A Review of “The End for Which God Created the World” by Jonathan Edwards

The-End-for-which-God-Created-the-WorldWhy did God create the world? Many have attempted to answer this question over the years. Early on Jonathan Edwards had established that God created the world for the happiness of people. Later he saw that the Scriptures taught that God created the world “for his own sake.” In his masterful theological work on the subject, however, Edwards realized that those two ideas were actually deeply related and subsumed under the idea of God’s self-communication. In The End for Which God Created the World Jonathan Edwards presents readers will a balanced doctrine of God.

Out of all the works of Jonathan Edward that I have read, which immediately only scratches the surface of the number of works he has written, The End is my favorite. Edwards is a poetic theologian for sure. His use of metaphor and analogy, his moving descriptions of the glory of God all bring life and vitality to his doctrinal expositions. So God’s communication of himself is like a tree “which puts forth buds, shoots out branches, and brings forth leaves and fruit.” It’s like a fountain so full it can’t help but overflow. Edwards delights in this God, and more than abstract theology he is speaking on a being he knows and cherishes. That’s what often makes the presentation in this work so compelling. Edwards is certainly thorough in his logic, and often the flow of his thought can be overwhelming. Yet the beauty laced throughout it makes it worth the effort it requires to read it. The work is not, however, simply beautiful. It is also incredibly insightful and refreshing.

For those willing to do the hard work The End will reveal a unique answer to the question of God’s motivation to create. According to Edwards, it is because God delights in the communication of himself that he determined to create the world. God pours forth his glory in the creation of the world and the creation receives that glory. There is a sense in which Edwards work here is an extended meditation on the first question of The Westminster Catechism. “What is the chief end of man?” The question asks. And it answers by saying “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” So the creation of the world is both the glorification of God and the enjoyment of his glory by his people. In one sense, then, Edwards writes very much from within his Reformed tradition. But in another sense he goes further than his forebears, for he moves in and among the metaphysical discussions unlike any other protestant theologian prior to him. Some have argued he is more akin to Aquinas in this discussion than Calvin. Edwards is, however, thoroughly protestant, and that is partly what makes this such a valuable and unique work for the church today.

The God depicted in The End reveals a God both transcendent and immanent. This is a balanced doctrine of God much-needed in our cultural climate today. This God is both above creation, needing nothing from it, and yet highly involved in it. His creation proves his transcendent and yet viewing his creation as the communication of himself promotes a God of love and investment. A lot of theological investigations tend towards one extreme or the other. Traditional Reformed communities can sometimes emphasize the transcendence of God in unhealthy ways, and more Emerging theologies can swallow up transcendence altogether. John Frame has done wonderful work in this area, in my opinion, showing a more balanced view of God, but Edwards’s argument for it is in a separate category. His expression has a theological, rational, and biblical depth to it that is unlike any other.

I love this book. It is beautiful and compelling. The End for Which God Created the World doesn’t simply answer an age-old question. It does so be presenting God more biblically as both above us and yet communicating with us.

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