In addition to the large, impersonal natural forces of fires and floods, Edwards also makes sure to choose images that give God’s threatening wrath a personal touch, such as here: “The bow of God’s wrath is bent, and the arrow of justice is aimed directly at your heart, and the bow quivers with pent-up power.” While this relatively primitive weaponry seems to pale in comparison to the more expansive symbolic imagery of fiery furnaces and floodwaters dammed to the point of explosion, it also implies that God is targeting you, personally. And while for today’s readers, death by bow and arrow isn’t something we’re in the habit of worrying about, the Puritans, fittingly most often through fault of their own, did have reason to fear the very real danger of arrows shot by local Native American tribes.
Worms, lions, spiders, and many other creatures pop up throughout the text of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” sometimes as an image of the pathetic, powerless, loathsome status of human beings in the eyes of God, and sometimes as an image of the threatening forces of God’s wrath. The meaning of these images, cumulatively, is twofold: God is supreme and holds absolute power over man, just as man holds power of the lesser creatures of the world; and, similarly, nature belongs to God, not humanity, and insofar as God is hostile to us, so is the entire rest of the world we inhabit.
Fire and Hell
Nothing could scare a pious Puritan quite like the idea of eternal damnation. Recognizing this, Edwards commences his sermon with a paragraph that is almost entirely composed of hellish imagery. Hell is a burning lake of brimstone, an open fire pit, gaping mouth and a world of hurt separated from every person living by nothing but thin air and the grace of God. The stage is set for what is to follow: fail to learn the lesson and this is what awaits.
Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.