Monday, December 3, 2012

An Ulterior Motive for Devotion?

In my latest reading of Jonathan Edwards: A Life, George Marsden talks quite a bit about a revival that took place in Jonathan Edwards' time (and Jonathan Edwards' account of that revival caught the attention of John Wesley, who, unlike Edwards, was an Arminian).  On page 152, Marsden speculates about how Edwards would have responded to those who posited a social reason for the revival:

"Had some of the specific social contributors to the awakening been pointed out to Edwards, such as the extension of unmarried dependence for many of the young, he would have acknowledged them without placing any strain on his theological explanation of the awakening.  God always worked through means.  Whether he sent an earthquake or a shortage of available land, God was still acting to remind humans of their spiritual needs.  Through such forces God provided the soil for revival."

In Edwards' time, young people were in some predicaments.  Because there were socio-economic changes, such as the movement from a communal economy to a capitalistic one (and, to be honest, I don't know exactly what that entailed), young people had difficulty striking out on their own, and so people in their twenties were living with their parents.  Many young people also had difficulty postponing sexual activity until they were married, and so they felt guilty when they violated that standard.  And Edwards was concerned about young people wasting their lives through partying and empty socializing (and, believe it or not, a number of young people actually valued Edwards' opinion).

Analysts can probably look at these insecurities among young people and attribute their participation in a religious revival to that.  But, if there is a secular explanation for the revival, does that mean that the revival was not a work of God?  According to Marsden, Edwards would say no, and the reason is that Edwards thought that God used means to remind people that they needed him, and that provided soil for revival.  In short, God could use the predicaments of young people to bring them closer to God.

When I was in high school, I was perplexed by a question: Was I devout because I truly loved God, or was I devout to compensate for my lack of a social life?  I wasn't a popular person (though, looking back, more people probably liked me back then than like me now), and I withdrew into devotional and religious reading, where I found a degree of peace.  But did that devotion count before God, I wondered, since I probably would not be as devout if I were popular and everybody liked me?

If I could go back and talk with my younger self, I could tell him (a la Edwards) that God is using his unpopularity as a means to make him recognize his dependence on God, but what would happen if he became popular (which didn't happen, but let's pretend)?  What would then keep him from feeling that he didn't need God?  In light of that, what I would want to highlight to my younger self is that God is his friend, and that's true whether he is popular or unpopular.  If he is unpopular, he can spend time with God because God is his friend.  If he is popular, he can still spend time with God because God is his friend----and, even if he has other friends, God is the friend who sticks closer than a brother.  In my opinion, God is not grading me about my motivation for my devotion, for God's happy to spend time with me!

1 comment:

  1. I think that God gives us struggles that he knows we can handle.

    I love this post!

    It reminds me of this video I recently came across-- it's a cute little song about how Jesus and his followers actually Occupy Jerusalem.

    Anyways, here it is:


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