Yesterday a dear family friend unexpectedly died.
He had heart problems for all of his adult life and was frequently in the hospital. His family and friends always knew that the Lord could call him home at any time. Still, the news of his passing is shocking.
Along with my friend’s heart condition, his wife recently discovered she has cancer. She just began chemotherapy. Her next treatment is scheduled for tomorrow.
They have three children.
My friend grew up in the Dutch Reformed theological tradition and had a deep appreciation for the Heidelberg Catechism. When he was younger, it was more of a love/hate relationship. But as he grew older, he grew wiser, and his love blossomed for the Heidelberg. He was even teaching it to the youth of their local PCA church here in the Twin Cities. He knew the Heidelberg inside and out, and wanted his children to do the same.
So when I heard of his death yesterday, I couldn’t help but remember the Heidelberg’s famous first question:
What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own,1 but belong—body and soul, in life and in death2—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.3
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,4 and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.5 He also watches over me in such a way6 that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven;7 in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.8
Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life9 and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.10
1 1 Cor. 6:19-20
2 Rom. 14:7-9
3 1 Cor. 3:23; Titus 2:14
4 1 Pet. 1:18-19; 1 John 1:7-9; 2:2
5 John 8:34-36; Heb. 2:14-15; 1 John 3:1-11
6 John 6:39-40; 10:27-30; 2 Thess. 3:3; 1 Pet. 1:5
7 Matt. 10:29-31; Luke 21:16-18
8 Rom. 8:28
9 Rom. 8:15-16; 2 Cor. 1:21-22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13-14
10 Rom. 8:1-17
Herein lies rock solid and comforting truth that will sustain his wife and children in the uncertain days ahead:
In life—and death—their bodies and souls belong to Jesus Christ. They are set free from the devil’s tyranny. Not a hair can fall from their heads without the Father’s will. All things work together for their salvation. Eternity is real. Jesus is watching over them. They wholly belong to him. He is faithful. (Repeat)
It’s times like this when a supposedly dry, erudite, 450 year old theological teaching aid becomes something more: moving us from mere knowledge about the Triune God and ourselves in light of who he is to remembering, and perhaps experiencing, beautiful and glorious communion with him. Even (especially?) in times of unexpected suffering and loss.
The Heidelberg—a musty, outdated and irrelevant catechism?
I don’t think so.
As for my now departed friend? His need for the Heidelberg is obsolete, as he is now joyfully basking in the eternal presence of the Triune God to which it speaks.