God, Injustice, and Mercy (Anselm)

 The deep philosophical, theological, and practical question has been uttered for countless years: “If God is good, why is there evil and injustice.”  A better and more humble question was asked by Anselm of Canterbury (d. 1109): “How do You spare the wicked if You are all-just and supremely just?”  He asked this and similar questions in a prayer-like manner, which is found in chapters 9-10 of his Proslogion.  Here’s a small part of it.

“For though You are all-just and supremely just You are, however – precisely because You are all-just and supremely just – also beneficent even to the wicked.  You would, in fact, be less good if You were not beneficient to any wicked man.  For he who is good to both good and wicked is better than he who is good only to the good.  …And though perhaps it is apparent why You should reward the good with good and the bad with bad, what is indeed to be wondered at is why You, the all-just One who wants for [lacks] nothing, should bestow good things on Your wicked and guilty creatures.”

“O God, how profound is your goodness!  …It is from plenitude of goodness that You are gentle with those who sin against you….  O mercy, from what abundant sweetness and sweet abundance do you flow forth for us! …When You punish the wicked it is just, since it agrees with their merits; however, when You spare the wicked it is just, not because of their merits but because it is befitting to Your goodness.”

That is the prayer of faith seeking understanding, the prayer of the man who was humbled before the majesty, goodness, and justice of God.  Rather than put God on trial by asking him “why injustice and evil?” we should follow Anselm and put ourselves on trial and ask “why mercy and grace?”  Or, in other words, we should pray Psalm 8 in light of Titus 3.5 every day.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

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