Forgiving from the Heart

  • Jeff Crotts
soldiers shooting

At the end of the Civil War, history tells the aftermath left severe, residual animosity between the Union and Confederacy.  A cursory understanding of the multiplied issues governmentally, economically, and morally tell us why! 

The Civil War was America’s bloodiest conflict.  The unprecedented violence of battles such as Shiloh, Antietam, Stones River, and Gettysburg shocked citizens and international observers alike.  Nearly as many men died in captivity during the Civil War as were killed in the whole of the Vietnam War.  Hundreds of thousands died of disease.  Roughly 2% of the population, an estimated 620,000 men, lost their lives in the line of duty.  Taken as a percentage of today’s population, the toll would have risen as high as 6 million souls.  The numbers of Civil War dead were not equaled by the combined toll of other American conflicts until the War in Vietnam.  Some believe the number is as high as 850,000.  More American soldiers became casualties at the Battle of Gettysburg than in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and Mexican War combined. [Source unknown]

Abraham Lincoln as president carried the great burden to quell our country’s conflict.  If Lincoln represented peacemaking by reaching the heart, Thaddeus Stevens represented the opposite.  Stevens, lesser known than Lincoln, was a prominent and well-respected lawyer and U.S. Representative.  Born in Vermont in 1792 he entered this world with a physical deformity known as a “club foot.”  Destined to walk with a limp his entire life, this hardship became a symbolic chip he carried on his shoulder.

Stevens was fierce and pugnacious which in part accounted for his political success.  He opposed slavery and the discrimination of African slaves.  An advocate for slave’s rights demanding radical reconstruction for our country.  Chairing a joint reconstruction committee, he believed resolution would only come through the Southern states being treated as conquered provinces under military occupation.  Regarded by some as well intentioned, Stevens also indicted Lincoln’s character, dismissing his approach for unity as too lenient.

For Lincoln, unifying the country would not be as simple as setting up radical reform.  Lincoln’s counter measure to Steven’s criticism reflected his desire to reach the heart of the Confederate states.  His reply. 

“Do I not destroy my enemy when I make him my friend?” 

Lincoln’s path for our country proved to be right.  Instead of playing the authoritarian, he moved toward the heart.

Remember the words of the Jesus.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:43-44)

Jesus’ word toward enemies makes no sense if you do not understand the condition of the human heart.  Humility recognizes what is fundamental to all.  We are all sinners.  Both friends and enemies alike, we truly all are sinners.  Knowing this, reconciliation then is always on one level, the heart level.