Sunday, April 26, 2009

Jonathan Edwards on the Blessed enjoying the Torments of the Damned

When the saints in glory, therefore, shall see the doleful state of the damned, how will this heighten their sense of the blessedness of their own state, so exceedingly different from it! When they shall see how miserable others of their fellowcreatures are, who were naturally in the same circumstances with themselves; when they shall see the smoke of their torment, and the raging of the flames of their burning, and hear their dolorous shrieks and cries, and consider that they in the mean time are in the most blissful state, and shall surely be in it to all eternity ; how will they rejoice!

The link links to the entire essay on why the blessed should not at all be concerned about the fate of people in hell. There either has to be something wrong with him, or something wrong with me.


Anonymous said...

I don't know what the rest of the essay says, but this passage at least does not seem to describe the blessed enjoying the torments of the damned. Edwards says that the blessed will see the damned writhing in agony and be grateful that they are not in their shoes! This is very different from looking down at the damned and gloating because the blessed actually enjoy seeing them suffer. I wonder why people insist on reading this passage like that.

unkleE said...

Still, I agree with you Victor. I believe a correct understanding of the Greek shows that Jesus taught that unbelievers/unrighteous will be punished by destruction in the age to come, not torment forever - still not a "nice" thought, but actually what most unbelievers expect and choose. And since God has given us the great blessing of autonomy and meaningful choices, I think he respects our choice on this matter as well.

Ben said...

I need to look this up, but I'm pretty sure there's some early Christian commentary on the idea that puts a different spin on it than the Protestants. It actually entails God's "uncreated energies" artificially forming a conviction that the damned deserve their torment and so the elect are unable to sympathize with them. It's like holy mind control or something. Still seems pretty ridiculous, but hey, I guess that would work.


Ilíon said...

But, is not the punishment of annihilation a never-ending punishment? Is it not a Great Evil (that is, that-which-is-not-to-be-desired)? Is it not a punish-which-cannot-be-undone?

How does that certain fools imagine they desire to cease to exist change what annihilation is?

Gregory said...

Tertullian made a similar observation in his "On Spectables Ch. 30":

But what a spectacle is that fast-approaching advent of our Lord, now owned by all, now highly exalted, now a triumphant One! What that exultation of the angelic hosts! What the glory of the rising saints! What the kingdom of the just thereafter! What the city New Jerusalem! Yes, and there are other sights: that last day of judgment, with its everlasting issues; that day unlooked for by the nations, the theme of their derision, when the world hoary with age, and all its many products, shall be consumed in one great flame! How vast a spectacle then bursts upon the eye! What there excites my admiration? what my derision? Which sight gives me joy? which rouses me to exultation? —as I see so many illustrious monarchs, whose reception into the heavens was publicly announced, groaning now in the lowest darkness with great Jove himself, and those, too, who bore witness of their exultation; governors of provinces, too, who persecuted the Christian name, in fires more fierce than those with which in the days of their pride they raged against the followers of Christ. What world’s wise men besides, the very philosophers, in fact, who taught their followers that God had no concern in ought that is sublunary, and were wont to assure them that either they had no souls, or that they would never return to the bodies which at death they had left, now covered with shame before the poor deluded ones, as one fire consumes them! Poets also, trembling not before the judgment-seat of Rhadamanthus or Minos, but of the unexpected Christ! I shall have a better opportunity then of hearing the tragedians, louder-voiced in their own calamity; of viewing the play-actors, much more “dissolute” in the dissolving flame; of looking upon the charioteer, all glowing in his chariot of fire; of beholding the wrestlers, not in their gymnasia, but tossing in the fiery billows; unless even then I shall not care to attend to such ministers of sin, in my eager wish rather to fix a gaze insatiable on those whose fury vented itself against the Lord. “This,” I shall say, “this is that carpenter’s or hireling’s son, that Sabbath-breaker, that Samaritan and devil-possessed! This is He whom you purchased from Judas! This is He whom you struck with reed and fist, whom you contemptuously spat upon, to whom you gave gall and vinegar to drink! This is He whom His disciples secretly stole away, that it might be said He had risen again, or the gardener abstracted, that his lettuces might come to no harm from the crowds of visitants!” What quæstor or priest in his munificence will bestow on you the favour of seeing and exulting in such things as these? And yet even now we in a measure have them by faith in the picturing of imagination. But what are the things which eye has not seen, ear has not heard, and which have not so much as dimly dawned upon the human heart? Whatever they are, they are nobler, I believe, than circus, and both theatres and every race-course.---found in Schaff's Vol. 3 of the Ante Nicene Fathers under "The Shows", chapter 30.

And so it came to pass, as oft a tragedy unveils, that the cantankerous Tertullian renounced the Church with utter zeal, and forever aligned himself with the wretched heretical Montanists; thus stripping himself, and his future memory, of the crown of Sainthood.


Gregory said...

"Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall"

--Proverbs 16:18

"God resists the proud"

--James 4:6, 1 Pet. 5:5

Anonymous said...

The quotation from Tertullian is presumably put forward as yet another example of Christians taking a (perverse?) pleasure in the torments of the damned. But let's read it a little more closely and with a little more empathy:

"Which sight gives me joy? which rouses me to exultation? —as I see so many illustrious monarchs, whose reception into the heavens was publicly announced, groaning now in the lowest darkness with great Jove himself, and those, too, who bore witness of their exultation; governors of provinces, too, who persecuted the Christian name, in fires more fierce than those with which in the days of their pride they raged against the followers of Christ."

Put yourself in his shoes: he lives daily with reports (and possibly even witnessed himself) that members of his flock, probably including dear friends and loved ones, have been slowly roasted alive for entertainment in the arena. Wouldn't it be natural to take comfort in the belief and anticipation that those who so cruelly persecute the Christians now will be tormented for their cruelty?

And surely we can agree that this is not just a case of 'nonculpable unbelief', the virtuous and benign rejection of faith in God after a thorough examination of the evidence. This is atrocity, this is religious/minority persecution of the most horrific kind. I don't think the appeal to damnation is unreasonable in this case.

Blip said...

JD Walters is a sensible fellow.

Blip said...

(Although I might disagree with him about the possibility of non-culpable unbelief.)

Walter said...

We have the idea of a loving, benevolent God who wishes for all mankind to be saved; yet this God created and maintains a torture chamber that He intends to put most of his children in.

This is one of the many reasons that influenced me to deconvert from fundamentalist Christianity.

Kenny said...
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Kenny said...

Isn't Jonathan Edwards the guy who had a show on which he'd supposedly talk to dead people on behalf of their relatives? If so, then things have really changed in the world.

Crude said...

Wrong guy, Kenny. Assuming you weren't kidding.

Gregory said...

To JD Walters:

Tertullian wasn't denounced because of this quotation. He was denounced because he mocked and belittled the Church for it's supposed laxity and non-spiritual life. Which, in the end, led him to side with the elitist, hyper-charismatic and legalistic cult of Montanism.

The quotation I provided was intended to illustrate a historic irony; one which serves as a warning against egotism and over-zealous, hypocritical condemnations.

Other Fathers of this period exhibited far greater charity to critics and pagans, than did Tertullian.

The Orthodox Christian Church's verdict: Tertullian is a heretic.

Perhaps if Tertullian had restrained and tempered his "holier than thou" attitude, then, maybe, he might have earned the appellation of "Saint Tertullian". But that is not the verdict of history.

Perhaps we can rephrase Tertullian now:

What indeed has Montanism to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between Tertullian and the Church? what between heretics and Christians? Our instruction comes from “the porch of the Lord Jesus Christ,” who had himself taught: “Judge not that ye be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” (Matt. 7:1,2) Away with all attempts to produce a hyper-charismatic Christianity of elitist, legalistic, and hypocritical composition!And so it is measured back, indeed!!!

Rob G said...

There is much to commend it in the patristic idea (later picked up by such writers as George MacDonald, Dorothy Sayers, and Hans Urs Von Balthasar) that the light of God in heaven and the fire of hell are in fact the same thing, but that among the residents of hell that light, which is God's love, is rejected and so it "burns." Of course, one need not take any of this literalistically; the "fire" of hell does not have to be, and most probably isn't, real or material fire, as St. Mark of Ephesus argued against the Latins at the Council of Florence.

This idea jibes with that of C.S. Lewis (who knew the Church Fathers well) that "the doors of hell are locked on the inside" and the belief of the Orthodox Church that the pains of hell, whatever they might be, are in some very real sense self-inflicted.

Kenny said...

Oh, I see. John Edward is the self-proclaimed psychic, Jonathan Edwards was the Puritan theologian.

To Rob: That's what I was taught in Catholic school.

Mike Darus said...

The concept of justice in the next life is comforting to those who are unjustly oppressed by those enjoying temporal comfort without consequence. In the Psalms David complains about God's slowness to punish evil and reward good. There is a serious consequence to denial that God will right the scales of justice. To what extent do we expect God to make things right? Is there any consequence to the actions of morally responsible agents?

The Bible tends to have little information about the duration and severity of judgment. The worms do not die and the fire is not quenched, but the length of sentence and the severity of punishment may be in doubt. It is often up to imaginative minds like Dante and Edwards to fill in the gaps. Some of this makes better literature than theology.

I recall recently re-reading "Sinners In The Hands of an Angry God" and concluding that Edwards preached much more grace than this "sound bite" suggests. We might want to give Edwards some latitude for attempting to answer a thorny theological riddle. --How can the justified experience happiness in heaven if they are cognizant of the suffering of others?-- It may not matter if the suffering is severe or mild, eternal or temporary, self inflicted or judgment meted out. If the justified now "know completely" how can they deal with it? Part of Edward's answer is that knowing makes the justified appreciate heaven all the more. In philosophical terms, evil makes the good better. It is a theodicy that scores high in logic but low with the heart. In isolation it is an ugly argument. I think it does better in the context of his sermon because it is only one argument of many.

BallBounces said...

"We have the idea of a loving, benevolent God who wishes for all mankind to be saved; yet this God created and maintains a torture chamber that He intends to put most of his children in."

You de-converted based on caricatures of God's love and justice. You may rest assured that no-one will suffer a punishment that they do not deserve. Rebellion has chaotic and dreadful consequences. What is remarkable is not that many are punished, but that any are saved.

For this we should rightfully thank God.

Walter said...
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Walter said...
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Walter said...
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Gregory said...

Of course, I'm not condemning Tertullian. In fact, I'm hoping that he's enjoying eternal felicity with God.

Jesus never told us to ponder the condemnation of the wicked. And He certainly never condoned gloating over their fate. Instead, he told us to "love our enemies", "bless those that persecute us" and "pray for those that hate us".

Why? Because we are no less enemies of God than they....for "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God".

Romans 2:1-4 is elaborating on Jesus' words "judge not that ye be not judged". St. Paul's reason is given in vs. 4:

"Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?"

So our view of other's ought to be "mercy" and "patience", since God has done the very same for us. Or, as Paul says elsewhere:

"God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." (1 Tim. 2:4)

And as Christ Himself taught:

"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." (Matt. 5:7)

Therefore, the attitude of Tertullian is contrary to the teachings of Christianity.

Tertullian does have good things to say. But he needs to be read and understood with utmost caution.

However, what Christians should contemplate, and pray about, is the salvation and eternal blessedness of all men in heaven. Despite the earnest protest of the Calvinist, that kind of impartial, merciful attitude is nearest to the heart of God Himself.

I mean, even the "mean" Old Testament contradicts Tertullian:

"'As I live,' says the Lord God, 'I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his ways and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways'". (Eze. 33:11)

It's really impossible to square Ezekiel 33:11 with the concept of "unconditional election". So, Jonathan Edwards is as much off-base as Tertullian.

Just compare Matt. 25:31-46 with Rom. 2:6-12. Regarding the "judgment" of God, the Lord Jesus Christ and Paul are really saying the same thing:

"For there is no partiality with God." (Romans 2:11)

Gregory said...

Man...I hate when things come to me later.

Anyway, the parable of the unforgiving servant is illustrative of what my former posts were trying to say (i.e. Matt. 18:21-35).

After the man was forgiven his debt he, then, proceeded to beat his own servants when they couldn't pay him for the debts they owed to him. So, when the Master returned and saw that the servant he forgave had turned around and had beaten his own servants for the same offenses he, himself, committed, he [the Master] became indignant. The Master then reconsidered the kindness he showed his servant and punished him for his utter lack of compassion.

Gregory said...

To Mike Darus:

King David and the Psalms mentioning "enemies" needs to be understood, not as human beings, but to demonic influence and power.

Listen to the words of Paul in Ephesians:

"For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood (i.e. human beings), but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." (Eph. 6:12)

Demonic agents are our enemies. These are the ones who spin stories, ideologies and systems that entangle people in a web of spiritual delusion.

Marx did not come up with "Das Kapital" by the noon-day brightness of his own genius. No man is that smart. He had invisible help. He was recommended a "principality" by his own Wormwood. Same with Hitler's "Mein Kampf". Same with every other source of bloody revolution, political tyranny, and every form of human oppression.

In truth, each one of us is biologically "family". We are, quite literally, brothers and sisters, descendants of our first parents: Adam and Eve....and from Noah and his family....and from Abraham and the Patriarchs.....down to our own particular parents. Abraham is the "father of many nations", both biologically and spiritually.

Because we all share the same family tree, and since Christ took on human flesh and became Incarnate as a man (yet without sin), therefore, Christ is truly able to call us brother or sister, respectively.

And, no one consciously, without provocation, dares harm his own parents; or his brothers and sisters.

But we are often provoked, daily, against everyone. Even against ourselves. Yet many of us, even as Christians, remain clueless of why. And it is this provocation which leads us to vainly "war" with each other.

And the cause?

Ideas. Principalities. Suggestions of the Zeitgeist.

Light is but a single ray. But when you put a prism in it's path, the prism divides the Light into a red ray, a blue ray, a green, a yellow, etc. So some people follow blue...some green....some yellow.

The "prism" represents the Zeitgeist. The divided colors represent the theologies, philosophies and mythologies that mankind is separated into, as varied factions containing partial elements of the truth.

So, if someone were to become curious about the source of their own color, then they might start to follow their particular color back to it's source. If they do that, then they will inevitably discover that there is a prism blocking the color's pathway. And, if such a person is willing to move beyond their single color ray of truth (i.e. repent), which has enabled them to partly "see" reality as if "through a mirror darkly" (i.e. as an aspect of truth they were given), then such a person might actually be ready to be converted to the single ray of Light (i.e. return to Christ).

For there is only:

"one Lord, one Faith." (Eph. 4:5)

And, so, this parable represents the true meaning of Paul's message to the Athenians of Mars Hill (see Acts 17:22-31).

So, rather than having contempt for those whom we fear might be "going to hell in a hand basket", instead, let us be thankful that God never "leaves Himself without witness" (Acts 14:17); and that He never "leaves nor forsakes" anyone (Hebrews 13:5); and that His mercies are from "everlasting to everlasting" (Psalm 103:17).

So let us all take hold of His mercy :-D

terri said...

Holy Cow.

That's just a crazy quote by Edwards!

Unknown said...

Am I reading this right? Edwards actually said that the saints of God will see the damned suffering in hell, that loved ones shall be seen in torment. So where is heaven, then, for the saints of God would themselves be in hell, to be eternally suffering with those in hell, and more so because they cannot get them out of torment.

Hell is true even when taken as the opposite to heaven.