- Divine Life – A Blog by Eric Sammons - http://ericsammons.com/blog -
Posted By Eric Sammons On April 8, 2009 @ 7:09 am In Books,Jesus Christ | Comments Disabled
As I mentioned in a previous post , I recently finished reading Cur Deus Homo by St. Anselm. From this work developed the theory of atonement called “penal substitution” (note I don’t call it a doctrine nor do I wholly credit it to Anselm). This theory goes something like this:
Man sinned against God and thus in justice deserved punishment. Since the offense was against an infinite God, the punishment deserved to be infinite as well. But since it was committed by man, only man could receive the punishment. Jesus, as both God and man, was able to represent man but also accept an infinite punishment. His death thus substitutes for our punishment of death.
Or put another way: I am found guilty of murder and am sentenced to death. However, an innocent man (who happens to be the judge’s son) offers to die in my stead. So he is executed and I am set free.
I think it should be clear from the second explanation the problem with this theory: how is it just to kill an innocent man instead of a guilty one, even if he volunteers for the punishment?
Anselm himself uses a different analogy, which is a bit better: the people of a kingdom reject their king and the king decides to punish them. His son, however, does a great service for the king and the king grants him anything he desires as a reward. The son choose pardon for the people.
This analogy, it seems to me, comes closer to the theory of fiscal substitution. In this theory, we owe a debt to God we cannot pay (and Anselm often uses debt language in Cur Deus Homo). However, Jesus offers to pay this for us if we follow him. This is more understandable to me, for if I had a debt to the bank there is nothing against justice if someone else were to volunteer to pay that debt (and anyone can feel free to contact me for my mortgage payoff information).
Thus I am more apt to accept the theory of fiscal substitution over penal substitution. And yet…Jesus died for us. He died a horrible, humiliating death to atone for our sins. This is how he paid our debt for us; it was not just a financial loan – our sins literally brought death upon us.
Yet why does the death of an innocent man help us who are guilty? Perhaps, in the Incarnation, Jesus becomes part of the guilty race of men. He no longer is really innocent of the charges against man – he takes humanity on so completely that he too is guilty. So his death for our sins is not against justice. So although I’m uncomfortable wholeheartedly accepting the theory of penal substitution, there does seem to be a great deal of value in it.
I think the key is to realize that no theory fits completely. If you go too far with any one, it will fall apart. We can speculate for eternity how Christ’s death atones for our sins, but ultimately it comes down to this: his death does save us and I’m very thankful for that fact.
Article printed from Divine Life – A Blog by Eric Sammons: http://ericsammons.com/blog
URL to article: http://ericsammons.com/blog/2009/04/08/penal-substitution/
URLs in this post:
 previous post: http://ericsammons.com/blog/2009/04/07/anslem-tradition-and-evangelicals/
 subscribe to my RSS feed: http://ericsammons.com/blog/feed/
Copyright © 2010 Divine Life - A Blog by Eric Sammons. All rights reserved.