In Koheleth 3:1 (Ecclesiastes 3:1) it states,“Vanity of vanities, said Koheleth; vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” It’s a much quoted, and as much interpreted, phrase. Recently, I have come to a new understanding of vanity.
Vanity, the isolated ego, likes to say, “I did this” or “What a great person I am to have accomplished this” or “I got this all by myself.” Vanity is the false belief that any one individual, solely of their own power, accomplishes success or greatness.
This thought immediately led me to President Obama’s recent statement that became so controversial during the campaign. The President said, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” His statement, on its face, seems true and consistent with my definition of vanity, which caused me to reflect upon how I, and many others, had so negatively reacted to the President’s statement.
But I’ve also been thinking a lot lately about Abraham Lincoln. Mainly because I’ve been trying to figure out what has prompted the “revival” of his story. The sixteenth President seems to be suddenly emerging everywhere…in novels, new biographies, re-printing of former biographies, reissuing of his own writings, as well as movies. Why?
I’ve concluded that in no time since the Civil War has our Nation been so divided. While in 1861 it was North against South and abolition against slavery, it is today poor against rich, black against white, Republican against Democrat… but it’s the same deeply held differences and the same destructive hatreds. What saved the Union was President Lincoln.
Lincoln, who was not traditionally religious but deeply theological, believed in both Divine Presence and Divine purpose. To that end, he called upon Creator for guidance and strength. However, he also bound himself to certain behavior based upon Divine purpose. For example, he vowed to God that if, at the Battle of Fredericksberg (Virginia), the North was successful at turning back Confederate General Robert E. Lee, Lincoln would issue the Emancipation Proclamation he had written two weeks earlier. Upon the North’s success at Fredericksberg, Lincoln did just that citing his vow.
Lincoln none-the-less understood that Divine principles had to be realized within the context of the morality of the times. Therefore, he saw the error and danger of both the radical Abolitionists (who would have instantly forced the end of slavery and destroyed the Union) and the pro-slavery advocates (who would have had their goal reached at the same destructive price).
Lincoln knew he had a partner in his vital mission to preserve the Union. He also knew his partner had the grander vision and the greater plan. Which brings me back to President Obama’s statement.
Everyone, and every idea, has its “shadow side.” This is the person or idea turned on its head, so to speak, misusing its energy to accomplish not the highest good but rather the expedient and/or self-serving outcome. Both Presidents Lincoln and Obama tell us that if you build it you do not do so or succeed alone. You have a partner. The critical difference between these two leaders is the end to which their perspectives lead a nation.
President Obama would have us believe that our “partner”…with a small “p”…is everyone and anyone along the way who had any input into our journey. Therefore, they too deserve the benefits and profits of the outcome. It is this belief in “entitlement” that has caused so much division and, now hatred, among the citizenry. This perspective generates a “right” not found in either our Bibles or our Constitution. Even God demands action on our part as a quid pro quo to Divine protection and prosperity.
President Lincoln had a “Partner” as well. However, that Partner was the Supreme Being Itself to whom Lincoln turned, drew upon, and publicly acknowledged. He was, after all, the President who initiated a Federal Day of Thanksgiving and signed a Proclamation for a National Day of “humiliation, fasting and prayer” during the Civil War. President Obama is the first President in the history of the Nation not to mention God in his formal Thanksgiving Proclamation.
Contrary to President Obama’s words, which result in ego-based entitlement and the remedy of forced redistribution of wealth, President Lincoln’s actions sought spiritual and national unity engendered by submission to the purpose and power of Divine principles.
As a result of Lincoln’s certainty in his beliefs and willingness to publicly acknowledge the role of the Divine in human history, the Civil War was followed by a stronger Union than had ever before been achieved. We truly became The United States of America. This was in no small way attributable to the insight, foresight and deeply held theological beliefs of the Nation’s leader at the time.
My conclusion is my prayer. That the Nation awakens to the shadow side of the principles that President Obama supports and advocates. We will not be joined, and will not survive, so long as we believe not in God but in government as the authority and power that makes life worth living. As we traverse these potentially perilous times, we have had quite enough “vanity of vanities.” Let us now seek to rediscover humility by acknowledging Divinity.
Devotees of Ayn Rand ask “Who is John Galt?” I would concur adding, “and where is our Abraham Lincoln?”