To Force More Perfect Union

Abraham Lincoln did not have the chops to unite the Union peaceably. Part of his problem is that he loved the Union too much.

Caveats, qualifications, and disclaimer: I did not pay much attention in school as a kid. I am not a historian or a politician or a librarian. I have only read about 100 pages of Lincoln’s speeches in this collection. I did not stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. The opinions expressed in this post do not reflect those of my employer.

So I said that Lincoln did not have the chops to hold (or reunite) the Union together apart from force. He used the tool he had, the Army, and set a precedent of Federal preeminence. His example also demonstrates the failure of secular philosophy to consolidate a diverse people.

Lincoln was not a Christian. He spoke about God but he did not worship the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit. He valued religion only to the degree that it wouldn’t alienate voters. He said,

I do not think I could myself, be brought to support a man for office, whom I knew to be an open enemy of, and scoffer at, religion. (55)

His first inaugural speech as President revealed that he didn’t serve God, he served the Union. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t have served God by serving the Union, but that wasn’t true for him. He valued the Union above all and he vowed that he would do whatever was necessary to defend it. He personally wished for abolition but, as long as the Union survived, it didn’t really matter to him if every slave was freed or if no slave was ever freed. Liberty was a great idea until it threatened his precious.

When his god was attacked he fought back. The sovereign Union punished any who questioned it starting with South Carolina. The Constitution framers wrote of their desire “to form a more perfect union.” Lincoln chose to force one.

He took over a country in tension and he knew there were problems. Yet he used his rhetorical skills to persuade his opponents only for a while. Because Lincoln did not worship the triune God of the Bible, he did not have faith or hope in a good God which would have enabled patient work for a resolution that may (or may not) happen decades later. He could not see far enough ahead to pray for worshippers who would be Christlike disciples who would educate the next generation.

Lincoln said that he knew the appropriate political process.

[B]allots are the rightful, and peaceful successors of bullets; and that when ballots have fairly, and constitutionally, decided, there can be no successful appeal, back to bullets; that there can be no successful appeal, except to ballots themselves, at succeeding elections. (314)

Apparently he didn’t even have time to wait for politics, let alone trust anything or anyone greater.

The idea of the Union was most important. He failed to appreciate that the Union consisted of States, and the States consisted of persons. He couldn’t see it, and ended up trying to build a Union around an abstract rather than on persons or God Himself. His “success” not only left us with a heritage of overreaching presidents but also of people expecting the Federal government to rule them regardless of the brutal measures used to enforce unity.

Because Lincoln did not worship the triune God he could not see all men of all skin colors as image-bearers of God. Slaves were still property to be priced and restitution provided to their owners. Slaves only counted as 3/5th of a free man for representation purposes. Free men themselves served to fight. If they were ground up in war on behalf of the Union, so be it.

Lincoln talked about using tools other than force in order to avoid more bloodshed (363) but he couldn’t pull it off. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ and His Spirit can create true and willing unity. We will not have a perfect union apart from submission to the Lord first. This means that obedient Christians are free to be the best citizens whether the Lord grants us obvious success, sooner or later or never. Lincoln had no such confidence.

The Laziness That Be

Reading the Foundational Documents and seeing how natural it is for some men to take advantage of others, I ranted a bit in our last Omnibus auditors’ session. For weeks we’ve been observing (and kvetching) about our current political slough of despond, and the question comes up, “What are we doing about it?” Are we just reading and watching cable blues and fussing? Maybe praying more for Jesus’ return?

It is true that we have much more to do, hopefully–in the future–changing the kind of characters who are on our ballots, let alone enculturating the kind of Christians who cast ballots. But as we dream about repealing laws, or even push to practice consistently the good laws we already have, we’re trying to train students how to be good citizens of two countries, both heaven and earth. How are we doing that?

First, we teach them to love God with all their hearts and to believe in Jesus Christ as the only Savior. God is sovereign. He rules the nations. We must submit to Him. Because His nature is Triune, He calls us to relationship and family and society and calls it good. We must bear His image in these bonds. When we sin and break fellowship, His Son offers forgiveness and peace. That is the evangel. We must repent and believe and receive and walk in Christ. Any attempts at peace among men without Him will not work for long.

Second, we teach them history. We’re learning where we came from and the many blessings that we all enjoy because men in previous generations worked and served to give us a good foundation. As Samuel Johnson put it,

A contempt of the monuments and the wisdom of the past, may be justly reckoned one of the reigning follies of these days, to which pride and idleness have equally contributed.

We benefit from their wisdom, watching them work through why they wanted what they did and what problems they envisioned. It profits us to read their arguments about states and nations and what forms of government would make a better union and what challenges come to those governments.

But beyond the content of the curriculum, we also make them read a lot of it. We ask them to memorize Latin and write multiple papers each week and participate in the discussion. And then we tell them that they are not entitled to a good grade even if they work hard. They are not entitled to graded papers which are red ink free zones. They are not entitled to have everything exactly the same as their fellow classmates. This isn’t mean, but it is surprisingly political. This is part of what it means to be free.

The solution to our national woes starts with the Spirit. We can glean wisdom from history. And the responsibility for it is individual. We cannot keep expecting others, especially experts or professionals or legislators or judges or presidents, to fix it for us. We must work on what is in front of us, be faithful in the little we’ve been given, and a generation of willing workers will, by God’s grace, at least challenge the laziness that be.

Lawless Laws

In the ECS Omnibus class we’ve recently been reading the foundational documents of the United States. We spent a few weeks reading and rereading the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution with all her Amendments. We just read and discussed some of the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers. And one of my take-aways so far, especially in light of our current regime, is that legislation becomes unruly when men will not take responsibility for themselves.

Take our economic regulations as an example. The law works when it penalizes men who won’t work. The law is in trouble when men who won’t work write laws to penalize those who are, or to cushion the lazy from their empty field come harvest time. Nothing good comes when the Have-nots write laws, or vote for lawmakers, to redistribute what the Haves have. The government arrives with the Sheriff of Nottingham’s gun but wearing Robin Hood’s hat, or, if you prefer, carrying Goliath’s shaft and cloaked in Joseph’s jacket, passing out benefits and breaks for everyone, except for those they took from in the first place. It is selfish men legislating their lawless greed.

There are a few ways to learn to take responsibility, but perhaps the most vital place where we learn not to blame others for our problems is when we come to confess our sin. We do not look to rewrite the Law. We submit and admit that we have disobeyed God. We also look for a Savior, “to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” We know we aren’t entitled to help, but we come for His grace.

The only way that men will be free under the law is when they are free from their lusts. Otherwise we will keep expecting others to fix our issues without bothering to acknowledge that they are our issues. A society of irresponsible blame-shifting citizens will self-destruct; we see the cookie crumbling today. Christian politics starts with worship and recognizing our responsibility to God and our responsibility for our sins. We will know that God is acting when, like He promised to Israel, His Spirit causes us to remember our evil ways, and our deeds that were not good, and we loathe ourselves for our iniquities and abominations (Ezekiel 36:31).

Rabbits with Greek Names

*We finish our Omnibus class discussion on The Histories: The Landmark Herodotus in the morning. The long intestines of Herodotus measure more than 700 pages followed by 21 appendices and a hundred more pages of indeces. The rabbit trails in this book get more attention than the timeline, but I don’t want to split hares. At least most of the rabbits had Greek names.

I did not read the whole thing. I listened to Books 4-7 in this audio version which is neither the same translation as the hard copy I have nor did it shake the typical ennui that chaperones dates between audio books and me. It was free. Also, the audio edition has no maps. I will admit that somewhere around Book 9 I actually started paying attention to the maps which also meant that they no longer helped me skip forward in my reading. Such is learning. By now I even have an opinion on whether the Battle of Marathon or the Battle of Thermopylae was more important. Who’da thunk it?

There are many things that could be said about this book; I’m sure of it, whatever they are. That said, here’s one threatening riddle from Book 6 that has kept me thinking for a couple weeks.

Now Miltiades was highly respected by Croesus the Lydian, and when Croesus learned what had happened to him, he sent a declaration to the Lampsacenes commanding them to release Miltiades, threatening that if they did not do so, he would wipe them out as if they were a pine tree. The Lampsacenes who tried to interpret this message were at first belwildered as to why Croeses would use the phrase “wipe them out like a pine tree” in his threat, but then, after much hard thinking, one of the elders came to the realization of its true significance: the pine alone of all trees does not produce any new shoot once it has been chopped down, but is utterly destroyed and gone forever. (442)

Part of the reason that we started a school, and part of the reason that we’re paddling the river of Western Civilation with Omnibus oars, including the one supplied by Herodotus, is that we want our students to come back even when we’re “cut down,” whenever and however that might happen. If Christians reproduce true disciples, then our disciples will live and grow and bear much fruit even when we die. By God’s grace we won’t be wiped out like pine trees, instead we’ll keep popping up like irrepressible bamboo shoots.1


  1. Credit for the bamboo analogy goes to our school Headmaster. I texted him this question: “What kind of tree/plant is virtually impossible to kill, even if you chop it down?” He immediately replied that it was a good question and gave four answers, a few from personal experience. He also thinks Herodotus is fantastic. That’s why he’s the right person for the job, and the teacher of our Omnibus class.

Four Bases

I started reading The Odyssey last week. This is yet another book I’m sure I was assigned and am even more sure I ignored. Like Roy Hobbs said to Harriet (sports star serial-killer) Bird, “The only Homer I know has four bases.” While the poem hasn’t “knocked the cover off the ball” for me yet, I’ve still got a couple thousand more lines to swing at.

The part of the story that provoked this post finds our hero, Odysseus, stranded on the island of the Phaiakians trying to get back to his wife, Penelope. He meets Nausikaa, a young girl out doing laundry, who seemed to him to be someone who could help him get home. Odysseus addressed her with the following flattery.

May the gods give you everything that your heart longs for; may they grant you a husband and a house and sweet agreement in all things, for nothing is better than this, more steadfast than when two people, a man and his wife, keep a harmonious household; a thing that brings must distress to the people who hate them and pleasure to their well-wishers, and for them the best reputation.

Here in Washington state, on a much less epic level, imagine a man outside of Safeway who needs gas money to get home. He observes a young woman with well-ordered hair coming out of the store with her friends and figures that she might be able to help him. If he flattered her about her marriageability, not only is it possible that she’d be frightened, she might be outraged. “How dare you assume that a woman would even want to be married!” or, “What gives you the right to say that marriage is between a man and a woman?”

Homer wasn’t a worshipper of the true God. The gods of his culture were nominally moral, and inconsistent at that. The stories told for entertainment included all sorts of the worst sexual immorality. And yet, these winged words from Odysseus reveal a worldview that still had some original, Genesis 1 and 2 image-bearing residue.

I’m discouraged that civilization in Homer’s day had a more civilized appreciation of marriage than ours. But the biggest whammer is that the first spouses to blame are within the church, not outside of it. If Christian husbands and wives actually enjoyed each other, if they demonstrated the glad dance of sacrificial love and submission, then maybe more people would desire marriage rather than deride it. Perhaps married life would once again seem natural.

I’m not arguing that Homer’s message makes it around all four bases. I’m arguing that Christians need to repent and take their marital image-bearing more joyfully for sake of our society and the next generation. May God grant such sweet agreement.

Cold Ham

Hammurabi steleAs I pedal my tricycle up the driveway to the education I never paid attention to, I finished reading The Codes of Hammurabi and Moses. As with our reading for last week, The Code was in effect while Abram was a pup in Ur. And like Gilgamesh, Hammurabi used every adjective he could for self-decoration.

The Code includes a couple hundred laws that Hammurabi claimed he received from Shamash, the Babylonian sun god. The laws themselves are inscribed on an eight foot tall, seven foot wide stone with an image of the law handoff as a heading. In the Prologue, Hammurabi writes about his calling from the gods to “go forth…to rule…[and] to give light to the land, and…promote the welfare of mankind.” If only that’s what the laws did.

One reason for reading The Code is to compare it with the Mosaic Law which was written around a thousand years later. Haters hypothesize that Moses borrowed from Ham (the diminuative form of Hammurabi that I suppose he wouldn’t appreciate). But the apparent similarities can’t account for the fundamental differences. Here’s a quick review of Ham’s rules that make for ugly leadership and culture.

  • The laws are fear based. Obedience doesn’t lift a man up in worship, it simply keeps his head out of the water (literally).
  • When in doubt about the appropriate degree of punishment, go severe. There is little to no mercy available, let alone applied.
  • There are only a couple cases when a second chance is possible. Third chances don’t exist. Forgiveness is a fiction.
  • Almost all the advantages go to the rich and the governing, rather than providing protection from the rich and governing. A few instances appear to limit the person in the power position, but who would keep the judge in power from bending the code for his wine-tasting buddy?
  • The laws lead to Ham’s glory and not the people’s good. Sure, sometimes what was actually good for men served for the king’s glory, but the king never served for the good of men.

In the end, Ham calls on at least a dozen different gods to curse any coming king who failed to follow his law. His imprecations were as empty as the heads of his gods.

Contrast the cold code of Ham with the reviving, rewarding law of the Lord.

The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the LORD is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules of the LORD are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
(Psalm 19:7-11, ESV)

We have every reason to be thankful for our God who gives good rules. He is righteous, He defines and reveals righteousness, and He promises forgiveness to repenters and blessing to those who fear Him.

Thank God for Gilgamesh

This week our Omnibus class is reading The Epic of Gilgamesh. I’ve read the summary in our textbook and about 70 pages of The Epic itself. Apparently, this ancient story about the gods of Uruk was a best seller in Ur around the time of Abram. This means Abram probably grew up hearing about these gods before Yahweh called him west.

The recurring–more accurately dominating–thought that keeps jumping up and down in my head is thank God that our God is not like Gilgamesh, or any of his gods or his relatives for that matter. I can thank God for Gilgamesh because these sorts of stories remind me how grateful I am for Who our God is. We couldn’t make Him up. We can’t make Him to be what we want. He is who He is. And He’s great!

Gilgamesh is two-thirds god, one-third man, whose mother was an all-knowing sexy bovine named Ninsun, the “lady Wildcow.” His best friend was a dunce created by the gods to give Gilgamesh someone his own size to play with. Together, they conquered the giant Huwawa, guard of the Pine Forrest, who had a face made of intestines. Gilgamesh’s most famous achievement is that he built some really nice walls. Near the end of the story, when his friend Enkidu dies due to an emotionally unstable, heart-unhappy lady deity, Gilgamesh sulks about his own inescapable mortality. He worships gods and is worshipped as a god and these are no good gods.

We certainly don’t know everything about our God, the true God, but that’s because He’s infinite, not because He’s arbitrary. He is righteous, which means that He reveals His wrath against unrighteousness. But He’s also a God who bore wrath Himself to grant righteousness by grace through faith to those He called to love for eternity. Our God reigns supreme with steadfast love, He is not distressed and worried sick about the state of things. Not only could we do a lot worse, we only have reasons to be humbly thankful that God is our God. Thank God for Gilgamesh and that we’re not characters in a story like that.

Back to School

Our two oldest kids, Maggie and Calvin, head back to school tomorrow. School reentry is always exciting, but this first day is not only the first day back to school for our kids, it is also the first day of school for our school.

On Tuesday morning Evangel Classical School opens its (basement) doors to students. Like I said, we’re not only beginning a new year, we’re beginning a new institution.

The plans have been in the making for a little over a year. It’s amazing how much work has been done since last summer and yet we’ve still only dipped a small toe in the river of educational rapids left to ride.

Because we’re small and because I deserve some of the blame for the existence of ECS, I’m going back to school, too. I left the classroom in June of 2007. I had been teaching High School Bible classes for six years and, before that, finishing four years of seminary after four and a half years of college after thirteen years of public education. I remember feeling absolutely no sense of loss when I turned my attention to other things.

Since then, however, God has reordered multiple things. My kids are older and I have an increased desire for them to learn. Not only that, my worldview continues to expand and I realized the need to confess my own dualism. Lo and behold, it is possible to please God without diagramming Greek verses all day. I want students to get the gladness of Christ’s universal Lordship so much that they bleed image-bearing all over the place.

So, I’m back in the classroom. I’ll be the K-6 Bible teacher and the Latin I teacher. I know more about the former than the latter, but cogito ergo sum, ad absurdum, et cetera, et cetera, or something like that.

That’s not all. Our secondary program at the school will include a trek through the Omnibus curriculum. Our headmaster not only wrote an introduction to the program, he’s also going to teach it. The school board decided to offer an opportunity to audit the class for interested parents and other adults who want to “catch up” in their own education. They’re invited to read along and then join the class once a week for discussion. I’ve got my set of books (see the image below) and have made my commitment to participate. Even if I had read all the books I was assigned in High School and college–which I didn’t–I still realize that I’m painfully lopsided and underdeveloped.

the stack

It’s time to go back to school, for our kids and for me as well. I want them not only to learn more than me, I want them to want to always keep learning more than me. That starts with my example. By God’s grace I’m not done growing and this should be just as much fun as it is crazy. Risus est bellum.