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Writing from the Religion Unit

(an assignment analyzing the theology of Jonathan Edwards's "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God")

Sinners in the Hands of a Benevolent God , by Ben Seale
The wrathful God holds the detestable sinners in the palm of his hand, a moment away from dropping them into the fiery pits of Hell, to suffer eternal damnation. This same God also holds back the arrow of his wrath, ready to be loosed and "made drunk with you blood." This is the God that Reverend Jonathan Edwards portrays in his famous sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"– an angry God, with a seemingly malevolent character. But in actuality, the Bible paints a completely different picture– that of a good, kind, and loving God. Through the contrast of passages from Jonathan Edwards' sermon and scriptures from the Bible, key points of Edwards' message will be shown to be in contradiction of the Bible. These are his notions that God is hateful, that he is angry, and that he wants sinners to perish.

To begin, Edwards makes it clear throughout his sermon that God is angry, and full of wrath. This is apparent in the title: "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." The imagery portrayed could be of an angry God that holds the contemptible sinners in his hands, ready to squash them at his call. All throughout the sermon, Edwards depicts God as being wrathful and having great anger. He paints the picture with phrases such as "Éan incensed God," "Éblack clouds of God's wrath now hanging directly over you heads," and "Éan angry God." But Edwards' ideas are challenged by the Bible, with scripture such as "But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love," (Nehemiah 9:17), "'with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,' says the Lord your Redeemer." (Isaiah 54:8), and "the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin." (Exodus 34:6-7). God is full of kindness, forgiveness, and compassion, in contrast to a God who is beset with anger and wrath. He is slow to anger, and forgives the very wickedness and sin that Edwards says causes God to have such contempt.

Next, Jonathan Edwards says in his sermon that God hates sinners (those who have not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior and been born again). In one passage, Edwards tells us that, "The Gods that holds you over the pit of hellÉabhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire." If Edwards is correct, then God abhors, or severely hates, sinners, and has deep anger towards them. But in the Bible, a verse from the book of Lamentations tells us otherwise. "Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail" (Lamentations 3:22). This directly contradicts Edward's notion that God is a God of wrath and hate, with a burning anger towards us. According to this scripture we are saved because of God's great love and unfailing compassion (meaning that he cares deeply) for us. Furthermore, the concept that God has hatred and wrath towards us is opposed by 1 John 4:8-9, which simply says, "God is love." This verse is one of the building blocks of the Christian faith. God created us so that we may love him and he love us, not so that he could hate us. It is not possible for God to be love personified, yet be hateful and abhor us. Clearly, Edwards is not correct.

Finally, Edwards says that God wants sinners to be cast into hell and eternal suffering, and that the only thing that keeps him from doing so is his self-prescribed mercy and pleasure. This is illustrated in passages such as, "he (God) looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire" and "The sovereign pleasure of God, for the present, stays his rough wind; otherwise it would come with fury, and your destruction would immediately burst forth upon you." But it is not God's will that we should perish! John 3:16 says that "for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." God loves even sinners with such magnitude that he sent his only son Jesus to earth in order that all mankind should be saved, and live eternally in heaven with him. This is further illustrated in 2 Peter 3:9. "He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." God does not want us to get what we deserve and be cast into hell to perish, but rather to repent and enjoy eternal life. He has patience towards the sinner, and holds back his wrath, giving the sinner a chance to save himself and come to God.

We are not sinners in the hands of an angry God, but rather sinners in the hands of a benevolent, gracious, and forgiving one. Jonathan Edwards was perhaps a great man and full of wisdom, but the message of his sermon was not accurate. Once again, God is not hateful, but loving. God is not full of anger, but is compassionate, kind, and slow to anger. He does not want us to perish and be cast into hell, but to enjoy eternal life. If the Bible, which is the word of God, indeed says these things, then Jonathan Edwards is evidently in error. When compared to Edwards' portrayal, the Bible's message is much more heart-warming- that God is a good God.


POST-SERMON CONVERSATION after hearing Jonathan Edwards, by Melinda Borgens
FAMILY MEMBERS:
Mother: Martha
Father: Steven
Daughter: Bethany
Son: Daniel
Steven Wow! What an amazing sermon!
Martha You thought it was amazing? It was more terrifying than amazing. My knuckles are still white!

Steven Oh, come now. It wasn't that bad. It's life, what Mr. Edwards was preaching; reality.

Martha A reality of fearing one's life! That's what that was!

Bethany I agree with mother.

Daniel Oh what do you know? You always agree with what mother says.

Martha Children! There will be none of that!

Daniel Besides, you didn't even pay attention to one word Mr. Edwards said.

Bethany I did soÉ.wellÉmaybe only a little. But how could one pay attention?
Steven Are you saying Mr. Edwards was boring? He may speak significantly different than others but he is no bore. His thoughts and words carry about enthusiasm.
Martha Enthusiasm!? Steven Oh (mad grunt)!
Bethany, sweetheart, can you remember maybe just one thing that Mr. Edwards said that you thought wasn't boring?
Bethany Well, I remember him talking about bugs once.
Daniel Bugs? What bugs? There were no bugs.
Bethany Yes there were! Remember? He said something about holding some sort of bug over the fire. What was it now? Oh yes, a spider!
Steven "The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider." Is that what you mean?
Bethany Yes, I believe so.
Daniel Is that the only one you remembered?
Bethany No, but that was the only one I liked.
Martha Oh come. I don't see how you all could possibly think that Mr. Edwards is even a good man. I mean, did you not understand at all what he was preaching? He said we should have all burned in hell a long time ago!
Steven Martha. You are just one of those people who don't understand Mr. Edwards. Jonathan Edwards, by proper, is not just some merciless, hellfire preacher! He is a man of words, a man of reason. Yale didn't teach him that for nothing, you know!
Daniel Yes mother. Mr. Edwards is just telling it how it is.
Steven Precisely. Good job son. Daniel Thank you father. Do you recall at the beginning of the sermon? I think we were all somewhat frightened, perhaps not father-but I sure was!
Bethany What do you mean?
Daniel Perhaps it was the fact that I didn't fully understand Mr. Edwards' thoughts. If I remember correctly, he stated, "There is the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the wrath of GodÉ
Steven "there is hell's"
Daniel "there is hell's wide gaping mouth open" and a little further he said, "It is only the power and mere pleasure of God that hold you up!"
Bethany You have a good memory.
Martha Daniel, I think what you're question might be is why Mr. Edwards would say such things? Correct?
Steven Martha, the boy can ask his own questions.
Daniel Possibly, but would God do such things?
Bethany I sure hope not!
Steven You see children, God chooses people at random. Whether God would choose Mr. Johnson, from across the village, or even you Bethany, GodÉ
Bethany No! Martha Don't be scaring the poor child now!
Steven I am only trying to make a pint dear so they will understand. As I was saying, no matter what you have done throughout your life, good or bad, God will choose whomever. You understand now son?
Daniel I think so father.
Steven For me, I particularly enjoyed his statement that began with "The wrath of God is like great waters."
Martha Yes
Steven Pardon? You agree?
Martha Well, Mr. Edwards might have made me jump out of seat with fear, but listening to his words, well, they are quite powerful.
Steven I am glad you liked it then.
Martha Oh no. I didn't say that I liked it, I just though it was spoken very well. I could just picture it now: God's hands holding the water back and as each second goes by, his hands begin to give way. But each time, He seems to want to play a mischievous game with us, pulling his hands back towards the water, keeping it in, and then releasing it again. Until eventually, the water is too mighty of a force and it burst through his grasp.
Daniel "There is nothing but the mere pleasure of God that holds the waters back."
Bethany I thought that Mr. Edwards was talking about people, not water.
Steven That's true, but he used water as an example of force, of a might power. Daniel The water is your guilt, Bethany!
Bethany Mine? But I haven't done anything
Steven The water is your guilt in the sense that God knows all of what you do, or have done in the past. All the bad things are kept by Him, only to eventually pile up, so that if and when he chooses you, He will use your guilt as vengeance.
Daniel God thinks you deserve the pain. He wants you to go to hell.
Steven I think that was a very important piece of his sermon.
Martha How so?
Steven Well, as you mentioned before, it illustrates a good point. All of one's wrongdoing's are there for him too see. And the only thing that is there to save you from "the fiery pit of hell" is God's hands and your wrath.
Daniel Maybe that was your favorite, but mine was the part where Edwards described God being offended by one's wrath. Right after the piece about the spider over the fire.
Bethany I thought you said there were no bugs?!
Daniel Well, recalling my favorite piece, I remembered Edwards saying that.
Steven So what was so intriguing about that piece son?
Daniel The words that stood out the most to me in that piece were "Why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning."
Martha Quite cruel is what I would say.
Daniel Those words right there just contain so muchÉ.love.
Martha Love?
Daniel Love. In the sense that Edwards knew what he was saying and he meant it as well. That particular part of the sermon really caught my attention. It tied all the things together of what he was preaching; of how God sees certain people, random people, and that these people are doomed because of their wraths and should have fallen into the pit a long time ago.
Steven I think I see what you are saying there. Edwards made it clear to say that you are "ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes."
Martha You must have done something really bad then to be hated by God that much!
Daniel What struck me as something quite interesting as well, were the examples Edwards gave of God's acts, such as: God's hand holding back the force of water, God's hands holding a loathsome insect over the fire, or eve "the bow of God's wrath."
Steven Wonderful insight son! I must agree with you there.
Bethany Me too!
Martha Daniel, you really enjoy this, don't you?
Daniel It's not so much the idea of how Edwards described the way God works but the meaning. The meaning behind the way Edwards conveys God's reasoning of why or even how he would torture a human life. He is wonderful at painting a picture of explanations.
Steven And that is what I enjoy about him! His words, even though he might speak bland, he touches people in a way that they will listen to him. One's mind is filled with knowledge after his sermons, with paintings of wisdom, and even beliefs. New beliefs have slithered there way into the openings of the mind, where eventually one will come to the realization that they have been thinking, perhaps their entire life, as to what is wrong in God's eyes.
Martha But even if you, or anyone else thinks Edwards is a man of wonderful, truthful words, others might perceive him to be a brimstone preacher!
Bethany Or maybe even boring!
Steven Then you must think to yourself: What is it that I know? What is it that I know is right? How can I not let that influence me in anyway as I hear the meaningful words of Jonathon Edwards? The only thing you can do when sitting in front of such a man is listen. Listen for his purpose.
Daniel You must also realize the mind of a wise, knowledgeable man. His first step in reasoning is: Why are here? And why do we do certain things when we know what the resolution might be?
Steven That is when you must know that in our world today, there will always be a sinner in the hands of an angry God!

 

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