Monday, June 10, 2013

Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God

“‘Cause I am a sinner
If its not one thing its another
Caught up in words
Tangled in lies
You are the Savior
And you take brokenness aside
And make it beautiful

-Leslie Jordan

                In 1741 Jonathan Edwards delivered a sermon which was to become famous and would also contribute to the Great Awakening, a short-lived revival which swept across the nation. Thousands were converted-or were they? In my opinion, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” was effective in converting a few, bringing some back, and frightening many. “Over the summer of 1735, religious fervor took a dark turn. A number of New Englanders were shaken by the revivals but not converted, and became convinced of their inexorable damnation. Edwards wrote that "multitudes" felt urged—presumably by Satan—to take their own lives. At least two people committed suicide in the depths of their spiritual distress, one from Edwards's own congregation—his uncle Joseph Hawley II. It is not known if any others took their own lives, but the "suicide craze" effectively ended the first wave of revival, except in some parts of Connecticut.” –George Marsden

                As a piece of literature, Edwards’ sermon has merit. As a sermon, it has little, as far as I am concerned. Edwards meant well, and the extreme always makes an impression. There are lots of well-meaning people in the world who teach wrong theology.

                The wrath of God is like great waters that are dammed for the present; they increase more and more, and rise higher and higher, till an outlet is given, and the longer the stream is stop’d, the more rapid and mighty is its course, when once it is let loose. ‘Tis true, that judgment against your evil works has not been executed hitherto; the floods of God’s vengeance have been with-held; but your guilt in the mean time is constantly increasing, and you are every day treasuring up more wrath; the waters are continually rising and waxing more and more mighty; and there is nothing but the mere pleasure of God that holds the waters back that are unwilling to be stopped, and press hard to go forward; if God should only withdraw his hand from the flood-gate, it would immediately fly open, and the fiery floods of the fierceness and wrath of God would rush forth with inconceivable fury, and would come upon you with omnipotent power; and if your strength were ten thousand times greater than it is, yea ten thousand times greater than the strength of the stoutest, sturdiest devil in hell, it would be nothing to withstand or endure it.” –Edwards

            Lovely, isn’t it? It does not sound at all like the loving God, the Abba Father whom I worship and serve. God is not angry with us. He is grieved at times, but He made His peace with mankind when Jesus came, and the debt was settled at the Cross. Yes, there always have been and always will be consequences for sin. When we do the wrong thing it has a negative effect on others as well as ourselves. We live in a fallen world where bad things happen. But God is not angry with us.

            I have tried to figure out where some of the strange ideas people have regarding The Rules actually originated, and I have to say that a lot of blame must be placed on the Puritans. If you were having fun, you were sinning. You had to dress a certain way, act a certain way, speak a certain way, and think a certain way. Holidays were by and large not celebrated, and heaven forbid that anyone play cards or dance or read anything that wasn’t religious. It was a pretty grim life, and the people were ruled by fear. This, however, has not changed for many Christians. They view Christianity as a religion, which it was never intended to be, rather than a relationship with a Father who loves His children and wants to give them good things.

            “The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect, over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times so abominable in his eyes as the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince: and yet ’tis nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment: ‘Tis to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you was suffer’d to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep: and there is no other reason to be given why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God’s hand has held you up: There is no other reason to be given why you han’t gone to hell since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship: Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you don’t this very moment drop down into hell.” –Edwards

            Loathsome? Abhors? Wrath? Abominable? These are not the words I believe God uses to describe us or how He feels about us. He LOVES us!! He sees us as BEAUTIFUL, regardless of the fact that we are indeed sinners. We are broken. We are indeed wretched, in and of ourselves, but He is not dangling us over a fiery pit-although admittedly we often dangle ourselves there. Not only can He “bear” to have us in His sight, but we are the apple of His eye. He wants us to talk to Him, to petition Him, to praise Him, to thank Him, to love Him. He wants us to be His children and His friends. Jonathan Edwards was misguided-but he was not alone. Even now, it is not uncommon for Christians to be told that bad things happen to us, like, say, infertility, because of unconfessed sin. Or maybe our child gets sick or our air conditioner breaks or our dog gets hit by a car-because we haven’t been tithing. This formulaic approach is utter nonsense. It is an attempt to figure out how to work the “system” and get God into a box so that we can understand how to make Him do what we want.

            The Bible says that God rains down blessings on the just and the unjust. It’s in there. God does not work according to any kind of twelve-step plan. Those ideas are man-made and have little to do with God. We should live in obedience to Him and seek His will and follow His precepts as far as we are able, but we will stumble and no one can keep the Law. It is an ideal and a pattern and an example, but it is impossible for humanity to achieve. If it wasn’t, there would have been no need for Jesus. Jesus-the friend of sinners. The One who also set an example of love and mercy and grace. The One who told everyone to drop their rocks and go on home, because He was the only one qualified to judge or condemn the woman taken in adultery.And then-oh and then, what did He say to her? “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” It’s beautiful, and all the more so because we ARE that woman. God shows us mercy every day, and he doesn’t just “put up” with us, but DELIGHTS in us! We are not abhorrent to Him. He looks and He loves and He pities. He wants to dance with us every day, to the Song of All Songs.

            We are not sinners in the hands of an angry God. We are sinners in the hands of a LOVING God. “Come, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Notice that He promises rest, but He doesn’t promise perfection. He promises to stay, but not to always prevent those trials which may very well be mercies in disguise. He promises pleasures forevermore, the goodness of God in the land of the living, mercies that are new every morning, living water, treasures in Heaven, and greater glory. All we have to do is choose to receive His grace. It’s a heck of a good deal.

            I hope you will join in the dance with the Divine.

Yes living, dying let me bring
My strength my Solace from the Spring
That he who lives to be my king
Once died to be my Savior

That he would leave his place on high
And come for sinful man to die
You called it strange, so once did I
Before I knew my Savior.

-Aaron Schust

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