“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:
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