The American theologian and preaching dervish Jonathan Edwards was born on this day in 1703.
“He believed in the worst God, preached the worst sermons, and had the worst religion of any human being who ever lived on this continent,” M. M. Richter said of Edwards in a biography written in 1920, but no less harsh a critic than H. L. Mencken called him “a virtuoso.” Edwards’ most famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” is an often-anthologized literary tour de force.
“The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked,” begins a well-known passage in the sermon. Yes, God was – is – fed up, and He’s not going to take it anymore, according to Edwards and his spiritual descendants.
But if God is miffed, what about us? After all, isn’t He the one that made us what we are? He’s the one who made everything, and the fact is, He botched the job. Come on. He’s all-powerful, and this is the best He can come up with?
Where is the preacher who will harangue the Almighty? Where is the Church of Celestial Critics? If God listens to our prayers, most of which, after all, are simply petitions for Him to alter the Divine Plan, why shouldn’t He be willing to entertain our complaints? Why shouldn’t He be invigorated, in fact, to hear our gripes once and again, in place of so much tired and timorous sniveling veiled with praise? And from our perspective, venting can be so much more cathartic than prayer.
Edwards undoubtedly would have disagreed. “Sincere friendship towards God,” he wrote, “in all who believe him to be properly an intelligent, willing being, does most apparently, directly and strongly incline to prayer.” But sometimes, with any friend no matter how close, you just have to get things off your chest.
Edwards' dying words are instructive on this point:
"Trust in God, and you need not fear."