Love and Wrath—Pt. 4

For the sake of review, let me catch us up from the previous posts. I’m attempting to show that the way you see God’s attributes is a direct reflection of your doctrine of God and how you understand the Trinity. The theology of Jonathan Edwards helps us, especially in the area of God’s attributes. As seen in the last post, Edwards argued that the beauty and harmony of God is seen in his love and wrath—and not only in these two, but the totality of who He is. In today’s Christian culture, over emphasizing, or wrongly emphasizing God’s love to the detriment of His other attributes is prevalent and I believe that we must reorient our focus because if we take away or redefine number of God’s attributes, at what point are we trading the God of Christianity with some other false, lesser God?

God’s End Goal

So, we have seen  Edwards’ Trinitarianism and that he saw the beauty and harmony of God in that He is both loving and just. Now we turn to see how Edward’s believed God displayed his attributes and why. Edwards begins with the love of God as His motive for His creative act. He writes, “When God considers of making anything for himself, he presents himself before himself and views himself as his end.” When Edwards used the term “end,” he could mean chief, ultimate, or subordinate end. However, when God is spoken of as acting toward “His end,” he always has what is chief, ultimate, and unsubordinated in mind. This aspect of his theology is crucial in understanding the “love and wrath” question for two reasons. First, he emphasizes that God’s act in creating and redeeming is rooted in the inter-Trinitarian divine love. God’s chief end is the magnification of His own name. God delights first and foremost in Himself and his attributes, which means that no subordinate end can overwhelm His chief end. Second, because God is concerned with His own glory as His chief end, the happiness of His creatures cannot be His chief end. God is love; it does not necessarily follow that because He is love He must redeem all, or else He is not love. God’s love for the redeemed, as well as His wrath towards sinners, work harmoniously towards God’s chief end, which is His glory and the presentation of His essence and attributes. The creation of man, God’s condescension, and redemptive work was not chiefly, or ultimately aimed at the happiness of the creature, but was God’s delight in displaying His essence and attributes.

Edwards anticipated the objection that accompanies this line of reasoning, which is, “How can God chiefly seek His own good and not be a divine egotist?” First, God delights in what is supremely valuable and because there is nothing more valuable than Himself, He must first seek Himself. Second, for God to delight first in Himself is not contrary to human happiness, because He is the creature’s happiness. It was according to God’s good pleasure that motivated Him to create, condescend, and redeem, but it was also for the good of His creatures as a subordinate end. It is God’s regard and love for Himself that drives His communication of Himself, which results in benefits for creatures.

Love Demands Wrath

It is clear that Edwards believed that God’s Trinitarian divine love is what motivated Him to seek the good of His creatures. However, it is the same love that provokes God’s wrath. God cannot, on account of His chief end and value, seek the happiness of creatures at the expense of His glory. The happiness of creatures is not God’s chief end, but rather it is the praise of His excellency. Edwards believed that God seeks to exercise all of His attributes for an attribute cannot be praised unless it is exercised. Therefore, he believed that the Holy Trinity decreed the law in eternity past in order that God’s justice might be served in the giving and execution of it. The presence of a law reveals a certain demand for justice, for if there were no need for justice, there would be no law. Edwards defended God’s justification in the eternal punishment of sinners by stating that men are guilty of infinite evil in multiple ways. First, men are guilty of infinite evil by despising the infinite word and law of God. Creatures have an obligation to love that which is lovely, but have failed and have committed heinous evil by means of rejecting God’s law. Second, men are guilty of infinite evil in their rejection of God’s love. As previously mentioned, God’s love is not His attempt at some sort of emotional connection with man, but is the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. So, to reject God’s love is to reject the gift of the Holy Spirit, which was purchased by the blood of Christ. To reject the gift is to reject the purchaser, and to reject the purchaser is to reject the one who sent Him. For Edwards, it is impossible to reject God’s love without also rejecting His essence and excellency. Third, men are guilty of infinite evil in their treatment of others. Edwards taught that God was justified in the eternal punishment of the wicked because one person’s unbelief can negatively influence and hinder the belief of another who follows their example of unbelief.  Unbelief was not simply a matter of opinion or taste, but Edwards perceived it as reckless and leading others astray. Finally, men are guilty of infinite evil in their treatment of self. Here he asks, “Is God obliged to give you eternal happiness when you care not about your happiness or His glory?” Edwards believed that men have condemned themselves on their fool’s errand to find happiness for their soul in something other than the excellency of God.

The condemnation of man is not simply the sum of poor decision-making throughout life, but an utter rejection of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Man is ultimately condemned because he hates God and has failed to recognize Him as supremely valuable. The Holy Trinity simply cannot allow this sort of blatant rejection to exist in the created system. For God to dispense mercy even to those who reject Him would not be compatible with His chief end, nor would it be loving. First, it would not be loving toward the Son. The inter-Trinitarian love of God motivates His wrath toward wicked men because to reject the Son is to the reject the Father who sent the Son. The Son is the Father’s eternal object of love who perfectly loves and obeys the Father’s will. Were God to dismiss justice would in a sense be an act of approval towards those who have rejected the Son. Second, it would not be loving toward His people. Edwards believed that the atonement of Christ secured a people who were set apart for God’s glory, meaning they had received the person and benefits of Christ by faith. He taught that wrath toward the wicked is necessary for the happiness of God’s people, which appears to be a reference to God destroying all the enemies of Christ and His bride. This is related to God’s chief end, which is first and foremost, the glory of His name, and, secondly, the happiness of His creatures. For Edwards, in order for the faithful to receive the happiness that results from the glory of God, the wicked must be cut off and crushed as enemies of Christ. Thus, the love of God is not incompatible with divine wrath, but demands it. Edwards perceived these two seemingly estranged attributes as working together in harmony in order that all of God’s attributes might be praised and His chief end pursued.

Hopefully the next post will provide some closure and tie up Edwards argument. Check back then!

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