In "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," what is Edwards's view of God?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A Calvinist pastor who believed in the innate depravity of man, Edwards held with the concept that Christians had to be "born again" embracing Christ as their Savior in order to be saved from the fires of hell. Therefore, in his sermon, Edwards hoped to elicit from his congregation the fear of God so that they would repent and strive to live better lives as Christians.

However, he generated such frightening images and used such extreme metaphors of a wrathful and retributive God that many in his church screamed out and fainted, while others ran from the building. For example, Edwards sermonizes,

The bow of God's wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of angry God without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being drunk with your blood.

Since the Calvinists had rejected the concept of God's grace as attainable through good works and acts, there was nothing that people could do to gain favor in the eyes of God other than avoiding wrongful acts. Thus, there was a severe stress put upon the Christian and little graciousness given to God. Edward's theology was one directed solely by "Fear of the Lord" rather than one based upon God's love and mercy. For Edwards, God holds "abominable" humanity over the pit of hell and if man sins, he can easily be punished by the breakage of the gossamer thread that holds him above the fiery pits of Hell.

(This overriding concept of a punitive theology is criticized by Nathaniel Hawthorne as it is symbolized in the first chapter of The Scarlet Letter as it is contrasted with the nearby blooming red rose bush, symbolic of love; shortly thereafter, Hester Prynne, who wears the scarlet A in punishment and is publicly humiliated before the Calvinistic Puritans, who condemn her is derogatory terms, while Hawthorne compares Hester and her baby to a "Papist" image of the Madonna and child.)

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Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

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