“Living in the glare of divine rejection.”
We’ve never been on a first-name basis. My reaction was, “Abraham, dear Abraham, God accepts you. Rejection of you has never been a consideration.”
Abraham Lincoln grew into young adulthood as an aggressive agnostic. He wrote at least one book vilifying the Bible and repudiating the Gospel and God. Amazon does not sell that book because one of Lincoln’s friends grabbed the manuscript out of his hands and threw it into the blazing fire.
Stephen Mansfield describes Lincoln’s journey to faith, Lincoln’s Battle With God. ( Thomas Nelson, 2012). Mansfield lays out reasons for his crooked pilgrimage that affects some of us—the way we perceive ourselves. The only explanation for Lincoln’s survival, let alone his emotional and mental ability to run for political office and to become a phenomenal leader is the providence of God.
Lincoln lived most of his childhood and youth into young adulthood feeling he was cursed with no possibility of ever gaining God’s favor or acceptance. Some historians and psychologists say that Lincoln rejected God and everything connected to God because He lived with the fallacy that God had first rejected him. Why? How did he come to that conclusion?
- His mother was the “illegitimate” child of Virginia nobleman who either raped or took advantage of Lincoln’s grandmother. We know this because Abraham told his friend Herndon. This thinking about “illegitimacy” was pretty much common during that era. He was “tortured” by the circumstances of his mother’s birth.
“…convinced Lincoln ‘that God had cursed and crushed him especially.’”
- Unworthy of God’s acceptance. This came from the extreme Calvinism he had been taught. Joshua Speed said, “Lincoln tried to be a believer, but his reason could not grasp and solve the great problem of redemption as taught.”
- His relationship with his father. Thomas Lincoln was critical, vicious, and ridiculed Abraham constantly. The boy was neglected, beaten and using Lincoln’s words, worked like a slave. In recent weeks I have read several stories of fathers of that design. Our image of the Heavenly Father is influenced and often is determined by our relationship with our earthly father. The “god” A. Lincoln rejected was not Yahweh, but the merciless Thomas Lincoln.
As powerful as the specter of illegitimacy that impacted Henry Clay, Lincoln, John Fremont, the presence of a neglecting, abusive or cruel father could have destroyed Winston Churchill and certainly A. Lincoln.
On Sunday, his father and mother (step-mother) would go to church. The children would stay home. Before playing, Abraham would read from the Bible, teach a lesson and sing a hymn. Apparently, Lincoln was unwilling to reveal himself or his faith in the presence of his father.
“Lincoln’s hesitation to commit himself unreservedly to the Christian gospel…because of nagging certainties about his repugnance to God.” (p 95—Mansfield.)
- Depression. His genetic depression came through the families of both father and mother. Add to this the role of death in Lincoln’s early life. In Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals, she makes the point the men Lincoln surrounded himself with in his cabinet all shared either orphanhood or abandonment and frequent encounter with death. With all their dissimilarities, they shared common pain.
- Culture of conflict and puniness in the local church and his rejection of the worst of revivalist preachers. All of this dislike or disregard for preachers changed when he visited his father-in-law’s library and was guided to a book written by a preacher in Springfield, Illinois. After reading in the book, he later met Preacher Smith and began a friendship and conversation.
Lincoln’s identity includes a sense of being called to something great. He could not view himself or God or faith without looking through these filters that shaped his life.
“Oh, Abraham! He loves you.” I wanted to reassure the man who became our most beloved President.
What makes me think that God accepts me? Does redemption work in my world—in my soul?
Building an effective prayer strategy includes being self-aware and fully aware of satan’s plan to destroy or neutralize our identity as a unique person and an empowered Child of God.
“Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved” (Eph. 1:5, 6).
Priscilla Shirer teaches us to build a prayer strategy that acknowledges and protects our identity. That is where we will be attacked first and where we are vulnerable.