What "Might Could" Have Been
Bernard of Clairvaux, Hymnwriter and Theologian
19 August 2016
Some years ago the then coach of the New Orleans Saints football club, Jim Mora, appeared at a Monday morning press conference after another agonizing Saints loss with his game face on. Mora was a fierce competitor and occasionally a prickly character. Inevitably, the press asked the "what if" question about the coaching decisions made on Sunday. Mora, obviously disappointed by his team's performance (in those days they were known as the "'Aints"), lashed out at the Monday morning quarterbacks, responding to the "what if" questions with which he was being bombarded with the immortal, "coulda, woulda, shoulda...." 
There is no way to know how it would have worked out if we had taken the left fork instead of the right, simply because there is no going back. Speculation about what might have been is fun, but notoriously unfruitful. The New Orleanians understood what Mora was talking about. Among their occasionally colorful speech patterns, they had a way of expressing the absolute uncertainty of a particular course of action completely closed to them. They had a kind of slang optative mood that went like this: "might could" have; as in "We 'might could have' gotten out of town before the flood if we had left sooner." Uh huh.
The New Orleanians would also know what Augustine of Hippo was talking about when he speculated that God could have re-created an entirely new human race through which to save the race of fallen Adam. As any self-respecting New Orleanian would say, "Ah, what might could have been!" Of course God has not taken that fork in the road, but not as though going back is closed to Him. There is no optative or subjunctive mood in God, only the indicative. Uncertainty is our human failing, not God's. But God did not go back. He graciously chose not to press the "do over" button on the universe, but took what was into Himself through the virginal conception of Mary.
God did not yearn for what "might could" have been, but for us. He loved not perfection, but us. He loved not Himself, but us. He loved, not the ideal universe (leave that to Plato), but us. Thus Christ took our nature upon Himself, yet without the contagion of sin, that He might free our nature now burdened by that contagion. There is no speculation about what "might could" have been for us, only the great gospel proclamation that "The Word was made flesh" (Jn 1:14) and all the great gifts that comes from it. So God does not know us in the optative mood of what might have been, but in the indicative mood of what WAS in Christ.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Augustine of Hippo
"God could have taken upon Himself to be man from some other source, so that in an alternative kind of humanity He might be the Mediator between God and men, rather than from the race of that Adam who bound the human race by his sin; in the same way God did not create him whom He first created of the race of some one else. Therefore, He was able in any other mode that He would, to create yet one other, by whom the conqueror of the first might be conquered. But God judged it better both to take upon Him man through whom to conquer the enemy of the human race, from the very race that had been conquered; and yet to do this of a virgin, whose conception, was preceded not by flesh but spirit, not by lust but faith (Lk 1:26-32). Nor did that desire of the flesh intervene by which the rest of men, who have original sin, are propagated and conceived. But holy virginity became pregnant, not by conjugal intercourse, but by faith, lust being utterly absent, so that that which was born from the root of the first man might derive only the origin of race, not also of guilt.
"For there was born, not a nature corrupted by the contagion of transgression, but the only remedy of all such corruptions. There was born a Man who had no sin, and would never have any, through whom they were to be born again so as to be freed from sin, who could not be born without sin. For although marital chastity makes a right use of the fleshly desire which is in our members; yet it is liable to motions not voluntary, by which it shows either that it could not have existed at all in paradise before sin, or if it did, that it was not then such as that sometimes it should resist the will. But now we feel it to be such, that in opposition to the law of the mind, and even if there is no question of begetting, it works in us the incitement of sexual intercourse; and if in this men yield to it, then it is satisfied by an act of sin; if they do not, then it is bridled by an act of refusal. Who could doubt that these two things were absent from paradise before sin? For neither did the chastity that then existed do anything unseemly, nor did the pleasure that then existed admit anything disturbing.
"It was necessary, therefore, that this fleshly desire should be entirely absent, when the Offspring of the Virgin was conceived. In Him the author of death was to find nothing worthy of death, and yet was to slay Him in order that he might be conquered by the death of the Author of life. The conqueror of the first Adam, who held fast the human race, was conquered by the second Adam, thereby losing the Christian race. Adam was freed out of the human race from human guilt, through Him who was not in the guilt, although He was of the race; that that deceiver might be conquered by that race which he had conquered by guilt. And this was done, in order that man may not be exalted, but 'Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord' (2Co 10:17). For he who was conquered was only man; and he was therefore conquered, because of his prideful desire to be a god. But He who conquered was both man and God; and therefore He so conquered, being born of a virgin, because God in humility did not govern that Man as He governs other saints, but begot Him [as a Son]. These great gifts of God, and whatever else there are, which it is too long for us now upon this subject both to inquire and to discuss, could not exist unless the Word had been made flesh"

Augustine, On the Trinity, 13.18
Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!"
But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."
And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?"
And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy--the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God."
And Mary said, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her. (ESV)
O Lord, You have known us in the Word made flesh. Free us from the desire to speculate on what might have been and tie us to Your gracious self-revelation in Christ. Send the spirit of faithful obedience to Your Word to all preachers of the gospel, that they might know nothing among us but Christ the crucified. Amen.
For the members of the Board of Regents of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne as they travel home from their meeting, that they would have safe travels and joyful homecomings
For all those who serve at Concordia Publishing House, that they would be strengthened and upheld in their labors of producing faithful products to serve the church
For all those who are involved in the political life of our nations, that they would be disciplined and faithful in their political advocacy and assured that earthly government is not their ultimate goal
Art: Durer, Albrecht  The Adoration of the Trinity (1515) 
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2016
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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