I have been reading Sam Storms Sign’s of the Spirit in preparation for this Thursday’s Converse with Scholars. Signs of the Spirit is an interpretation of Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections. Considering my last post on the often devastating legacy that suicide leaves, I found it interesting to read about Edwards’ account of the first wave of the First Great Awakening, the eighteenth century revival, and its ensuing end.
While it is hard to explain exactly what, from a human standpoint, caused the revival to begin, it is just as difficult to give reasons for its demise. Edwards gives his own account. From Dr. Storms’ book:
Although the history of revival reveals that no two outpourings were precisely the same, they do share one thing in common: they all came to an end. Edwards noted that “in the latter part of May, it began to be very sensible that the Spirit of God was gradually withdrawing from us, and after this time Satan seemed to be more let loose, and raged in a dreadful manner. ” One event seemed to Edwards to hasten the demise of religion: a man, from a family prone to depression (what Edwards called “melancholy”), committed suicide by cutting his throat. “The devil took the advantage, and drove him into despairing thoughts. ” [The man was in fact Joseph Hawley, Edwards’ uncle.] The impact of this on the community was devastating:
“After this,” Edwards tells, multitudes in this and other towns seemed to have it strongly suggested to them, and pressed upon them, to do as this person had done. And many who seemed to be under no melancholy, some pious persons who had no special darkness or doubts about the goodness of their state . . . had it urged upon them as if somebody had spoke to them, Cut you throat, now is a good opportunity. Now! Now!“
I found it interesting that Edwards tells that this man came from a family prone toward depression. This was Edwards’ family. Edwards himself, what most would call “the greatest theologian America has produced to date,” struggled with depression.
I also, obviously,was drawn to Edwards’ assessment of the effect of his uncle’s suicide upon the community. “The impact of this on the community was devastating” as Edwards puts it.
The devastating effects of suicide cannot be ignored. A person is 2 1/2 times more likely to commit suicide if they have a family member who has done so. If this is the case, I am sure that the likelihood of depression increases dramatically as well.
God’s grace can and has certainly overcome those effects in many individuals, families, and communities, but often they play themselves out as God permits.