Question 11 is the last question in the 1st section of the Catechism that explicitly deals with Man’s sin and misery. Starting with question 12 of the Catechism the instruction works towards providing the only solution to Man’s sin and Misery.
Question 11. Is not God then also merciful?
Question 11 opens this way because question and answer 10 was so exacting as to the truth of God’s justice. It seems as if what is happening here is that God’s justice has been so clearly put forth that there might be some doubt as to whether or not God is merciful and so the question is asked.
And the answer is given,
God is indeed merciful, (a) but also just; (b) therefore his justice requires, that sin which is committed against the most high majesty of God, be also punished with extreme, that is, with everlasting punishment of body and soul.
In answer #10 the Heidelberg confirms God as merciful but it immediately returns to the reality of God’s justice. It is as if the Catechizers are saying, “Yes, God is merciful, but you better be sure that you reckon with His justice before you end up nullifying the reality of His justice by a slovenly appeal to a sloppy mercy that ignores God’s justice.”
Clearly, God is indeed merciful. Mercy is God’s attribute wherein He does not give to people that which they deserve. All of Adam’s descendants deserve God’s condemnation and yet not all of Adam’s descendants are condemned by God. This is the proof of God’s mercy.
Exod.34:6 And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Exod.34:7 Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.
Yet, in question 11 immediately upon affirming God’s merciful character the Catechizers, following the testimony of Scriptures, return to the fact that God is just.
Exod.23:7 Keep thee far from a false matter; and the innocent and righteous slay thou not: for I will not justify the wicked.
Ps.5:5 The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity. 6 Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing: the LORD will abhor the bloody and deceitful man.
Nah.1:2 God is jealous, and the LORD revengeth; the LORD revengeth, and is furious; the LORD will take vengeance on his adversaries, and he reserveth wrath for his enemies. Nah.1:3 The LORD is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: the LORD hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.
It is tempting to spend a great deal of time here because our current generation has made an idol out of God as love as that idea has been torn from its Biblical context. It is true that God is merciful and loving but not in a way that denies His justice and not in the way that most of your peers think about God.
If you have some time Caleb, give the link below a read,
At that link I spend some time developing the problem with Evangelism that doesn’t follow the approach the Heidelberg is taking by first establishing clearly God’s justice.
With regard to answer 11, notice
1.) God’s justice requires that God punish sin.
God’s word teaches, “the soul that sinneth shall surely die.” If God does not follow through on that promise then God’s justice is called into question. The character of God requires that God punish sin. If God didn’t punish sin then God wouldn’t be God because at that point of failure to punish sin God’s justice, holiness, and truthfulness, as well as His love and mercy would be called into question. If God didn’t punish sin God would un-god Himself. God can not let even one sin go unpunished because if He did He would be a worthless bum.
2.) Sin is committed against the Most High Majesty of God
We don’t talk or think like this much anymore Caleb. What is being communicated here is an older understanding of justice that includes the idea that the seriousness of sin was calculated in terms of the one who the sinner sinned against. For example, once upon a time, if one were to commit sin against Royalty that would be taken far more seriously then if one had committed the same sin against a commoner or a vassal. A person’s degree of majesty increased the degree of seriousness of the sin. Well, our sin is against a royalty no greater of whom can be named. As such, since we have committed sins against the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords the punishment that is equal to that can only be everlasting punishment of body and soul. Any other lesser penalty would be a slight and a dishonoring against the majesty and royalty of the King.
It is difficult for us to think this way since, in our Democratic mind frame, we no longer see people carrying different degrees of majesty, and as such we have a hard time understanding that to sin against a higher majesty requires a greater punishment.
3.) Everlasting punishment of body and soul
Note that the Catechism here clearly teaches the doctrine of Hell. Now the doctrine of Hell has fallen on hard times. Many people don’t want to talk about it. More and more Evangelicals are writing books insisting that Hell does not exist.
Let us posit here that as the doctrine of Hell goes into eclipse so does the idea of the majesty of God go into eclipse, so does the sinfulness of sin go into eclipse and so does the idea of the necessity for commensurate justice go into eclipse. Since the doctrine of Hell is the doctrine that bespeaks God’s majesty and is the consequence of violating God’s majesty, when we eviscerate the doctrine of Hell we also communicate that God isn’t so majestic. Since the doctrine of Hell is the doctrine that bespeaks of the end of all sinners and all sinfulness, when we eviscerate the doctrine of Hell we also communicate that the sinfulness of sin isn’t so bad after all. Since the doctrine of Hell is the doctrine that establishes the concept of justice that “the punishment should fit the crime,” when we eviscerate the doctrine of Hell we also communicate the non-importance of justice.
All this to say that the doctrine of Hell is extremely important for Christian theology as well as for a Christian World and life view. Wrong views on Hell have sweeping implications.
4.) Body and Soul
Note the affirmation here in the Catechism that the reprobate are raised to life and in their earthly bodies they will suffer everlasting punishment. The whole person –Body and Soul — will be punished everlastingly. No soul sleep. No disembodied misery. It is man, body and soul, who will suffer.
Finally, I would note here that this everlasting punishment against sin begins in the present. Those who are warring against God are already partaking in God’s everlasting punishment, and unless they repent and flee to Christ for safety, they will live a life that goes from everlasting punishment unto everlasting punishment in ever greater degrees until they spend eternity with no hope of relief.
All of this is why it is so important to warn people of God’s justice. We do people no favors when we try to soft pedal this attribute of God. I hope for better days when the Church will once again find its voice on this truth because the lovely dulcimer tones of God’s love for sinners only makes sense when that love is heard against the backdrop of the reality of God’s justice.