A friend recently asked me if God was the absolute authority on morality and how I could support it. I wrote this for him. it is not meant to be an exhaustive treatment of the subject, but I thought I’d share it in its initial form.
Is God the authority on morality?
How does one support that?
This is actually a very ancient dilemma. Plato asked it in Euthyphro when he asked “Is it good because the gods love it, or do the gods love it because it is good.” We ask it today as, “Is it good because God commands it, or does God command it because it is good?”
This is actually a much more important distinction than we imagine, and even many Christians get it wrong. If I asked you, “Dan, why would God do that?” (God commanding is an action of God, so for the rest of the article I will speak of actions done or performed by God) You would likely say, “Because it is good.” I believe you would be exactly 180 degrees wrong! God does not choose to do A or not do A because one or the other is good (meaning has the quality of being good). God does or does not do A, and which ever he chooses is good, because he is God. So, “Why would God do that? Because he is God and chose to do it. Since he did it, it is good.”
This is actually demonstrable in symbolic logic:
Let x be an action, Px mean “x is performed by God” and Gx mean “x is good”. This: Ɐx(Gx→Px) [my apologies if the sign for universality does not appear in your browser] would say, “For any action, if the action is good then God performs it.” This would make God’s choice dependent upon a separate moral code that transcends God. If there is such a code, then who wrote the code? One would expect a code giver, himself superior to God. It would also mean “If the code says A is good, then God who by nature will always do good, would necessarily do A. He would be without actual choice, because the code that determines it to be good would dictate that he do it, or be less than perfect good.”
In the symbols above Ɐx(Gx→Px) God performing (P) the action is a consequent of the action being good (G). But God does not act consequent to anything other than his own sovereign choice. In other words he acts because he chooses, and not because someone else, or even any code, has dictated his action.
The only way to preserve the sovereignty of God, his own necessity and superiority and transcendence is to reverse the formula: Ɐx(Px→Gx). This makes it say “For any action, if God chooses to perform the action, the action is good.” This makes the goodness, the morality of an action consequent of God’s doing it. This means if God does it, it is good no matter how another may view it. If God had chosen to wipe man off the earth, even before the fall (“Hi Adam! Welcome to earth, now you’re dead!”) it would have been a good act, because God did it. In the same way, when we face a moral question of do or do not, the command or example of God is sufficient to determine the answer.
To say otherwise makes God the slave of a greater moral code, which implies a greater moral code giver.
Some may say, “But God created that moral code, and then chooses to limit himself by it.” This is just the same thing I have said, “It is good because God has chosen it.” The moral code in question would exist and be followed because God created it and then chooses to follow it. Isn’t it just easier to not imply some unjustified degree of realism to this code and simply understand morality as being the actions of God and, for us, this means our moral action is those that correspond to what God would have done in that situation and setting, or what God commanded in special revelation.