Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God Essay

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Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

In the first approximately 40% of the sermon, Edwards (1741) used the pronoun “they. ” “They” were “the wicked unbelieving Israelites” (p. 1) and the opening biblical quotation he used actually underestimated God’s rage at the ingrates he had saved: “I will heap calamities against them… wasting famine… consuming pestilence and deadly plague” (Holy Bible: New International Version, 2001, Deuteronomy 32:23-24). Edwards seemed to have forgotten that God was easily enraged by everyone. e. g. , “… the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart…

He could pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn” – sparing the Israelites (Exodus 10:9, 13). But anti-Semitism must have put his congregation in a receptive mood. Edwards preached that “wicked men” have no way of knowing when or how God will strike. But on God’s whim, a healthy person may instantly be dead and in hell. Now for the bad news: The Jews aren’t the only “wicked men” – Edwards switches to the pronoun “you” – which includes every man, woman, and child (“And you children, who are unconverted, do not you know that you are going down to hell, p. 7) who never was “born again” (p. 4).

God “abhors you… His wrath towards you burns like fire… He will crush you under His feet without mercy” (pp. 4-6). Edwards then called on the congregation to be saved, born again, as others throughout the country had done, and “their hearts [are] filled with love to Him who has loved them” (p. 7). (Yes, always “crush” the one you love. ) Since Edwards has been recognized by historians as the leader of the Great Awakening (Lucas, 1997), his sermons presumably resulted in large numbers of people “awakening” and opting to be “born again” (and generously tithing?) to become innocent of their prior sins.

What sins? Eating little babies for breakfast, “lusting in their hearts” for a neighbor’s spouse, exploring body parts with the boy or girl next door, picking a daisy from someone else’s yard? Why were they convinced that they had been “sinners”? Indeed, there has been research providing evidence that some people can come to believe just about anything, e. g. , that they remember events in the hospital the day they were born (reviewed in Loftus, 1997). Thus, many people probably were sincerely convinced that they had sinned, wanted to repent, and felt a new love for God.

However, the same research has provided evidence that the majority are harder to convince. Thus, many probably were convinced they were headed for Hell and God might not know that’s why they were being “reborn. ” In fact, is it even possible for most people to “love” on command? Many also might have been going through the motions to maintain good relationships with those in their communities of “reborn” souls or could have been “closet” non-believers who did not want to stand out in their neighborhoods.

Edwards shared the Calvinist belief that we are sinners, guilty of pride (Erdt, 1978). Calvin seemed to believe that we are born predisposed towards this sin, and fear initially turned people to God. However, some eventually reached a feeling of God’s goodness or knowledge in the absence of reasoning (Erdt, 1978). Miller (1949, as cited in Erdt, 1978) proposed that unlike Calvin, Edwards was influenced by Locke, believing pride was a result of experience, and believed salvation was possible for all who chose to be reborn.

At first I was astonished by Edwards’ blatant anti-Semitism, but then realized that the time had not yet come when anti-Semites were required to be subtle, unless in the privacy of their homes or their President’s home (Warren 2002). Otherwise, the sermon was what I would have expected at an enthusiastic evangelical Christian gathering today. This is not to say that I’m not impressed that the Bible seems to mirror world history, a history of wars, bloodshed, cruelty, and other inexplicable ways that humans have inflicted pain on other humans (Braudel & Mayne, 2003).

Until I read Night (Wiesel, 1960), I had wondered why, regarding any religion, believing needed to be equated with accepting. Writing of his thoughts and feelings as he remembered them at the end of his year at Buchenwald, Wiesel believed – but did not worship or respect God, not only because of the Holocaust, but for acts such as tossing Adam and Eve from Paradise, causing the great Flood when displeased with Noah’s generation, and when displeased with Sodom, for obscure reasons, making “the sky rain down fire and sulphur” (p. 64).


Braudel, F. , & Mayne, R. (2003). A history of civilization. New York: Penguin Books. Edwards, J. (1741). Sinners in the hands of an angry God. Sermon delivered in Enfield, MA (now CN). Retrieved December 2, 2007. Erdt, T. (1978). The Calvinist psychology of the heart and the “sense” of Jonathan Edwards. Early American Literature, 13, 165-180. Holy Bible: New international version. (2001).

Grand Rapids, MI: Zonderan Corporation. Loftus, E. (1997). Creating false memories. Scientific American, 277, 20-26. Lucas, P. R. (1997). Solomon Stoddard and the origin of the great awakening in New England. Historian, 59, 741-759. Warren, J. (2002). Nixon, Billy Graham make derogatory comments about Jews on tape. Chicago Tribune. Knight-Ridder/Tribune NewsService. Retrieved December 2, 2007. Wiesel, E. (1960). Night. New York: Bantam Books.

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