I shared one of my favorite poems with my American Literature class today: Anne Sexton's "Small Wire." I usually teach it in conjunction with Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" sermon because they are both written out of the Puritan tradition, although there are a few hundred years in between them. I asked the students to write a short 20-minute essay comparing and contrasting the two views of God with their own. I decided to write with them...
One of the most important things in life is our relationship with God. Not just that we have a relationship, although that matters, but what kind of relationship we have. Our view of God will dictate the quality of connection we have with Him and our view of God is determined by our upbringing, our experiences, and our personal efforts to establish and maintain a relationship with Him. Jonathan Edwards wrote and delivered his sermon at the height of the Great Awakening in the 1740s. Ministers at the time were using every tactic they could to bring their parishioners back to where they felt they should be, back to the Puritanical tradition of an angry, jealous, no-nonsense God. Edwards tried to terrify his listeners into coming back, and he succeeded. But at what cost? Obedience at the price of love? Edwards describes us as loathsome creatures--even to God our creator, who preserves us on a whim rather than because he loves us.
Anne Sexton, on the other hand, realized that even though our connection with God might be tenuous at best, it doesn't matter. God will easily and lovingly not only connect with us, but will hold us close and not allow us to fall. Sexton was a descendent of Puritans, so she knew the traditional concept of God, and yet writing in the 1970s, she had a much more open view of God. She also understood that our need for God is there, it is inevitable, even though we might not understand it fully. The relationship is a two-way experience, though. Both are involved--God and us.
My view is even more evolved than Anne's, I think. I had the great privilege of growing up in a home where a loving, merciful, generous, and kind God was actively included in every aspect of living. My father, a theologian in his own right, and a great student of the Bible, would often share his thinking and learning with us, so by the time I got to college, I had a healthy understanding of, and appreciation for, a God more like Anne's than Jonathan's. College teachers continued to challenge and encourage my thinking and my relationship in ways I am only now beginning to appreciate. What I thought was the norm turns out to be somewhat unusual for most. But it has given me is a place and a way to minister to others in encouraging their own personal discovery of the true character of God and for that I am thankful.