The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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September 28, 2001 Issue
Eye on the Capitol

Abe Lincoln's advice also applies to attacks by terrorists

Both the Book of Job and Lincoln offer us help in dealing with this situation


By John Huebscher

It is doubtful that anyone old enough to grasp the events of Sept. 11 will ever be the same. The unspeakable horror of that morning passes all comprehension. Still, most of us tried to make sense of it.

I recalled something shared by one of the Dominican sisters who taught me how to read the Bible. "There is nothing new under the sun," she said. Except the Resurrection. That recollection led me to consider that others before us have grappled with the effort to explain evil and misfortune in the world.

Too often, we try to explain such events in light of our personal agendas or value system. Thus, some attributed the attack as the fruits of our heavy handedness in the Third World. Others tried to portray it as punishment for a secularity that undermines traditional values. These and other explanations seem at best inadequate if not downright unhelpful.

Of greater help to me are the story of Job and the example of Abraham Lincoln.

We often hear the expression the patience of Job. Yet Job was hardly patient and stoic about the troubles that befell him. Indeed, he was angry and demanded an explanation.

Throughout the book that bears his name, Job and his friends try, and find wanting, one rationale after another for his misfortunes. In the end, Job resigns himself to the fact that there is no answer. In the end, he must trust in the inscrutable ways of the Lord.

Lincoln, too, groped for a satisfactory explanation for a national horror, that of the Civil War -- an event that remains the gravest and bloodiest threat to our national survival in U.S. history.

In his Second Inaugural, the best Lincoln could do was suggest that perhaps the conflict was due to the complicity of both North and South in the evil of slavery. In the end, however, he realized no answer was possible and concluded, as was said 3,000 years ago, so still it must be said, that the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

What judgments will God reach this time? Like the majority of soldiers who wore the Blue and the Gray, most Americans today and most of those we now condemn as enemies pray to the same God. Each side now evokes his aid against the other. As in Lincoln's time, the prayers of both cannot be answered. It is likely those of neither will be answered fully.

Lincoln's example is relevant in another sense. While he persevered until the threat of disunion was ended, Lincoln grasped that the nation had to look beyond the war's horrific cost to a peace that would endure. Such a peace, he was convinced, required malice toward none, charity to all.

We can no more explain the evil of this month than Job did his trials. Like him, we are left to ponder and trust God's providence. At the same time, fondly should we hope, fervently must we pray, that the goal of our response rises above mere vengeance, reaching instead the moral equivalent of Lincoln's purpose of securing the survival of government of, by and for the people.

Let us hope, too, that the price of attaining our goal will not approach that exacted by the Civil War.

Finally, may we emulate Lincoln's capacity to look beyond the pain and destruction to embrace the charity so vital to achieving a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.


(Huebscher is executive director of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, the civil arm of the state's five diocesan bishops.)



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