We're studying the Colonial times, so Leslie and I are reading Jonathan Edwards. One of the advantages of homeschooling is I can actually talk about the Puritan religion and its influence on the period in an accurate and meaningful way. Specifically, we're reading "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God". Wow. It's seriously intense. No wonder the Puritans have such a bad reputation.
"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 . . . you are ten thousand times so abominable in his eyes as the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours."
Yikes. I hate to say it, because I know there's a lot to respect and admire in Jonathan Edwards, but just reading this brings to mind a certain abominable preacher in Kansas who carries signs saying "God hates fags." (God doesn't hate fags. If he did, he would hate Fred Phelps no less. He would even hate Mother Theresa.)
The Puritans definitely swung to an extreme in their faith practice -- a lopsided emphasis on the sinfulness of man and the wrath of God. A mistaken focus on proving our righteousness through our sinless behavior. As if we could.
However, the "postmodern" church has swung to the other extreme. We seem to have forgotten that human beings are inherently sinful. We started believing the mis-informed notions of "experts" like Carl Rogers who told us that we're all goodness and perfection at birth and only get messed up by our life experiences, particularly the mistreatment of our parents. We believe in the myth of the innocence of childhood, that our natural state of being is one of rightness. We're afraid to tell people that sin is natural to them -- that they are sinners. I mean, it's such a turn-off. They won't come back to church anymore if we tell them that.
But it seems to me that the church does a grave disservice to the unbelieving world by neglecting to tell them that they are sinners. We seek to be so seeker-friendly that we forget to give them what they're really seeking -- the truth. My philosopher friend Eileen said once, "The church has to be careful that we don't try to attract the unbeliever by simply offering him his own idol of choice dressed in Christian garb." Amen.
We can't have any kind of meaningful relationship with God if we don't have a correct view of our sinfulness. How can we understand the greatness of God if we don't recognize the smallness of us? How can we appreciate the sacrifice of Christ if we don't comprehend the horrific depths of our sin? How can we fathom the unconditional love of God (and love him for it in return) if we aren't painfully aware of how hopelessly undeserving we are of that love -- which is why he gives it unconditionally?
No, we needn't scare the masses with visions of the Almighty dangling us over the flames of hell bellowing "Muaa ha ha ha!!" Nor do we need to parade around with hateful slogans on home-made signs. But we need to be honest. We need to speak truth. With love and humility.
And maybe that starts when we are honest with ourselves. "My name is Gwen, and I am a sinner."