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Why the God-Man?

In his work Cur Deus Homo? (Why the God-man?), Anselm of Canterbury (1033–1109) sought to answer the question of why the incarnation was necessary. R. C. Sproul writes,


At the heart of Anselm’s answer to that question was his understanding of the character of God. Anselm saw that the chief reason a God-man was necessary was the justice of God. That may seem to be a strange answer. Thinking of the cross and of Christ’s atonement, we assume that the thing that most strenuously motivated God to send Christ into the world was His love or His mercy. As a result, we tend to overlook the characteristic of God’s nature that makes the atonement absolutely necessary—His justice.

God is loving, but a major part of what He loves is His own perfect character, with a major aspect being the importance of maintaining justice and righteousness. Though God pardons sinners and makes great provision for expressing His mercy, He will never negotiate His justice. If we fail to understand that, the cross of Christ will be utterly meaningless to us.

—R. C. Sproul, The Truth of the Cross (Reformation Trust, 2007), 18–19.

Posted 2008·09·23 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Anselm of Canturbury · Atonement · Justice (of God) · R C Sproul · The Cross · The Truth of the Cross
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#1 || 08·09·23··12:55 || Daniel

Anselm's argument, simplified, is that because God created man to be subject to His will, and because Adam failed (and so likewise his progeny) on that account, it means that the only way for God's will to still be done (in creation) is for some man to live in perfect subjection to God's will, Christ being sent as that man (the second Adam). Thus the necessity of the "man" part of the man-God recipe. The Christ had to be fully human in order to actually be in subjugation to God.

The "God" part however, is required, because of the magnitude of the sin debt, such that only the infinite value of God's life can swallow up that magnitude of debt.

I tend to agree with the idea that the Christ had to be a man, and my reasoning is more or less on par, I think, with Anselm's. Yet I do subscribe to the infinite value cancels out debt model of the atonement - meaning I believe that while the sin debt is real, I don't believe that Christ's infinite merit is what cancels out the debt - rather I think the debt is satisfied when God pours His wrath out in full on the sinner who is united together with Christ on Calvary. This is not suggest that Christ's life is not infinitely worthy, it is. But it is to suggest that Christ's perfect subjection was not "meritorious" in the sense of providing an infinite abundance of grace by which sin is soused - rather Christ's perfectly righteous life merits this: God cannot justly keep Christ in the grave after pouring His wrath out on Him.

The Christ had to be God, not because the only solution for sin was to souse it in a life of infinite value - as though infinite life swallowed up a finite death (poetic an image as it is), but rather, I think the Christ had to be God because God and God alone saves anyone. Had God sent an angel, or even produced another Adam to do this - that man would be glorified, even above God - and no one but God is worthy of that glory.

Well, That's my thoughts anyway.

#2 || 08·09·23··16:41 || David

Daniel, that makes sense, I think.

I take it that you've actually read Anselm, then.

#3 || 08·09·24··09:03 || Daniel

David, I like what Anselm had to say about God's will being done - that is, his argument for the humanity of the Messiah - if it was God's intention for man to live in perfect obedience, and Adam failed to do so, it suggests that God's will can be thwarted. It stands to reason then that redeeming the "image of God" for the glory of God, must be completed by a man, but no man is worthy of such glory. It follows I think that the only way to redeem God's image, without further damaging it by allowing someone else the glory, is for God to become man, redeem His own image, for His own glory, and receive the glory that only He is rightly due.

I haven't read Anselm exhaustively, but I have read some. I think most (all?) of his writings are available online. Most of his works are short enough to read in a single sitting - as he wrote before the practice of writing extended treatise on topics was vogue. So you could read both books of Cur Deus Homo in an hour or less.

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