50 Shades of God, by Jonathan Edwards

Funny as the title might be, I would do a lot of things to see the look on Jonathan Edwards’ face if he found out that his religious Playboy column would still be talked about today. Of course, I’m talking about his personal narrative, written about how he really felt towards God, and how God might have felt him back, and often. Although you can see vivid lines throughout Edwards’ writing, I think it’s pretty clear that he truly gets down on his knees to pray.

“I experienced I know not what kind of delight in religion. My mind was much engaged in it, and had much self­righteous pleasure; and it was my delight to abound in religious duties” (OpenAmLit). So, first time we see Jonathan Edwards talking about pleasure, it’s hard to say exactly what he meant. Maybe, he loves this religion. He was so happy and delighted with it, he just couldn’t express what it was actually called. Was there a name for this delight? Of course, back when he wrote this, masturbation wasn’t really something that was written or talked about. But who am I to say that this religious fellow is, dare I say it, ‘pleasuring’ himself to his religion? C’mon, get your mind out of the gutter.

He then talks a bit about how he would talk about the religion to boys of his age, and how even after his talks, he would pray five times a day in secret. He says, “My affections seemed to be lively and easily moved, and I seemed to be in my element when engaged in religious duties. And I am ready to think, many are deceived with such affections, and such a kind of delight as I then had in religion, and mistake it for grace.” Okay, maybe a little bit more here. Am I reading into this too much? I mean, he’s ‘in his element’ when engaged in these duties, and that they shouldn’t be mistaken for grace. I am. I’m reading into it a little too much. Tone it down.

Edwards recollects in his time being a terrible sinner in his college years, saying that he was nothing more than “a dog returning to his vomit,” (possibly the only non-sexual reference he uses in this, unless he’s into weird shit…) and recalls that even if his old, terrible days were upon him, that he should not part with God. “I kept saying, and as it were singing over these words of scripture to myself; and went to pray to God that I might enjoy him, and prayed in a manner quite different from what I used to do; with a new sort of affection. But it never came into my thought, that there was any thing spiritual, or of a saving nature in this,” he says. How does one normally pray? I mean, I’ve been to CCD when I was younger, went to church on Christmas if my parents thought I was a bad kid that year, and sometimes on Easter, but all we ever did was read the Bible and sing hymns and eat the bread and give out like 18 donations (of course, I was usually about as lost looking for the correct passage in the Bible as Jonathan Edwards would be looking for ‘religious pleasuring tools’ in Spencer’s, but I’d always get there). So how do you show more affection than singing about stories and handing out spare dollars? Definitely NOT pleasuring yourself.

From this, there’s a passage here from his narrative where I got the title for this piece. You can read the whole thing at OpenAmLit, but about a third of the way down he says “From about that time, I began to have a new kind of apprehensions and ideas of Christ. and the work of redemption, and the glorious way of salvation by him. An inward, sweet sense of these things, at times, came into my heart; and my soul was led away in pleasant views and contemplations of them. And my mind was greatly engaged to spend my time in reading and meditating on Christ, on the beauty and excellency of his person, and the lovely way of salvation by free grace in him… The sense I had of divine things, would often of a sudden kindle up, as it were, a sweet burning in my heart; an ardor of soul, that I know not how to express.” I didn’t read one page of 50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James, but I was dragged out to watch the movie. And this seems like something Anastasia Steele would say. Literally, if you replaced ‘God’ with the name ‘Christian’ and said it out loud, someone would think you were reciting the book.

Which still does NOT mean Jonathan Edwards is pleasuring himself to God.

“I was almost constantly in ejaculatory prayer, wherever I was.” When I first read this, I tried to think of the last time I was in ejaculatory prayer. Or if I saw someone else in ejaculatory prayer. Sitting downstairs in the Plymouth State University library, I once saw a girl who looked as though she was down on her knees, helping out a student pray. I bet that was when.

“Those former delights never reached the heart; and did not arise from any sight of the divine excellency of the things of God; or any taste of the soul satisfying and life­giving good there is in them…I do certainly know that I love holiness, such as the gospel prescribes.” Definitely don’t think that the gospel prescribes for you to go out to the wild outdoors, find serenity, and drop your pants, but whatever gets you through the day I guess.

I think that it’s very safe to say that Jonathan Edwards really did ‘jack to Jesus.’ I am going to claim that I own that term, and probably shouldn’t say it out of context of this situation.


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