Monday, April 23, 2012

Exploring the Heidelberg Catechism: Questions 3, 4 & 5

This series of posts will explore the Heidelberg Catechism as it is, to my understanding, the basis for Reformed Theology, and since the churches that I have been visiting in my Church Shopping Saga are all Reformed, I thought it would be good to get to know this document and see what it is all about. 

You can read the first post that has more of an introduction here and you can find all posts about this topic under the label "Heidelberg Catechism".

Question 3:  Whence knowest thou thy misery?
Answer:  Out of the law of God.

Question 4:  What does the law of God require of us?
Answer:  Christ teaches that briefly, Matt. 22:37-40, "thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all they heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.  This is the first and the great commandment; and the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

Question 5:  Canst thou keep all these things perfectly?
Answer:  In no wise; for I am prone by nature to hate God and my neighbor.

When I read question 3, my first thought was "what does 'whence knowest' mean?"  After reading the answer, I assumed it meant "how do you know" and that this Q&A is basically telling us that it is the law of God that teaches us that we are miserable.  My second thought was wondering what the authors considered or understood the "law of God" to be.  For me, the law of God is the Torah, the first five books of the Bible that contain the laws given to Israel (and are not incumbent on non-Jews to follow, anyway).

Question 4 does somewhat clarify the "law" by giving Jesus' explanation to love God and to love others.  After getting to know some Jewish people and acquiring an understanding of how they view the law, I see how Jesus' explanation fits in.  When we outsiders to Judaism look in, all we see are a bunch of laws that we think make no sense in today's world.  However, when we look at them from another perspective, we see that they all fit within these two categories that Jesus gives.

Question 5 confuses me a bit as well, and I wonder if the idea of keeping the law perfectly comes more from a non-Jewish understanding of the law, because in the Torah, there is no emphasis on each individual keeping the law perfectly, as evidenced by laws regarding repentance and sacrifice.  If we believe that God gave these laws to Israel, we see that He knew from the outset that they wouldn't be kept perfectly.  In addition to that, not all of the laws contained within the umbrella of Torah are for everyone.  And so, if Jesus is summing up all of those laws by telling people to love God and love one's neighbor, does he expect perfection?  

The idea of being prone to hate God and neighbor is disturbing to me.  I could understand better, maybe, if they said we prone to selfishness or disobedience, but to hate?  I don't remember a time when I have ever hated God.  If I compare that to my experience as a parent, when I think about my children being selfish or disobedient, I don't see that they do it out of hate; they don't hate me, they just want to do what they want to do: selfishness.

Perhaps this idea will be expanded on in further questions or by someone in the comments section.

So, to sum up questions 3, 4, & 5:  We know we are miserable humans because of the law, which teaches us to love God and love our neighbors, but we can't do those things perfectly because by nature we hate God and our neighbor.


Drew said...

"whence" = "from where"; "whither" = "to where". Older forms of English flipped verb and subject to form questions much as modern European languages still do, so "Whence knowest thou..?" means "From where do you know..?"

sara ploegstra said...

i'd personally recommend ditching the old english version and use the updated version on the crc's website instead... here's the link...

Kelly said...

Yeah, I probably should use the modern version at least when I am typing it here. I have a book that it is in so I've been reading and making notes in it when I am away from the computer and then I just have that out in front of me when I start writing and end up typing what I see there.