Of course you remember Edward Everett. No? He was the foremost orator of his day. In November 1863, he gave a 2 hour speech, completely memorized, holding the crowd of over 20,000 spectators in the palm of his hand. When he finished, Abraham Lincoln took the podium and read ten sentences, 272 words, and sat down. So the loquacious Edward Everett was the warm up act for one of the greatest speeches in history, as it's Lincoln's Gettysburg Address that we now remember.
The day marked the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery that was created at the site of the battle of Gettysburg because there were too many dead to be moved. With over 40,000 soldiers killed or wounded, it was a costly but significant victory, that could have easily been a defeat, for the Union army. Had Robert E. Lee's Confederate army won at Gettysburg in July 1863, their march to Washington would have been unimpeded. The Union victory at the battle of Vicksburg that same day, by forces under the command of Ulysses S. Grant, would have created a stalemate. American history would have been drastically different. With both victories that day by the Union army, the Confederate army's demise was inevitable.
Earlier in 1863, Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation which freed the slaves in the Confederate States. Until then the stated purpose of the Civil War, at least in Washington, was to preserve the union. So what happened to change Lincoln's mind?
Timothy Ballard in his book "The Lincoln Hypothesis", makes a convincing case that it was God. If you don't believe in divine intervention, consider what happened to Lincoln after the death of his 11 year old son, Willie. When nothing else could ease the devastating pain, Lincoln sought and found God's comfort in the midst of unspeakable loss. Consider how God's peace and strength changed who Lincoln was and what he did. Humility, compassion, faith and love were hallmarks of Lincoln's life after Willie's death. His courageous act of emancipation cost Lincoln his life, but it changed the course of history as he saved the nation and freed 4 million slaves.
Like Lincoln, most of us are transformed through suffering. God's love enters through the cracks in our broken heart to heal and change us. If we can allow that to happen, we will gradually see ourselves differently. We will eventually no longer be victims or angry as we return to the Source of life and love who not only sustains us but renews us. Once that happens, we see others differently, too, with more empathy and compassion. We may not save a nation or free 4 million people, but our lives will never be the same.