Jonathan Edwards, pleasure seeker

"Jonathan Edwards, pleasure seeker" Continued...

Issue: "Unto the breach," July 22, 2006

WORLD: So we're supposed to have pleasure all through the day, not just on weekends-but doesn't confusion about work, and our calling to particular occupations, get in the way? How can we be helped by Edwards's philosophical answer to the question about how we find happiness; "When the creature is in that state that is most agreeable to the proper perfection of its nature, then it is in its most happy state"?

SJN: A sports analogy may help. A running back isn't happy sitting on the bench, nor is he happy on defense. He's happy when he's in the game and gets called for the play. On a fundamental level, we were made to serve and worship and glorify God. We are only truly happy in doing so. This is made concrete in our lives as spouses, parents and children, as teachers, journalists, managers, and employees. Our vocation is what God has created us for and what He has gifted us to do. By doing it we are serving and glorifying Him. We are-using a word that only Edwards could coin-happified.

WORLD: So the goal of work is not just to earn but to serve and glorify. These days the "prosperity gospel" often makes economic success a centerpiece-so how does Edwards's typical emphasis on happiness differ sharply from that doctrine?

SJN: If we remember that Edwards's understanding of happiness stems from glorifying and enjoying God, then we quickly realize that our own prosperity, material or otherwise, recedes. Edwards's most stinging criticism of the "prosperity gospel" would likely be that it has radically displaced God, that it has subverted God's glory for one's own success. And, Edwards himself did not lead a charmed life. He knew the pain of suffering and loss. He even experienced failure when he was voted out of his church in Northampton.

WORLD: What earthly pleasures did Edwards enjoy?

SJN: He did like chocolate, and apparently he had a taste for good cheese imported from England. Due to his gracious and capable wife, Sarah, he enjoyed his bookish life of study and writing. He relished nature, often taking long horseback rides through his beloved Connecticut River Valley. But, he faced challenges. Contention with his congregation filled the last five years of his life at Northampton. In the 1750s he endured personal attacks as he stumbled into a political fiasco at the Mohican mission in Stockbridge. He died of complications from a smallpox inoculation, suffering greatly the last few weeks of his life. I'm not sure most of us would want to trade places with him.

WORLD: So how does the emphasis on pleasure, rightly understood, go with Edwards's belief that-to quote one of his sermon titles-"The True Christian's Life [is] a Journey toward Heaven?"

SJN: Edwards once said that since heaven is a world of love, the way to heaven is the way of love. In heaven we will enjoy God and others, free from sin and selfish ambitions, "unclogged" as Edwards put it. In heaven, we will have, as Milton told us, Paradise regained. Edwards wants us to see that the journey isn't distinct from the destination. As C.S. Lewis once said, those "who did the most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next."

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.


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