SWEET PRAYERS TO AN ANGRY GOD
††††††††††† The idea of praying to a Good Father in heaven seems strange to many modern Americans. Don't preachers just harp on hell and damnation?
††††††††††† Isn't our traditional view of God one of a harsh, stern, legalistic Law-Enforcer frowning down on the earth just waiting to catch somebody having fun?
††††††††††† Oddly enough, Jonathan Edwards, one of the most famous Puritan preachers, takes what I think is a bum rap for this view in some history books; they say he advocated such a mean view of God.
††††††††††† Is that the truth?
Sinners in the hands of an angry God.
††††††††††† Of all the Christian sermons ever preached only three have achieved any sort of general fame: Christ's Sermon On the Mount, St. Francis' Sermon To The Birds, and Jonathan Edwards' Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God.
††††††††††† Edwards preached this message at Enfield, Connecticut, on July 8, 1741. His text was Deuteronomy 32:35, "Their foot shall slide in due time".
††††††††††† In this sermon, Edwards compares an unconverted man with a spider dangling on a thread above a fire; and the thread is likely to break any second.
††††††††††† "Unconverted men walk over the pit of hell on a rotten covering," Edwards said, "And there are innumerable places in this covering so weak that they will not bear their weight, and these places are not seen...There is nothing between you and hell but air; it is only the power and mere pleasure of God that holds you up. If God should withdraw his hand, nothing would avail to keep you from falling."
††††††††††† He said that God does not need to cast sinners into hell; our own wickedness makes us as heavy as lead and our own weight presses us downward. Only God's love can hold up such a heavy weight and keep us from falling.
††††††††††† "If God should let you go, you would sink immediately and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf, and your healthy constitution, and all your righteousness, would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out of hell than a spider's web would have to stop a falling rock. Were it not for the sovereign pleasure of God, the earth would not bear you one moment," Edwards said.
††††††††††† The people who originally heard this sermon became so frightened, so convicted of their sin,† that they screamed and grabbed hold of each other and the church seats to keep from falling into hell.
††††††††††† The point Edwards made again and again in his famous sermon is that it is only God's love and mercy that keeps us from dropping down, carried away by our own weight.
††††††††††† Sinners in the arms of a loving God
††††††††††† Did Edwards see God as a Big Meany, cruel and capricious? How would a mean God answer prayer?
††††††††††† Let's peek at Edwards' own inner thoughts about the God to whom he prayed; In the winter of 1739, he† wrote A Personal Narrative, in which he tried to tell about the delight he felt in prayer:
††††††††††† † The first instance that I remember of that sort of inward, sweet delight in God and divine things that I have lived much in since, was on reading the words, I Tim i. 17, Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory for ever and ever, Amen. As I read the words, there came into my soul, and was as it were diffused through it, a sense of the glory of the Divine Being; a new sense, quite different from any thing I ever experienced before... I thought with myself, how excellent a Being that was, and how happy I should be, if I might enjoy that God, and be rapt up to him in heaven, and be as it were swallowed up in him for ever!...
††††††††††† † From about that time, I began to have a new kind of apprehensions and ideas of Christ, and the work of redemption, and the glorious way of salvation by him. An inward, sweet sense of these things, at times came into my heart; and my soul was led away in pleasant views and contemplations of them. And my mind was greatly engaged to spend my time in reading and meditating on Christ, on the beauty and excellency of his person, and the lovely way of salvation by free grace in him... The sense I had of divine things would often of a sudden kindle up, as it were, a sweet burning in my heart; an ardor of soul that I know not how to express...
††††††††††† † The appearance of every thing was altered; there seemed to be, as it were, a calm, sweet cast, or appearance of divine glory, in almost every thing. God's excellency, his wisdom, his purity and love, seemed to appear in every thing; in the sun, moon, and stars; in the clouds, and blue sky; in the grass, flowers, trees; in the water, and all nature; which used greatly to fix my mind. I often used to... behold the sweet glory of God in these things...
††††††††††† † I often... walked alone in the woods and solitary places for meditation, soliloquy, and prayer, and conversed with God (singing). I was almost constantly in ejaculatory prayer wherever I was. Prayer seemed to be natural to me as the breath by which the inward burnings of my heart had vent."
††††††††††† Does that sound to you as though Edwards worshiped a harsh mean God?
††††††††††† For page after page, Edwards tries to express his enjoyment of Christ;
††††††††††† One single page contains the words: "Wonder ... wondrous... Rejoiced... Glorious...† Exalting... pleasant... the pleasantest thing of all... rejoiced... entertained and delighted... sense of excellent fullness of Christ... swallowed up in Christ... extraordinary glory of the Son of God... ineffably excellent..."
††††††††††† In virtually every paragraph on that page, Edwards uses the word "sweet" six or eight times!
††††††††††† A visitor in the Edwards home, a 26-year-old bachelor, felt astounded at the happiness of Jonathan, his wife Sarah and their eleven children; he uses the word sweet to describe what he found in the Edwards home. One diary entry says:
††††††††††† "Sunday, October 19, 1740 -- Felt great satisfaction in being at the house of Mr. Edwards. A sweeter couple I have not yet seen. Their children...(are) examples of Christian simplicity. Mrs. Edwards is adorned with a meek and quiet spirit... such a helpmate to her husband..."
††††††††††† Contact with the happy Edwards family caused the bachelor "to renew those prayers which, for some months, I have put up to God that He would be pleased to send me a daughter of Abraham to be my wife!"
††††††††††† Virtually everything about this happy Puritan preacher indicates that far from being a sour grouch worshiping a mean God, he found incredible sweetness in a loving God.
††††††††††† But if God is sweet and good, then what about all those dire warnings in the Bible? You know, unquenchable thirst, lake of fire,† place of torment, where the worm never dies -- those warnings scattered all through the Bible sound pretty bad, don't they?
The Horn Blows A Warning
††††††††††† When Ginny and I were first engaged, I drove a brand new 1967, four-on-the-floor (I don't think they even had automatic transmissions back then), Mustang. Bright yellow, the yellow you only see nowadays edging the cover of a National Geographic magazine.
††††††††††† Wow! A sporty new car and a beautiful woman. Wasn't I something!
††††††††††† On Christmas Eve, Ginny wanted a few last minute things from the mall and I was proud to drive her in spite of the heavy traffic.
††††††††††† To turn left off the main highway into the mall, we got stuck in a monster long line of plain drab old cars which inched up a steep hill and trickled through the light one or two at a time.
††††††††††† We were obviously going to be stuck in traffic on that hill for a while and since even back then I was a biblically minded man, I decided to "redeem the time".
††††††††††† So... whenever the line of traffic stopped, I reached for Ginny, or she reached for me, and we smooched fervently.
††††††††††† HONK! Honk, honk!
††††††††††† What's this? The guy behind me kept hitting his horn, the creep.
††††††††††† What's the matter with him? Traffic isn't going anywhere.
††††††††††† We started kissing again.
††††††††††† Again, he started honking.
††††††††††† The spoilsport. Let him find his own girl. What business is it of his what I do in the privacy of my own new yellow four-on-the floor Mustang.
††††††††††† The light changed. I crept forward in the line maybe three car lengths and stopped again.
††††††††††† Again I kissed; again he honked. He not only honked, he also flashed his lights at me!
††††††††††† Now, I'm getting mad. This guy is a pest, a creep, a voyeur, a busybody. I'm half a mind to...
††††††††††† The traffic light changed again. I inched up the hill toward the turnoff again and stopped on red to resume smooching.
††††††††††† The dirty so-and-so really leaned on his horn this time.
††††††††††† I ignored the killjoy and kept on kissing until.....
††††††††††† Here, younger readers should know that a car with a manual transmission requires that the driver keep one foot on the brake and the other on the clutch when stopped on a hill in traffic. If you don't do that, then your car rolls backward.
††††††††††† That's what I had done. Yes, everytime I'd leaned over to kiss Ginny, I had let up on both clutch and brake until I rolled backward and smacked into the driver behind me, the one who had done everything in his power to warn me of the danger.
††††††††††† I did not feel quite so sporty when I had to get out of the car and apologize to him. I felt stupid and silly ...and I discovered that I'd crumpled my own rear end (You can take that figuratively and literally.).
††††††††††† Now let me say straight out that as a Christian I have nothing against engaged couples kissing. I wish them joy.
††††††††††† However, I'd be a dunce if I did not learn from my own experience that when God warns me about something he's not being a spoilsport, a killjoy or a busybody meddling in affairs which are no concern of his.
††††††††††† If the scripture teaches nothing else, it teaches that God hates to see his children get hurt.
††††††††††† So he warns us. He warns us again and again.
††††††††††† He blows the horn and blinks the lights when we do certain things because he can see that by doing them we are going to crumple our own rear ends.
††††††††††† But most of us do just like I did with that other driver, we ignore the danger signs or get peeved at the person doing the warning.
God's laws are related to God's holiness.
††††††††††† As sure as cars roll downhill when the driver is not keeping his foot on the brake, so there are other principles of law in the universe -- and these rules are not arbitrary. God's Rules are absolute.
††††††††††† Take an easy rule for instance: God's rule against stealing. In general the Bible teaches that if something is not your's, then leave it alone.
††††††††††† The rule absolutely applies to everyone because God is absolutely holy. His absolute rules arise out of his own holy nature and these rules are designed to keep us from getting hurt.
††††††††††† When we break† God's rule about stealing we do not injure God. We do not even do irreparable damage to the person we steal from.
††††††††††† You are the one who is damaged by your own breaking of God's rules.
THOU SHALT NOT BATHE THE CAT!
††††††††††† For instance, when my children were small, I absolutely commanded them not to bathe the cat our bathtub. Now, for them to put the cat in the water would not hurt me. It would not hurt the cat. Who would get scratched? Listen to the howls of the kids who broke my commandment -- Sounds like sinners in the claws of an angry cat!
††††††††††† The horrible consequences of breaking God's rules do not indicate that God is a big meany who can not be approached in prayer; the consequences of breaking God's rules are natural phenomena, effects of a cause, not the gleeful torments of a divine torturer.
††††††††††† If you steal, you become a thief. If you murder, you become a murderer, If you slip around† on your spouse, you become a cheat† -- you are the person damaged, degraded, hurt.
††††††††††† And God hates to see one of his children damaged, degraded and hurt -- ††††††††† So God's Word warns us not to steal. Stealing makes us thieves and God hates to see that happen to one of his beloved ones. And that's just what you and I are -- beloved ones of God.
††††††††††† Christ warned and warned us away from the sins that bring us down, defeat us and corrupt us. Then he died to save us from the sin that has us beat. He died the death for us and rose again from that death to lift us up to where he is.
††††††††††† Wow! What can we say after all that?
††††††††††† Unfortunately, most of us don't say much. We're too proud to† say thank you to God or to repeat His warnings even to those people we care about most.
††††††††††† I suspect most other people do just like I did when they ignore the warnings and back into trouble: I fussed and fumed and blamed -- and then ended up driving around with my own rear end crumpled.
††††††††††† Nobody should live like that.
††††††††††† St. Paul was not speaking tongue in cheek when he linked two rules for living in I Thessalonians 5:14; he told Christians to "warn the unruly" in one breath and in the next commanded, "Comfort the feebleminded".
††††††††††† Sometimes, I feel like both edges of that verse apply to me -- and not as either the guy doing the warning or the one doing the comforting.
††††††††††† So, if God is holy and knows how to give good gifts to those who ask him, then I still want to know why don't I get the good things that I ask him for.
†You have been reading Chapter Six of the book Why Donít I Get What I Pray For? by John W. Cowart †(IVP, 1993)
Click here for Chapter Seven