A President’s Struggle With Faith and What it Meant For America
For anyone who has struggled with depression, the dark, wicked kind that makes suicide a more appealing solution than persevering onward, Lincoln’s Battle With God by Stephen Mansfield is a human look into one of our greatest presidents.
While other books and commentaries speak of Abraham Lincoln’s role as commander-in-chief (Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief by James M. McPherson; the Penguin Press, 2008) or events leading up to his assassination (Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly; Henry Holt, 2011), Lincoln’s Battle With God talks about his many personal battles.
Lincoln missed his childhood thanks in part to his violent father and his family’s long history with mental illness. His father, Thomas Lincoln, “valued his son’s physical strength, but cared little for his mind.” If Abraham Lincoln was found (as he often was) beneath a tree reading a book, Thomas feared that the neighbors would think that his boy was lazy and “not worth hiring.” Thomas Lincoln was a disapproving, large, and demanding man who had expectations and was not beyond using beatings to get the result he desired. Because of his father’s lack of priority on education, Abraham struggled to receive formal schooling. His mother’s persuasive nature encouraged Thomas to allow Abraham to attend some schooling, but despite her influence when Abraham left home, at the age of twenty-one, he was considered a self-taught man. Thus began his journey and struggle.
When Lincoln left his boyhood home he was an atheist. Stephen Mansfield uses many sources to investigate whether Lincoln became a believer. Mansfield is quick to point out the president’s atheist beginnings, like describing the revivals of the time where people would do strange, even extreme gyrations to show their worship and belief. This turned Lincoln against religion and a Heavenly Father who loved him.
Mansfield does a great job in exploring the different facets of Lincoln’s life from his boyhood to his presidency. In all of Mr. Lincoln’s manifestations, he detested religion, and therefore, never joined any church. Because of this, many authors thought he wasn’t a believer. The Lincoln in later life was a believer in Christ, but not in religion. He spoke with many pastors of many denominations and attended church at different places. He had a public belief and a private belief. It was his atheist beliefs that haunted much of his political career until late in life while president and the country’s woes weighed heavily on him.
Lincoln’s Battle With God examines the evidence and biases over the generations as Mansfield explores Lincoln’s faith. It’s an inspirational read, especially for those who suffer from a lack of faith or think their depression or mental illness might keep them from greater things. Lincoln’s rise to the presidency shows us that not even a mental illness like depression can keep us from serving God’s purpose and persevering through it. Lincoln stands with many other great leaders who likewise suffered depression, like Winston Churchill who often referred to his depression as “The Black Dog.” I gave this book five stars. It shows how faith is often a journey.
*Book given to me via a giveaway. No review required.