Love and Wrath – Part II

In the last post I introduced the framework for a way to go about thinking on God’s love and wrath by using the theology of Jonathan Edwards. How exactly do these seemingly contradictory attributes fit together? Christians have long confessed, “God is love,” that He defines love and exudes love to His creatures. First John repeats this phrase twice and emphasizes the overwhelming reality that the Creator God is not passive towards creation, but is actively engaged. However, as J.I. Packer has pointed out, the attribute far more ascribed to God in the Scriptures is His holiness, and because of that He is just, seeking retribution for those who have despised Him. But we must think about this: throughout the history of the church there have  been those who have questioned the compatibility of love and wrath, which at times has resulted in a misguided over-emphasis on one of these attributes at the expense of the other. For the most part, the fault comes by way of an over emphasis on God’s love, leading to a rejection of eternal judgment based on the belief that an all-loving, all-powerful God would not, and could not condemn any man or woman for eternity, much less a multitude of people. Here is where I have heard countless straw-man arguments that say something like, “For any person to suffer eternally in hell would necessitate a failure on God’s part, which would lead to the reality that God is either not all-loving, or not all-powerful.” Edwards has a way of answering this question, but we have to begin at his theological starting point—the beauty (or harmony) of God.

To get a handle on what Edwards meant when he talked about God’s beauty, we must start with the baseline Christian belief that God is Trinity. For Edwards the Trinity is like the wind in the sails of his theological ship. It dictates your view of creation, salvation, Jesus Christ, and how the attributes of God fit together. In his Discourse on the Trinity, Edwards lays the groundwork for how he understands the divine nature and how the Triune God exercises all of the divine attributes in perfect harmony, rather than exalting one at the expense of the other.

1. God is infinitely happy in the enjoyment of Himself

God rejoices, loves, enjoys, and is satisfied in His own “essence and perfections.” In other words, God stands alone as His own ultimate end and He is in no way in need of creatures to fulfill or gratify Him. He is eternally at rest. The uppermost of God’s affections and the object of His thoughts can be none other than Himself.

2. God’s thoughts primarily rest upon Himself

because God’s thoughts are primarily and ultimately upon Himself, it stands to reason that the thoughts that God has about Himself are perfect, and results in an actual, identical image of Himself. This is Edwards understanding of Jesus as the divine Logos, the word, reason, and thought of God that is perfect to the extent that there is a duplicity of persons. In His eternal thinking upon Himself, the Father begets the Son. So, when Edwards describes God being eternally satisfied and happy within Himself, he is not describing simple self-love, but love that is given and received in the duplicity of persons in the Godhead.

3. God’s love is first shared within Himself

from the satisfaction, happiness, and love that exists between the duplicity of persons, the Father and the Son, arises a pure and divine energy that embodies the love of God in a third person, the Holy Spirit. So, being eternally generated from the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit is, for all intents and purposes, the very love that is shared between them. This, of course, has major implications for the life of the believer because Christians are commanded to love God and love their neighbor. Edwards recognizes that this command is impossible without the very love of God indwelling and compelling the believer to carry out this role. Thus, when Christians are told that the Holy Spirit indwells them, it is the love of God that has been put within them. For Edwards, there is no distinction between the love of God and the third person of the Trinity. Essentially, God’s dwelling in Christians and His love within us is the same thing. Edwards sums up his view of the Trinity this way:

And this I suppose to be that blessed Trinity that we read of in the holy Scriptures. The Father is the Deity subsisting in the prime, unoriginated and most absolute manner, or the Deity in its direct existence. The Son is the Deity generated by God’s understanding, or having an idea of himself, and subsisting in that idea. The Holy Ghost is the Deity subsisting in act, or the divine essence flowing out and breathed forth, in God’s infinite love to and delight in himself. And I believe the whole divine essence does truly and distinctly subsist both in the divine idea and divine love, and that therefore each of them are properly distinct persons (WJE, Trinity, 131).

Edwards makes it abundantly clear that love is intricately infused into the divine communion of the Father, His idea (Son), and His love (Holy Spirit). The belief that God is love is not lost on Edwards, but it is actually the framework upon which he builds his entire theology. The very idea that God is love necessitates an eternal object. God is the only eternal object, thus, God must be the originator and object of His love. However, this is not to be categorized as self-infatuation or selfishness, but mutual self-giving that occurs within the perfect unity of the three persons of the Trinity.

So there is a little bit of an intro into how Edwards saw the Trinity—as he originator and original recipient of divine love. Tomorrow I will dive in a little deeper into how he saw the divine attributes working together in harmony. This is where his view on seemingly opposed attributes will become a little more clear. I will look at his view of divine simplicity, which is one of the most interesting and confusing aspects of doctrine that I have encountered. It should be fun… or painful. I guess it could be painfully fun—for me at least.

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