Thursday, November 17, 2005

Heidelberg Catechism -- Week 4

I propped my feet up on the desk as we took turns reading the next questions from the Heidelberg Catechism. Katie was the first to read:

"Q. Is not God unjust in requiring of man in his Law what he cannot do?
A. No, for God so created man that he could do it. But man, upon the instigation of the devil, by deliberate disobedience, has cheated himself and all his descendants out of these gifts."

Without taking my eyes off the page, I continued with the next question and answer set:

"Q. Will God let man get by with such disobedience and defection?
A. Certainly not, for the wrath of God is revealed from heaven, both against our inborn sinfulness and our actual sins, and he will punish them according to his righteous judgment in time and in eternity as he has declared 'Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law, and do them.'"

And Victoria finished the reading:

"Q. But is not God also merciful?
A. God is indeed merciful and gracious, but he is also righteous. It is his righteousness which requires that sin committed against the supreme majesty of God be punished with extreme, that is, with eternal punishment of body and soul."

John slipped into the room, dragging a chair behind him. Our group was complete: two twenty-something Young Adult Volunteers, one House Church Planter, and a thirty-four year old pastor, all trying to make sense of a five hundred year old statement of theology and faith.

I posed the question of whether we actually believe in God's wrath, trying to get a rise out of them on such a controversial issue. But no takers; we all take God's word at face value as it talks about wrath. None of us are very comfortable with it - it's not a doctrine that we curl up and snuggle with on a cold winter night. It's simply one of the truths of living that we have to deal with. None of us were under any illusion that this would win us friends -- for we know that when you tell people that you believe in God's wrath, they look at you as though you were the one who was dispensing wrath.

Soon, the term "federal headship" floated out in the room. We were in deep theological waters pretty quickly, and had to clarify the meaning of the term. Four amateur theologians grasped at words slippery as wet soap: we talked about how Adam represented us all when he made that fateful decision to disobey. It seems unfair to us democratically minded Americans, for we have forgotten the days when the king WAS the will of the country. The king spoke for all his people, and nobody cared what those people might have thought. Then we flirted with the question of the creation stories and their literal truth - but didn't stay there too long.

John brought up the interesting point that theology, by it's very nature, is a summary, devoid of narrative. But God gave narrative -- God tells stories masterfully. These stories depict relationships that pulse with heart and passion and betrayal and drama; they are devoid of the clinical precision that theology demands, and if we read theology without going back to the stories, then we miss a lot of the meaning. Therein lies a danger for those who would "do" theology (or rather "think" theology) absent a grounding in scripture.

The room weighed heavy, as though the topics of wrath and sin had brought a storm front that didn't erput. We quickly moved to the next week's reading -- about the redeemer.... (coming soon to a blog near you)

Soli Deo Gloria