Providential Wisdom

I don’t believe (or much like) the phrase, common grace, but sometimes the insights of the heterodox and even the unbeliever make you wonder about the effects of special grace. Consider Noah Millman’s invocation of Abraham Lincoln for the current pissing match over Confederate Monuments (and oh by the way not all Christians are not using the Port-a-Potties). First Millman credits Lincoln with recommending “charity for all”:

North and South were compacted together within the Union, and both prospered by that union. So both North and South bore the moral stain of slavery, notwithstanding that the slaves themselves were overwhelmingly concentrated in the Southern states, and the social and economic structure of the South changed most by emancipation.

This perspective was what made it possible for Lincoln, in the midst of war, to speak of achieving a just and lasting peace “with malice toward none, with charity for all.” It is easy to argue that such a lasting peace would require honoring the honest—if, in Lincoln’s view, badly mistaken—conviction of men like Robert E. Lee that their actions were not rebellion but a defense of their country. Indeed, it is hard to see what “charity for all” could mean if it did not extend to a man of Lee’s widely-touted honor and integrity, or those who cherish his memory. Reconciliation could be achieved between North and South on the basis that while the political matter of secession was settled on the battlefield, there was honor on all sides. Those were precisely the terms that prevailed from the end of Reconstruction through the era of the Civil Rights movement.

Of course, reconciliation is not easy (and doesn’t come by way of statements and letters):

Reconciliation in the present means reconciliation of conflicting narratives of the past, finding a place for all of our varied common ancestors. But the axes of conflict between those ancestors may, themselves, be irreconcilable.

We may fool ourselves to think that matters are simpler elsewhere. Attila may be honored in Hungary without upsetting the descendants of the cities he sacked; Bohdan Khmelnytsky may be honored as the father of the Ukrainian nation notwithstanding that his men perpetrated the most horrific massacres of Jews between the Crusades and the Holocaust. But the illusion of integral simplicity is as deliberate as it is false, as the currently bloodletting in Ukraine and the escalating authoritarianism in Hungary should demonstrate.

Regardless, no such illusion is possible in America, which is torn not on one seam but on many. Wounds still bleeding must be triaged for present succor, but our national memory must be capacious enough to acknowledge the whole truth, and not only the truth of victory, for there to be any lasting reconciliation. Lincoln’s insight is still relevant. We should properly judge slavery to be an unequivocal evil, and the Confederate cause to have been unsalvageable because it was fundamentally and overwhelmingly that evil cause—not only of defending but of extending slavery. But we should not delude ourselves that, had we sat in our ancestors seats, we would have judged our own cause any more rightly than they did.

Millman is not thinking President Trump will help but is looking to ordinary people for help (can Christian social justice warriors find their inner average?):

Today, we are led by a President as far from Lincoln’s spirit of charity as it is possible to imagine. And so it rests on the shoulders of ordinary Americans to eschew malice. It falls to the descendants of slaves to see men like Lee through the eyes of the descendants of planters, as the exemplar of their country’s virtues, and dispute their place in national memory in a spirit that appreciates that fact. And it falls to the descendants of planters to see him through the eyes of the descendants of slaves, as the American version of Erwin Rommel, Hitler’s favorite general, and let that understanding give them pause when they consider rising to defend his honor.

Imagine that. Being holy means giving up contempt and hatred for other people and trying to identify with them, you know like, grieving with those who grieve.

3 thoughts on “Providential Wisdom

  1. I think part of what may be preventing this kind of attitude from being adopted is our out of control “rights” culture. Hamilton, and his fellow federalists, were leery of a Bill of Rights, and I think I can see why (Arguably, the judicial branch has grown well past the founders’ intentions because of this shift towards rights). Every interaction in our society seems to revolve around “well it’s my right” kind of thinking. Our society is more litigious than ever, and our court systems have consistently expanded citizens’ rights whenever given the opportunity.

    To accomplish what Millman advocates here, Americans will need to move away from a “rights” mentality and toward a “duty” mentality. Maybe if we stopped asking “what are my rights” in every situation and started asking “what is can I do for my neighbor”, our country will be better off.


  2. Luke 13 : 4 Do you think that those 18 that the tower in Siloam fell on and killed were more sinful than all the people who live in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well!”

    Matthew 5: 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Americans do the same?

    Isaiah 41- the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
    they are considered as a speck of dust in the scales;
    The Lord lifts and drops them like fine dust.

    dgh—“Keillor’s mind runs too much in the direction of the affairs of this world. One could argue on the basis of Scripture that idolatry, that is worshiping false gods or worshiping the true God blasphemously, is one of the most heinous sins that God punishes throughout the Bible. Why then wouldn’t Keillor regard the practice of Mormonism or Roman Catholicism in the U.S. as instances of wickedness that deserve God’s judgment? Or to raise the stakes, what about the revivals of the Second Great Awakening that tainted American Protestantism with an Arminian understanding of salvation and sanctioned the widespread use of the altar call? By looking only at the effects of unbelief on the political order of the United States, instead of examining the conditions of the nation’s churches, Keillor suggests that politics matters more than worship.”


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