12 Q. According to God’s righteous judgment
we deserve punishment
both now and in eternity:
how then can we escape this punishment
and return to God’s favor?
A. God requires that his justice be satisfied.^1
Therefore the claims of this justice
must be paid in full,
either by ourselves or by another.^2
^1 Exod. 20:5; 23:7
^2 Rom. 8:3-4
13 Q. Can we make this payment ourselves?
A. Certainly not.
Actually, we increase our debt every day.^1
^1 Job 9:3; 15:15; Matt. 6:12
14 Q. Can another creature—any at all—
pay this debt for us?
To begin with,
God will not punish any other creature
for what a human is guilty of.^1
no mere creature can bear the weight
of God’s eternal wrath against sin
and deliver others from it.^2
^1 Heb. 2:14
^2 Ps. 130:3
15 Q. What kind of mediator and deliverer
should we look for then?
A. One who is a true^1 and righteous human,^2
yet more powerful than all creatures,
that is, one who is also true God.^3
^1 1 Cor. 15:21
^2 Jer. 33:15; Isa. 53:9; Ps. 53; 2 Cor. 5:21
^3 Heb. 7:[15-]16; Isa. 7:14; Rom. 8:3;Jer. 23:6
Lord’s Day 5 (Q/A 12-15)
As a parent, watching children grow up and reflecting upon my own growing up years, I’ve become more aware of the delicate balance of parenting that requires gentle discipline, firm instruction with gracious freedom; both sets are needed for healthy upbringing. I’ve seen examples of children who have grown up in environments of opposite extremes. An extremely harsh, authoritative parent who casts correction and instruction without affirmation, acceptance and grace results in a fearful child who grows up ashamed, fearful, and, in time, rebellious – when freedom from the harsh parent is found. The other extreme of an overly permissive parenting – where a child is constantly soothed, affirmed, allowed to be as free as the blowing wind. I’ve seen many children in our neighborhood where these kinds of children have no respect for their parents, grandparents, often shouting at their elders. In both sets, a rebellious heart results.
I was asked recently at a gathering of a large congregation why is it that the Church approves of certain sins. I don’t know specifically what the questioner had in mind, but I responded that the Heidelberg Catechism doesn’t emphasize sins, but speaks about sin. At the core of all of our hearts, without exception, is an ingrained sin nature, a constant “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” a perennial blemish and spot on our DNA, an innate desire to be free from all controls, and/or to be in control of others, over ourselves, and, even over God. The Scriptures are true, “No one is righteous, no not one.”
We need to be put in our place. God puts us in our place. We need a healthy dose of reminder that we are made by God, accountable to God; God is the Creator and we are His created ones. God is not the constant judge on a dark billowing cloud counting every act of rebellion on an accounting ledger ready to strike you with a lightning bolt for every transgression. The Psalmist was aware of this: “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3) But we ought not disregard the Scriptural testimony that God is the jealous God who desires and who deserves our singular allegiance, outright obedience, and deepest love simply because God is our Creator and, therefore, source of our life.
God is also not a constant cuddly teddy bear who soothes us at every turn, who gives us candy and gifts at every prayer request we offer, who affirms us even we wreak havoc on our lives or others. But we ought not disregard the Scriptural testimony that God is “gracious and kind, compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” (Psalm 103:8; 145:8).
These two characteristics are aspects of the one character of God who the Catechism describes as being both righteous and merciful, or together, the just God. Eberhard Busch commented that God’s mercy is “the undeserved friendliness in which God turns toward us and so determines to be our God and us to be God’s” and God’ righteousness is God’s “rightful claim God makes on God’s own self and likewise on us.” Where mercy and righteousness converge is in the justice of God. Nicholas Wolterstorff insightfully observes that the justice of God is realigning the world and our lives to the very heart and mind of God, to the God who gives us the norms of why and how we are to live.
Why? Because God has claimed us and God has committed Himself to claiming us (righteousness). Because God turns toward us in an undeserved way even when we continually walk away from God’s intentions (mercy).
Q/A 12-15 is in the second part of the Catechism entitled “Deliverance.” This is about what God has done to right the wrong (justice), to enact His righteousness in a merciful way. To do so, God takes seriously our rebellion, our ingrained sin nature, that which plagues all of us to live in a way as if we are unaccountable to our Creator, living in a way as if we own our tongues, saying whatever we please (Psalm 12:4), or doing as we please.
In the disordered mess we’ve made for ourselves, in the freedom we thought we had, we can’t fix our mess on our own. Even as we seek to be free and show how mature we are, we discover how unable we are to fix our lives, how much we have strayed away from the Father’s love continually, how downright immature we actually are notwithstanding the sophistication, know-how, education, possessions, religiosity, Facebook connections, athletic ability, or other skills and prowess we and others use to justify our Sunday through Saturday existence.
Q/A 12-15 is not so much about soothing God’s offended heart as if almighty God needed soothing or assuaging, or as if we had the ability to do. We could remain in misery in this life and in eternity. But recall Q/A 1, our comfort in misery is that we belong body and soul, in life and in death, to our faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
While we have shown God for who we are deep down, we do deserve to be cast off away from God. We do deserve our just desserts, for outright and downright disregarding our gracious and loving God who brought us into this world. Every time we disregard each other, a broken world, and God, we live and act as ungrateful, rebellious children unaware of whose we are and our birthright as sons and daughters of almighty God.
Last month, the longtime founder and face of The Men’s Wearhouse, George Zimmer, was fired by his board. I grew up watching Zimmer on television commercials as he would tell of the great quality suits you can buy from his store, to which he would say, “It takes a Men’s Wearhouse price, to beat a Men’s Wearhouse sale, I guarantee it!” Following his termination, there were rumors that Zimmer was mounting a merger-and-acquisition negotiations to return to the helm of his erstwhile company.
A merger-and-acquisition on a grand and personal scale has and is occurring.
Q/A 12-15 underscores that while our actions are deserving of divine judgment, because of God’s self-commitment and self-determination to be for us, God has obligated Himself to right the wrong. Only God can do it. God connects us with Himself. But God does so by becoming fully human, taking on the fullness of humanity, all that we are, to make us who we are created to be; and being fully God, our mediator and deliverer, Jesus Christ, is both able and willing. Why? Because He is the chosen One, who is both merciful and righteous. Or merged to one word, He is the just One, who alone can and does realign the broken world and our crooked lives to the heart of His and our heavenly Father. Don’t take my word for it. The triune God guarantees it!