Robert E. Lee Turns to God

A couple night’s ago I watched most of the PBS special on the life of Robert E. Lee.  It was a great review of his life from birth to his years as the leader of the Confederate Army.

Lee was portrayed as a brilliant man and very detail oriented.  He remained the top of his class in most subjects in his years as a student at West Point.  He outworked all others in hours and details.  He wanted to follow his military father but be better, to be the best leader of men any man could be.

Lee married into the family of Martha Custus Washington, marrying Mary Custus, one of George and Martha’s granddaughters.  It was a very wealthy family with many acres of land and owning over 200 slaves.  Their estate lay near the banks of the Potomac near Richmond.  After marriage, however, he still kept his role as a military leader foremost in his vision.  He spent years away in the work of building bridges and water dams using his skills as an architect and engineer.

In the 1840’s, he got his opportunity to become involved in direct war becoming famous for his military efforts in driving across Mexico to defeat the Mexican armies.  It was what his aim in life was all about; to be a great military leader, showing hardness and determination to win at all costs.

For the next fifteen years, he was then quite bored again, returning to his duties as a military engineer working on civilian projects.  But he also “found God.”  He became as fervent to trying to pray and please God as he had been in his studies and duties as an officer.  (As far as the family man, after fathering several children, he was mostly away on “duty.”)

When the Civil War broke out, Abraham Lincoln desperately wanted him to conduct the Union forces as the chief officer.  Lee refused and took over the operations of the Confederacy.  His first great display of courage occurred in chasing McClellan and the superior Union army back away from Richmond, incurring the slaughter of thousands of young men on both sides.  Some described him as the most murderous, angry, vicious military leader ever known.

As Lee continued his efforts to destroy Union military forces, his devotion to God increased.  He read his Bible and prayed harder for wisdom and courage.  Finally at Gettysburg, Lee met a terrible defeat after again, thousands and thousands of young men fanatically sacrificed their lives to “save their pride and country.”  Many of Lee’s forces wanted to quit, and those caught giving up were hanged in detailed prepared hangings as lessons and warnings to others.  And Lee prayed even harder for God’s guidance.

It seems to asinine and insane to read of men worshipping and praying to God for success in killing.  It seems even more insane that these men so often used holy scripture as their “manual of operations.”  They must have read those Old Testament stories so literally, so illustrative of a God who “hates enemies with a perfect hatred.”  What a terrible waste and misuse of spiritual literature it seems to me.

Of course, if one tries to take scriptures literally, he or she can become very violent and intolerant in the name of God, or whatever the Divinity name.  I used to do that myself.  I often yearned to use our weapons to destroy God’s enemies, those opposed to my “Christian country.”  I wanted someone to “push the button” to drop horrific bombs on whole cities and countries in the name of God!  Now I think, “How blasphemous, how insane and hateful, all in the name of God!”

Yet in the world’s history, God has been used as motivation for killing and destruction and violence over so many.  If humanity could come to realize that God is Spirit, not material matter or a body, I think it could be seen as such a waste of time and energy to hate and kill.  We see glimpses of such transcendence in much of our Christian Bible and in the Koran and other “sacred scriptures.”  But then we read also of how God was made into a projection of our egos, that part of us which wants to defend form, bodies, lands, and structures which are nothing more than wisps of illusion in eternity.

I like to think Robert E. Lee returned again in another incarnation and became a peacemaker!  I like to think that maybe he even returned as Mohandas Gandhi, or better yet, Martin Luther King, Jr.   Wouldn’t that have been wonderful! 

Whatever they became, may I be reminded again of how easy it is to use God and prayer to become violent and hateful leaders.  It happens in pulpits, in politics, in homes and on roads.  It’s because we take our bodies way too seriously, seeing them being a part of the time/space illusion rather than as a spirit who wanted to take a detour from bliss and paradise and become “independent.”  It was a “mad idea,” but awakening to What and Who we are can change minds and perspectives radically. 

May I be careful how I view and think of the Divine Father God, and what She wants me to do.  May I be more loving, more defenseless, more accepting, more non-violent in whatever I do. 

About David Persons

Retired minister who still writes, speaks some, hikes less, and golfs.
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