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Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

by Jonathan Edwards

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Why does Jonathan Edwards say that animals, the sun, the earth, and air are not here for our enjoyment in "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"?  

Jonathan Edwards says that animals, the sun, the earth, and air are not there for our enjoyment in "sinners in the Hands of Angry Gods" because he wants to impress upon his audience the relative unimportance of humans in the overall scheme of things. If we think that the natural world is there for our enjoyment, then we're likely to start believing and acting as if we, rather than God, are at the center of the universe.

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In keeping with his strident Calvinism, Jonathan Edwards, in his famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” wants to make sure that his audience knows that in the overall scheme of things, they are nothing. They are wretched sinners, some of whom will be saved and others damned. Those destined to be saved will be saved purely by the grace of God, not because of anything they themselves have done. In emphasizing the complete freedom of God to do as He pleases, Edwards is, at the same time, deprecating humankind, which he sees as being mired in sin and utter depravity.

Given our lowly position, it would be (according to Edwards) the very height of arrogance for us to presume that all the things in this world—animals, the sun, the earth, the very air that we breathe—exist for our benefit. On the contrary, they exist to demonstrate God's power and glory.

If we started getting above ourselves, started believing that the earth and everything in it somehow belong to us, then we would be guilty of the most appalling presumption. In effect, we would be putting ourselves in God's place, which is of course the height of blasphemy.

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Edwards is trying to convey that nature was not put in place for mankind's pleasure but for God's pleasure. Nature, which includes animals, the sun, the earth, and the air, are all under God's dominion, not human dominion, except as decreed by God.

Edwards's anti-humanist argument is urging people not to exalt themselves or to think they are the center of the universe or equal with God. He wants his audience to understand how they look from God's point of view, which is like insects. He wants them to acknowledge that God is much more powerful than they are and could crush them in an instant.

Edwards says all this not to be cruel (though we might wonder if he succeeds at that) but to try to save people. People who sin—go against God's will—are playing a very dangerous game in Edwards's opinion. God will let them do their own thing for awhile, but he has the power at any moment to fling them into eternal flames—and then there is nothing humans can do about it. Nature won't save them. Only trying to be obedient and accept that they are at the mercy of an all-powerful God will prevent their demise.

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Edwards impresses upon his audience the idea that all of God's creations that surround humanity serve a single purpose, revealed in these words: "God’s creatures are good, and were made for men to serve God with."

Edwards is working to negate the perception that mankind should think of the world as a playground and resource provided for its own ends, warning that the world and its resources are certainly not hospitable to those who would act against God and work in the service of Satan.

Edwards characterizes the world as enduring mankind as its duty in God's service. He avers that mankind is "a burden to it" and that the world suffers when humanity uses it for its own gratification. He argues that, in fact, the world would gladly expel mankind if it were not for God's intervention on our behalf.

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This question is a reference to the following line from Edwards's sermon:

Were it not that so is the sovereign pleasure of God, the earth would not bear you one moment; for you are a burden to it; the creation groans with you; the creature is made subject to the bondage of your corruption, not willingly; the sun doesn't willingly shine upon you to give you light to serve sin and Satan; the earth don't willingly yield her increase to satisfy your lusts; nor is it willingly a stage for your wickedness to be acted upon; the air don't willingly serve you for breath to maintain the flame of life in your vitals, while you spend your life in the service of God's enemies. God's creatures are good, and were made for men to serve God with, and don't willingly subserve to any other purpose, and groan when they are abused to purposes so directly contrary to their nature and end. And the world would spew you out, were it not for the sovereign hand of him who hath subjected it in hope.

Edwards wants his listeners to understand that humans were put on this earth as one of many of God's creations, not the most important one.  And all of God's creations are here to give glory to Him, not to humans.  

This explanation goes along with the major message of Edwards’s sermon, that humans should not glorify themselves as if they were gods.  He wants his audience to understand where they stand in God’s eyes: they are as insignificant as humans view the smallest insects or the rush of air.  He, at one point, compares humanity to a spider, saying, “The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect, over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked.”  Just as humans hate spiders and want to squash them, so, too, does God view humanity.

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