I first met Jonathan Edwards and his infamous sermon,
inside an American literature book in eleventh grade. It was startling. And I was ashamed. I was ashamed that I was a Christian and this - this God who took delight in damning his creation - was the God that I worshipped every Sunday.
Rather, I was ashamed that this is what everyone thought of the God I worshipped on Sunday. Because I knew that the Jesus I raised my hands to in that evangelical Protestant church was not the angry God depicted here; a God that
“holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire.”
He was not the God that
And yet, it’s that same image of God that many run from; Mr. Edwards’ sermon is far reaching. The sermon, first spoken in 1741, echoes nearly 300 years - beyond his congregation, into American Literature textbooks (yes, even today!), and reverberates still in the hearts of many.
He’s the God people run from, choosing instead to not believe in a god at all. And why wouldn’t they? The homosexuals, the adulterers, the liars, the alcoholics, the drug abusers: the sinners. They know - or at least many hear - only of a God who looks upon them as
“worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours.”
This is the God many have heard of. This is the God many have read. This is the God many refuse to acknowledge.
And yet. Here’s Jonah, at the end of chapter two, just vomited up from the fish.
The truth is, our God is a God of mercy. He is a God who pursues us relentlessly, wooing us through storms and waiting for us to respond to that love.
He is not a God who dangles us over the fires of hell by a thread, but one who meets us in the depths of despair - in the belly of a whale, as it were - when we cry out to him.
And he reaches out and saves us.
He is a God so in love with His creation that he became man so that he might offer himself as a sacrifice for us.
He is a God of mercy.
We believe in a God of mercy!
We all know someone who refuses to believe in God because they only know the Jonathan Edwards’ god: a wrathful, vengeful God absent of love. How might we convince them otherwise?
Do you think we can do it with words?
Sometimes in these circumstances we want to see the effects of our good works, yet it’s God who saves. Not us. Think of three ways you might be able to show mercy over the next week to someone who only knows - however vaguely - of an angry God.