Man’s Sin and God’s Honor…

Exodus 20: 12 ““Honor your father and your mother”

Romans 1:21 “For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God”

“If the early Greek fathers represented the cross primarily as a ‘satisfaction’ of the devil…and the early Latin fathers saw it as a satisfaction of God’s law, a fresh approach was made by Anselm of Canterbury in the eleventh century…of the cross as a satisfaction of God’s offended honor” [John Stott, The Cross of Christ, 118].

Why would Stott devote pages in his book to an author who was the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1093?  In today’s world are we even concerned about a man who lived nine hundred and twenty-eight years ago?  Do we even care about a man who lived in an era where people were worried about the outdated idea of “honor”?  Today, do we know what it means to give honor to another person?  Do we ever regard others with such great respect?  Maybe Christians should show honor to everyone, even if they don’t deserve it.  “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” should be taken seriously; it is the “second commandment” behind “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” in Jesus’ top two commandments list.  Think about it. Loving your neighbor as you love yourself is all about honoring others.

Granted, Archbishop Anselm lived in another time period all together, a time period when honor was considered sacred. Honor was the willful sacrifice of man’s lower instincts to much higher sentiments.  Christianity in Anselm’s day preached that honor should be a personal habit, a way of life for all men. In his day, Christians “venerated” honorable men, men who sacrificed for the honor of others.  They believed the effort to honor others raised a small person up to be a great person and a great person to be a hero.

I have had a life-long fascination with the exemplars of honor in European history, medieval knights.  Those heroes placed great emphasis on being true to chivalrous ideals and the epitome of the most virtuous knight was the Christian knight, the “Knight Templar.” These knights were part of a large organization of the most devout Christians who carried out important missions in the Holy Land.  They protected European travelers visiting sites in the Holy Land and carried out military operations in the name of God.  Their whole existence depended on how much honor they paid to God.*

Into this medieval climate of honor and knighthood, Anslem wrote his book Cur Deus Homo?, a systematic study of the cross as a satisfaction for God’s offended honor.  Stott cites Robert Franks who describes Cur Deus Homo?: “[this book for] the first time in a thoroughgoing and consistent way applies…the subject and conceptions of satisfaction and merit.”  James Denney called Cur Deus Homo? “the truest and greatest book on atonement that has ever been written.”

In Anselm’s view, when man sins he is committing a dishonor to our Lord and Savior.  Man owes God the best behavior that he can produce.  When we sin, we take away from God what is His own, which means we steal from Him and dishonor Him by how we act.  Yet when man sins he wants forgiveness from a God who cannot accept our obedience and good works.  Human obedience and good works is not satisfactory enough for God.  “Good works cannot make satisfaction for our sins, since they [good works] are required of us anyway.  So we cannot save ourselves.  Nor can any other human being save us, since ‘one who is a sinner cannot justify another sinner’”  [from  Cur Deus Homo?].  Here’s the key: “No one…can make this satisfaction except God Himself….No-one can do it except one who is truly God, and no-one ought to do it except one who is truly man” [Stott, 210].  Here is where Anselm introduces Jesus Christ in his theological discussion.

We are talking about the necessity of the highest idealistic human behavior dedicated to Almighty God, one who deserves more honor than any human can imagine.  This extremely idealistic vision of human behavior is very reflective of the feudal culture of Anselm’s age.  Society was “rigidly stratified;” each person “stood on the dignity” which was due him, conduct of inferiors to superiors was codified, improper behavior of inferiors was severely punished and all debts had to be properly paid.  Anselm portrays God in terms of a feudal overlord who demands honor and punishes dishonor.

Stott declares that Christ died for our sins in our place, but God did not inflict punishment on Jesus because He was an “injured party;” He inflicted punishment on Christ as Ruler of everything [God Himself].  The only proper thing that God could do was mete out punishment.  The notion of honor dictated that.  Sin is more than an attack on His honor; it is an attack on the world order which is an expression of His will on this earth.  Stott cites theologian Emil Brunner who writes “All order in the world depends upon the inviolability of His [that is God’s] honor, upon the certitude that those who rebel against Him will be punished.”

This post began with the fifth commandment and Scripture from Romans 1: 21.  In Romans, Paul declares that God has made Himself perfectly clear to mankind that no one is excused for ignoring Him.  We may choose not to seek out God, but we cannot pretend that we don’t know what is expected of us.  We should honor God as our Creator, but instead, many of us believe we have developed ourselves on our own and we have acquired what we have on our own.  Paul is saying that if we do not understand God as the Creator and Provider we cannot understand how the universe works.  We have a faulty understanding of how the universe works and our part in it.  This condemnation from God is a rightful condemnation.  We truly get what we deserve.

Sin is the breaking of God’s law and law is the expression of the will of God.  If man breaks God’s law, the law does not heal all by itself.  Sin therefore is a “break in the world order” [Stott, 124].  Reparation or restitution is necessary.  God demands it and nothing man can do can satisfy it.  Anselm sees God as the Ruler who exacts punishment that is due.  In doing this, He upholds His honor; He maintains His dignity.  Christ bore the brunt of the punishment but God does not humble Himself through atonement.

Referring to Stott’s statement on satisfaction and substitution [on St. John Studies, June 9, 2021], “The biblical gospel of atonement is of God satisfying Himself by substituting Himself for us.”

Why does He do this?

He is the Ultimate Ruler.

He demands the best behavior from man.

The best we have cannot atone for the sins we have committed.

He has to satisfy His need for dignity and honor somehow.

God-Man Jesus fills that bill.

According to Anselm, what we must say is…thank you Jesus!

*Honor, A Counter Revolutionary Virture, Hugh O’Reilly accessed on 6/17/2021

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