Mozart in hell

Mozart in hell

One of the most controversial Christian doctrines concerns the reality of hell.

Yet while almost the whole of the tradition (not least Jesus) maintained belief in a form of post-mortem judgment, there are many different views on what that means.

One of these diverse perspectives comes from North America’s most famous preacher of fire and brimstone: Jonathan Edwards.

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Jonathan Edwards, mensch.

In a prior post (here), I was critical of Edwards’ treatment of the subject. But in this piece, I’d like to examine an aspect of his thought that is, at least, intriguing.

For Edwards, hell is the presence of God himself.  And so is heaven.

He builds this view on Scripture.  Revelation 14:10 speaks, for instance, of a torment that takes place “in the presence of the Lamb.”

On the one hand, this portrait could be taken as a macabre depiction of a sadistic Christ who derives pleasure from watching the torture of those who worshipped “the beast.” This makes Jesus look like a rogue CIA agent who begins to enjoy the sight of waterboarded prisoners; or like a mafia goon who gets a thrill from plucking toe-nails from his enemies.  And this Jesus seems hard to square with the merciful Lord who walks the pages of the Gospels.

But there is another way of reading Edwards’ claim that God is the substance of both hell and heaven.

One word: Mozart.

AMADEUS AS THEOLOGY

In the movie Amadeus, we are shown two different reactions to the breathtaking beauty of Mozart’s compositions.

In the audience, there are those who hear this music and experience pleasure, worship, and a moment of transcendent union between the author and the audience. Perhaps you can relate. A concert can be a foretaste of heaven.

Yet in Amadeus, there is another figure in the audience who experiences the music differently.  To Salieri (Mozart’s jealous rival), this same music, in this same theatre, from this same orchestra feels like nothing less than torture. Not because it is terrible, but because it is perfect.

Salieri wants to be Mozart. Or kill him. And in the end, he chooses the latter.

A PARABLE

Amadeus is a parable of hellacious experience.

As sinful humans, we want to be God. Or kill him. And on Golgotha, we chose the latter.

Yet as with Salieri, the music gets louder after its composer dies. It rises from the grave. And the same song strikes us as either ecstasy or torture. Not because it’s terrible, but because it’s perfect.

I have no idea whether this is a good analogy to help one grasp the Christian concept of the afterlife.

I’ve never been dead.

And I don’t listen to Mozart.

It is however, a call to cultivate not only “ears to hear” the music of God’s holy love, but the “taste” to find it beautiful. Heaven is a party thrown for Prodigals, and an invitation to experience the Father’s presence in a way unlike the “tortured” elder brother.


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On spiders

On spiders

“Of all insects, no one is more wonderful than the spider.”

That, at least, was the opinion of America’s greatest ever theologian, Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758).

I’ve been reading Edwards over Christmas break (since “Puritans for Christmas” seemed as good an oxymoron as any); and I came across a passage today in which he links God’s goodness to the pleasure He delights to give to even the most “despicable” of creatures.

As a boy in colonial New England, Edwards marveled at how spiders could sail at will upon the wind by releasing filament in just the right amount to catch the breeze.

“And without doubt, they do it with a great deal of … pleasure.”

He wrote a scientific paper on the subject at the youthful age of sixteen, but Edwards’ true focus was always theological.  As he watched the spiders sail magnificently overhead, he mused that

We hence see the exuberant goodness of the Creator, who hath not only provided for all the necessities, but also for the pleasure and recreation of all sorts of creatures, and even the insects and those that are most despicable (WJE 6:154–62).

This is, it seems to me, a beautiful portrait of divine love (however accurate it is of “insects” [sic.]).

SPIDERS IN THE HANDS OFGOD

Yet Edwards is more famous for another spider reference.

In his famous sermon, “Sinners in the hands of an angry God,” he piled lurid image upon image to frighten congregants with the idea of God’s hateful wrath.

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect, over the fire, abhors [hates/loathes] you, and is dreadfully provoked…

The sermon proved effective. But at key points (and despite good intentions), Edwards’ imagery went a good bit further than the Scriptures.

For this reason, it might be good to balance one “spider passage” with another.

The idea here is that the same Creator who judges evil in accordance with his holy love, is also the God who (according to Edwards) takes delight in granting “unnecessary” pleasures “to even the most despicable” of creatures.

Speaking of which… the view from my laptop:

beach

 


 

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