Atonement and Abraham Lincoln Part 2

National Judgment and Personal Suffering

Christopher Schwinger

An Overview of Atonement
National Judgment and Personal Suffering

I believe the reason the Bible's Book of Lamentations is filled with such severity of depression has a lot to do with the fact that God was the instigator of this tragedy and actively promoted the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem for its sins. And if Satan was involved, God was still allowing Satan to do it. Satan's only pre-exilic mention in the Old Testament, unless you infer that he was the snake in the Garden of Eden, is in the Book of Job; nothing in Lamentations. But if God removed His protection on the nation of Judah, that feels different, at least to me. It means God respects our desire for freedom and doesn't consider it His job to bully us into serving Him if we don't want it. He withdraws because He knows He'll not get anywhere forcing Himself on us. Many innocent people face the consequences of foolish leaders, but this isn't God's fault. It is good that we don't have photographs of the siege and fall of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. This wasn't God's fault; He sent the prophets such as Jeremiah throughout the nation, to the leaders and the people, and not enough of 'em changed. As Isaiah 5:4 says so powerfully, "What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones?"

I don't buy the theology of the Civil War being prolonged as an extra-long punishment by God for how many horrible things were done in previous years to slaves. God only had to do one atonement, which was for all of humanity. National disasters like the Civil War and the desolation by the Allies to Nazi Germany are the consequence of years and years of ignoring God's guidance. Events like 9/11 should be viewed as God's wakeup call, but not necessarily something God deliberately did. The Great Locomotive Chase was designed to shorten the Civil War but didn't succeed, and the ineffective leadership of General George McClellan and other northern generals slowed down the northern victory by years. There were, I'm sure, a lot of other military and economic factors involved which I'm not versed in. It would be dangerous to look in hindsight at what had happened and make conclusions about God purposely making the Great Locomotive Chase fail, or the July 20, 1944 plot on Hitler's life which came close to succeeding. It's dangerous to claim God has more judgment He needs to do on more people to atone for the sins of the nation. However, there is a real Biblical basis for being concerned that the death of the innocent unborn in abortions will lead to God's wrath, like the Civil War was a consequence of the slaves' injustice being heard by God. In the case of abortion, though, I'd be more concerned about how it damages the souls of the individuals involved than that He'd curse the whole nation over the sins of some, especially as this issue doesn't threaten the unity of the country to the same degree as slavery.

Even though Lincoln's speculation about God purposely prolonging the Civil War is not accurate, I admire his thoughtfulness, and there certainly was a spiritual significance to his assassination happening on Good Friday, as he was our "redeemer President" who died that slaves could be free, the most Christ-like parallel in American history. God didn't make John Wilkes Booth kill him or want John Wilkes Booth to succeed. Who can deny that organized evil, which we call Satan but have never directly experienced, was behind Lincoln's startling parallel to Jesus' role as the redeemer who died to free us? You could say Satan wanted to end Lincoln's life so the South would be in a state of oppression for 100 more years, and that's something you can only surmise in hindsight, and still doesn't answer the question of why God would let Satan succeed. But even this, while plausible, will never be known for sure. God vs. Satan at times feels like a mental construct to make sense of good and evil. God's purposes, Satan's purposes, and the events that seem like flukes can't make sense to us. Whether God is directing Satan like in the Book of Job's narrative, or withholding His blessing, or actively disciplining or punishing (disciplining is intended to be productive, punishment destructive), or just letting nature take its course, we shouldn't be too concerned once we understand that He's wanting our well-being and that He's working to develop our character. Suffering is not what He wants for us, but it's what even Jesus was stuck with until He had completed the mission God had for Him. So if not even Jesus could escape suffering, even though He desperately cried out to in Gethsemane, then there must be something greater than avoiding suffering. Jesus' suffering resulted in our salvation. Corporate suffering may result in a large group of people coming to salvation, or a nation turning to God for help, or a display of God's glory and holiness. Mature Christ-followers are willing to endure suffering for those things, even if it wouldn't be their first choice.

And speaking of suffering, what's helpful about paying attention to what God seems to be doing in history, on a large scale and in personal stories we have and others have (including Christian biographies and our acquaintances), is that it encourages us that God is still involved even if only a small amount of the events of life seem to be in His "plan." Those clear indications of His involvement then help us to bravely face the chaotic dangers where we feel all alone, because we know that God has a proven track record of intervening.

Image Credit: Matthias Forster; "Rotten Grapes"; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | God-Father  | Hardships  | Political-Issues

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Published 2-13-17