Obama: Lincoln and MLK were on my mind as I took the oath

President Obama was thinking about the spiritual lives of Martin Luther King Jr. and President Abraham Lincoln as he was sworn in for a second term, he told the audience at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday.

“I thought about these two men,” Obama said. “About how in times of joy and pain and deep uncertainty they turned to the Bible. ... Each one faced their own challenges, each one finding in scripture their own lessons from the Lord.”

The president took the oath of office with one hand on a Bible owned by King and the other on a Bible that was Lincoln's. In his address Thursday, Obama said he took solace in knowing that King and Lincoln had their faiths challenged but came out stronger for it.

On Lincoln, Obama said seeing a country torn apart by civil war was “as heavy a burden as any president will have to bear.” He recounted Lincoln’s second inaugural address, in which Lincoln acknowledged that Union and Confederate soldiers were praying to the same God but that only one’s prayers would be answered.

“You could see in the lines of his face the toll the war cost him,” Obama said. “But he did not break even as he buried a beloved son, he did not break even as he struggled to overcome solace and melancholy and grief.”

On King, Obama recounted the “doubts and fears and the lonely moments” the civil rights advocate stared down in the face of violence and threats to him and his family.

“We know that in Scripture, Dr. King found strength,” the president said.

Obama, who at times used Biblical imagery about “the nail-scarred hands of Jesus Christ,” said the country’s divisions today are not as deep as they were back then, “but they do exist.”