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How Abraham Lincoln Used Faith to Overcome Depression

Abraham Lincoln is a powerful mental health hero for me. Whenever I doubt that I can do anything meaningful in this life with a defective brain (and entire nervous system, actually, as well as the hormonal one), I simply pull out Joshua Wolf Shenk’s classic, “Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness.” Or I read the CliffsNotes version: the poignant essay, “Lincoln’s Great Depression” that appeared in The Atlantic in October of 2005.

Every time I pick up pages from either the article or the book, I come away with new insights. This time I was intrigued by Lincoln’s faith — and how he read the Book of Job when he needed redirection.

I’ve excerpted the paragraphs below from the article on Lincoln’s faith, and how he used it to manage his melancholy.

3 Comments to
How Abraham Lincoln Used Faith to Overcome Depression

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  1. Lincoln was at best a Deist and most likely an agnostic. Not to say he didn’t read the bible and draw comfort and/or inspiration from it but it seems ridiculous that Christians always want to place him “on their team” when clearly he was not.

    “I am approached with the most opposite opinions and advice, and that by religious men, who are equally certain that they represent the Divine will. I hope it will not be irreverent for me to say that if it is probable that God would reveal His will to others, on a point so connected with my duty, it might be supposed that He would reveal it directly to me … These are not, however, the days of miracles…. I must study the plain, physical facts of the case, ascertain what is possible, and learn what appears to be wise and right.”
    — Abraham Lincoln, in a speech to an assembly of clergymen regarding the struggles he was having over the Emancipation Proclamation that would soon be issued (1862)

  2. While I would say that Lincoln may have found a brief respite from his depression by reading the Bible, in his case the only complete relief came when he died. No one really treated mental illness then. When you’re intelligent, using your intelligence can help briefly, but with a crushing depression like those he seemed to suffer from, nothing back then could really help.

  3. Reading this brings to mind something that the priest at my church has said on more than one occasion: “our hearts are restless until we meet with God”. It’s a beautiful way of expressing how we can let go of inner conflict and accept God’s will with simplicity and humility.

    I also love the the last quote: “God’s will be done. I am in His hands.” Lovely blog, many thanks.

  4. Is it really the best idea to link to and praise an article that perpetuates the cliche idea of depression being a “gift” that brings genius with it? Especially when you’re called “psych central”? I know far too many people who convince themselves that they are strong enough to “overcome” their depression with their minds. It doesn’t work.

    As Uncle Jubba says, there’s no way that Lincoln was more than an agnostic or a Deist. This article is just an example of the false cause fallacy. Because Lincoln was depressed and was also a genius does not mean that his depression caused his brilliance!



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