God Defines Morality

Posted: June 17, 2010 by graysutanto in Uncategorized
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There is a single Christian explanation for the nature and status of morality. I will attempt to explain this Christian perspective, explicate some arguments in defense of it and finally explain how it may be applied. According to the Christian, morality is grounded in God’s very character as revealed in the Holy Bible. The moral laws are not something outside of Him or irrelevant to Him. Instead they are derived from His very being. God’s holy character is the source of the objective moral standard. Therefore we should judge whether or not a state of affairs is morally significant according to what is contrary or complimentary to the character of God. This is why many testimonies of Scripture affirm that Christians are to be imitators of God as He defines rightness. Hence, ultimately the good moral life depends on an obedience to the Holy Bible.

God’s moral standards are never arbitrary for they are all consistent with his own Character. As God is the standard for righteousness, it is an ontological necessity that whatever He wills or decrees must be the very essence or what is right. Hence because He is the standard, we must submit to His will even when His decrees may seem contrary to what we know about righteousness. Anything that is opposite to His nature must be considered as abhorrent. Since Scripture is the way through which God had chosen to reveal Himself to us, knowledge of His nature and character can only be learned through a proper understanding of Scripture.  God’s very being determines the nature of morality and it is also God’s very being that determines how things ought to be. Euthyphro should not have had a dilemma; God commands what is right and what is right is determined by God’s commands, He necessarily does both.

According to the Christian, being made in the image of God is the source of our moral intuitions. Though our moral intuitions have been distorted by the fall, one does not have to be a Christian to have some knowledge of what is right or what is wrong. Being made in the image of God also entails man’s moral standing, giving an explanation and justification of our deep intuitive beliefs that all men should attain a higher moral standing than animals and that all men are equal. It is on the basis of this doctrine that we should care for others, seeking to alleviate suffering for each person reflects their Creator. Hence, to purposely harm a fellow human being would be to desecrate God himself.

The good, as defined by the bible is based upon what is pleasing to God and that whatever is not done in faith on God is considered a sin (Rom 14:23) It follows from this that non-believers are constantly living and breathing in wrong doing. Some may object that this is counter-intuitive because surely there are exemplars of good deeds seen in non-believers. In response to this, the Christian would not deny that in the sights of men, there have been a lot of good non-believers. In fact, the Christian would argue that there are a lot of things from virtuous non-believers that believers could learn from. The Christian will also admit that much of these deeds may be things which God commands; and of good use both to themselves and others. Nonetheless, the good works of these men in the sight of a holy God is nothing but an abomination for they do not acknowledge God for their gifts, and neither do they have the glory of the true God as foundation or end in mind.

An understanding of the Biblical or Christian perspective of ethics implies that God’s moral standards, when rightly understood or applied are for all people, transcends all cultures. Hence, observing His commands would be what was best for all humans universally as He is the universal Creator. Observance of His commands does not necessarily mean obeying all of Scripture. There are straightforward instructions in the bible that directly applies to the present times such as the New Testament letters of Paul but much of Scripture is context-dependent and thus not all commands in Scripture apply to the present times. Therefore, according to the Christian perspective, to improve one’s morality one would need to make a commitment to a lifelong study of the Bible.

In conclusion, I have tried to explain the single Christian perspective for the nature and status of morality. I have also raised some arguments that a Christian might use in defense of this explanation and have tried to show some further implications of this doctrine.

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Comments
  1. Omar F. says:

    I have a question and two comments for you Gray:

    Question:

    You write: “Since Scripture is the way through which God had chosen to reveal Himself to us, knowledge of His nature and character can ONLY be learned through a proper understanding of Scripture.”

    What about this passage: “since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20 NIV).

    How do you show that what you said is compatible with the Romans passage?

    Comment One:

    You go on to write: “Euthyphro should not have had a dilemma; God commands what is right and what is right is determined by God’s commands, He necessarily does both.”

    This is clearly a misunderstanding of the “Euthyphro-Dilemma”. To begin, Euthyphro is not the one who posed the dilemma; Socrates did. And here is the dilemma: “Perhaps we shall learn better, my friend. For consider: is the holy loved by the gods because it is holy? Or is it holy because it is loved by the gods?”

    The first horn of the dilemma is a problem because it implies that holiness is external to the gods and hence, in a sense, is sovereign over them. The second horn of the dilemma is also problematic because it implies that the gods can ARBITRARILY decide what is good and what is bad because it is solely dependent on what they say: can the gods make murdering little children for fun morally okay? According to this second horn, the answer is “yes!”. This is why it’s called a dilemma; it’s because both routes are problematic to accept. Not sure why you wrote: “He necessarily does both.” That’s clearly false.

    There are usually two solutions to this problem: Some (like J. P. Moreland and Scott Rae) accept the first horn, but they add a caveat: God sustains those external moral properties; hence, they are still dependent on him. (This approach is problematic, I think, because it takes away God’s aseity.)

    The second approach is to deny that the Euthyphro-Dilemma is a genuine dilemma; that is, there is a third option. Craig and Alston take this route; they hold to a nuanced divine command theory. Alston thinks God is essentially virtuous and his commands are an expression of his unchanging character. And we know, roughly, what’s right and wrong from God’s commands giving to us (and our moral intuition implemented in us by God). (This seems to be the way you were trying to go, although it wasn’t very clear).

    Comment Two:

    You write: “Hence, observing His commands would be what was best for all humans universally as He is the universal Creator. Observance of His commands does not necessarily mean obeying all of Scripture. There are straightforward instructions in the bible that directly applies to the present times such as the New Testament letters of Paul but much of Scripture is context-dependent and thus not all commands in Scripture apply to the present times.”

    The odd thing is in the beginning of your post, you say things like: “This is why many testimonies of Scripture affirm that Christians are to be IMITATORS of God as He defines rightness.” The reason I think this is odd is because you start off thinking that virtue (or character) ethics is where all the beef is at, but then at the end you switch to deontological ethics (command or ought ethics). Arguably, the OT functioned in a deontological way, but not the NT–especially the Sermon on the Mount. Christ seems to be focusing on the internals and not the externals in the Sermon. That is, he is advocating a virtue ethics; a character building ethics. Not a command ethics; not an ethics dependent on following “instructions” as you put it.

    Interesting in hearing your thoughts.

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