Friday, October 10, 2008

Final Words on Jonathan Edwards

Last night, I finally finishing reading George Marsden's definitive biography on Jonathan Edwards entitled, Jonathan Edwards: A Life and I must say there is a mixture of both joy and sadness: joy because I have finally finished this 500 page behemoth of a text, but sadness because of the odd connection I felt with the times and the person of Edwards. I do hope the latter may continue to remain through reading his own works and other perspectives of his life. But here I desire to share the concluding words of Marsden's text, which I believe finish the work out strongly and encapsulate much of Edwards' thinking, thus also revealing his motivation and action:
The universe of Newton was one of constant action and changing relationships, and Edwards' conception of God was matched to that dynamic universe. Lockean [John Locke] and early modern idealist philosophies, as Edwards appropriated them, added the notion that created reality was not independent of the minds that engage it. That reinforced the point that the universe most essentially consisted of personal relationships. All of creation was a system of powers to communicate. Creation was most essentially a means by which the creator-sustainer communicated his holiness, beauty, and redemptive love to other persons.

Edwards thus addressed one of the greatest mysteries facing traditional theism in the post-Newtonian universe: how can the creator of such an unimaginably vast universe be in intimate communication with creatures so infinitely inferior to himself? How can it be that God hears their prayers and responds by caring not only about their eternal souls but even about the details of their temporal lives? To answer such questions one would have to face more starkly than is usually done the immensity of the distance between God and humans and between God's ways and our understandings. At the same time, Edwards insisted, if God is meaningfully related to us, God must be intimately involved with the governance of all the universe in its detail. Further, God must be governing it in some way that also grants the maximum possible autonomy to created beings. Whether Edwards, or anyone else, adequately explains how this mystery may be resolved is a matter of some debate.
If you have made it this far, you will now be able to take away this beautiful nugget that is the root of Edwards' practical outworkings:
Yet Edwards' solution--a post-Newtonian statement of classic Augustinian themes--can be breathtaking. God's trinitarian essence is love. God's purpose in creating a universe in which sin is permitted must be to communicate that love to creatures. The highest or most beautiful love is sacrificial love for the undeserving. Those--ultimately the vast majority of humans--who are given eyes to see that ineffable beauty will be enthralled by it. They will see the beauty of a universe in which unsentimental love triumphs over real evil. They will not be able to view Christ's love dispassionately but rather will respond to it with their deepest affections. Truly seeing such good, they will have no choice but to love it. Glimpsing such love, they will be drawn away from their preoccupations with the gratifications of their most immediate sensations. They will be drawn from their self-centered universes. Seeing the beauty of the redemptive love of Christ as the true center of reality, they will love God and all that he has created.

By His Grace.

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