Scripture reference: Genesis 1:26-2:25
What is your only comfort in life and in death? This question may be quite familiar. When the authors of the Heidelberg Catechism determined to present the message of salvation in the Scripture in the form of a catechism, they started with this question. For those not familiar with a catechism, the idea is to take the basic message, the Gospel, and state it succinctly and directly as a confession of the Christian faith.
This question probes the issue which is very precious to every true believer: the direction we look, the source, of everything good and important to us. But more than that, it raises the issue which every individual who has ever lived or will live must face. The history of the world is filled with accounts of how people have faced this question. In fact, most people have determined to deal with this question by convincing themselves that they, in fact, do not need to deal with it. But that is folly, for no one can avoid it. In one way or another, everyone must and will deal with it.
It is my intention to work through the first question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism by examining the Scriptures upon which the details of this statement are based.
We must begin by understanding the question by itself. It is stated to present all that this comfort encompasses, but the question is also asked because there is a reason to find such comfort.
Do you look at life and understand there is a problem? In the face of uncertainty, what is important, what do we rely upon, what is our life all about, and what does the future hold? That is to say, what is your only comfort in life and in death?
Man created in the image of God
This question demands that we consider two further questions. It is where everyone must begin. First is this simple question: who are we? That is, who is man, which requires the next question, who is God? This much is clear: God is the Creator, and as the Creator He has fashioned and formed man, and established us regarding our place and purpose in this creation.
The Scripture simply puts it this way in Gen. 1:26 (ESV): “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.'” This simple statement, that God, the creator, created man, addresses two fundamental issues.
1. It describes who man is.
2. It states the purpose of man.
We begin with this truth: we are created. Man is not just the highest form of evolution; he is not just a creature living in the here and now; he is not just made up of stuff. We—you and I, and everyone—are made in the image of God. Thus, man is a reflection of God. In our human nature as created beings, we reflect the character of God.
Since we are made uniquely in His image, what we do and how we live intimately relates to who we are. In discussing the creation of man, it is necessary to limit myself to the specific question before us. There is a great deal more involved in the understanding of who man is.
To be in fellowship
Think of a piece of art: the artist paints the original, but you normally purchase a printed copy. God is the original; we are copies. That reveals a connection. You are created to be connected to your creator. The idea that man is unique and autonomous and can determine for himself who he is, is nonsense.
This connection is seen when God placed man not only on this earth (made specifically as a good place for man to live), but specifically in the garden. This picture presents us with the fact that God created man to be in fellowship with God. Adam and Eve were specifically placed to live in the very presence of God. All they thought and did, their very life, related to and was sustained by the ever-present God. Further, in a special way, they regularly met and talked with God as God talked with them. All of this has to do with who they are—their basic makeup.
To serve God
Not only did God put them in the garden, He gave them a task. Man is to rule over this creation, to unfold it and discover all that is in it, and to take care of it. Again, there is a great deal of stuff which can be unpacked from this reality.
But fundamentally, as it relates to the question before us, are you doing what God made you to be doing? If God made you for a purpose, it follows that there is an accounting. This task of serving God is not just given to man as an option. It is not just something extra for those who decide that they do want to honor God as the creator, as a way to show that honor.
It is what God put mankind here on this earth for. To serve Him.
The relationship of man to God established in the creation
Understanding you are created in the image of God means recognizing there is a relationship. You cannot be human, you cannot fulfill your place in the creation, you cannot function as you are designed to function, unless you are in a relationship with God.
In theological terms we speak of the creator/creature distinction. There is a creator: God alone is that creator. You are the creature; you are what God made you. We need to properly understand who we are and who we are not. It is up to God the Creator to decide who we are and how we are to live. That belongs to Him. We are to respond to the Creator because we are the creature, made in His image.
The creator/creature distinction is important. But as already indicated, man is a reflection of God. The connection exists. God did not just make something as He did with the rest of creation; He made man to be the image bearer of God.
Thus the question—What is your only comfort in life and in death?—is equally important for every individual.
Blog post content taken from a sermon series delivered by Dr. Maynard Koerner, President and Professor of Ministerial Studies at Heidelberg Theological Seminary.