Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Happy at Sinners Burning in Hell?

I finished George Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life.  In this post, I’ll talk about something that Marsden says on page 536:

“In one of his most controversial observations, Edwards argued that the saints in heaven would rejoice in knowing of the punishment of the wicked.  Although most people today instinctively find such views repelling, that may be largely because most people today do not take seriously the doctrine of hell as eternal punishment.  If one accepts that premise, then it is helpful in terms of understanding Edwards’ observations to be reminded that even today we rejoice when we see the Evil One and his minions destroyed in one of our moral tales.”

Isn’t that a lovely picture?  A bunch of smug Christians in heaven rejoicing that all those dirty sinners are burning in hell forever and ever.  What gives these saints the right to be so smug, when they themselves are sinners?  Plus, rejoicing in people burning in hell is not particularly loving, is it?  And while, yes, I may rejoice when I’m watching a movie and a truly evil person who oppresses others is destroyed, I don’t think Gandhi falls in that category.  Granted, he had his flaws and imperfections, like all of us, but why should I rejoice at him being burned forever and ever?

That said, I really did enjoy this book, and I thought it was deserving of the award that it got.  I appreciated its description of Edwards’ ambivalent relationship with his parents, since that tended to humanize him.  It’s easy to see Edwards as a stern authority figure behind the pulpit, but he was also a human being, one who struggled in his relationships with others.  I also identified with Edwards’ introversion.  In terms of whether I would have gotten along with him or not, I probably would have enjoyed an intellectual conversation with him, now and then.  But he’d he a little too dogmatic and intense for me to have a lasting friendship with him.

1 comment:

  1. Hi James - the image of the saints rejoicing is implicit in Revelation 14:11. But the reading as such is false - what the saints rejoice in is the ὑπομονή - the endurance - persistence - determination that is evident in the Lamb's giving of himself for the life of the world. Revelation is from start to finish an exploration of this determination and the steadfast love that is expressed by it.


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