Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, and Me

I tell people that I am a Christian that goes to a Lutheran church. I don’t agree with exactly everything the Lutheran church teaches, but I find sometimes that what Martin Luther said and what is put into practice is different. So, the hubby and I were pleased to find that the adult Bible class was going to study the life of Luther. I haven’t read a lot of his works, and it never hurts to know the guy your denomination is named for, does it?

We missed last week because we were babysitting the grandsons, but the week before, we learned about Luther’s early life and the times in which he lived. One thing that really stuck with me was that, at least according to our teacher, the people of the times viewed not only God, but Jesus, as a judge ready to condemn them to hell. Our teacher said you needed to understand that to understand Luther. I know that for a while I thought the same thing, and I am sure knowing that I thought it would have helped people understand me.

I was raised in a Christian home, but it was a good while before head knowledge became heart knowledge for me. My older sister, in a loving attempt to make me a better person, gave me a tract that told about kids who sassed their parents going to hell. Complete with color pictures. She liked to quote Proverbs 30:17 to me. This is what it says:

The eye that mocks a father And scorns a mother, The ravens of the valley will pick it out, And the young eagles will eat it.

It’s true, you know, but I was, ahem, sometimes guilty of mocking and scorning, so the verse really filled me with despair. And I didn’t know where to turn.

Add to that the church that we went to when I was in my teens. Now, I am not denying that what stuck with me was different from what stuck with other people, but what I heard from the pulpit was that if I sassed my parents or thought lustful thoughts or disobeyed, my salvation was in danger. And although I was a relatively good kid–at least that’s how my dad remembers it–I did those things. So where did that leave me?

I don’t know why I didn’t talk to my parents about what I was feeling, but I didn’t. I did go to my pastor, though. He asked me if I believed that Jesus was the Son of God. Of course I did. He asked me if I believed Jesus had died on the cross for my sins. Of course I did. Then, with a wave of his hand, he told me I had nothing to worry about. But if that were the case, what about his sermons?

I thought about that this week because, in the midst of proficiency testing, the juniors were studying “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” by Jonathan Edwards. They study it as an example of Puritan literature, but nobody tells them that the sermon was specially written for a hard-hearted congregation. Have you read it? I’ve been a Christian for a while now, and I still find some of the images in this sermon enough to make me shudder! The sermon states that God is fully capable of casting men into hell, that men deserve such condemnation, and that the devil is ready and waiting. Here’s an excerpt:

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: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours.

That would have really frightened me if I had studied it in high school. (Maybe I did; that was a while ago.) I got to a point before I accepted Christ when, since I didn’t think I could be good enough, I didn’t see any sense in trying. Fortunately, there were people around me who cared, directed by a God who cares. And I wonder how it affects kids in class who, maybe, feel just like I felt. Not good enough. Especially since their readers do not contain this paragraph of the sermon, which gives some hope:

And now you have an extraordinary opportunity, a day wherein Christ has thrown the door of mercy wide open, and stands in calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners; a day wherein many are flocking to him, and pressing into the kingdom of God. Many are daily coming from the east, west, north and south; many that were very lately in the same miserable condition that you are in, are now in a happy state, with their hearts filled with love to him who has loved them, and washed them from their sins in his own blood, and rejoicing in hope of the glory of God.

When I watch the kids, I see a lot of boredom, of course. This is Puritan literature. But I wonder if there are some of them out there who are like I was. Who think of God as a judge, and don’t know that there’s a way out. In our politically correct society, I’m sure that someone made a decision not to include the entire text of Edwards’s sermon. Maybe that person thought the kids wouldn’t be interested. Maybe the hope at the end of the sermon was thoughtlessly cut by someone who just didn’t know how important it was. But I will tell you this: from now on, when we study this particular piece of literature, I will be praying that it reaches whatever child it needs to reach and that sometime soon, God will provide His message of hope to them as well.

Just like He did to me.


3 Responses to “Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, and Me”

  1. 1 Rochelle Ritzi September 23, 2007 at 10:38 pm

    Great post. I studied a little bit of Luther when I took a religions class at Indiana University a couple of years ago. I admire his passion!

  2. 2 e-Mom September 28, 2007 at 3:00 pm

    An interesting post! It took me a long time to accept Christianity’s bad news/good news scenario. The Scriptures are full of references to the Day of the Lord, and God’s wrath. However, the great news is that God Himself has paid the penalty for our sin through Jesus Christ. Now we can enter freely and confindently into His holy presence. Wow!

    I’ve enjoyed learning about Martin Luther (a former monk) and especially about his marriage to Kate (a former nun). His teachings not only revolutionized theology, but the institution of marriage. His is truly a giant in Christian thought.

    Blessings, e-Mom

  1. 1 Pseudo-Polymath » Blog Archive » Welcome to Christian Carnival 191: Psalm 103 (104) Edition Trackback on September 26, 2007 at 12:14 am

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