Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Abraham Lincoln Quoted by Jesus! Mark 3

Mark records a curious event in his third chapter (link). If you look at Mark 3:25, you'll see that Jesus quotes the sixteenth President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. After all, one of the highlights of the Lincoln years is his famous speech regarding slavery in the United States where he used the phrase that "a house divided against itself cannot stand."

This speech was given in 1858 when he accepted the nomination to run against Stephen A. Douglas for Senate, but is still remembered as the defining speech regarding slaveholding in the United States. I recall being taught in school how brilliant and groundbreaking the speech was, how Lincoln had used such wise words to convey his thought.

Yet the idea was not original to Lincoln. Rather, it was embedded in Lincoln from his time reading the Bible. Now, I have read varying reports about Lincoln's personal religious beliefs: some place him as a nearly completely committed Christian while others have him somewhere on the outside edge. I'm not going to even attempt to comment on that.

What I want to highlight is this: Lincoln was educated in a time where most of the culture around him was soaked in the Bible. He was, the people around him were, the world was driven with a Biblical knowledge. Even those who chose to push back that they did not believe in various parts of Scripture (as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson both have left evidence of) still respected the idea of a culturally central source of morality. Lincoln knew the crowd would hear his "house divided" reference and connect his speech with Jesus. He most likely counted on it.

Moreover, there should be no doubt how he expected the division to be resolved. The crowd he stood before that day was a new political party formed with the goal of eliminating slavery and they would never have accepted continued slavery for the sake of unity. Only a united country with no slaves would be acceptable for the Republican Party.

Lincoln was connecting the fight against slavery and for the unity of the country with the wisdom and teaching of Jesus. His crowd would have understood it and that would have strengthened his position. Even his opponents would not have been able to argue against that viewpoint.

Today, though, where are we? Mention the Bible as your source of anything and non-believers shut down—they have no use for the Bible as anything. Mention the Bible as your source for anything and half of the believers get confused—they have not learned the Word well for themselves. In short, we are functionally illiterate of the Bible as a whole.

Some people might exult at this but underneath it is this problem: we have not replaced that national knowledge base with anything else. Some now find their morality in other religions, some find it themselves, and others still hold to the Bible. There is no national narrative or other unifying cultural force anymore. Now, admittedly, even settling on one would not solve everything. After all, while Republicans were seeing in the Bible reasons to eliminate slavery, Democrats were find in the Bible reasons to keep it.

The end-result? We are now the house divided. And whether you want to take your wisdom from Lincoln or from his source, Jesus, we cannot stand this way either. We may need to dial back to the bare minimum of unifying statements and work harder to live and let live—yet even that statement will be hard to parse. After all, the pro-abortion crowd would say to let "women alone" about abortion, while the pro-life crowd would say to let "children live" about ending it. All women should be free to not get pregnant—and all people should be free to live, no matter how small or weak they are.

In the end, we cannot maintain the house as it sits. It is divided because it lacks a foundation—the one that it was built on has been removed, more by neglect of those who know it than by anyone else. What do we do now? That is the question.

Today's nerd note: I know this was a departure from the typical through the whole Bible post, but I go where the thoughts take me. Let's look at one key part of Mark 3, though:

Jesus speaks of blaspheming the Holy Spirit as an eternal sin, stating that this cannot be forgiven. Yet we in evangelical Christianity hold that nothing is beyond the power of the blood of Christ, nothing cannot be forgiven by the grace of God. How does that belief not contradict this verse.

The simplest answer, and the best, is that it does not because of the finer detail of how one receives the forgiveness that Jesus' atoning death on the Cross brought. His death did not atone universally and unilaterally, rather it was the particular redemption of those who accept His grace. While the atonement does bring a certain effect to all of Creation, the specific forgiveness of all sin is only to those who are His, known by Him in the time before He even said "Let there be light!"

Blaspheming the Holy Spirit? That would be seen in denying that God is speaking when the Holy Spirit does His primary work in the life of the unbeliever: moves the spirit of a person to see God for who God is, to accept grace, mercy, and love from God. Denying that throughout life is unforgivable because that is how God draws His people to salvation and forgiveness.

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