Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 9 - The Creator is My God and Father
Question 26: What do you believe when you say:
I believe in God the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth?
Answer 26: That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who out of nothing created heaven and earth
and all that is in them,
and who still upholds and governs them
by his eternal counsel and providence,
is, for the sake of Christ his Son,
my God and my Father.
In him I trust so completely
as to have no doubt
that he will provide me
with all things necessary for body and soul,
and will also turn to my good
whatever adversity he sends me
in this life of sorrow.
He is able to do so as almighty God,
and willing also as a faithful Father.
A child wraps his arms intimately around father’s neck and says: Daddy! May I be just as intimate with the great God and call him “Abba” (= father)? According to Paul, it is none other than the Holy Spirit who causes us to call God Abba. Not in a whisper, but out loud. Gladly, deliberately and without hesitation.1
From his part, too, God deals closely with us. The rhymed version of Psalm 103:13 expresses it this way: “In tender mercy, like that of a father — who has compassion on his sons and daughters — God looks on those who put in him their trust…”2 We belong to him. But this is also where the questions are starting.
Am I Able to Experience it That God is My Father?
The director of a large company only concerns himself with the overall policies. He leaves the details to others. The fact that someone might be unjustly dismissed is beyond him. With God this is different: he is not merely involved in the overall management — he rules everything. It does not escape his attention even when a hair falls from my head and he knows exactly how many hairs I still have left. 3 He not only counts them but also determines their number. Not the slightest leeway is left to chance or to other powers. OK, we know that. And we like to believe it because it gives us the peace of mind of a child who trusts in his father. But how do we recognize God’s supervision over all things? We have no problem with that one hair falling out, but it is different when we have to lose all our hair because of medication against cancer. Or when severe adversity strikes us such that it seems we are at the mercy of blind forces. In the midst of these terrors, can we still say with confidence: Abba? Does his fatherly care extend to everything that we do? This raises the question of the relationship between God the Father and our life here on earth.
God the Father and Our Creation
In ordinary circumstances it is nice living on the earth. People feel at home there. To the extent that this changed, it is not because of the good earth. It serves as the spacious house that God has designed and built for us. He also maintains it. The clouds form the ever-changing roof of this home. The moon and stars are the lights in the darkness of the night that are constantly moving. The central source of heat for all the earth, and at the same time its source of light, is the sun. Lowlands, fields and mountains are like a glittering carpet on which we may live. Our country, too, with its broad rivers and low skies, is one of his creations. This impressive whole is made of nothing. The Creator was not tied down to material that was already available. He could make everything, from a to z, the way he wanted it and did not have to take anyone or anything into account. When everything was ready he qualified it as being very good.4 For Adam and Eve it was therefore not difficult to praise God from the depths of their hearts for all that beauty. Everything gave evidence of his wisdom and goodness. The connection between God the Father and our creation was completely transparent. Everything testified overwhelmingly to his fatherly goodness. Praising God came naturally.
Today, however, his rule is no longer so transparent for us. That is remarkable, because even after the Fall, God maintained and ruled his earth. This continued unabated, in spite of masses of rebellious people. So why does his overall control, which still extends to the hairs of our heads, not come across much more clearly? There are two reasons for this.
The first is that because of our Fall into sin, God had to adjust his rule to the changed situation in the world. Hereafter he would also allow untold calamities to occur. In such a world it is much more difficult than in paradise to wholeheartedly praise God’s rule as being very good. We owe it to ourselves that everything has become so complicated. Since sin entered into the creation, the way God deals with his children is often unfathomable. Riddles arose that we are not able to solve. The account of Job is an example of this.
But secondly: our mind is darkened, even though we may have a smart brain.5 It is especially on account of this that we are often unable to understand God’s actions. But the issue is that we do not want it either, and by nature we look at God’s directing with hostility. As a result we have acquired a distorted and negative view of God’s management. This too we owe to ourselves. All in all, while the praising of God’s dominion after the Fall called for much more insight, our mind was actually shrouded in darkness. That is why we are inherently incapable of making a reliable judgment about how God governs events on earth. Those who do not know him as our heavenly Father find plenty of reasons for a negative judgment: earthquakes, floods, mass murders. Why does God allow this to happen? The question is meant as a reproach, an accusation. But believers too have their difficult moments and struggle with questions: why would God leave them; why does he appear to forget or to reject them?6 Why is it that the wicked can enjoy prosperity?7
The root causes of this difficulty are found in ourselves. But how do we get to the point where we find peace in what God is doing, and we can honour him for what he does?
The Eternal Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ Created Heaven and Earth
Is it not strange that the Catechism says that the world was made by the Father of Jesus? Because when God did that his Son was there, but not yet as our Lord Jesus Christ. His coming with salvation only became necessary after the Fall. Therefore, from a purely historical perspective, it is not true that the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ created the earth. We call him as such in retrospect only.
Of course it is allowed. Sometimes we do the same. A father can calmly say to his child: thirty years ago your father went to school for the first time. Everyone understands that the man was not yet a father then but just a schoolboy. An enormous difference!
Does the Catechism mean something similar? If so, it only meant to say that God who made the world is the Same as the one who later became the Father of Jesus. But this explanation seems too skimpy to us. The Catechism will mean something else: when God made the world long ago he thought of us with the same love as when he gave his Son for us. And he still displays that love to this day. There is no difference at all. God’s love was always just as great and deep, and had us in its sights all those centuries from creation.
Things are different with the father from our example. When he started to talk to us about his school days, he was not yet a father at all and did not even remotely think about ever becoming one. But when God made the world he already loved us as much as when he sent his Son. He was ready to save us even then and had already decided to send his Son.8 That is how great his love was for us: even then.9
And so we can say that the Father of our Lord Jesus made the world. This makes us very happy. The mild sunshine that lights up the room, the skies and fields give us an intense feeling of happiness, the flowers that evoke our admiration, all of this is made by the Father of my Saviour. This also gives us comfort.
We can feel so lost in that big world; so fearful and alone; so unprotected under its high heavens. It is extraordinarily encouraging that the Creator of this planet is none other than our Saviour’s own Father. And that he sustains it. And that he governs it. Therefore, in everything we experience, the ultimate encouragement is always that we can count on the help of him who made heaven and earth10 For he is my God and my Father.
The Fall into sin caused a profound break in history. Man has become totally different. But God did not change. He held on to his creation and will never give it up. That is why the Catechism shows his rule as one straight line running right through the Fall: God has created the earth and all that is in it, and he continues to maintain and to govern it. Creation, preservation and government belong together. Together they form the one plan of God that spans all ages. And he who carries it out is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. That has enormous consequences. Therefore, wherever I am on earth, I encounter this Father everywhere. And then it cannot be otherwise than that in everything that happens to me I also meet him. But how do I recognize him as my Father?
How I Come To Know God As My God and My Father
Anyone who enjoys a lovely panorama or an impressive sunset can spontaneously honour God as the Almighty Father. There are moments when the “thank you, faithful Father,” wells up from our hearts. But it is not always like that. When the doctor’s results are disappointing, we often worry. Will God really give our bodies what they need? When anxiety and sadness overtake us, we feel miserable in our whole being. Is our soul really getting what it needs? Yet we confess: God will provide me with everything I need for body and soul. I trust him so much that I do not doubt this. On what is this trust based? Or is it only about people who have not experienced anything, and who therefore can easily talk about this? No, because mention is also made of the adversity that he sends to me in this sorrowful life. Then, too. I need to believe that he gives me what I need for body and soul! Even when the doctor can do nothing more; even when I feel desperate inside. And once again we are faced with the problems. In all honesty we search for God’s intention. But we often remain puzzled. Judging purely by what they experience, many people end up with a God who is unable to help or who does not want to. Job’s wife followed that path. She looked from her dear and severely afflicted husband to God. She could discover no connection between God’s hard measures and his love. She ended up with a cruel fickle God, and she advised Job: say goodbye to God.11 However, we need to unlearn to try and reach God through the gateway of our sad experiences. Jesus points out another way to access God: whoever has seen Me has seen the Father.
And: no one comes to the Father except through Me.12 We are forbidden to take our starting point from what we experience. Only at the foot of the cross of Christ do we get to know God. As the Father of Christ he is also my God and my Father!
Those who want to find out how much God loves us are not to focus on what they experience, but instead to dig into the gospel. That is the basin of God’s love. There I find Jesus revealing in word and deed what effort God has made to become my God and my Father again. Outside of Christ, no wise word can be said about God’s government in this world.13But since his government is via the Christ, our most difficult trials take on a completely different outlook. It may be hard to believe but they actually become profitable. This is what the LORD says and it is to him that we entrust ourselves.
Paul makes a surprising statement about the dark aspects of our lives. He not only tells hard-pressed people that they should also not forget the sun-filled aspects and that there is still so much to be thankful for. That may be true, but the apostle himself also lets the sun of God’s grace shine over those darker moments: God causes all things to work together for our good.14 So also, as the Catechism gratefully adds: whatever adversity he sends me in this difficult life. Evil seems to be a blind power. It does not take our feelings into account. It is harsh and cruel and does not care about hot tears. It ruins your life. No — it does not!
Can we use a metaphor?
Michelangelo was a famous sculptor. But his dog only saw his master hitting the rock with a hammer so that the pieces flew off in all directions. The fact that an artist was making something beautiful completely escaped the animal. The things we feel and experience are also heavy blows. It may seem so senseless. No dog understands what it is good for. But faith knows that the great sculptor is at work within us.15 It can be a real challenge and it hurts. But something beautiful comes out of it. Faith expects that God can do it because he is all-powerful. But faith is also sure that he wants it that way because he is a faithful Father. As the psalmist says in the deepest confidence: “I shall praise him: my salvation and my God!”16