Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

The Spider (Symbol)

The most famous symbol in the sermon is that of the spider hanging over a pit of fire, which Edwards gives as an illustration of the relation in which human beings stand to God. Not only, like the spider, are we helpless and vulnerable, but the image also evokes the feelings of revulsion people feel towards insects. Just as you might toss a spider into the fire, or crush one under your foot, without a second thought or twinge of remorse, so God is ready at any moment to cast you down into eternal damnation: “The God that holds you over the Pit of Hell, much as one holds a Spider, or some loathsome Insect, over the Fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked.”

The Chosen People (Motif)

Deuteronomy, with which Edwards begins “Sinners,” is a book of the Old Testament very specifically and inextricably linked to the consequences of the exodus by the Israelites from Egypt. Implicitly, the 'new world' being established by the early colonists like the Puritans is also linked to the conception of themselves as God’s new Chosen Ones sent by Him for the express purpose of founding a new civilization based on the teachings of God. Though a rather subtle theme, this sense of the New England Puritans as the new chosen people of God, with all the responsibility and the hazards that entails, runs throughout the sermon.

Ineffability of God’s Power (Motif)

The set of metaphors and images meant to convey God’s wrath and the horrors of damnation in “Sinners” is, while quite inventive and compelling, equally repetitive. This is not only because the text is a sermon, meant to be heard but once, and so it needs to be especially careful to hammer its key themes and images again and again. It also, as Edwards explicitly states at points, expresses the ultimate impossibility of fully describing the extent of God’s power, or of his wrath. By emphasizing this, Edwards implicitly encourages his listeners to draw on the network of horrifying images he provides and continue to imagine new and even more horrible punishments that await those who fail to turn away from sin.