An Unusual Place of Encouragement
This weekend, the October issue of The Atlantic Monthly arrived. The cover story, Lincoln’s Great Depression by Joshua Wolf Shenk was fascinating.
Here is one incident from the story about the sixteenth President of the United States: “Elizabeth Keckley, Mary Lincoln's dressmaker, once told of watching the president drag himself into the room where she was fitting the First Lady. ‘His step was slow and heavy, and his face sad,’ Keckley recalled. ‘Like a tired child he threw himself upon a sofa, and shaded his eyes with his hands. He was a complete picture of dejection.’ He had just returned from the War Department, he said, where the news was ‘dark, dark everywhere.’ Lincoln then took a small Bible from a stand near the sofa and began to read. ‘A quarter of an hour passed,’ Keckley remembered, ‘and on glancing at the sofa the face of the president seemed more cheerful. The dejected look was gone; in fact, the countenance was lighted up with new resolution and hope.’ Wanting to see what he was reading, Keckley pretended she had dropped something and went behind where Lincoln was sitting so that she could look over his shoulder. It was the Book of Job.”
I found personal meaning from this story about Abraham Lincoln because in my One Year Bible reading program, this past week I completed Job. It is not the first place in the Bible you would expect President Lincoln to read and find something encouraging and full of hope.
Many Bible scholars believe Job to be one of the oldest books in the Bible. It’s about a man who trusted God and then the story turns to a conversation between God and Satan in heaven. Satan tells God that God is only trusting God because Job is living within God’s protective hand. So God permits Satan to take away Job’s children (they die) and his wealth (stolen) to see if he turns away from God. Job continues to trust God. Then Satan tells God it’s only because Job has his health that he continues to remain true. God permits Satan to cripple Job’s health. Several friends come to Job throughout the book and provide “traditional” reasons for these catastrophes in Job’s life. Job continues to trust God and ultimately his wealth and children are restored.
I wondered about which portion of Job where President Lincoln could have found some hope. I have no idea but I speculate some of his reading was in Job 38 which in the New Living Translation says, “Then the LORD answered Job from the whirlwind: “Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words? Brace yourself, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much. Do you know how its dimensions were determined and who did the surveying? What supports its foundations, and who laid its cornerstone as the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?
“Who defined the boundaries of the sea as it burst from the womb, and as I clothed it with clouds and thick darkness? For I locked it behind barred gates, limiting its shores. I said, ‘thus far and no farther will you come. Here your proud waves must stop!’
“Have you ever commanded the morning to appear and caused the dawn to rise in the east? Have you ever told the daylight to spread to the ends of the earth, to bring an end to the night’s wickedness? For the features of the earth take shape as the light approaches, and the dawn is robed in red. The light disturbs the haunts of the wicked, and it stops the arm that is raised in violence.
“Have you explored the springs from which the seas come? Have you walked about and explored their depths? Do you know where the gates of death are located? Have you seen the gates of utter gloom? Do you realize the extent of the earth? Tell me about it if you know!
“Where does the light come from, and where does the darkness go? Can you take it to its home? Do you know how to get there? But of course you know all this! For you were born before it was all created, and you are so very experienced!
“Have you visited the treasuries of the snow? Have you seen where the hail is made and stored? I have reserved it for the time of trouble, for the day of battle and war. Where is the path to the origin of light? Where is the home of the east wind?” (1–24)
President Lincoln knew much of the world events were outside of his control. The reports and battles of the Civil War would weigh anyone in leadership. Yet these words of God in Job showed the President who was ultimately in charge of all events in life. These encouraging words are good reminders when life seems to reel out of control.