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.