The inside flaps of the cover to George Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life states: “Marsden reveals Edwards as a complex thinker and human being who struggled to reconcile his Puritan heritage with the secular, modern world emerging out of the Enlightenment.” My latest reading exemplified this thesis, and I’m sure that was not the last time that this thesis will emerge in this book.
In my latest reading, two issues that I came across were Edwards’ reading of John Locke, and Edwards’ attempts to define the relationship of God to the natural world. Regarding Locke, Edwards eventually departed from Locke’s critique of the doctrine of predestination, even though Edwards himself initially struggled with that doctrine. The doctrine just made sense to Edwards at some point, and he no longer wrestled with it.
On the relationship of God with the natural world, Edwards viewed the natural world as an expression of God to human beings—-to draw from the Psalmist, the heavens declare the glory of God. Edwards was not a deist, one who believed that God created the cosmos and then ceased to be involved in it, for Edwards held that God was active in the world and was sustaining it on a continual basis. But Edwards also shied away from Puritan superstition—-by which I mean an obsession with demons and witches, and stories such as that about a man who grew a goat’s horn after stealing a goat. There was a spectrum around Edwards’ time: Isaac Newton, for example, had a worldview that deists would run with, one that was deemed to be mechanistic, and yet Newton believed that God was directly behind gravity—-not just in the sense that God created gravity a long time ago, but rather in the sense that God was behind it on a continual basis. Moreover, there were some who maintained that the universe was in the mind of God.
According to Edwards, when one was spiritually illuminated, one could see how the universe fit together and communicated God’s glory and wisdom, as well as Christ’s love. Personally, I think that the universe is rather discordant, and that many Christians read into it what they want to find, using mental gymnastics when necessary. I much prefer the approach of God in God’s speeches to Job to Christian attempts to force harmonization on what does not appear to be harmonious—-the world is a strange and mysterious place.