Yesterday’s post gave a brief look at Jonathan Edwards’ Trinitarianism. I encourage you to read his Discourse on the Trinity, or any work of his for that matter. His writings are saturated with his theology of the Trinity. It’s awesome. Edwards basically states three truths that lay the foundation for how he will ultimately think about the love and wrath question: 1) God is infinitely happy in the enjoyment of Himself, 2) God’s thoughts rest first upon Himself, and 3) God’s love is first shared within Himself. These things make God seem like he is self-obsessed or selfish, but when viewed as an inner-Trinitarian operation, it becomes clear that, for Edwards, God is the author and the first recipient of His love. But, let’s look a little further into how Edwards viewed the attributes of God.
Even though Edwards was steeped in the Reformed tradition, he parted ways on some points, such as divine simplicity. The doctrine of divine simplicity is one way that the Western and Reformed traditions answer the question of the compatibility of God’s attributes, such as His love and wrath. Essentially, God is “simple,” meaning that it is impossible to make Him into a composition of parts, nor can there be any distinction between His being and His attributes. Therefore, all of God’s attributes are God. Thus, when these traditions speak of God as loving, they mean that He is love, and when they speak of Him as just, they mean that He is justice. In addition, simplicity states that when God acts, He does so in accordance with all of His attributes. So, we can’t look at an act of God and say, “Oh, here He is loving,” and at another act and say, “Here He is being just.” God is both loving and just in all of his actions.
For more on this topic see the work God Without Parts by James Dolezal. Click here for a review of this work by my friend Nathaniel Claiborne. His blog is excellent by the way.
But, Edwards had difficulty reconciling multiplicity (The Father, His idea, and His love) with simplicity, so he brought an aesthetic approach to understanding God’s attributes and being. He did not totally dismiss divine simplicity, but redefined it and put his own spin on it. Edwards focused on the beauty of a relational ontology among the three persons who work in harmony, both in their being and in their attributes. In other words, where the West sought to focus on the unity of God, Edwards appears to have stood with the Eastern Orthodox Church, focusing on the three persons. Where the West chose to focus on the unity and simplicity of God, the East emphasized the plurality and distinct persons of the Godhead. Despite the emphasis on the distinct divine persons, Edwards remained orthodox in his thoughts regarding the homoousia (God’s unity of essence). For him, it displayed the excellency of God that He was radically diverse in persons, yet harmonious in essence.This principle also carries over to the divine attributes, as each of them, whether love or wrath, worked in harmony. Again, Edwards did not look to divine simplicity in order to see the harmony of seemingly disjointed attributes, but to the beauty of the divine essence.
“These attributes being thus united in the divine nature and not interfering one with another is what is a great part of their glory: God’s awful and terrible attributes, and his mild and gentle attributes. They reflect glory one on the other; and ‘tis the glory of God that those attributes should always be exercised and expressed in a consistence and harmony one with the other (WJE, Sermons and Discourses 1703-1733, 159).”
Edwards’ Trinitarian theology is described as the “supreme harmony of all,” as the persons of the Godhead are distinct, yet fully bound and united in their shared essence and love. Likewise, the divine attributes are in absolute harmony, though they may seem incompatible because they are united in the beauty and harmony of the divine essence.
So here is another piece of the love and wrath puzzle as Edwards saw it. Tomorrow will focus on God’s end goal as described in Edwards’ work, The End For Which God Created The World. In the end, hopefully this will all come together. In hindsight I probably should have tried to summarize this a little better, but you know what they say about hindsight.