What key image does Jonathan Edwards use to frighten his audience in "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God?"

One key image that Jonathan Edwards uses to frighten his audience in “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” is that of God as a bowman whose bow is bent and ready to fire arrows. This image adds a real sense of urgency to Edwards's words. He uses it to drive home the central message of his sermon that God can and will take action against sinners at any given moment.

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There are several memorable images in Edwards's sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" which emphasize the vital nature of his message and the immediacy of the danger. The best-known and most compelling of these is the image of the person who "holds a spider, or some loathsome insect, over the fire." This image combines a literal picture of hell, as both fire and death, with the idea that the sinner is repulsive in the sight of God.

If you were to catch a spider in your home and hold it over the kitchen fire, your immediate object would presumably be to drop it into the fire and kill it. Holding the spider over the fire is an inconvenience. It is far easier to let the spider go. Moreover, the reason that you are holding the spider over the fire in the first place is that you intend to drop it into the flames. You have probably never picked up a spider, intending to throw it into the fire, and then changed your mind at the last moment. Everything about this image, therefore, serves to reinforce Edwards's message: your immediate descent into hell is not merely a possibility or a danger, it is the default course of action for God to take, far more likely to happen than your preservation.

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Arguably the most frightening image in “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” is that of God as a bowman, bending back his bow of wrath, with the arrow ready on the string. What's especially scary about the image is that it rams home the central message of Edwards's sermon that God is ready and able at any given moment to take action against sinners.

Edwards doesn't want his listeners to feel comfortable with his message. On the contrary, he wants them to feel that they're primed and ready for damnation at a moment's notice. The image of God as the bowman, with his bow of wrath pulled right back and with an arrow ready to be fired, is particularly adept at conveying the requisite sense of urgency. God is not just watching sinners; he's got his arrows of wrath trained on them.

Edwards hopes that this striking image will strike the fear of God into his listeners and that they will change their sinful ways and turn once more to the path of righteousness. If they don't, they can expect an arrow of divine wrath to be fired right at them. If that doesn't scare his audience, then nothing will.

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The previous post lucidly addresses a critical component of the fear that Edwards invokes.  I would like to suggest that Edwards utilizes the imagery of the "now" moment as part of his motivation.  He is quite intent on suggesting that part of his rationale in the explanation of God's anger refers to the timing of Colonial sentiments.  At a particular moment in time when the colonists are driven by economic prosperity and material wealth, the belief in spirituality is on the decline in colonial life.  It is this precise moment that galvanizes Edwards to speak his notion of the spiritual truth relating to the notion of salvation and damnation.  It is at this particular moment in Colonial life where God's bow and arrow are set on the Colonists and the sooner they change their ways from the secular to the spiritual, the greater the chance that God's punishment will lessen.

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In the sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," Jonathan Edwards uses many images to frighten his audience in hopes of persuading them to reform their ways.  He believes that they all deserve to be damned and that they will be unless they reform.

Edwards spends a great deal of the sermon emphasizing how angry God is at all the sinners of the world, and especially those in the congregation.  However, if one must choose a "key" image, it would probably be that in which Edwards talks about God holding human souls by "a slender thread" over the fires of hell, ready to cut the thread and let them go into eternal damnation.

 

O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment.

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