In the original German edition of the catechism, the phrase here speaks of having guter zuversicht, it speaks of a good “confidence,” a good “trust,” or a good “faith” in our faithful God and Father. But what does it mean to have a “good confidence” or a “guter zuversicht” in God?
Confidence refers to the level of one’s trust in another. Perhaps one of the classic illustrations of this trust is found in a child jumping off the edge of a swimming pool into the waiting arms of his father — perhaps fearing the unknown of the water but trusting in the strength of his father’s arms and with the assurance that his father will keep him safe. When the prophet instructs us what God demands of us as believers, one of those things is that we “walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8). That humble walk implies that we are walking having placed our confidence in God.
Interestingly, confidence in the western culture is sometimes viewed as being presumptuous and egotistical. Yet, this kind of overconfident attitude only comes when one is placing confidence in oneself. When one places his or her confidence in God by faith there is no room for bragging or pride. Instead, we are quietly relying on the strength of our God to deliver us from the threat of the situation.
The core of what the catechism is instructing us in question 28 can be found here. It is because God has ordered all things by his divine providence and because I belong to Him in Christ, I have no need to fear what is to come. I have good confidence in the plans and designs of Him who orders and ordains all things by his providence and I will not question his purpose. This, friends, is what it means to have a gut zuversicht.
Even so, sometimes the eighteen inches between the head and the heart can be a difficult bridge to cross. We understand an idea intellectually, but bring our hearts to a point where we live like it can often be a great challenge. We like to worry and fret over things, yet the scriptures and the catechism seem to make it utterly clear that we have a God who hears our prayers, who cares for us in our times of need, and who acts in this fallen world, ordaining all things that come to pass (Ephesians 1:11). So, in what shall we fear? We shall fear none but God alone and serve and love Him as our God and Father with good confidence because is our Father and will use all things to conform us into the image of his Son, Jesus.
You might be tempted to think that being thankful in times of prosperity is a given — an easy thing for believer and non-believer alike. You might be tempted to think that thankfulness during good times is quite natural. But, were this the case, the authors of Heidelberg would never have needed to ground faithfulness in a knowledge of God’s providential governance of his creation. So, perhaps genuine thankfulness is not as natural as we might initially think.
First of all, thankfulness, by definition, is a state of being grateful for thinks placed into your life. That sounds pretty benign at first glance, but it raises the question, “to whom” is that gratefulness supposed to be directed? The answer, of course, is that it is to be directed toward the one who brings the gift or blessing into your life. And, for most people, here is the rub. Yes, our neighbor might do us a favor and it is proper to thank him. Yet, God’s providence governs your neighbor’s actions. Yes, a relative might give us a gift and it is proper to thank them, but again, God’s providence governs the actions of our relatives — even of our pagan ones! Yes, good things may happen to me, but God governs all of these things. And, if God’s providence governs all things that take place in our life, then our gratefulness, in the ultimate sense, is to be directed toward Him.
You see, as Question 28 of Heidelberg points out, all things in our life are ultimately governed by God’s providence. So, when good things happen we ought to be thankful, but to be genuinely thankful, we must address that thankfulness toward God. The non-Christian does not naturally thank God — in fact, the non-Christian rejects thanking God for the good things and prosperity in his or her life. In turn, that means that they are not truly expressing thankfulness as they ought.
Yet, it is not just the non-Christian that often struggles with thankfulness, it is also the Christian. Often, thankfulness to God is our secondary response to good things in our life, not our first response. Often, we forget and have to remind ourselves to thank God for the events of the day and often we forget entirely to do so. Worse yet, often, when good things come into our lives, we assume them to be things that we have deserved or earned for ourselves. Yet, even the money paid for the labor of our hands (which is arguably earned) is something for which we must give God thanks for God has given us both the skills of our hands and the opportunity to use said skills in a productive way. All of this has been orchestrated and brought to pass by God’s providence, thus, again, we find ourselves needing to express gratitude to God.
Yet, often we do not express gratitude toward God in any intentional and meaningful way. We might say, “Thank you God for…,” but do we live in a way that demonstrates our gratefulness? Often we do not. As we continue to reflect on the catechism, do make a point of asking yourselves how intentionally you express your gratitude to God for all that takes place in your life…in this case, especially when it comes to times of success and prosperity.
It’s nice to say that we must have patience in times of trouble, but how is it that we develop patience in our lives? Certainly, that is not typically an easy task and patience is clearly not a spiritual gift with which we are born. If you question that, spend some time volunteering in the church nursery next week. Patience is something that is learned, but how do we go about learning it?
For Calvin, learning patience took place as one sought the common equity of one’s neighbor. In other words, as you apply the golden rule, seeking to ensure that your neighbor receives just and fair treatment, you will (almost as a byproduct) grow in your ability to be patient both with others and during times of affliction.
Let us suppose, for a moment, one of the classic illustrations of needing patience in western society. When we go to the store to buy a product or some groceries, imagine getting to the check-out counter and being stuck in a line that is moving very slowly. This is something that most westerners can relate to quite easily. Imagine discovering that the reason that the line is backed up is because there is a person who is checking every price as it is registered, arguing a discrepancy as to how coupons are to be rung up, and then counting out pennies to finish paying for their purchase! Then imagine that you have somewhere you are supposed to be in a short amount of time. For many westerners, especially Americans, that is enough to make you want to run up and choke the person.
From Calvin’s perspective, the Christian is to ask himself or herself, “How would I want others to treat me were I that person counting out coupons and pennies? Certainly, I would want people to understand my situation and give me the opportunity to take advantage of any discounts I can get. Certainly, I would also desire to not be rushed and to not have other customers rolling their eyes, grumbling, or otherwise making me feel like a lesser human being. And thus, for Calvin, intentionally treating the other person (your neighbor in a Biblical sense) as you would genuinely like to be treated, that develops patience in your person.
But, how is that supposed to develop patience during times of suffering or persecution? To begin with, when you realize that, for the Christian, times of suffering are designed to strengthen our faith and reliance on God, then you realize the one with whom you are being called to be patient is God himself. And, since you know that the intentions of God are to conform you into Christ’s image, is not the end result a good and benevolent thing? So, shall we not patiently persevere recognizing the equity with which God works and desiring that His ends be done in our lives (isn’t that part of what we pray when we pray the Lord’s Prayer?).
Finally, we often struggle with patience towards self. Yet, do we not wish to be treated equitably by others? If so, shall we not treat ourselves with that same equity? And in doing so, patience, even with self, continues to grow.
In the end, being patient during times of trouble is something we must do — and can do as a result of God’s providential governance of all things. But it is also a Christian virtue in which we must invest time and effort. The old statement, “Give me patience and I want it now,” does not apply here…
The thing that amazes me sometimes (and here I am preaching to myself also!) is how often we are surprised when bad things happen. No, I am not suggesting that people ought always to be looking at things pessimistically or be a “gloomy Gus” all of the time, or become a “nattering nabob of negativism,” but if we look realistically at this fallen and sinful world, what should surprise us are the good times when everything comes together exactly as planned, not the bad times when things seem to be falling apart at the seams. In fact, when we get overly comfortable with the blessings of this life, I fear that we also lose our hope of heaven — we cling to these things and fear that which is to come.
Now, I will freely grant that there is nothing wrong with praying for a peaceful, quiet life — that is a intensely Biblical thing to do. At the same time, the Christian should always understand that times of trouble will come because we are not yet in the glorified world and that it is often during these times of trouble that God shows his most profound grace in comfort…and no, it is not Mother Mary that comes to us…but it is God’s Holy Spirit. But how shall we face such times?
Many times, Christians approach such times, desperately clinging to hope and praying for endurance just so they can get through to the other side. And, to be entirely honest, this is a completely human and normal response. I can’t tell you how many times I have ministered to people, in the midst of a crisis, and the focus is, “Just get me to the other side of this.” And, I must confess, that has been my own reaction at times — endurance is a Biblical virtue.
Yet, Heidelberg presents a somewhat different approach that offers us an overall wisdom that is greater than our natural response. Heidelberg states that because of God’s providence (that he governs all things that take place in this world), our response is to strive for patience in the midst of suffering. And while patience is closely related to endurance, there is a difference between patient endurance and desperately seeking to get to the other side of what it is that you are facing.
The why, as to our patient endurance, is obvious. God has ordained whatsoever has come to pass and he has ordained it for our ultimate good, which is to be conformed into the image of Christ. What may not be as clear is the advantage of this approach to times of trouble. When you are simply focused on “just getting through” then it is the trouble and just the trouble that pretty much consumes your focus. When you approach trouble with patient endurance, you are not so much focused on the trouble as the opportunities within the trouble to point to Christ. One thing that I most commonly pray, when I am praying with people in the hospital, is that God would use this hospital stay to point others toward Christ — whether doctors, nurses, caregivers, staff, or roommates.
There is a residual benefit to this mindset. It makes seeing God’s hand of sustaining mercy to you much easier. And maybe, just maybe, this “residual benefit” is one of the reasons that people prefer to grit their teeth and just get through it. Once we are on the other side of the “just get through” mindset, there sometimes creeps in a notion that we got through because of our own strength. When we face trouble with the patient endurance that only God can grant, and are faced daily (even moment by moment) with the grace of God’s sustaining mercy, it is a humbling experience. And being humbled is most commonly not a pleasant experience — but it is for our good and for our sanctification is it not? For Christ demonstrated the truest humility in coming down and taking on flesh — even the form of a poor servant. Shall we not be willing to do the same? Our opportunity to do so, very often comes in the guise of troubles that we must face with patience.