The last few nights, I have had trouble sleeping. My mind is racing with thoughts, and I cannot seem to quiet them. I can still see the disturbing images of the Capitol on January 6th, and I cannot seem to shake them. In some ways, we have all been traumatized by those events, and it is going to take some time for us to remove those images from our minds.
I have also been thinking a lot about Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was quoted quite a bit during the Second round of Impeachment hearings, especially his Second Inaugural Address from April of 1865. However, the problem is that passages quoted were taken out of the context of the larger speech, and like with Scripture, that can often change the meaning altogether.
The speech is short, so you might wish to read it before moving on in this essay.
The Civil War had been raging now for four years, and there truly was no end in sight. Lincoln lays out his case that some wanted war and some who did not, but when war came, it was an all or nothing proposition. Lincoln puts the cause of war squarely on the institution of slavery. There is the now-famous line, “Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other.” Lincoln says that both sides cannot be just but that neither side’s prayers have been fully answered.
But Lincoln is not giving in and believes his cause to not only free the slaves but bring the Union back together is just and will continue to press on.
“Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said f[our] three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.”
The last paragraph is the portion of the speech that was quoted and misquoted during the impeachment trial. This is the paragraph where Lincoln speaks of “malice toward none” and “binding up our nation’s wounds,” which is lovely imagery but take out of context with what came before it, it means something completely different.
After tossing and turning the other night for what seemed like hours, I got out of bed and turned on the TV. I searched for something to watch and landed on the Netflix movie The Two Popes. Now, I have seen this movie before, twice actually, but I watched it again. I will not go into great detail about the film other than to say it is about the most recent two popes Benedict and Francis.
The two men are in the garden; Benedict is Pope, and Francis is a Cardinal at the time of this conversation, and they are speaking of the abuse that has gone on in the Church. Francis mentions that a few “magic words” of confession might help the person confessing, but it does not help the victim. He speaks of sin not as something to be wiped or washed away but as a wound that needs to be healed. Beautiful imagery.
The Church likes to use the imagery of sin being washed, cleansed, or wiped away. We use water as the vehicle for washing sin away in Baptism and, in Evangelical circles anyway, the “Blood of the Lamb” that will wash you clean. But this only deals with what is on the surface. I am no medical professional, but I know that sometimes the wound has to be healed from deep within itself, and sometimes making the wound larger to heal it is necessary. Sometimes the area around the wound needs to be cut away before healing can begin. This, I believe, is what Lincoln was getting at when he spoke of “binding the nation’s wounds.”
Lincoln was not advocating giving up; in fact, he had just said that “until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword” he was saying that to “bind the nations wounds,” there has to be justice. There has to be accountability, and without that, the healing cannot begin.
Putting a band-aid on the wound is what we have been doing for the last 245 years. On the surface, the wound looks healed, while underneath, it is foul and festering. It is time to dig deep and begin the process of healing.
America is in desperate need of healing, but healing cannot begin until we, as a nation, are ready to take a long hard look at what has brought us here. There needs to be an honest acceptance of the wrongs of the past and a sincere desire to not return to that past. Healing begins with an acceptance that we are sick; it is time for all of us to accept that we need healing and not just surface healing.
At the end of his speech, Lincoln said, “let us strive on to finish the work we are in” and that we must “do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with the world. all nations.”
Yes, we need to “bind up the nation’s wounds,” but that binding needs to be justice, or the wound will not heal.