The next three questions of the Heidelberg Catechism (How do you come to know your misery?, What does God’s law require of us? and Can you live up to all this perfectly?) address the human condition before God. It is necessary for a person to come to know their misery in the same way it is necessary to have a foundation beneath your house. Like comfort, misery have expressions in the world. But in the same way there is a difference between eternal comfort found and earthly comfort there is a difference between the misery of our condition before God and the misery of miserable conditions in the world. The difference is important to understand because it is the difference between how we appear before God and what we appear to be in this world. They are not the same. The Catechism shows us why it is necessary for people to know their true misery, it wants people to know what the law of God requires and it asks the very searching question “can you keep that law? All of these questions lead the reader to the grace of God in Christ Jesus. But grace is not seen by those who think they are owed something from God or by those who do not understand their true condition before him.
As far away from God as each other
Therefore, the materially rich man, who feels good with everything he has and the materially poor man, who is depressed with his earthly condition if they do not belong to God are the same. They both share a natural tendency to hate God and are as far away from understanding their true condition before God as each other. The necessary conditions needed for a person to come and understand his true misery and in turn see the greatness of God is something which God ordains. Jonathan Edwards when preaching on Hosea 5:15 said “God makes men sensible of their misery before he reveals his mercy and love”. How do we see our need of Christ if we do not see what our needs are, what our true condition is before God? If we are to become conscious of our guilt before God and sensible concerning our condition and real about our need of God’s help, it must be revealed to us. The law of God does this revealing and God orders the circumstances of life in such a way that we would see and understand our miserable condition
Knowing our condition
Why is knowing our misery a necessary condition? In this world there are plenty of positive thinking mantras, after all, why would anyone want to know or feel misery? But positive thinking doesn’t change our condition before God. And while a person might feel better after they have spoken the following words “good things will come to me”. This keeps a person from what they need to know especially if it is followed by good experiences. When truth is mediated through good experiences alone and those good feelings become the validation we seek, truth is no longer objective but whatever corresponds and affirms our desires, feelings and the experiences we enjoy.
Like a mirror
The law of God is like a mirror, it shows us our true condition before God. The law is not miserable but shows us our misery by showing us our true condition. The law also leads us to Christ, that we would see our need of Christ. This in turn produces in us a heart of thankfulness and gratitude for the person of Christ and it is here that we recognise that God’s law does not lead us to condemnation but to God who saves. The problem that the law of God exposes is the fact that we cannot keep God’s law but this problem is overcome in the person of Christ and his accomplishment.
If a person doesn’t recognise what has been said their true condition before God is hidden from them. Either by the good life they enjoy, the life they desire or the depression that comes with living in poor conditions. The conditions which come with living in this world is not what these questions seek to draw attention to but rather the condition of a human before a holy and just God. No person is righteous and all have sinned, fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:10;23), but in Christ, we are saved and restored. The law of God reveals what is good (1 Tim 1:8) The law of God leads us to Christ and Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it and in doing so he saved us making us sons of God.