A Matter of Consequence
Abraham Lincoln, I believe, grew far greater in stature than his mere physical stature above others of his time. He led our country with deep conviction, during a time of great tragedy and sacrifice. Yet at the same time, he and his nation were barely beginning one of the great periods of advancement in technology, innovation, and human creative achievement. Yet his words ever pointed back towards Truth and the Eternal he saw as directly guiding our Nation’s destiny – if it would but survive.
I believe he knew Paul’s letter to the Romans intimately. His later reflections make clear that while he would at all costs preserve the Union, he was convinced (and convicted) that the terrible carnage and staggering human cost of the war on both sides was God’s wrath upon the sins of both sides in condoning, tolerating and abetting slavery for so long after our founding. An excerpt from Romans 1, New International Version:
18The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.God has set in motion all the works of creation. What the person who may seek purely mechanical explanations for the world sees as cause and effect and natural consequences are simply reflections of the system God created. Much of what God speaks to us in the received revelation of His word is nothing more or less than God’s patient and careful explanations of cause, effect, and consequence.
21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
24Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
28Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
What may be known about God (and His truths) through direct experience is readily apparent in the created world. This continues to confound the “worldly wise,” as God’s eternal power and divine nature are invisible, though clearly discerned.
As Man and Woman grow in their confidence in their own prowess and abilities, they may so “enthrall” themselves with their own creative constructs as to lose sight of or actively shun the self-evident around them. This amounts to acts of suppression. They avoid hints of consequence; they shrug off or minimize hurt that’s caused to others or diminishment of spirit that hedonism and selfishness can cause.
How many of us stubbornly stand on “you’ve got to show me, I’ve got to see it for myself,” even if the truth expressed has been respected and acknowledged for generations upon generations. These turn their moral compass on its edge, and can no more tell their way with the needle hanging lifeless down upon its spindle.
Humankind’s hearts grow dark as they turn from God and choose to see only the material, and seek the immortal and divine only in those self-created works of created man. They worship and serve the created object and not the Original Creator. This inevitably leads to all kinds of material and sensual excess, as they accept as true only that which they can touch and covet.
These are the natural consequence of our rebellion. God’s revelation through His word is not just some punishment or a one-time correction, but warning what the inexorable decline looks like, so we don’t have to stumble around any more than we have to.
Worse, each step we take away from God and His truths causes more harm, breeds greater distrust, and causes more shame. God’s law can instruct, but if we fail those laws, the natural consequences will eventually find their obedience in us at one time or another.
As James says in James 1:14:15:
14but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.Filled thus with all kinds of wickedness, evil, greed, depravity, our emptiness that could be faith can instead be filled with every sin and evil known to man and abhorred by God. Paul says we well know or should well know God’s impending judgment, His words and edicts, but yet we can pursue our sins and honor and approve those who practice them. Those fallen away celebrate their idols and factories of sin.
There is a process of decay involved in our willful turn from God. God’s word to us describes a process, we can call it “natural” if we want, but it’s His nature we’re describing (in both senses, His divine Nature and the natural world He’s created). And this process can led to spiritual death.
And as with people, so with our Nation. Lincoln may have well known too the words of C.L. De Montesquieu (hat tip to The Federalist Patriot, 05-29):
"The deterioration of every government begins with the decay of the principles on which it was founded."In Lincoln’s Message to Congress, December 1, 1862, Lincoln warned (Sandberg’s Lincoln, Page 330-331):
If there ever could be a proper time for mere catch arguments, that time surely is not now. In times like the present, men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and in eternity.And
The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise to the occasion. As our cause is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves.Sandberg reflects on the deeper purpose that Lincoln sought in his message, which reverberates today as we face two extreme challenges: one from hostile popular culture, another from fanatic Islamic Terrorists bent on destroying Western Civilization (American, Democratic, Capitalist, and Free):
Possibly never before had Lincoln used that word, “disenthrall.” It was not a familiar word with him. He seemed almost to imply that though we might give physical emancipation to others who were oppressed, each individual must achieve his own disenthrallment, rise out of his old into a new self. A subtlety of philosophic thought was in the added suggestion, “In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free – honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve.”It is long past time for us to disenthrall ourselves of ourselves, our own creations and conceits. God no doubt blesses us with wonderful gifts and abilities, and channeled constructively, these gifts can allow us to create the most magnificent and astounding achievements. But we must remain grounded, we must forever harken to the True source of the creative spririt.
And in giving to our world through ways in keeping with His purposes, we can preserve for ourselves that greater portion of His pleasure in our obedience.