Edwards: Heaven as a Place of Growth

For my write-up today on George Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life, I’ll use as my starting point something that Marsden says on page 109:

“In one notable entry, [Jonathan Edwards] again placed his longing for Sarah in its larger spiritual context: ‘Happiness.  How soon do earthly lovers come to an end of their discoveries of each other’s beauty; how soon do they see all that is to be seen!…How soon do they come to the most endearing expressions of love that ’tis possible to give, so that no new ways can be invented[,] given or received.’  Once again, he contrasted the easily reached limits of human love with the infinitely progressing heavenly love between Christ and the saints: ‘And how happy is that love, in which there is an eternal progress in all these things; wherein new beauties are continually discovered, and more and more loveliness, and in which we shall forever increase in beauty ourselves; where we shall be made capable of finding out and giving, and shall receive, more and more endearing expressions of love forever: our union will become more close, and communion more intimate.'”

For Edwards, heaven will not be a boring place, for we will grow in our love for Christ, as we gain more and more insight into Christ’s character and become increasingly beautiful ourselves.

This brings several things to my mind.

First, this somewhat contradicts something that I heard about Jonathan Edwards in a class that I took years ago.  We were discussing Edwards’ sermon, Heaven, A World of Love, and my professor (if I recall correctly) thought that Edwards was presenting heaven as a static place, whereas he preferred to conceive of heaven as a place where people grow and mature in love.  But the passage from Edwards that Marsden highlights appears to present heaven as a dynamic place.

Second, a problem that I have long had with I Corinthians 13 is its claim that knowledge will pass away—-since there will come a time when we will no longer look through a glass darkly but will know God as God knows us—-and yet love will remain forever.  I appreciate the point that the chapter is trying to make—-that we should not feel superior on account of our knowledge or use our knowledge as a way to put people down, but we should be humble, meek, and loving.  But I would never like to get to the point where I am no longer growing in knowledge.  That’s what makes life exciting: learning new things.  And, as one gets older in this life, one realizes that there is only so much that one can learn in a limited lifespan.  But, according to Edwards, heaven is a place where we will continually learn about Christ.  And that growth in knowledge is not contrary to love, but actually encourages it.

Third, in my younger years, one problem that I had with the Bible and Christianity is that I became bored with them.  I thought that I already knew all of the doctrines that there are to know, and I wanted to hear something new.  In my later years (if you want to count my 30’s as “later”), I realize that there is much that I don’t know.  There are so many different doctrines out there, and so many interpretations of the Bible, that I can spend a lifetime learning about them, and even one lifetime will not be enough time!  The thing is, what I learn about the Bible from the historical-critical method is not always inspiring or edifying, but I don’t want to continually fall back on old cliches, such as “God is love”.  But suppose I were to learn that God is love, and see that there are endless things to uncover even from that?  Suppose that I can be edified, and learn more and more.

Fourth, I thought about the limitations that are on earth.  I don’t entirely agree with Edwards that we can soon see everything that there is to see in our lover, for there may be new things to learn when it comes to other people, even after a long period of time.  At the same time, there are times when people get bored with their spouse or significant other, which is why they may look elsewhere, or the spouse or significant other may try something new to spice up the relationship.  One thing that Edwards does not mention in the passage that Marsden quotes is that familiarity can breed contempt: that seeing things I don’t like in another person can set limits on my love.  And then there are hang-ups that we have that inhibit the full expression of our love, as I talk about here.  But suppose we were in a place where such limitations did not exist—-where we could grow in love and express more fully the love that we have.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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