He fascinated me.
I almost fell out of my leafy perch to get a better look.
The gold edge of his white robe brushed the ground as he slowly lit each candle. There was a seriousness to his movements that arrested my attention. As each flame roared to life, I saw his dark eyes close a moment. Though I had no idea the importance of the candles, his dedication to God was clear.
I inched forward. It certainly didn’t look like the sanctuary of my father’s church. How I longed to be invisible as the kaleidoscope windows called my name, to let the solemn smell waft over me and take in the beauty of human craftsmen reflecting the eternal. Something nudged my soul.
But an 11-year-old pastor’s daughter from the local Bible church doesn’t go into a Catholic church, no matter how pretty the windows. She hides in a tree and spies on the priest, hoping he doesn’t see her.
Beauty seemed complicated—worship heavy with doctrine and the questions too scary to think about—so I ran and hid in my compartments of right and wrong.
Until a professor dared to say, “Everything is theological.” He patiently listened as I argued, yet he held his ground.
I thought catechism was irrevocably tied with Catholicism. But in truth, it’s only tied with theology. The framework I understood was simple: memorize the words in the Bible. Know them and you will know God.
Except that’s not completely accurate.
That unintentional catechism had some massive holes. The largest of which: why?
I have awards from Bible club, spiral-bound books filled with Bible verses dutifully recited to my leader. I can still quote most of them, yet without asking that one question it was like looking through a dimly colored piece of glass. No dimension. No depth.
My compartments collided when I tried to teach Sunday school. I struggled to hold “everything is theological” and “memorize to know God.” Questions about traditions pushed me to write a lot of words as I processed my thoughts.
How can I expect these kids to know God when all I give them is a good moral story?
Why do churches silence those who ask that holy question “why”?
Do I even know the answer?
All I heard was an echo until I began writing what I knew about God.
Little by little, I started to see it: the purple and blue mixed with yellow and flecked with green. To my surprise, the cache of verses I knew only enhanced the beauty I saw.
It wasn’t the God I thought I’d find.
He didn’t demand perfection without giving me his grace. His wrath was continually set aside and grace chosen instead. Justice and mercy were not in contradiction, but perfectly balanced. It was his kindness that led me to pray during Bible club one night, and it was again his kindness to continue giving me the pieces to see him for who he is.
Peering through the leaves all those years ago, I knew I had “fire insurance,” but I wish someone would’ve said, “It’s okay! Go sit in that beautiful room. Let those stained-glass windows draw your mind and heart to him. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. God isn’t limited by your thoughts or even your doubts. Feel his love as you see the beauty he created just for you.”
Even though as a kaleidoscope turns the view looks as if it changes completely, the pieces are still the same. You’re just getting a different perspective.
The catechism is no different. Asking the questions and seeing the answers, as children and then as adults, simply gives us a different view of the God who never changes.
What were your previous experiences with the question “why?” when it comes to doctrine in the church?
What does the phrase, “everything is theological” means to you? What does it evoke? What questions does it raise?
How have you experienced seeing a different view of the same God who never changes, or a different view of the same bible passage(s) that haven’t changed?
What do you appreciate the most about the Heidelberg Catechism? And the least? Why?
About the Author
Ruth Verkaik and her engineer husband live in the tension of “everything is theological” as they discuss life around their dinner table and raise thinkers. They are members of Overisel Reformed Church in Holland, Mich. Follow her on Instagram @ruthwriter and at her blog, ruthverkaik.com.