“. . .may the LORD rejoice in his works—
he who looks at the earth, and it trembles,
who touches the mountains, and they smoke.” Psalm 104:31
Pity Jonathan Edwards. Every year, millions of bored high-schoolers, supposedly learning American literature, suffer through the insufferable scolds of 17th century Puritan fathers and mothers, poets and essayists and historians who are just about as sexy as an old folks home. Good stuff!--like liver and spinach.
The only voice in 150 years of American history that comes even close to garnering their attention is Jonathan Edwards, whose famous hellfire and brimstone sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” features some show-stopping images—loathsome spiders dangling mercilessly over flaming pits. Such word pictures at least wake kids up.
But, pity poor Jonathan Edwards. A century of instruction in American literature has created an image of the old preacher that probably bears little resemblance to the real thing. He wasn’t stern, didn’t pound the pulpit, didn’t spit and steam and unload fear on the meeting house. Arguably the best mind in 18th century
Edwards was once President of Yale; he was a prolific writer and a loving
pastor and father. But mention his name today, and those few who may recognize
it cower, hearing a fearsome rant.
Maybe it’s just me and my Calvinist soul, but it’s somehow tougher to imagine a God rejoicing in us than threatening damnation. The fuming God Edwards pictures in that famous sermon of his is easier for me to picture than the God the psalmist evokes in this verse from Psalm 104, a God who sometimes toys with his world the way my first-grade grandson might, pushing buttons and pulling tabs to make it shake and smoke—and then smiling, thinking good things. Fear comes to us more easily than joy, I think.
I know something of the story of a man in town—but little of him. I know that he drinks far too much, so much that he can’t hold a job. I know some folks around here have tried to help him, even though he hasn’t been a jewel and lacks the wherewithal to change the overall direction of his spiraling.
Today he’s parked at a rehab center, where he should have been for a year or more. Probably more.
But I know another man too, a man who owns a salvage yard where a thousand wrecks rust and rot slowly before getting crunched up and hauled away. People go there if they need a hubcap or an engine block. The office space could use a squad of Dutch grandmas with scouring pads; it’s a grease pit, unwelcoming to anyone who wasn’t born with a wrench in a side pocket of their bibs. That’s where the boss sits.
For more than a year, that man, stoic and silent, allowed the drunk to live in a rental place he keeps just down the street from us. No rent payments have come in because the drunk brought a good deal less money home than trouble. A few weeks ago, he stole a kid’s bike—and that’s not the half of it.
I don’t know how many people in town realize that for more than a year the junkman’s heart created a free home for a man few could love. Then again, I don’t think the junkman would want the story told. I may be leaking something I shouldn’t right now.
But if God almighty ever high-fived his people, I swear that he’d visit that sleazy junkyard office for a chance to do just that to the grease monkey inside. He’s rejoicing, I swear.
It’s wonderful to think of God almighty enjoying what we do, isn’t it, rejoicing in his world? A whole lot better than spiders and firepits.
This little half of verse 31 is a gem, isn’t it? Just between you and me, with what I know of Edwards, I’m very sure the old Puritan liked it too.