Cur Deus Homo or Why the Incarnation?

Why God became man is an ancient question posed in particular by Anselm. We might well ask why the all-powerful, sovreign God took the trouble to become man and at tremendous personal cost. Why didn’t he make us like the angels and the heavenly host? Why didn’t he just save us according to his own whim as apparently Muslims believe Allah does. Bluntly, God became man to save or rescue us, but to be intelligible this assertion requires explication and elaboration.

The Background

First, God himself as the Creator is immortal (1 Tim. 6:16) and incorruptible (1 Tim. 1:17): unlike his creation he neither dies nor succumbs to corruption or age (Gen. 1:1; Heb. 1:11f.). On the other hand, man who derives from a creation that is both temporary and corruptible is by nature dust and hence, in contrast with his creator, he is both mortal and corruptible. (1* It is vitally important to see this since the Church’s Augustinian heritage has led us to believe that man (Adam) was created perfect and immortal. From this ‘high estate’ (Milton) he was deemed to have fallen, sinned and brought a curse on the entire physical universe over which he was to have exercised lordship under God!) But the Creator from before the foundation of the earth planned that the human beings whom he formed in his (potential) image should have eternal life (2 Tim. 1:1,9; Tit.1:2; 1 John 2:25) attain to glory (Rom. 2:7,10; Heb. 2:9; 1 Pet. 1:7) as his adopted children (Eph. 1:4f., Rom. 8:12-17; 1 John 3:1-3).

The Promise of Eternal Life

In light of this it is unsurprising that we read in Genesis 2 that our holy and righteous God promised eternal life to Adam the first man he created out of the dust of the earth on the condition that he kept the commandment (Gen. 2:17, cf. 1 John 2:25)). In the event, however, Adam and Eve tempted by the flesh and deceived by the devil (Gen. 3:1-6) proved incapable of keeping the commandment and so forfeited the opportunity of living forever. Since Adam lived in a favourable environment in Eden devoid of a defective moral inheritance from erring predecessors yet nonetheless failed, it is to be expected that his descendants in less favourable conditions followed him in his sin (cf. Rom. 5:12-21). Thus as the OT itself testifies no one under the old covenant lived a sinless life (1 K. 8:46; Eccl. 7:20, etc.) and as a consequence no one escaped. All died reaping the wages of sin (Gen. 2:17; Rom. 6:23).

The Law Ineffective

But if the law which promised life (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5; Rom. 7:10) could not deliver it (Gal. 3:21), man was in desperate straits. How could he possibly attain to eternal life? The answer to this quandary is made clear as the Bible progresses. There are two points to consider: first, the promise of life was made to man and so had to be fulfilled by man. Second, God himself is always presented as man’s Saviour and the idea that man can somehow save himself is scouted absolutely. The paradox eventually becomes both intelligible and soluble when it is made clear that God himself in the person of Christ becomes man. In other words, God’s promise is affirmed and fulfilled in Christ who was truly God and man.

This picture becomes clear when we consider passages like Isaiah 45:21-25 in the OT and Romans 14:10f. and Philippians 2 in the NT. First, the prophet calls on all the ends of the earth to turn to him and be saved since only in the Lord are righteousness and strength and only in him will the offspring of Israel triumph and glory. Then in Philippians 2 (cf. Rom. 14:11) the apostle re-interprets this passage and applies it to the Lord Jesus. This time, though all is for the glory of God, it is at the name of Jesus that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Christ is Lord. Truly is it then that God saves but he does so specifically in Christ (cf. Rom. 14:10-12).

The Incarnation Necessary

On the assumption that God planned to fulfil his purpose for man despite Adam’s failure and to glorify himself in the salvation of man there was no other way. The way of Islam involving the mere power of an all-powerful deity is out of the reckoning. In the Bible salvation is certainly the act of a sovereign God but amazingly his love, grace, holiness and righteousness, not his might, are to the fore. And they are demonstrated most fully in the incarnate life, death, resurrection and transformation of Christ. In this way he became the pioneer of our pilgrimage into heaven and the very presence of God. It is because he, the Word, became man that God’s original promise to Adam was fulfilled. He alone of all men that ever lived met the divine conditions and achieved perfection in the flesh. In the words of Paul “God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom. 8:3). It was for our sakes that Christ became poor so that we might become rich. As Irenaeus long ago put it, “Christ became what we are in order that we might become what he is” (Adv.Haer. 5, preface).

Colossians 1:15-20

God’s purpose from before the foundation of the world was to glorify himself in Christ (Eph. 1:4f., etc.). Man as Adam according to the flesh was never intended to triumph in his own strength (Rom. 3:19f.; 1 Cor. 1:29; Eph. 3:9). It was the incarnate Son of God himself who alone was able to conquer in the flesh (cf. Rom. 8:3). It was he who became the image (cf. Heb. 1:3) of the invisible God and the firstborn of all creation. It was he who made peace by the blood of his cross and became pre-eminent. According to Paul all things were created through him and for him.

Why Does God Love Us?

But it may well be asked why God loves us. This mystery is posed in Deuteronomy 7. There in verses 7 and 8 Moses tells his fellow Israelites it is because the Lord loves them. In one sense this is not an answer. It is however rather like asking parents why they love their children. The same question is prompted by the most famous verse in Scripture, that is, John 3:16. Why does God love us? Parents have the habit of loving their children even when they don’t deserve it and they seem to derive this habit from God himself. Of course there is more to it. In Deuteronomy, stress is laid on the fact that God is bent on keeping the oath he had sworn to the fathers. But why had he sworn such an oath? The Bible ultimately makes it clear that apart from or in addition to his love God was concerned to glorify himself by saving his people. Indeed, he was to do it most amazingly in Christ who was thereby highly exalted (Acts 2:33-36; Heb. 4:14; 7:26, etc.). In light of this it is hardly surprising that in the book of Revelation both God and the Lamb receive unparalleled praise and honour (Rev. 4 & 5).

So God became man in order to fulfil his original purpose disclosed to Adam. This is why Jesus at his incarnation became the second Adam or God incarnate. In this way God was glorified, for Christ was the supreme manifestation of the glory of God (Phil. 2:9-11). Truly is our God unique, the only true God both Creator and Redeemer.
Gloria Soli Deo