I have recently been reading through some of the historic confessions and catechisms. As I have been reading, one statement from the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) caught my attention and has been very encouraging.
The first question in the catechism is:
Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.
Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.The Heidleberg Catechism (1563)
The question and answer are powerful because it connects with every human heart’s longing for comfort in this present life and hope for life after death. We sin, and we suffer. We experience both joy and pain, victory and defeat. Life can be hard, and we long for true comfort, true genuine hope. We sometimes find comfort in things that addict us, distract us, or provide temporary relief. We face death with mourning and questions, and is there any lasting comfort? Is there hope after death?
The answer from the catechism provides the comfort and hope we find in Jesus. The answer begins with a thought that goes against the modern mind of independence. Current thinking believes that we are independent, autonomous beings and that the world reloves around us—self-fulfillment, self-actualization, and self-aggrandizement. The answer from the catechism begins with the idea of union with Christ, that we belong to the Lord. Humanity fell in the garden, and sin has brought the death penalty to all humankind. God does not overlook sin, and it must be punished. We cannot do enough good works for God to accept us; our attempts at being good are not good enough for God’s perfect standard. Therefore, Jesus came to rescue and redeem us from our greatest problem, sin. Jesus is the faithful Savior who came to pay the penalty for sin. He has fully paid the sin debt and made a way for man to be right with God by trusting in His perfect righteousness. Jesus provides a way to be fully reconciled to the God of the universe and to have eternal hope.
Yet, while waiting for eternity, we have even greater hope. Since we belong to the Lord, the Lord is the one that takes care of us. Life in Christ is lived under his watchful eye; he knows the number of hairs on our head (or lack thereof for some). Nothing can touch our lives that He has not allowed, nor is anything wasted that He cannot turn around for good. Many people believe things will just work out, but we hope there is a greater purpose. Somehow everything works out together for salvation. Why? We belong to the Lord. We are Christ’s possession, and the Holy Spirit who lives in us assures us of eternal life and enables us with the desire to live for Him. This reminds me of 2 Cor 5:10 “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”
Are there many things that bring us down in this life? Yes. Are there difficulties that feel like they are too hard to handle? So many. Are there trials and tribulations for which we do not have answers? Absolutely.
Despite all of that, can we find hope and comfort in this life and the future? In the Lord, yes. This first statement in the Heidleberg Catchesim reminds us that we belong to the Lord, and therefore God is for us, not against us. What great hope in a world of uncertainty!
If you have children, a book called Sophie and the Heidelberg Cat illustrates the first question and answer from the Heidelberg catechism.