Tag Archives: Love

Love and Wrath

Jonathan Edwards is one of my heroes in the faith. He was one of the great revivalist preachers and apologists during the First Great Awakening, an immense movement of God in Colonial America that pervaded multiple aspects of colonial life. It brought a renewed emphasis on righteous living, religious devotion, and even served as a bridge between the cultural division between blacks and whites.[i] More importantly, the First Great Awakening was a revival whereby thousands of people were converted and there was a renewed prominence given to the nature and character of God.

Today, Edwards is often polarized as a “Hell, fire, and brimstone” preacher because of sermons such as, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” and “The Justifice of God in the Damnation of Sinners.” (I’ve written briefly elsewhere about Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. You can read it here) However, it is unfair to caricature Edwards as such a man without allowing him the opportunity to speak for himself. These sermons do not exist in a vacuum and it is important to be familiar with Edwards the man in order to fairly assess his theology.

Edwards: The Man (1703-1758)

Timothy Edwards fathered eleven children, and only one boy, Jonathan. From his early childhood, his father, who was a Congregational pastor in their hometown of Windsor, Connecticut, trained him for the pastrate.[ii] Even as a boy, Jonathan took an interest in spiritual things, often secluding himself from other children his age in order to spend time in prayer. I read one story that said when Edwards was nine years old he built a fort. This is common behavior for a boy—I built forts too. However, Edwards’ fort was specifically built for prayer.

At the age of fifteen, Edwards became a student at Yale (1717) and under the leadership of Rector Timothy Cutler, he was forced to grapple with his Calvinist roots on an intellectual level.[iii] He had grown to believe in the sovereignty of God, but it brought him great distress. He wrestled deeply with divine sovereignty, man’s inability to be righteous, and human accountability to live righteously. In other words, Edwards could not understand how God could be good, yet condemn his creatures when they were not able to exercise faith on their own.[iv]

These were not simply theological musings of a slightly interested man, but, on the contrary, Edwards viewed the answers to these questions as determining all manner of life, for it appears that he believed the content of one’s theology determines worldview and lifestyle. All theological training aside, Edwards believed the answers to his questions would determine the direction and fate of his own soul. It was not until a few years later that he had a conversion experience, which revolved around the overwhelming glory and beauty of God.[v] Rather than hell, wrath, and fury, the glory and beauty of God became the major themes in his theology. When he was able to reconcile his discomfort with the beauty of God he finally experienced comfort in his soul. The beauty and excellency of God brought a metaphysical shift (a reinterpretation of reality), which allowed Edwards to view God’s attributes as working in harmony—especially seemingly contrary attributes such as love and wrath.

So, while it appears that he was a preacher who had a certain affinity for preaching the wrath of God and the destruction of the wicked, Edwards spent much more time depicting the beauty and excellency of the Triune God.[vi] This foundational reality ultimately led Edwards to his answer regarding the love and wrath of God.

In the coming days I hope to show how Edwards’ answer serves as an example of how our understanding of the inner workings of God’s attributes, specifically His love and wrath, ultimately reflects our Doctrine of God.

[i] Mark A. Noll, A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992), 91.

[ii] John Piper, God’s Passion for His Glory: With Complete Text of The End For Which God Created the World, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1998, 51.

[iii] George M. Marsden, A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 18-19.

[iv] Ibid., 18-19.

[v] Justo L. Gonzalez, A History of Christian Thought: From the Protestant Reformation to the Twentieth Century, vol. III, Revised ed. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1975), 317.

[vi] Noll, 95-96.

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Christian Cliches

“God loves the sinner, but hates the sin.”

I have often thought about this saying and I think the intention behind it is pure. I think we say and hear this so often because we want to be a community who emphasizes the overwhelming goodness, faithfulness, and grace of God. However, like many cliches, I do not know if they are helpful when all is said and done because I think the tendency can be some sort of attempt to remove sin from us and place it outside of ourselves so that when we sin, we claim it as uncharacteristic of us. However, sin is not just something that we simply partake in, it is naturally who we are at the core. Paul clearly states this in the first several chapters of Romans. He states that men have failed to honor God (1:21), they have suppressed the truth of who He is, and they have exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images (1:23). For this, Paul says the wrath of God is on them (2:6-9).

In addition, if sin truly is something that is outside of us and rather than something we are, then why does Isaiah respond this way when he is confronted with the holiness of God: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people with unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts! (Is. 6:5)” Isaiah never claims that his sin is simply something he does, but instead recognizes that he is ruined.

Then there are passages such as these that we must wrestle with:

“For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evil doers.” Psalm 5:4, 5

“The Lord tests the righteous but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.” Psalm 11:5

“But you, O God, will cast them down into the pit of destruction; men of blood and treachery shall not live out half their days. But I will trust in you.” Psalm 55:23

Now the tendency might be for us to say, “Come on now, this is talking about really wicked people. The type of people who murder, rape, and commit horrible atrocious acts. However, apart from Christ, everyone is in league with the worst type of sinner. Apart from the redemptive work of Christ, I am a child and slave of Satan and God’s wrath rests on me just as it does on any other wicked person.

My point in bringing this up is not so I can correct people when they use the phrase, “God loves the sinner, but hates the sin.” I have no interest in being a theological nit pick. However, if we so quickly dismiss God’s hate toward us as evil doers, then we miss out on a truly beautiful aspect of the Gospel. John Calvin, citing St. Augustine, describes this in The Institutes of the Christian Religion:

“God’s love,” says [Augustine], “is incomprehensible and unchangeable. For it was not after we were reconciled to him through the blood of his Son that he began to love us. Rather, he has loved us before the world was created, that we also might be his sons along with his only-begotten Son—before we became anything at all. The fact that we were reconciled through Christ’s death must not be understood as if his Son reconciled us to him that he might now begin to love those whom he hated. Rather, we have already been reconciled to him who loves us, with whom we were enemies on account of sin. The apostle will testify whether I am speaking truth: ‘God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us’ [Rom 5:8]. Therefore, he loved us even when we practiced enmity toward him and committed wickedness. Thus in a marvelous and divine way he loved us even when he hated us. For he hated us for what we were that he had not made; yet because our wickedness and not entirely consumed his handiwork, he knew how, at the same time, to hate in each one of us what we had made, and to love what he had made (Book 2, Ch. 16, Sec. 4).”

Does God hate sin? Yes. Does God hate sinners? Yes. Does God love sinners? Yes! Do not so quickly dismiss the hatred of God toward the sinner because in his hatred we see the depth of His love. Only at the cross could God’s hatred for us and love for us meet.”He made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).”

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