Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 2
The Definition of our Misery
We all know there is a problem with the human race. The Catechism takes no time to demonstrate that there is a problem, but rather jumps straight to its diagnosis. That there is a problem is immediately evident to all of us. We do get very good at distracting ourselves from this or at blaming our difficulties on circumstances or other people. How many people do you know who are blind to their own self-destructive behavior and constantly externalize all the guilt that arises from their own choices by shifting the responsibility to someone or something else? I think pretty much everyone I know is guilty of this to some degree or another. What then is the likelihood that I am free of the same behavior?
And over all of us hangs the Judgment Day, the inevitable coming moment when we know we will be held to account. We skim our little boats across this great dark sea, doing our best to ignore the almost-empty gas tank and the vague, hulking shapes lurking beneath the waters, but we will not be able to ignore it forever. The imminence of judgment is not simply an abstraction, but a reality which presses upon our minds constantly in the form of guilt, fear and anxiety, and no pleasures, pursuits or pharmaceuticals can do anything other than push the problem out of our minds for a little while. Ultimately the problem that plagues the human race, the symptoms of which are war, theft, murder, hatred, poverty, sickness, oppression and injustice, is our problem as well. We are not bystanders. We are part of the human race; thus, we are part of the problem, and there is therefore no way to avoid dealing with it.
From where do you know your misery? What is it that will truly tell you the reason for your terrible state? From the law of God. From the truth of what God created us to be, ones who love God perfectly and love our neighbors like we love ourselves. When we hear this, we instinctively know it to be true, for it is written on our very hearts. When we compare our actual state with the model of what we are supposed to be, then we can see the real nature of our misery clearly, and the cause of it. The space between our actual natures and God’s original vision for humanity shows us why we are miserable and the form that misery takes. We are miserable because we are alienated from God and from our fellow man, and we are unable to do anything about that misery because that is not a choice we make but a state we inhabit. We are prone by nature to that state of being.
Mankind has continually recognized that if people would work together and live in harmony, a great many evils would be reduced or eliminated. Despite this fundamental awareness, mankind has utterly failed to live together in harmony. Large, bloody and destructive wars continue, with the largest, bloodiest and most destructive war in all of history within the last century. And if history is insufficient witness, we all know our own experience of the awareness of self-destructive and self-defeating behaviors, and the great difficulty or even inability to change those behaviors.
The answer of the Christian faith is that this problem has nothing to do with environment or education, that it cannot be fixed by personal improvement, the accumulation of wealth or through the performance of rituals- indeed that mankind’s problem is not one that is susceptible to any solution rising from within mankind at all. The Catechism will go on to explain the remedy in detail, though the first question already told us in essence what it is- that we are redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ. But the only way we will ever accept such a solution, that we will ever be humbled enough to accept the charity of blood, is when we realize and admit the true nature of the problem. It does not lie outside of us, but in us, in our natures which are not what God created them to be.