You sit down with your journal to do some Lenten reflection. You start thinking about your life, your relationships, your faith. You are probably aware of some places where you wish things were different — that’s the point, of course.
But then you look back and wonder:
“Hasn’t it always been this way?”
Unless you have the nostalgia filter firmly in place, in matters of character the struggles you face now have probably always been there. The grown plant of the present was there as a seed in the past.
If it has always been this way, how can I know what “better” might look like? That’s a problem.
When the Heidelberg Catechism turns to the question of the misery human beings face, this question is front and center:
6 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.
It is way out of fashion to call anyone, even ourselves, “wicked and perverse.” The point is that things have gone terribly, terribly wrong. As I wrote a year ago, the Catechism takes the view that we’ve made bad choices and messed up our lives — and now we actually can’t live up to what God asks of us.
For some people the problems are public and obvious. For others the problems are hidden away in our motives, our emotional lives, our relationships. But we are all born into this — every one of us is a mess.
The Catechism’s first point is to step in before we blame God for our problem.
But the way they make the point gives us something very helpful as we do our Lenten reflection: it gives us a vision, a contrast, to know what our lives were meant to look like.
The key word for this is that we were made
in his own image.”
Picture an artist using a mirror to make a self-portrait. Our lives were intended to be a portrait of God, by God.
Clearly that isn’t about being all-knowing or all-powerful. The Catechism sees the image of God in some fascinating qualities:
Goodness — a life that makes a positive difference
Righteousness — a life of pure innocence
Holiness — a life set apart for God’s own purposes
Really it is all about relationship: we were created with a capacity for a harmonious relationship with God.
Able to know God
Able to love God
Able to live happily with God — forever.
These are the qualities and capacities we’ve lost. These are the qualities God in Christ is busily restoring.
So this Lent, as we reflect on our lives, that is the model we can compare to — and the model we can aim for as we prayerfully redirect our lives.
What helps you grow in knowing, loving, and living happily with God?
What would help to make that image shine more brightly?
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