Thursday, May 03, 2012

Exploring the Heidelberg Catechism: Questions 6 & 7

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".

(Due to popular demand my friend Sara's suggestion I'll start using a modern English translation of the HC.  This version also has footnotes about where in the Bible the HC Answers come from.).

We ended the last post with Q&A 5 telling us that we are prone to hate God and our neighbor.  Question 6, then, follows up on that by asking:

Q. Did God create people 
so wicked and perverse?

A. No. 
God created them good and in his own image, 

that is, in true righteousness and holiness, 
so that they might 
truly know God their creator, 
love him with all their heart, 
and live with God in eternal happiness, 
to praise and glorify him.

I am pretty sure that nobody that I know of has ever suggested that God created humanity to be bad; I have always always thought of this as pretty standard Christian teaching across all denominations.

Q 7. Then where does this corrupt human nature come from?
A. The fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise. This fall has so poisoned our nature that we are all conceived and born in a sinful condition.

This also seems to me to be fairly standard Christian teaching, and in the HC being born in a sinful condition is taken from It comes from Psalm 51:5 "Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me." (NRSV).  I do wonder though, at the image of sin being in our nature, for few reasons.

One, in Genesis 4:7 (post-fall) we see an image of sin as being something that is outside of Cain.  God says to him "If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it."  In this respect, sin appears to be something outside of oneself and can be mastered.

Secondly, when I was learning about Judaism, I learned that in Jewish belief, people have both a good inclination (yetzer hatov) and a bad inclination (yetzer hara).  The idea that people are born sinful is more of a Christian construct than a Jewish one.

The third reason is that when both of my children were born, I just couldn't look at them and think "you sinful human being".  They had no concept of good or bad behavior in thoughts or actions; they were incapable of doing anything that we tend to define as sinful.

Now, I think that we all do sin.  Without a doubt I think that.  But my question is whether or not it is something that is a part of us from the moment of conception or if it is something we learn.  I also am not sure of how important it is, in the big scheme of things, where it comes from, since it is something we all know that we do.

How about you?  What do you think of these two Q&As in the Heidelberg Catechism?  Is this your understanding of sin or do you have a different understanding?


Justin M said...

Total Depravity. If I do decide to get my doctorate, I am thinking of making this my dissertation.
Psalm 51:5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
It is essential to Calvinist thought as well, because total depravity is also known as total inability.
In the example of children, they did not have to be taught to sin, to cry for attention, to disobey, or to hate the true God, they do it by birth because all people, aside from Christ who was born of a virgin, are slaves to Satan when born, 2 Tim. 2:26 and thereby children of wrath, Eph. 2:3. This will lead into man's only hope being God's choice, Romans 9:13

Kelly said...

I have some thoughts that tie into this for when I get to Question 9, but I didn't want to do 4 questions in one post.

I wonder if Psalm 51:5 is why Catholics believe Mary was also kept free from "Original Sin": so that the sin would not pass on to Jesus in his conception.

Somewhat of a side note regarding children crying for attention: I can't see this as sin (not sure if you are saying it is anyway) and it strikes a chord in me because of a discussion I had a long time ago in which a man was advocating spanking a 3 (I think--maybe 6) month old for crying for attention. A 3 month old only knows when it needs something, it doesn't even know disobedience yet.

I agree children don't necessarily have to be taught to disobey but at the same time, I think we do teach them from the time we tell them what they can and cannot do.

We also can wonder "what is sin?" We have many different examples in the Bible. Some actions that are sin for some are not sin for others (disobeying any laws in the OT is sin for Jews but not for Gentiles, as they were/are not under Jewish law) and some things that are sin in one place are expanded on in another (adultery to lust, for example).

[ computer froze, ctrl+alt+delete did nothing and I had to just turn it off...came back and this was still here!!!]

I think the biggest problem with this is not so much the idea of sin itself, but when we end up dwelling on it. I think often we focus so much on it (especially in churches where "altar calls" are the norm) that we can miss the freedom and new birth we have in Jesus. It's almost as if we make being a sinner an idol in itself. Does that make sense?