Belt on Anselm’s View of the Atonement, Justice, Forgiveness, and Reconciliation

‘When Anselm says “justice must be seen to be done,” I sense there is an important truth being expressed though I’m sure this rarely gets expressed truthfully, especially when we interpret it as requiring an offering of proportionate value and magnitude to the crime; the idea being that we’ve offended an infinitely worthy God and so an infinitely valuable consequence suffered is how justice is satisfied. Does it make sense to calculate the magnitude of our offense as infinite because God is of infinite value? I’m sure I’m in the minority here, but I think not. God is infinitely valuable, of course. But does the severity or magnitude of a finite agency’s offense derive from the value of the offended party? Get caught stealing from a poor beggar and justice is satisfied with you’re being reprimanded. Get caught stealing from the King and you pay big-time. How much you deserve to suffer is proportionate to the value of the one you offend. That’s certainly the sense of justice in the Middle East I lived in for half my life. Steal from me, do public serve. Steal from King Hussein, go to jail. So, as the logic goes, steal from God and suffer infinitely. I think this is wrong-headed. (…) I sense something amiss here, because what is also “common human expectation” regarding justice is that forgiveness is not part of the deal. What’s expected is that those guilty for the most heinous crimes ought to suffer the equivalent to what they’ve done to others. This is no different than (lex talionis) ‘eye for eye’ and ‘tooth for tooth’ justice Christ calls us to not participate in. He calls our “common human expectation” and “blood boiling” into question. It is also not a part of our “common human expectation” that someone else suffer what I deserve to suffer on my behalf, even if such suffering is freely chosen. So there’s good reason to check our common human expectations. (…) Forgiveness – if it’s real at all – suggests an entirely different economy of relations, and so must the justice we embrace challenge our shared expectations, especially if those expectations require our blood to boil or ask us to make proportionate compensation of eyes for eyes and teeth for teeth. (…) Justice is only finally satisfied when victims and victimizers transcend the distinction between justice and mercy in the gratuitous gift of Christ. (…) The world is set right wherever the guilty confess, take responsibility for their choices, and are reconciled to their victims. The Cross makes this possible not by satisfying the deserved punishment, but because God in Christ suffers victimization and forgives. As James Alison says, Jesus becomes the “forgiving victim.” This “rectifies” the world. How? By creating space for both victimizers to be forgiven and victims to extend forgiveness. There’s no suffering that compensates for wrongs. What compensates, if we must speak in such terms, is the beatitude of Christ’s sufferings where victimizers and victims meet each other within an the impassible economy of God’s delight. What we need, then, is not proportional justice, i.e., victims seeing that their perpetrators are suffering a pain equal in magnitude to their crime, but proportional forgiveness, i.e., the consummate Innocent One forgiving his perpetrators and so empowering both victimizers (to take responsibility for their actions) and victims (to extend forgiveness in Christ).’

Excerpts taken from Tom Belt, “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, cross for cross?” (anopenorthodoxy).


2 thoughts on “Belt on Anselm’s View of the Atonement, Justice, Forgiveness, and Reconciliation

  1. This is a very serious misrepresentation.

    During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was NOT correcting Moses. On the contrary, he said in Matthew 5:

    “17 “Don’t think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I didn’t come to destroy, but to fulfill. 18 For most certainly, I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not even one smallest letter[b] or one tiny pen stroke[c] shall in any way pass away from the law, until all things are accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever shall break one of these least commandments and teach others to do so, shall be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven; but whoever shall do and teach them shall be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, there is no way you will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.”

    Jesus’s goal was NOT changing Moses, but to correct misinterpretations that arose among the law due to Phariseeistic teaching. There is no place where the Old Testament says “you shall hate your enemy” or “avenge yourself”. Which brings us to the heart of the issue.

    The command “Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” was not given to individuals, but for governments. It is however a holy commandment that God himself ordained, and how he views justice.

    On that basis we can conclude that the above article is a perfect example when a human person – innocently I may add – uses his own standards to judge God. However, above statements ought to be sufficient defense of my point to prove that God demands that our eye be plucked out for every eye we plucked out, making penal substitution a logical choice.


    1. Hi! I agree with most of what you have written in your reply. Here are a few things I would like to touch on:

      While it did evolve to the judges (government) taking action, an avenger of blood is a very biblical principle. Chris Fisher had a video on it, explaining it thoroughly but I cannot seem to find that video anymore. Maybe you can?

      Another interpretation about the “eye for an eye” principle is that it was never carried out in the literal sense but it was carried out in the sense that the perpetrator had to make up for it through money or work. In that sense, if you want to extrapolate this to the cross of Christ, Jesus did something else as a replacement for the debt we owned. To me the Moral Government Theory of the atonement still makes the most sense.

      God also gave us a sense of right and wrong. We are made in His image. So common and normal hunches and calculations could just be right… We don’t have to ignore our brains / consciences and follow some cult leader as the Gnostics as well as some others taught…

      Kind regards, “C.T.”.


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