May 14, 2014

Two Great Little Books, Part 2

Stephen Nichols
Two Great Little Books, Part 2


Last week when we were together we were considering Anselm’s two great little books. And last week we considered his work Proslogion. This week we’re going to consider his work Cur Deus Homo. Now, that’s the Latin title—the English translation of that is Why the God-man?

It’s such a crucial question isn’t it? Why the God-man? Why did Jesus come and why did Jesus die on the cross? What is that all about? Well, in this book Anselm is trying to figure it out. The book is actually a dialogue. It’s between Anselm and a man named Boso. He starts us with a very fascinating place. He starts us with the issue of divine justice. Now think about that for a moment. Why does Anselm start there? He starts there because that starting point has everything to do with what we think of Christ and what we think of His work.

If we have the idea that, you know, we’re basically good people, and God is a loving heavenly Father, and all we need to do is sort of be better, well that’s certainly going to impact how we think of Christ and how we think of what He did on the cross. But if we start with this idea—that God is holy and we in our humanity are sinful, and we are deserving of nothing other than divine wrath because that is what is demanded by divine justice—well, if that is our starting point then what we think of Christ and what we think of the cross is an entirely different thing altogether, isn’t it?

"I owed a debt I could not pay. He paid a debt He did not owe." So Anselm starts us there. He starts us with this idea of divine justice. Now God just can’t look at our sins and act as if we never did them, you know. He can’t sort of take our sins and lift up the cosmic rug as it were, and sort of sweep them under there and we’ll just hide them under there and nobody will notice. If He were to do that He would not be God. He would not be just. He would not be holy. So God can’t do that.

Anselm has Boso consider other things God could do and at the end of the day Anselm leads Boso to recognize that there’s only one way that the divine justice can be met.

In fact, a little bit towards the middle of the book there’s a wonderful turning point in the book, and Anselm says, “O, my dear Boso. You have not yet considered the great weight of sin.” And that is the hinge upon which the whole book turns. Once we come to grips with that then we have to see Jesus as the God-man. We have to see Him as fully identifying with us. As the author of Hebrews is going to tell us, we have a high priest who is touched with our infirmities. He must be made like us, the author of Hebrews says. See, we are the offending party and so we have the humanity of Jesus. So if He were just a person dying, that would just be one man dying for sins. That doesn’t rise to the level of satisfying divine justice. So this person Jesus, who is fully human, also is fully God. He is the God-man. And in His divinity He makes a sacrifice that is of infinite value and rises to the level of satisfying divine justice and in fact pays the penalty.

You know, you might have heard this expression, “I owed a debt I could not pay. He paid a debt He did not owe.” That actually is essentially the thesis of the book. That’s the argument Anselm is trying to lead us to. And not only is it sort of an intellectual argument that helps us see how Jesus as the God-man in His substitutionary death on the cross, how that alone satisfies divine justice, how that alone solves our ultimate problem of our sinfulness and being under the wrath of God.

This is not just an intellectual exercise for Anselm. In fact, as he’s leading Boso to see this intellectually he’s also helping Boso to recognize that this is the God whom we worship. He’s helping us to worship Christ, the God-man. And this wonderful text written in 1098 that we can read today helps us as well.