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The Road Goes On

Sunday, March 06, 2005 at 10:43 PM

Sinners in the hands of an angry God

Like many Americans, I was assigned Jonathan Edwards' sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" during high school English. I suppose the standard anthologies include the sermon so students can sample the stern Puritan ethos -- or perhaps just catch a glimpse of a bygone era when talk about heaven and hell featured prominently in Americans' public discussions.

I think I only read it that one time . . . . I remember the image of us suspended like spiders hanging by a thread over the fiery abyss. What fun!

I've since learned that Edwards was so much more than a hell-fire and brimstone revival preacher. A noted contemporary theologian argues that Edwards uniquely yet critically absorbed the best of his Enlightened contemporaries' (Newton, Locke) insights while refusing to domesticate Christian faith within mechanistic and individualistic assumptions about God, ourselves, and the world (and the relationships between all of these). He laments that Edwards' significant achievements along did not have a lasting influence on the subsequent American theological tradition.

I started thinking about Edwards earlier today after reading selected quotes of Scottish pastor George McDonald edited by C.S. Lewis.

Like most Christians I know, I rarely speak or hear about the wrath or fear of God. There are legitimate reasons for this, rooted in a rejection of hideous portraits of a divine personification of our own darkest attributes. Also, I have serious biblical and theological concerns about most standard versions of the substitutionary atonement theory, which depend on assumptions about the wrath of God for their logic. Yet, I know that to rule out this language is to be dishonest with the biblical witness and Christian theological tradition and to domesticate the divine.

With that said, these thoughts from George McDonald may potentially help give me new ears to hear:

And is not God ready to do unto them even as they fear, though with another feeling and a different end from any which they are capable of supposing? He is against sin: insofar as, and while, they and sin are one, He is against them -- against their desires, their aims, their fears, and their hopes; and thus He is altogether and always for them. That thunder and lightening and tempest, that blackness torn with the sound of a trumpet, that visible horror billowed withthe voice of words was all but a faint image . . . of what God thinks and feels against vileness and selfishness, of the unrest of unassuageable repulsion with which He regards such conditions.

When we say that God is Love, do we teach [people] that their fear of Him is groundless? No. As much as they fear will come upon them, possibly far more. . . . The wrath will consume what they call themselves; so that the selves God made shall appear.

Blogger The Table Guy said...

It is a shame that most only know Edwards by that sermon. I did a paper on Edwards in my first semester of seminary. I thought it was interesting that both his opponents and allies considered him brilliant....one of the greatest minds, theologically or otherwise, to come out of America. His opponents only grieved that such a mind was committed to what they considered a faulty theological system.  


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