When Booth saved Lincoln’s life: Finding hope in the happenstance of our days

When Booth saved Lincoln’s life: Finding hope in the happenstance of our days February 19, 2024

Does life have a purpose that transcends the happenstance and coincidence of our chaotic world?

If so, how do we find it each day?

What Lincoln and Kennedy had in common

In honor of Presidents Day, let’s begin with this coincidence: in late 1863, Robert Todd Lincoln, the president’s oldest child, fell onto the tracks at the Jersey City railroad station. He was pulled to safety by Edwin Booth, the older brother of John Wilkes Booth.

Here’s another coincidence related to President Lincoln: Wilmer McLean owned the places where the Civil War began (with the First Battle of Bull Run on his Virginia plantation in July 1861) and ended (at his Appomattox Court House home where Gen. Lee surrendered to Gen. Grant in April 1865).

And many have noted the striking coincidences between Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. Among them:

  • Both had seven letters in their last names.
  • They were elected one hundred years apart, in 1860 and 1960.
  • Both were assassinated on a Friday in the presence of their wives.
  • Both assassins were known by three names, with fifteen letters in each complete name.
  • Oswald shot Kennedy from a warehouse and fled to a theater; Booth shot Lincoln in a theater and fled to a barn, a kind of warehouse.
  • Both succeeding vice presidents were southern Democrats and former senators named Johnson with thirteen letters in their names and born one hundred years apart (1808 and 1908).

Of course, we can find coincidences nearly everywhere if we look hard enough. Consider that the famed physicist Stephen Hawking died on the birthday of Albert Einstein and Pi Day (March 14, when the date reads 3.14). And that three US presidents died on July 4—John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1826, and James Monroe in 1831.

In a day when only 20 percent of Americans are satisfied with the direction of our country, with tragedies like yesterday’s shooting in Minnesota and last week’s heartbreak in Kansas City still grieving our nation, with suicides, exhaustion, and social isolation on the rise, there is some comfort in the sense that the world is not as random and chaotic as it seems.

Is this the best we can do to find the hope our souls need?

The “cure” for our democracy?

David Brooks’ latest New York Times column is headlined “The Cure for What Ails Our Democracy.” In it, he makes an appeal for “value pluralism,” an idea he associates with the work of British philosopher Isaiah Berlin.

As Brooks explains, “We all want to pursue a variety of goods, but unfortunately, these goods can be in tension with one another.” Therefore, rather than imposing our values on others in a battle of good vs. evil, we should seek to balance competing goods in a way that benefits society as a whole.

Such tolerance is appealing in a secularized culture that has abandoned absolute truth and objective morality. However, absent the ability to appeal to objective truth, who has the objective right to say that such balance is best for us?

Surely everyone has some set of beliefs they are convinced everyone else should adopt, such as prohibiting murder and protecting innocent people. But as Hamas’s October 7 invasion of Israel and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine show, not everyone agrees.

“You are my hope in the day of doom”

Scripture says of all who reject God’s word and will: “They grope in the darkness without light” (Job 12:25). However, there is a “true light, which gives light to everyone” (John 1:9).

The Bible says that Jesus “had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17). Now, “because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (v. 18).

St. Augustine explained:

In Christ you were tempted, for Christ received his flesh from your nature, but by his own power gained glory for you; therefore, he suffered temptation in your nature, but by his own power gained victory for you.

If in Christ we have been tempted, in him we overcome the devil. Do you think only of Christ’s temptations and fail to think of his victory? See yourself as tempted in him, and see yourself as victorious in him. He could have kept the devil from himself; but if he were not tempted he could not teach you how to triumph over temptation.

Now, when we turn to Christ with our challenges and trust him for our victory, we can claim the fact that “weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5). And we can know that “the testing of [our] faith produces endurance” (James 1:3 NASB).

In the face of overwhelming national and personal crises, the prophet proclaimed confidently to God:

“You are my hope in the day of doom” (Jeremiah 17:17 NKJV).

Can you say the same today?

If not, why not?

NOTE: Loneliness. Anxiety. Depression. Unfortunately, these words are all too common in our culture. Is there a cure? Jesus longs to bring peace to our troubled hearts. Read more in Janet Denison’s devotional A Great Calm.

Monday news to know

Quote for the day

“Faith is not the belief that God will do what you want. It is the belief that God will do what is right.” —Max Lucado

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