I don’t remember reading Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” although my high school English teacher assures me I did. I have, however, been living with that image of God in my mind for most of my Christian life. Only recently have I begun to consider and embrace the idea of God being more loving than I could imagine.
Reading Brian Zahnd’s book Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God: The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News is the “yes and amen” to what I’ve been sensing about the heart of God. In it, Zahnd recounts his own obsession with the Edwards sermon and how he used it in his preaching and early ministry years, and the turn he made toward the God of love. He addresses such controversial and convoluted themes as vengeance, hell and the book of Revelation. Zahnd asks challenging questions and makes startling statements that are meant to draw people closer to the God of love.
I will admit that this is a hard read, especially if you have a fundamental/conservative church background or experience. Many of the things I read in this book I would have dismissed if I had read this book years ago. Now, though, they are encouraging in this place of my faith journey.
We must constantly resist the temptation to cast ourselves in the role of those who deserve mercy while casting those outside our circle in the role of those who deserve vengeance. Jesus will have no part of that kind of ugly tribalism and triumphalism. Clinging to our lust for vengeance, we lose Jesus. But if we can say amen to Jesus closing the book on vengeance, then Jesus will remain with us to teach us the more excellent way of love. (p. 45)
Jesus taught that the Golden Rule is the narrow gate that leads to life. The narrow gate is not a sinner’s prayer but a life of love and mercy. The way of self-interest that exploits the weak is the wide road to destruction; the way of co-suffering love that cares for the weak is the narrow road that leads to life. (p. 129)
I’m going to be thinking about this stuff for a while, and I’m grateful for a vision of God and his mercy that rings true to the life of Jesus.
(Disclosure: I received a copy of the book from the publisher through the Blogging For Books program. Review reflects my personal opinion.)