A Loathsome Vermin?

Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” taught generations of American church-goers that God views us as disgusting vermin, barely tolerable and loathsome in his eyes, as revolting as a spider on a thread.

I believe that sin is far, far worse than we can even fathom, but it is precisely because of the exaltation of mankind as the image-bearer of God (Psalm 8) that sin arouses such wrath in a holy God.

If we were disgusting vermin, sin would not have aroused God’s pity and compassion. It is precisely because of God’s love for us that he is determined to deliver us from the bondage of sin, so much so that he gave his only begotten son, and delivered him up for us all.

The truth is that our sin nature is not part of God’s original design, but a result of man’s fall. God has provided a redeemer because of his great love wherewith he loved us. Christ came to restore that which was lost. (John 3:16)

If you do not believe in the Lord Jesus, come to him to find your value and worth in him. No one that comes to him will be cast out. He calls you to himself because you are created in his image and sin has defaced that image and made it ugly. Come to him for cleansing and healing and forgiveness. You are a great sinner in need of great grace for the wrath of God is coming. But that is different than saying that you are a disgusting vermin. God desires that you be all that you can be and he calls to you to be free from the bondage of sin through faith in the Son of God.

If you are in Christ, you are also not a disgusting vermin, barely tolerable by God. You are a child of his love, a first-born heir of eternal life in Christ. You are a special treasure, a royal priesthood, his bride, his body and he loves you with an infinite love that surpasses anything we know on this earth.

The goal of the Christian life is not to try to make yourself less loathsome to God. The goal is to rest in his love, believe in his promises, understand his compassion, and grow in his grace.

It is the language of a reviler and an abuser – the language of the devil – that tears down the image of God in a person. The devil reviles. “You are loathsome. You are disgusting. God barely tolerates you, you revolting worm. He can’t wait to throw you into hell.” This motivates no one to good works, to love, to worship. We become what is expected of us. Religion is turned into a crowd of groveling worms trying to outdo each other in false humility.

But this is not the good news. The good news is that no matter how great your sin is, you have a far greater savior, who loves you and gave himself for you. He is restoring his image in you that you might finally be free and clean and stand before him whole and complete. His compassions don’t fail. His mercy is everlasting. His love is infinite.

His love for you calls you out of hiding, and says to you, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

Rather than viewing us as loathsome, revolting insects, he is a friend of sinners. This knowledge calls to us, invites us to him and drives us to confession, worship and adoration.

“And this is eternal life, that they might know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

Imagine a young woman. She grows up in an abusive environment. Suppose her church was tremendously influenced by Elisabeth Elliot, Joshua Harris, and the purity culture – as an example. So she was taught that purity is the same as holiness, and when you loose your virginity, you spoiled your “rose” so that no man would ever want it.

She has been repeatedly raped and molested for years. Or just once. The dynamic is the same. Her abusers have impressed upon her that she is worthless, ugly, loathsome. That she deserved it.

Her worst fear is that God also finds her to be a loathsome vermin.

She has “lost her virginity” and can never get it back so she makes the connection.

No one will ever want me. I am loathsome. I am a vermin, disgusting to God and man.

She might dare to hope that one day, all of those good things that she hears about will apply to her – but for the most part, love and joy, peace and rest, intimacy and glory – those things are for the others, not for her.

And then she reads “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and discovers that the “greatest theologian in American history” has validated her conclusion. She is indeed loathsome and disgusting, a spider or other loathsome insect dangling over hell.

I wonder how many other suicides took place in New England after that sermon…..

Should not the message of the church be “Jesus, the friend of publicans and sinners” who touches us and says, “I am willing; be clean”.

You are washed, cleansed, purified, whole, complete and loved by your father in heaven for the sake of Christ, if only you accept such benefit with a believing heart.

Come to him and rest. Jesus doesn’t find you disgusting. He came to seek and to save that which was lost. He hates sin and desires all men everywhere repent and believe.

But he doesn’t find you disgusting.

He is angry at rebellion and sin. His wrath abides upon the unbeliever so long as they are not converted. But he doesn’t find you disgusting.

He is calling you with open arms, with goodness and mercy and compassion, as a nursing mother has compassion on her child. Come to him. He won’t cast you away.

He will clothe you in his righteousness, he will glorify you with the same glory that he is glorified with himself.

You are not “barely tolerable” in the eyes of God. Rest in his love.


Filed under Abuse, Faith, Goodness, Gospel

8 responses to “A Loathsome Vermin?

  1. Something I always find interesting about what we shall call, “vermin theology,” is that we are not powerful enough, not threatening enough, not scary enough to cause God to revile and hate us. That kind of contempt, disgust, revulsion, is always rooted in fear and reserved for those who threaten us in some way. God is so not afraid of us!

    I have heard it mistaught, mishandled, many times about how God was so disgusted by our sin that He could not even look at Jesus on the cross, so He had to look away and completely abandon Him. A Holy God allegedly fears being contaminated by our sin? I believe so much of “vermin theology” is rooted in that one misunderstanding.

  2. Aussie

    Thank you Sam. I don’t know why exactly but your thoughts have really impacted me. Having read that sermon many years ago when I was homeschooling my children it is good to revisit it from a more truly Godly perspective. I will be sharing it with my now adult children.

    In your Juneteenth post you mentioned a few slave-holders including Whitfield. It made me recall reading once about Edwards talking with an emancipist friend. Edwards declared that the family’s beloved slave Mama loved his family and wouldn’t want things to be any different. His friend responded with the suggestion they ask her to which she meekly but truthfully replied that she WOULD indeed like her freedom from slave status.

    Thank you for, perhaps bravely, tackling the various abuses against people that exist in the church as well as in the world. Your writings are a balm to my soul which is a bit troubled at the moment.

  3. just ... K

    I haven’t said thank you for being there for a while … challenging time on my end – I am *TRULY* grateful for your comforting, uplifting, supporting, peace generating, hope giving, soul-resting blog. May God bless you and yours, Pastor Powell.

  4. Anu Riley

    Pastor is one the best writers I’ve ever seen. It takes the mind of Christ to write as well as he does. But never forget that His mind is just as accessible to those who are born again. Pastor speaks with

    “If we were disgusting vermin, sin would not have aroused God’s pity and compassion. ”

    “The goal of the Christian life is not to try to make yourself less loathsome to God.”

    “Religion is turned into a crowd of groveling worms trying to outdo each other in false humility.”

    When we adopted my fur angel baby beagle, he looked like (and truly was) an adorable ball of fuzz. Wagging tail, big soft eyes and ears, Not to mention his face: how could anyone say “no” to that face?

    As lovely AND lovable as he was, at first I kept wanting to return him and get our money back. He required far more work, not to mention patience, than I had the heart for. Over our years together, he brought a lot of sunshine and strange smells into my life. From vomit to diarrhea to urine, not to mention rolling in mud, dirt and grime—sniffing, snatching and swallowing all sorts of disgusting objects that resulted in all sorts of disgusting excretions.

    Even covered in mud, poop, vomit or anything smelly—he was still my baby. Didn’t look OR smell OR act the best, but underneath whatever he was covered in, I saw a member of our family. My job wasn’t to sit there and tell him how disgusting he was as a result of his own actions. My job was to clean him up, clean up after him, and do whatever it took to give him a clean bill of health. I paid his bills, paid for his medicine, paid for any and all food that would accomplish this. I paid for EVERYTHING. .

    He didn’t look like us, didn’t come out of my womb, wasn’t even human—-but when we adopted him, he became a full fledged member of our family.

    Most people seemed to scoff at this notion. However, those that had experienced it for themselves understood this perfectly.

    Never make the fatal error that we so often make: God doesn’t think like we do. Never underestimate the power of His adoption of us.

    As much as I would huff and puff about my baby’s “loose cannon” ways, I wasn’t going to bail out on him. He belonged to me and (wait for it), I belonged to him as well.

    When He adopts us, we belong to Him and He belongs to us as well. Neither side is hopefully NOT looking for ways to get out of this arrangement. What, He can’t stop looking for ways to undo His adoption of us? Then why in the heck did He even adopt us in the first place? Is He having “buyers remorse?”

    His Son died for all of humanity. He did NOT die for vermin masquerading as humanity. He added humanity to His deity, NOT vermin-hood. He literally walked among humanity, willfully touching a so-called disgusting leper. Allowing a woman bleeding from her vagina to touch Him. Driving demons out of a naked, self-wounding, howling man. Spreading spit and mud onto the eyes of the blind (that one DID make me cringe a bit!)

    Pouring out blood, sweat and tears on not so smooth and lovely pieces of wood. As beautiful as the Gospel message is, stop “prettying” it up in terms of what He went through for us. Skin bleeding. Sweat pouring out. Tears being shed. Stomach likely churning in pain. Not to mention the repulsive spiritual horror of God’s righteous wrath being laid upon Him.

    This wasn’t done to send the message: I’ll save you but stay away from Me. This was done to send the message: I’ll save you and draw near to Me.

    God very well could have done the former and left it there. Avoiding eternal damnation is more than enough, much more than we deserved already.

    But then He adopts us, lets us cry out to Him, and says we honor Him when we call out to Him for help. NO ONE does this for vermin, for anyone that He even grudgingly loves. No, this is beyond words.

    If you can’t find the words to understand WHY He made such an offer, actually—you DO understand. Because it is beyond words. There are no words. Just accept it, and bask in it.

  5. Jennifer Bales

    Thank you

  6. Alexandra D.

    For some reason, the line “I wonder how many other suicides took place in New England after that sermon…..” made me suddenly burst into tears.
    Being in constant terror (not healthy fear but horror) of God and inevitable punishment is no way to live. I can think of no other worse life motivation than simply just “avoiding hell”. Speaking from experience…

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