Faith: A lesson on failure and principle from Lincoln

Faith: A lesson on failure and principle
The Treasury Department, Washington D.C., December 2011
'A righteous man may fall seven times and rise again...' Proverbs 24:16 

Failure is a relative concept: one man's success may be deemed failure in the eyes of the world. I think Jesus knew that more than most. Abraham Lincoln knew it, too. But without hindsight and history, only we can know personally whether we're on the right track – have we stuck to our core values?

As we reflected on the great triumphs of American democracy perched on a grassy hill beside the big, phallic Washington Monument on a chilly December day, our thoughts turned not to nationalism but to God and his ultimate, enduring sovereignty over everything, including political affairs, and the legacy of our Christian history.  

Slightly miffed that the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool was full of dirt, but endlessly amused by the squirrels, we marched on to the Lincoln memorial, the Liberty Bell and the area containing Old City Hall, Congress Hall and Independence Hall. 

In New Birth of Freedom, Harry Jaffa wrote, "Lincoln did not appeal to the Declaration of Independence merely because it was our first and foremost founding document. It was, he said, the immortal emblem of man's humanity and the father of all moral principle because it incorporated a rational, nonarbitrary moral and political standard. The equality of man and man was a necessary inference from the inequality of man and beast — and of man and God. No one possessed of a civilized conscience can fail to feel this sympathy. The empirical evidence bears Lincoln out."

It is extraordinary and humbling to think that Lincoln, a principled man to the end, had his share of obstacles to overcome. Today's post from The Word for Today reflects: 

"In 1832 Abraham Lincoln was defeated for the State Legislature. In 1833 he failed in business. In 1835 his sweetheart died. In 1836 he had a nervous breakdown. In 1838 he was defeated for Illinois House Speaker. In 1843 he was defeated for nomination to Congress. In 1854 he was defeated for the US Senate. In 1856 he was defeated for nomination for Vice President. In 1858 he was defeated again in a US Senate race. But today he is considered one of America's greatest presidents."

Before the American political system became corrupted by money and vested self-interest, Lincoln and the founding fathers of the country's political system believed in something much greater than winning. This is something to contemplate as America enters another election year.

In 1858, Lincoln called for his countrymen to return to the principles of Independence: "Return to the fountain whose waters spring close by the blood of the revolution. Think nothing of me — take no thought for the political fate of any man whomsoever — but come back to the truths that are in the Declaration of Independence. You may do anything with me you choose, if you will but heed these sacred principles."

In the overarching Christian narrative, the grand master plan for the world, we see first God's love for his people, and second his disappointment in their failure to acknowledge Him in all their ways. There is no safety in flouting God's law. But for whose sake – what motive? – to impose it on others without love, grace, mercy, which were shown to us all by Christ?

"Don't misunderstand why I have come," said Jesus. "I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." (Matthew 5: 17-18).

American presidents will rise and fall, but in the end God's word stands tall. And the Word, fulfilled by Christ, is love for everyone and for God above all. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord to redeem us all and guide us down righteous paths.

Girl With a Satchel