the United States.
Lincoln believed that God did have his own side and his own aims for the war, and that was to end slavery because it was a great evil. Accordingly, God was going to work out the ends of the war to do just that, to end slavery. Lincoln’s side would be wise to get on the side that God was on.
It was this thinking that led to the Emancipation Proclamation, although Lincoln was wise enough to get the politics right—he only freed slaves in the rebellious states.
Lincoln believed that God was going to accomplish what he set out to do, no matter what man thought or did. He had a very strong view of providence, despite the fact that he was generally dismissive of Christian doctrine, at least in his younger years. His view was so strong that it almost bordered on fatalism, that it didn’t matter what man did, because God was going to do what God wanted to do, no matter what man wanted or did. In a weird sense this is true, but not perhaps exactly how Lincoln worked it out in his own mind. Unfortunately, Lincoln did not live long enough to write down and systematize his thinking in regards to his belief in providence.
The takeway lesson seems to me to be, rather than assume that God is on your side in a conflict, it is best to ensure that, as nearly as you can figure it, you need to work to be on God’s side because he is in ultimate control and has the power to work the outcome to his own purposeful ends.