God’s Hands
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If you were a high school student in the United States any time in the last 100 years, you were probably assigned the reading of a sermon preached in 1741 by Jonathan Edwards, called “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” It’s not a warm and fuzzy, feel-good sermon. Edwards describes God as angry and anxious to dole out justice to all who deserve it.

“So that, thus it is that natural men are held in the hand of God, over the pit of hell; they have deserved the fiery pit, and are already sentenced to it; and God is dreadfully provoked, his anger is as great towards them as to those that are actually suffering the executions of the fierceness of his wrath in hell, and they have done nothing in the least to appease or abate that anger, neither is God in the least bound by any promise to hold them up one moment; the devil is waiting for them, hell is gaping for them, the flames gather and flash about them, and would fain lay hold on them, and swallow them up; the fire pent up in their own hearts is struggling to break out: and they have no interest in any Mediator, there are no means within reach that can be any security to them. In short, they have no refuge, nothing to take hold of; all that preserves them every moment is the mere arbitrary will, and uncovenanted, unobliged forbearance of an incensed God.”1

“An incensed God” is terrifying, isn’t it? Combined with the statement that “they have done nothing … to appease or abate that Anger,” we see a belief system that is based on works and fear rather than grace and love. It’s a pity that every year, millions of public school students read this sermon and won’t learn that God is not “an angry God.”

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Image © David Sorensen from GoodSalt.com

Before Adam and Eve ever fell for Satan’s lie and ate the fruit, God had made a plan to keep us out of Satan’s reach, a plan that would ensure that anybody who wanted to could live with God forever. John the Revelator tells us that Christ was the “Lamb slain from the foundations of the world.” (Rev. 13:8)

“Ever since the fall of man, Satan has been sowing the seeds of error. It was by a lie that he first gained control over men, and thus he still works to overthrow God’s kingdom in the earth and to bring men under his power. A sower from a higher world, Christ came to sow the seeds of truth. He who had stood in the councils of God, who had dwelt in the innermost sanctuary of the Eternal, could bring to men the pure principles of truth. Ever since the fall of man, Christ had been the Revealer of truth to the world. By Him the incorruptible seed, ‘the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever,’ is communicated to men. 1 Peter 1:23. In that first promise spoken to our fallen race in Eden, Christ was sowing the gospel seed.” (E.G. White, A Call to Stand Apart, p. 19)

God never wanted His children to be confused about His plan. He gave Adam and Eve the first object lesson. It showed them that sin caused death – and that, in order for them to live, a perfect lamb had to die.

At Sinai, God gave Moses specific plans for a tabernacle – a constant reminder that God wants to live in the midst of His people. Every part of the tabernacle and the sacrificial system was to point to the coming Messiah and the plan of salvation originating in the counsels of the Most High in the heavenly sanctuary.

Everywhere that God abides with His people is a form of that sanctuary. Eden was the first earthly version of it – God dwelling with His people. When that wasn’t possible any more because sin separates people from God, God gave instructions – first to Moses and then Solomon – for a sanctuary that was a model of the one in heaven, where God’s could live with His people.

When Jesus came to earth, He came as Emmanuel – God with us. He became our Sanctuary. He was God living among His people.

None of that sounds like an angry God who can hardly wait to throw us over the edge. In fact, we know that Jesus is right now, standing before God, in opposition to the “Accuser.” He is pleading the case of us who have accepted His sacrifice as payment for our sins.

And He is praying for us right now – that we might not be overcome by the evil one, the Accuser who is determined to destroy us.

“As Jesus once prayed for Peter, now he prays for us… In fact, the New Testament’s only glimpse of what Jesus is doing right now depicts him at the right hand of God ‘interceding for us.’ In three years of active ministry, Jesus changed the moral landscape of the planet. For nearly two thousand years since, he has been using another tactic: prayer.”2

Jesus is praying for you and me right now, in the heavenly sanctuary. And we have nothing to fear! There is no angry God totaling up every misstep, trying to keep as many people as possible out of Heaven. In the heavenly sanctuary justice and mercy meet, and salvation becomes reality.

God’s hands aren’t holding us over the abyss just waiting to throw us in; they carry the scars of His crucifixion – His death in our place. God’s hands are folded in prayer for each and every one of us.

“For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life. For God did not send the Son into the world in order to judge (to reject, to condemn, to pass sentence on) the world, but that the world might find salvation and be made safe and sound through Him. He who believes in Him [who clings to, trusts in, relies on Him] is not judged [he who trusts in Him never comes up for judgment; for him there is no rejection, no condemnation—he incurs no damnation]; but he who does not believe (cleave to, rely on, trust in Him) is judged already [he has already been convicted and has already received his sentence] because he has not believed in and trusted in the name of the only begotten Son of God. [He is condemned for refusing to let his trust rest in Christ’s name.]” John 3:16-18 (AMP)

  1. Jonathan Edwards, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, A Sermon, Preached at Enfield, July 8th, 1741.
  2. Philip Yancey, Prayer (Zondervan, 2006), p. 88
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God’s Hands — 15 Comments

  1. Thank you for this post.

    So many people are not Christians because of this misconception about God. People ask the questions - how could a loving God burn people eternally. God does not wish that anyone should have to die, He want's everyone to be with Him in the earth made new.

    Like(6)
    • Tabari, I attended Catholic Schools all my life and never heard of Jonathan Edwards, nor his sermon entitled “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," until I was well in my 30s and out of the Catholic Church. While I surmize that Pastor Edwards had an agenda in mind, his sermon was part and parcel of the mindset of late eighteenth century thinking which depicted God as an angry deity ready to strike fear into the hearts and minds of his people..

      Like(0)
    • Lilliane, thanks for this insight just at the time when we are studying the offerings of the ancient sanctuary.

      This ancient system of offerings - going back to the gates of Eden itself - was perverted by Satan into a system of offerings to appease the various gods of heathen religions. And even the Israelites lost sight of the purpose of these offerings and looked on them as some kind of payment for sin.

      Yet God's purpose was the very opposite of this distortion: God wanted a love relationship, He always wanted to be "with us." He did not want animal sacrifices, as I pointed out in another comment .

      However, in response to the sin problem, the purpose of the offerings was twofold:

      1) It was to demonstrate the deadly nature of sin. Sin is separation from the Creator and Sustainer of life. Thus the natural result of sin is death, just as the natural result of gravity is that you fall down if you jump from a fifth-story window.
      2) Another purpose was to point forward to the day that the Creator Himself would take on human form and provide the sacrifice to "pay" for our sins.

      In all other religions, the gods have to be "paid" with offerings. In the true religion, the Creator Himself provides the ransom to free sinners from the prison house of Satan.

      So I believe that the sermon, "Sinners In the Hands of an Angry God" was a diabolical misrepresentation of the character of God.

      Much food for thought, if we stop to think about it!

      Like(2)
    • Lillian, thank you for capturing His love, His great great love. Please also watch how God mightily used Jonah and Jonathan Edwards

      Like(1)
  2. Without undoing one line of your beautiful article that corrects a very poor view of God I would like to add something that I have said before. I reference one sentence you made, "It showed them that sin caused death – and that, in order for them to live, a perfect lamb had to die." That has been a very long standing idea of Christianity and I have thought about that many times.

    The problem that I have with it is that God is a sovereign Lord who is answerable to no one. When He declares something, that is it - period, end of story! If God says that Lillianne is saved then Lillianne is saved and no one has the power to prevent that from happening, not even Satan.

    What we often have trouble seeing is what exists beyond our own little world. We tend to forget that the problems we face started in Heaven and this whole controversy is a universal problem that involves creatures way beyond our own solar system. If it weren't for the other intelligent creatures in the universe God could have just declared this person and that to be saved and that would it. However, the many problems that Satan caused makes things a lot more complicated than that and for the sake of God's entire creation the plan included a vicarious death.

    The cross means different things to different people and that simple act covers them all including all the legal considerations that could arise. In its simplicity God took care of every one of the problems the controversy created and He did so for the benefit of all the intelligent beings He created.

    Like(8)
    • Thanks for your comment Tyer. Where in the Bible does it mention other creatures besides those in heaven (e.g., angels)? Also, whatever other creatures may exist, God is still planning to live with His creatures on earth... us (Revelation 21:3).

      God gave His Son for only one of His creations... us. He plans to spend eternity living with us. So, I would have to say it really is about us.

      Like(1)
      • Sieg, thank you for being a good Berean, you are right, the Bible doesn't explicitly say that there are other creatures living on other worlds but does the absence of such things mean that there can't be? Sometimes silence on a topic is not an indicator that something is not so. For instance, nowhere do we find definite statements in the New Testament that Sabbath is the day of worship, rather it is presented indirectly. Does the absence of such statements mean that the Sabbath was replaced by Sunday which was accepted as some would have us believe? Not at all, it could simply mean that Sabbath worship is assumed just as God is assumed in the Bible without argument. In fact, to me the absence of argument over the Sabbath means that there was no disagreement between Jew and Christian concerning the day of worship during the first century.

        When considering things like this I think it is of benefit for us to remember that the bible is our guidebook to Heaven rather than an encyclopedia of everything. Ellen White uses the term "guidebook" 58 times in her writings including all the compilations the Ellen White Estate has put together. For instance:
        "God committed the preparation of His divinely inspired Word to finite man. This Word arranged into books, the Old and New Testaments, is the guidebook to the inhabitants of a fallen world; bequeathed to them, that by studying and obeying the directions, not one soul would lose its way to heaven" (SDA Bible Commentary, Volume 7, p 944, on 2 Pet 1:21). John also said concerning his gospel, "And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written" (Jn. 21:25 NKJV). To him what was important was the signs, the proof that Jesus was the Messiah. Taken together the statements of Ellen White and John say that we should understand that the purpose of the Bible is not to be a book of science or history or even exhaustive theologically. It was designed as a guidebook given to fallen humanity for the purpose of salvation. It therefore is only concerned with our relationship in the controversy and the problem of sin just as the Bible does not concern itself with all the other cultures in the world but only those around the eastern Mediterranean.

        What the Bible does say is that sin started in Heaven among the angels with Satan as its source. The Bible also states that he then came to earth and deceived Adam and Eve into rebellion. That sets up the background for what is presented in the rest of the Bible. It also informs us that Heaven is where God's throne is and that it is the seat of His government which raises a question. Would it be reasonable for the capital of a government to be totally separated from a major people it governs? That would be like having the capital city situated on the opposite side of the world from the people it controls. Before sin entered why would God physically separate Himself from His people if His desire was to be with them? Why not have the capital city on earth in the midst of those He loves or have humans reside in Heaven where He is?

        But suppose that we are not alone, that there are other worlds of intelligent beings out there. Such a thing would explain why Heaven is somewhere else other than earth, in the midst of God's creation and that He had to come down to earth to meet with Adam and Eve in the Garden. That would also explain the meeting God had with the "sons of God" (Job 1:6 NKJV) where Satan said that he came, "From going to and fro on the earth" (Job 1:7 NKJV). I suppose that "sons of God" could be applied to angels but where in the Bible does it do that, "for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection" (Lk. 20:36 NKJV)? Angels are apparently a separate order of intelligent being. Besides, they apparently cannot procreate like we can and the Bible doesn't say that they are made in the image of God. Does that mean that humans were in the meeting? Not necessarily, it would only imply that angels were not the chief ones involved in that meeting. I am sure they were there as part of God's entourage, His staff, but I would suspect that others were there representing other worlds (ref. Desire of Ages, p 834; Patriarchs and Prophets, p 68; Job 38:7).

        To me to think otherwise would be to revert to the very egocentric thinking of geocentrisim that was dominant during the middle ages where everything revolved around the earth. That everything turns around us rather than God. Knowing whether there are other worlds out there is not really that important per se but to understand that we are only a part of a much larger creation and that God would have died to save any of His creation if they were the ones that got tricked by Satan like we were. What makes earth so important is that it is here that the controversy is played out where everyone learns what God is like and what the government of Satan is really all about. From our experience everyone learns what deviation from God's laws actually ends up being - misery and death.

        Like(2)
        • Thank you Tyler for the well-reasoned response. If there are indeed other worlds with other creatures, I consider it a (non-egocentric) privilege for God to choose this world to spend the rest of eternity with us.

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        • Sieg, I wonder if we could even say that our sacrifice on this planet during the controversy is a privilege that will be recognized and rewarded by God setting up the seat of His government here on earth after the controversy has ended.

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  3. I endorse everything you said Tyler and Lillianne. It is only in recent years that I have come to know the loving heavenly Father who is our God. But recently, I have been reminded from several places in His word that He is a God of justice and a fierce judgement will be meted out to anyone not covered with the righteousness of Jesus. Like Tyler said, sin caused the cross - an ugly, cruel death and abandonment ( as it were) of our beautiful Savior. The writer of Jude admonishes us to preach grace to those who will be moved by it. But to those who feel no need of a savior we need to remind them of the coming judgement. I think we would fail in our responsibilities if we did not preach both grace and judgement.

    Like(2)
    • Eudora, I agree with you that we must preach both grace and judgment. To me grace is much easier to preach than judgment and I find myself in difficulty to present judgment positively. However, I can think of two ways that can be done:

      First is to look at how Old Testament people viewed judgment such as, "The LORD shall judge the peoples; Judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness, And according to my integrity within me. Oh, let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end, But establish the just; For the righteous God tests the hearts and minds. My defense is of God, Who saves the upright in heart" (Ps. 7:8-10 NKJV). Isn't it strange that David was asking for God to judge him?

      In the ancient near east usually when a person was hauled into court the prosecution had to prove his point to the judge who in most cases sided with the defendant as his advocate. Likewise, the Father stands as the judge and Jesus defends us as our advocate against the accuser (Rev 12:10; Zech 3:1) and both are on our side because both think the same way. Essentially then, judgment is about justification rather than condemnation.

      The second way is to view judgment as recognition that the guilty party is the one who has chosen to separate from God in rebellion not the other way around. Even though judgment looks at our works it really just acknowledges the choice a person has made. As John says, "He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God" (Jn. 3:18 NKJV). "And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil" (Jn. 3:19 NKJV).

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  4. Thank you for showing us the love and compassion of God, Lillianne. I hear people talk about karma and how when you do bad that bad things come back to you. While I do believe that happens I do not believe it is from God. I believe God actually works hard to keep bad things from happening to bad people! When they finally get what is coming to them, it is not coming from God but from Satan. Satan is the author or revenge. God is the author of mercy and forgiveness.

    Like(2)
  5. Did we decide then that love does not get angry? A parent ought not to feel angry about the repeated destructive behavior of her teenage son; nor at a poor sinner who raped her daughter. And be it far from her to think of pressing charges against this poor sinner who killed her 12 year old. How about recognizing that the Word of God identified the anger of Jesus Christ, Who was the full representation of the Father, up to the point where He said: "If you hurt my kid, better hang a millstone around your neck and jump in deep water." When He condemned the Jewish leaders as a brood of "vipers", EGW said He had tears in His voice. A God who expresses His anger, with the pain of love.

    If I lose the power of my anger, I lose the power to fight against injustice and cruelty. That is the model of God. Pastor Edwards was instrumental in starting one of the noted revivals of all time, calling sinners to repentance in truth, though he "in like passions as we are" misrepresented God's anger and love, to a point. If Pastor Edwards was able to express the love of the God of Calvary in his voice, despite his theology of God's anger, I would suspect that the repentance of his listeners was a true response to the love presence of the Holy Spirit, and not a mass response to god-zilla's fearsome rampage.

    The plagues and the description of hellfire in the Book of Revelation capture the same God of an extinct Sodom and only 8 saved after the flood. Our merciful God paid an incredible price in suffering and sacrifice, and He watched His children, including little kids, being eaten alive by lions and burnt at the stake, or even buried alive. Satan and his angels will pay for the pain they caused to Jesus Christ and His saints; and all those who hurt God's children will feel the heat of hellfire, in a smuch as they deserve. Love will not burn them forever. God does not gloat over the death of His children. He will suffer through losing all His children who are not saved and must be destroyed, justly. Satan on the other hand will gloat down to the last breath he is allowed. That is the difference between love and selfishness.

    The Holy Spirit came to convict of sin, and of righteousness and of judgment -- blessing and threat wrapped together in mercy and love.

    Like(1)
    • Hurford, since neither Lilliane nor anyone else denied anything about God's anger, I'm wondering whether you disagree with Lilliane's picture of God and believe that Jonathan Edward's picture is more accurate. (Sharing God's character of love does not necessarily deny God's justice.)

      Note that the following is also part of Jonathan Edwards's sermon:

      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. ...
      ...
      O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder ...
      ...
      It is everlasting wrath. It would be dreadful to suffer this fierceness and wrath of Almighty God one moment; but you must suffer it to all eternity. There will be no end to this exquisite horrible misery. When you look forward, you shall see a long for ever, a boundless duration before you, which will swallow up your thoughts, and amaze your soul; and you will absolutely despair of ever having any deliverance, any end, any mitigation, any rest at all. You will know certainly that you must wear out long ages, millions of millions of ages, in wrestling and conflicting with this almighty merciless vengeance; and then when you have so done, when so many ages have actually been spent by you in this manner, you will know that all is but a point to what remains. So that your punishment will indeed be infinite. Oh, who can express what the state of a soul in such circumstances is! All that we can possibly say about it, gives but a very feeble, faint representation of it; it is inexpressible and inconceivable: For "who knows the power of God's anger?" (From http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/sermons.sinners.html)

      Do you feel that this only misrepresented God's character "to a point"?

      I believe that more agnostics and atheists have been made by the diabolical teaching of eternal hell fire than by any other means.

      Yet I also have friends who believe that the threatenings of eternal hell fire are necessary to persuade sinners to repent and thus save them. (I disagree.)

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