Sunday, September 16, 2007

a new challenge

My oldest recommended a biography from one of his classes, so I started reading George Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life (Yale University Press, 2003). Most people know Edwards for his sermon, "A Sinner in the Hands of an Angry God." However despite growing up in the backwoods, the wild frontier of early 18th Century New England that was the Connecticut River valley, Edwards was one of the world’s foremost philosophers and theologians of his day. The book's first few chapters have been very good and given its excellent reviews, along with being the 2004 winner of the Bancroft Prize for American History, I expect more good things.

Marsden attempts to explain the worldview of Edwards and his times, the early 18th Century, rather than interpreting his life by modern sensibilities. Edwards experience of finding God, his “awakenings,” as a teenage is interesting with many of the same struggles all young men have when seeking God.

I also found myself comparing and contrasting my feelings with his. I am grateful to have the assurance of my salvation and standing with God, something Edwards lacked given his particularly Calvinist/Puritan/Reform theological roots. He was always looking and striving for evidence of his salvation, his election by a completely sovereign Lord, but never being quite sure if such evidence was merely the result of self delusion and self will. I have the confidence and peace that comes with knowing that I am a child of the living God. I know where I will spend eternity and fear not the Day of Judgment. I know that God is with me and will never leave me.

Edwards, on the other hand had many things that I lack but desire. He had a deep knowledge of the particular depths of his own sins and his own sinful nature. While I doubt he was more sinful than I am, while I do realize to a degree how sinful I am, I am afraid my sin awareness just scrapes the surface. I am much worse than I imagine. As a result I think Edwards had a more powerful appreciation of God’s mercy and grace than I or most 21st Century contemporary evangelical Christians do.

Edwards as a young man clearly saw all around him, particularly in nature, signs of an all-powerful, a good and just, a magnificently awesome and great God. I am afraid that a consequence of my awareness and assurance of a God that is always with me, who loves me, who communes with me, that I have a vision of Him that is way, way smaller. I think maybe I have a better micro-view while Edwards had a more wonderful, awe-inspiring macro-view of God. What I need to do is magnify my view of God, not to distort His greatness, but to get closer to reality of how big our God is. However tough it is to reconcile the incredibly awesome Creator, the One who designed and spoke the universe into existence, with the God who cares for me and lives with me as His temple, it is something I need to do.

Anyway, that is the challenge for me.

Be blessed.
RB

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