9 May 2007

Heaven (7): A World of Love, Insight from Jonathan Edwards

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Christian hope, Church History, eschatology, Hermeneutics, Jesus, Jonathan Edwards, Kingdom

In our previous post we reviewed briefly the life of America’s greatest theologian —Jonathan Edwards. Not only was he the greatest mind in America in the 18th century but some have argued he was in the world of the time.I searched his name on Amazon there were 8,159 titles by or about him popped up.As with most great minds he had some interesting quirks and we may think at times he was a little out of step … but that is what makes him so challenging.

Edwards had an incredible reverence for Scripture. His mind is saturated with it and it flows from his pen. When one reads Edwards the impression is left that he has the entire scope of biblical history before him as he tries to communicate. Indeed Edwards approach to the Bible was in some ways “before his time.” Rather than simply reproducing the scholastic theology of many of his Puritan forbearer’s he conceived of God’s work with creation as sort of a narrative, a story, or to use his own words, a history. The plot to that history is Creation, Fall, Call of Israel, Jesus and the New Heavens and New Earth. If we look at the actual contents of Scripture that is a pretty good outline of the actual contents of the story revealed there.

The beginning of the History of Redemption is none other than Creation itself. Edwards published a work titled The End for Which God Created the World and is often seen as one of his greatest published works but also his least read. Edwards asks the all important question of why did God create in the first place? Was God in need?? Did God need something to boss around?? If God is perfect in himself then what is the point of creation?? These are, beloved, incredibly important questions. For Edwards the doctrine of the Trinity precludes any “need” on God’s part. He already existed in a state of perfection in glory and most of all in love. God has existed as Father, Son and Spirit for eternity and they exist in holy communion and perfection of love. Thus for Edwards, any understanding of Creation must reflect the character of God. The heart of his analysis is the many scriptural references that the highest end of creation is “the glory of God.” God’s glory is his love. Thus, in a nutshell, God creates to extend that perfect internal love outward. It is an extension of the glory of a perfectly good and loving being to communicate that love with others. Thus for the “whole is of God, and in God, and to God; and God is the beginning, middle, and the end in this affair.”Thus Creation itself is good, and godly, because it reflects the glorious love of God.It is the expression of the love that exists within the Trinity itself.I suppose if we stop to reflect on this it can tend toward revolutionary thoughts.

But with contemporaries like Voltaire, Edwards was quite aware that this age is hardly the ‘best of all possible world’s” (as Dr. Pangloss quips in Candide). This age or world has been infected with Sin. Creation suffers under a curse because of humanities rebellion against the God of Glorious Love. Indeed because Creation is on God’s side it would deal swiftly with humanity if it were not for the “sovereign pleasure of God.” As Edwards expressed it in that most infamous of sermons “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,”

Were it not for the sovereign pleasure of God, the earth would not bear you one moment; for you are a burden to it; the creation groans with you; the creature is made subject to the bondage of your corruption, not willingly; the sun don’t willingly shine upon you to give you light to serve sin and Satan; the earth don’t willingly yield her increase to satisfy your lusts; nor is it willingly a stage for your wickedness to be acted upon; the air don’t willingly serve you for breath to maintain the flame of life in your vitals, while you spend your life in service of God’s enemies. God’s creatures are good, and were made for men to serve God with, and don’t willingly subserve to any other purpose, and grown when they are abused to purposes so directly contrary to their nature and end. And the world would spew you out, were it not for the sovereign hand of him who hath subjected it in hope …”

There is a lot in that paragraph. It is dense with thought. Creation is God’s, it is good and it is on his side.There is plenty in this paragraph that is anything but politically correct.But we see some of the initial glory of Creation even in the Fallen world.We humans were meant to exist within Creation, we were intended to serve and bring glory to God both with and within Creation.

The History of Redemption for Edwards is centered on God’s desire to reclaim and heal that which expressed his perfect love. Writing in 1739 Edwards unpacks redemption with power and clarity. The narrative history of redemption reveals several things:

First, Redemption means the putting down all of God’s enemies under his feet and that the supreme goodness of God finally triumphs over evil. What enemies and what did they do? Satan rose up against God to frustrate his design in Creation “of this lower world, to destroy his workmanship here, and to wrest the government of this lower world out of his hands, and usurp the throne himself.”

Second, Redemption means that by subduing God’s enemies he will “perfectly restore all the ruins of the fall … therefore we read of the restitution of all things.” But what is it that was “ruined” in the Fall? “Man’s body was ruined by the fall, became subject to death. The world was ruined as to man as effectively as if it were reduced to chaos again, all heavens and earth were overthrown. But the design [of Redemption] was to restore all, as it were to create a new heaven and a new earth.” God’s love is triumphant in the history of redemption. What is that wonderful place going to look like? Edwards puts it like this in his Notes on his unpublished magnum opus,

And then shall all the world be united in peace and love in one amiable society; all nations, in all parts, on every side of the globe, shall then be knit together in sweet harmony, all parts of God’s church assisting and promoting the knowledge and spiritual good one of another . . . all the world shall be as one church, one orderly, regular, beautiful society, one body, all the members in beautiful proportion.”

Heaven is not a realm of love because human beings live in the the new earth but because the “eternal society or family of the Godhead in the Trinity dwells there.” Here in the new heavens and new earth the goal of God’s creation is realized. God dwelling and communicating his love for us.

This post has grown long so I need to bring it to a close. But I find Edwards to be refreshing, challenging and above all true to the history of redemption. We need to reflect on the history of redemption …


Bobby Valentine

11 Responses to “Heaven (7): A World of Love, Insight from Jonathan Edwards”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    If heaven is to be here, on earth, and This is God’s redeeming all creation what will happen to the lost? Are there lost (people without God and Christ)people?

  2. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    It would appear that there are lost people according to the biblical narrative.

    Bobby Valentine

  3. Anonymous Says:

    What will happen to them (lost people)?

  4. Anthony Parker Says:

    I’ve been a lurker and enjoying this series, even the sometimes spirited debate. I find much in the redeemed earth eschatology to commend itself; the weight of the biblical evidence does seem, to me at least, to point in that direction.

    I am confused with where Jesus’ promise in John 14 fits in–he is going away from the earth to prepare a place for his disciples. When he comes back, it seems that that is the place–the place away from the earth–where he will take us.

    How does this verse fit into your understanding?


  5. preacherman Says:

    What a great post brother!
    Redemption so refeshing indeed.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    What will happen to the lost? One thing I have noticed about you coc folks is you only answer what you want to answer and you don’t ever answer all the question that is asked.

  7. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:


    I think I answered the question. The biblical narrative affirms (a multiplicity of times) that there are those who will be lost. Sentient beings are brought into a saving relationship with God through faith in Christ. Even if we affirm the NP on Paul that Romans and Galatians is speaking of the Faith OF Christ himself (and this is greatly contested) there are plenty of passages that affirm our “personal” salvation come through faith in Christ.

    Since my series, and this post in particular, has not been on the destiny of the “lost” I really see no reason to get distracted by that subject.

    But whatever “hell” and “lost” refer to, one thing is certain — there ARE “lost” folks in the NT. Every NT writer so affirms. John does, Paul does, the Hebrew Preacher does, the Prophet of the Apocalypse does. In fact in the very picture of the New Jerusalem coming “DOWN” out of heaven we hear the voice of the Alpha and Omega excluding certain folks . . .

    Now if the old view of hell is true those folks will spend eternity with Satan. If the annihilationists are correct then they will be consumed and cease to exist. Where they will not be is with God, his Christ and the Holy Spirit.

    Bobby Valentine

  8. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Anthony thanks for coming and reading. Thanks even more for letting me know.

    There are a number of ways to understand John 14. I don’t think this text provides any trouble for the view I hold. Rather it suggests that heaven is an actual “place.”

    Right at the moment I tend to read that text in light of the descriptions of the New Jerusalem. God, through Jesus, will fashion a place for us to spend eternity with him. If that is the New Jerusalem (which I think it is) then Jesus himself tells us …

    “I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the NEW JERUSALEM, WHICH IS COMING DOWN OUT OF HEAVEN FROM MY GOD; and I will also write on him my new name” (Rev 3.11-13).

    This “place” that Jesus is preparing is the New Jerusalem. That New Jerusalem is not some spiritual disembodied state or floating cloud like entity. It is the “city of God” that comes down to earth. It is interesting that what Jesus states to the church in Philadelphia John actually sees in 21.2 and 10.

    At anyrate that is how I understand John 14.

    Bobby Valentine

  9. Falantedios Says:

    Bobby and Anthony,

    Might I offer an additional thought? I’ve been looking at John 14 regularly this past couple of weeks in a NT that has the Greek text, the absolutely literal translation (according to that particular translator) directly under each line of Greek text, and the NRSV in the margins.

    The word that keeps striking me is ALONGSIDE. As in, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” WITH is a terribly vague word in English. The Greek word PARA, which is part of the conjunction that Jesus uses to teach us about the Holy Spirit (PARA-KLETOS), means neither ‘FAR AWAY in distance but close in thought’, nor does it mean ‘within’. It means ALONGSIDE. I don’t think Jesus stayed gone very long, and I don’t think he is teaching that he will be very far away for a very long time. He and the Father live right alongside us, as close as a breath. Jesus left, did what was necessary to make preparations for us (the Hebrew writer exposits this far better than I can here), and is now right alongside us as we work and worship, love and serve, anticipating the day when he APPEARS again.

    Those are just the thoughts I have after letting John 14 gnaw at me for a while.

    in HIS love,

  10. Anonymous Says:

    What a beautiful post! It make’s me think God dosen’t need me or want to use me in the sense of how this world does.

    It is about His desire! How beautiful, passionate, and mysterious. It creates within me a need to be desired. Corny I know.

    Since we are created in His image, Bobby, do you think God has a need to be desired?

    Not to sustain the Trinity but to express it? It seems to me that Love is simply a Word without expression.

    A Packer Fan

  11. Anonymous Says:

    I did not mean to distract you. I was reading your post and wondered about things you said about heaven being here on earth. You know, that many have taught that all along. Do you believe in an eternal hell?

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