Abraham Lincoln was shot 150 years ago today while attending “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. (For more on our 16th president, see my The Shot that Changed the World.) Where was the Secret Service when the president was attacked? President Lincoln signed the bill creating the agency the night before he left for Ford’s Theatre. Where was his bodyguard, a Washington policeman named John Parker? Historians aren’t sure.
Here’s a more relevant question this morning: where was God?
Undoubtedly there were many praying for Mr. Lincoln on the night he was shot. God’s word requires that “petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). The Union numbered 18.5 million in 1865; surely many were praying for their president. Yet God did not answer their prayers by preventing his murder.
In addition, most historians believe the Reconstruction era following the Civil War would have been much more effective had the president lived to lead it. Yet God did not prevent his death.
Christians believe that God is all-knowing. If so, he knew what Booth was planning long before the attack. We also believe that God is all-loving. If true, he loved Abraham Lincoln and the nation he served. And we believe that God is all-powerful. Presumably he could have prevented the assassination. Why, then, was the president killed? Let’s be more personal: who has hurt you most deeply? Most recently? Why did God allow your suffering?
One answer is that God created humans with free will so we could choose to worship him, and cannot prevent the consequences of misused freedom without ultimately denying freedom itself. While this assertion makes sense, it does not always apply. In Acts 12, Herod imprisoned Simon Peter. But when the church prayed for Peter, angels released him, sparing his life (vs. 1-11). Clearly, God prevented the consequences of Herod’s misused freedom. Why did he not do the same for President Lincoln? For you?
It seems to me that we have three options.
One: we can decide that there is no God. However, the fact that we do not comprehend God’s ways does not prove that he does not exist. If the world consisted only of entities we understood, how small would it be?
Two: we can decide that he is not the God we think he is. If you thought God guaranteed our happiness, you’re right—he’s not that God. Jesus assured us, “in this world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). He never promised that we would be safe from harm, whatever our status in this world.
Three: we can decide that he is the same God he was before Abraham Lincoln was shot, or someone hurt you. When he chooses not to answer our prayer as we wish, an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful Father must have better reasons than his children can understand.
I choose the third option. The harder it is to trust God, the more I need to trust him. (Tweet this) His word tells us that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Why do you need such conviction today?