Another Big Catechismal But

From the Heidelberg Catechism:

Q11. BUT isn’t God also merciful?

A: God is certainly merciful, BUT he is also just. HIs justice demands that sin against his supreme majesty be punished with a supreme penalty–eternal punishment of body and soul.

This reminds me of one of my favorite all-time movie lines. It comes from the Rambo movies. One of Rambo’s antagonists confronts Colonel Troutman, “You speak of this Rambo like he’s some sort of a god.” Troutman replied, “No. God would have mercy on you. Rambo won’t.”

As mentioned last time, we are turning a corner in the Catechism. We’ve been focusing on man’s depravity and we’ve concluded that there is nothing man can, in and of himself, accomplish to right his situation before God. And here is the perfect place for a but–the soul cries out, ‘Yes, but… didn’t we hear of God that he is merciful?’

This is the beginning of the good news. God is indeed merciful.

Another but. While he is merciful, we must realize he is also just. Somehow a payment for sin must be made. And Q&A11 makes it clear–the cost is supreme. What, or better who, could make such a payment? Can we pay the debt ourselves? Can the blood of an animal suffice? Can a mere human being pay the price? These are the questions we will consider next. The answers–no.

I suppose I’m in a movie mood. 1999’s Brokedown Palace told the story of two American teenagers who were framed on drug charges while visiting Thailand. Eventually they were led to believe that if they confessed to a crime they didn’t commit, the legal system would pardon them. So they signed confessions. When they came before the judge he announced, “No pardons for confessed drug smugglers!” The girls would each serve 30 year sentences. They’d be middle-aged women before they were freed. In the movie’s climactic final seen (and yes, I’m about to ruin it for you) one of the teens runs and throws herself on the floor in front of the judge, begging him for mercy. Realizing that he could extend mercy if he wanted to, and also that he was demanding justice, the girl offered to serve both sentences–60 years–if the judge would show mercy to her friend. Merciful yes. But also just. So with this mercy there must be a compliment–a payment in full.

What, or better who, will meet the just requirement of our God on my (your) behalf? This is the question as we turn to the next section of the Heidelberg Catechism.

This is the third installment in a series considering appearances of the word ‘but’ in the Heidelberg Catechism. 

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