How does Jonathan's Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" invoke guilt?

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wilco2012 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Although fear is really the go-to emotion in “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, guilt certainly does play a part. However, even though he pays it lip service, Edwards isn’t really aiming at the stereotypical sinner’s guilt. He’s less concerned with the abject sinner living a life of depravity than he is with those members of the congregation who put up a righteous appearance but haven’t had a true conversion of the soul. The “guilt” he’s invoking in this sense is the guilt of those who have failed to understand God’s will and have instead relied on their own interpretations of righteousness and correct behavior. By essentially calling out those who haven’t had what he would consider to be a personal experience of God – being “born again” – Edwards hopes to plant the seeds of doubt that they are following the correct path to salvation. Thus he invokes guilt in both the literal sense – the congregants are guilty of having disobeyed and fallen away from the word of God – and guilt in the emotional sense, guilt at displeasing God, deceiving themselves, and failing to understand and live up to their obligations as Christians.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is some level of guilt that Edwards uses in his sermon.  Edwards makes it clear that God is one who loves human beings.  Yet, the sins of human beings have caused God incredible anger.  Edwards makes it clear that it is the role of human beings that have caused God to take his wrath out on human beings.  Edwards suggests that God was benevolent and compassionate until human transgression caused God to be angry.  Edwards' primary motivation is to cause fear in the reader and in human beings' heart of God's wrath.  Yet, there is some level of guilt there because it is based on the actions of human beings that have caused God to be angry.  Essentially, God's anger was caused by human beings.  This is where there can be a guilt element in Edwards' sermon.  In this, Edwards does use guilt as a motivation for humans to accept that God is angry and that human sin is the reason for this.  The primary motivation is fear and immediate repentance, but guilt is a part of this equation.  Edwards understands the need to use as many devices as possible to convince individuals to change their ways, of which guilt is one of them.

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Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

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