Quick quiz — or maybe it’s a riddle: What makes you
- patient when things go against you?
- thankful when things go well?
- and confident as you face all the unknowns of the future?
Or maybe I should switch it around and make it a survey — something they could have used on the old game show “Family Feud”:
How many people out there want to be
- more patient?
- more thankful?
- and more confident?
That sounds like pretty good stuff to me. I want more of those things in my daily experience. So maybe I should turn it one more time, spin it as something for the self-help shelf at Barnes & Noble:
- Want to know how to live with patience, thankfulness, and confidence?
The Heidelberg Catechism answers the quiz, solves the riddle, and gives us advice for self-improvement all in one word:
A while back @Dawn_Morris1 tweeted me a question: how can we reconcile a sense of God’s sovereignty and providence with a sense of our own accountability?
That tweet was the spark for an informal series of posts in my otherwise fairly random blogging about the Heidelberg Catechism, the most beloved and widely used Reformed theological summary, which is currently celebrating its 450th anniversary. This is probably the last of that informal series, at least on the sovereign providence side of the issue.
At Question 28 the Catechism wraps up its three-question discussion of providence — which, it turns out, is also its three-question discussion of what we need to know about God the Father. And in its encouraging way, Heidelberg tells us this often troubling doctrine is actually very helpful to our daily living.
Heidelberg makes its strongest claim about providence in this question here in this question:
“For all creatures are so completely in God’s hand that without his will they can neither move nor be moved.”
Not as bold as some of Calvin’s claims on the topic, nor as stark as those of the Westminster standards, but plenty strong enough.
Much too strong for most 21st century Americans. We hear claims like these and can’t help raising objections: It makes us feel like puppets on strings. It takes away our freedom — the kind of freedom that is our culture’s secular religion. Or we point out bad things that have happened to good and innocent people, thinking that this disproves any kind of providence. And our reflection on the topic goes no further.
The crucial factor for Heidelberg’s authors is their deep, thorough conviction that the God who providentially guides every creature is good and loving — more so than we can imagine, working behind the scenes of every circumstance to bring us to salvation. God’s love aims at our big-picture best interests, not our momentary preferences. And most of God’s work in bringing to pass our eternal good will surely be beyond our knowledge.
- Knowing our lives are in the hands of a loving God can help in hard times: we can be patient because hard times are not the end of the story.
- Knowing our lives are in our loving God’s hands can be important in the good times too: rather than arrogantly thinking we caused all our own blessings, or the emptiness of crediting dumb luck, we can give thanks.
- Knowing our lives are in such good and loving hands also helps as we face the future: what lies ahead is a mystery, but whatever happens will be part of God’s fitting us for heaven.
So what does this have to do with Dawn’s question about accountability and responsibility? God guides our futures, but we are responsible for our response in the present — responsible to live in patience, thankfulness, and confidence precisely because we know God is in charge.
I know I haven’t convinced all of you to believe in Heidelberg’s view of providence. I hope you’ll share your objections.
And if you do have a strong sense of providence, how does it help you?
If you like the post I hope you’ll share it. As well as the buttons below, here are some potential tweetables:
Click here to tweet this: “What good does it do to believe God is active in everything? @garynealhansen #YRR http://bit.ly/11l0qjq “
Click here to tweet this: “Check out @garynealhansen on providence in the Heidelberg Catechism. #YRR http://bit.ly/11l0qjq “
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