God’s wrath and the American vernacular

Russell Moore has a helpful piece on the wrath of God over at the Washington Post. He highlights several texts that show that the wrath of God was once much more a part of the American vernacular than it is now.

Reading these texts reminded me of another one–Lincoln’s second inaugural address. It is my favorite political speech, and it is laden with biblical allusions to God’s wrath and justice. Lincoln does not appeal to God’s judgment to vindicate the North over and against the wicked South. Rather, he appeals to God’s transcendent justice to show that both North and South had fallen short. In his own words:

If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’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 three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’

No one could accuse Lincoln of being an evangelical Christian. Nevertheless, God’s righteous judgment animated his moral vocabulary and opposition to slavery. This is the moral sense that brought down American slavery but that we have almost completely lost in modern American life–to our great detriment.

One Response to God’s wrath and the American vernacular

  1. Chris Ryan July 31, 2013 at 6:39 pm #

    That’s a really good piece by Moore, Denny. I think he articulates a balanced and meaningful purpose of God’s wrath in our personal salvation. And, obviously, what Lincoln says is equally powerful.

    What makes me cringe, however, abt integrating God’s Wrath with American Patriotism is that it inevitably leads to the conflation of Constitutional and Biblical values. Espoused by someone like Abraham Lincoln or Russell Moore there is a humility in its use. Used by less humble people (like, say, Congressman Steve Fincher) we hear invocations of the Bible like, “He who shall not work, shall not eat” while they’re eliminating food stamps in order to give themselves millions of dollars in taxpayer funds.

    Its worth remembering that before Abolitionists used the Bible to abolish slavery, plantation owners used the Bible to justify slavery. The Bible warns us of false prophets and I always cringe at how politicians might pervert the Bible for their own ends, even as the money changers perverted the Temple.

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