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The Better Angels of our Nature

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violence at rallyOr Hope Lives Despite Ourselves….

Jesus warned us that a house divided against itself cannot stand (Mark 3:25). Abraham Lincoln echoed that thought in a famous speech during the American Civil War. But, sadly, this is a lesson that is difficult to learn. Mankind will continue to argue rather than talk, fight rather than discuss their differences. In this year’s presidential elections, candidates seem to prefer wallowing in mudslinging rather discussing the issues.  And all of this is a  reflection of the society that we ourselves have created. Haven’t we,over several generations, seen our artistic tendencies slide down towards expressions of the ugliness of mankind rather that the beauty? I think of the music, movies and television shows that glorify negative role models and make morality seem like a quaint oddity. Not that I am calling for a return to starched collars and measuring dress hems. Such surface civility only hides the ugliness of humanity which will bubble to the surface regardless of how we try to hide it.

We like to think that this unraveling of our society as something new but the problem stems from ancient times as evidenced in the Scriptures.

“The wicked freely strut about when what is vile is honored among men.” Psalm 12:8

And, honestly, if I had stopped reading at the end of Chapter 12 today, I would have been left saddened and discouraged. But I could feel my eyes being drawn to the next Psalm even as I tried to close the Book and end my morning reading. Actually it was my notes that were written in the margin, probably from some long forgotten sermon or study that caught me. I had written “the circumstances” next to verses one and two. David is crying out to God asking “How long, O God? Will you forget me forever?” It’s as easy today to blame the downward spiral of our culture on God as it was in David’s time.

The notation besides verses three and four read “the conflict as he focuses on circumstances”. He acknowledges that though things are going badly, he needs to turn to God for help (such a simple plea, “Give light to my eyes”). Finally, in verses five and six, “confidence as he focuses on God”.

“But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.” Psalm 13:5 and 6

This conflict has been ongoing for many centuries. David felt the struggle of sin’s grip on our world as he grappled with whether or not he would reach for God. Abraham Lincoln lived this battle as he tried to reunite a country bitterly divided. I wonder if he had read Psalms 12 and 13 before giving an inauguration speech in which he said:

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

He saw the brutality of war and was able to look ahead to hope. David, too, saw his pitiful circumstances yet looked upward towards hope. These men were followers of the One Most High and they knew where their focus had to be. Both men, living in such similar and yet vastly different circumstances, understood where hope comes from.

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain.” Hebrews 6:19

Even though David had not met Jesus, he understood Messiah. Mr. Lincoln, whose faith in Christ was strong in perilous times, knew there was hope for mankind despite the atrocities around him. Today, we can still see hope in the curtain of the sanctuary, in the cross of Christ and in the Scriptures He entrusted us with.

“O LORD, you will keep us safe.” Psalm 12:7

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