MORAL AGENCY, MORAL OBLIGATION, AND MORAL CHARACTER OF GOD
An excerpt from the book,
“The Natural Ability of Man:
A Study on Free Will & Human Nature” by Jesse Morrell
To Order: Click Here
The Bible describes God Himself as possessing the knowledge of good and evil. “And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil…” (Gen. 3:22). Since God knows good and evil, He is under moral obligation. And therefore, He is capable of moral character.
The fact that God knows right from wrong, is under moral obligation, and freely chooses His own moral character, is implied in the following Scriptures: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25) “The Lord is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works” (Ps. 145:17). And, “…the Lord is upright: he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him” (Ps. 92:15).
All these verses imply that there is a standard of righteousness which God Himself complies with. There can be no moral character without moral obligation. Since God is described as possessing moral character, this presupposes that God is under moral obligation.
What is it that could possibly obligate the Lord? What would impose obligation upon His will? The answer is that God’s divine will is under obligation to His divine mind or divine conscience, which affirms the intrinsic value of the well-being of all sentient beings. Therefore, morality is not subjective or relative but is absolute and objective even to God.
Moral law is essentially an idea of the mind. More specifically, moral law is an idea of the mind as to how a moral being ought to act and behave toward others. Since moral law originates in God’s omniscient mind, and therefore, transcends man’s finite mind or the arbitrary will of any being, there is a foundation, ground, or basis for absolute morality or objective moral truth.
On the other hand, if the moral law was an arbitrary invention of God’s will, then He could change or reverse the moral law at any moment. The law of love could be abrogated. He could make selfishness right and benevolence wrong. It would be right for Him to forbid charity and command rape and murder. But if moral law originates in His divine mind and is, therefore, reasonable and in accordance with the nature of reality, then the moral law is not at all arbitrary, relative, or subjective in any sense whatsoever.
To answer the theological question, “Is it right because God commands it? Or does God command it because it is right?” The Bible says, “I the Lord speak righteousness, I declare things that are right” (Isa. 45:19). It is not that God can just command anything and everything and it would be right simply because He commands it. Rather, God commands things because they actually are right. David said, “The testimonies that thou hast commanded are righteous and very faithful” (Ps. 119:138). This implies that there is a standard of righteousness which God’s commandments comply with.
God’s moral law is in accordance with the nature of reality. Given the nature of things, or the order of each one’s value, it is actually right to love God supremely and your neighbor equally. This is because God is supremely valuable and your neighbor is equally valuable. Because of the nature of reality, or the intrinsic value of the well-being of a sentient being, it actually is wrong for any moral being to be selfish or self-centered. Right and wrong are in no way arbitrary but are absolute due to the nature of reality.
God’s is an infinite Being and is, therefore, necessarily omniscient. God’s omniscient mind perfectly perceives reality as it actually is. Therefore, God’s omniscient mind necessarily affirms the intrinsic value of well-being because the well-being of a sentient existence actually is intrinsically valuable in the nature of reality. The mind of God cannot help but to affirm this truth.
For example, God’s own well-being is intrinsically valuable. There was never a time when God decided that His well-being would be valuable. His well-being simply is valuable in the nature of things. That is, God’s well-being is good for its own sake and therefore ought to be chosen for its own sake. This is why the first greatest commandment requires that our choice terminates upon the well-being of God as an end in and of itself. And man’s well-being, since man was created in the image of God, also has intrinsic value. Therefore, the second greatest commandment requires that the choice of our will terminates upon the well-being of our neighbor for its own sake or as an end in and of itself.
The object sought and commanded by the moral law, which is the highest well-being of all according to the order of their value, must be of intrinsic worth. Otherwise, if it were only of relative worth, or for its relation to something else, it could not be an ultimate object or an ultimate end sought and commanded by the law. No being could choose the highest well-being of all as their ultimate intention and purpose unless that end was intrinsically valuable. The will of any being could not choose that end for its own sake unless it was valuable in and of itself. But since that is the object and end sought by the moral law, and since it is demanded of us to make that our ultimate aim and intention, it must of necessity be of intrinsic value.
The moral law is, therefore, an expression of the nature of reality. The moral law is an expression of the nature of God and the nature of man, as it presupposes and essentially declares the intrinsic value of their well-being.
It is this mental perception of the nature of reality, which recognizes that the highest-well being of all is intrinsically valuable, which the omniscient mind of God necessarily affirms, which is where the idea of moral law originated from. It is the knowledge of good and evil which forms God and man’s moral obligation. The moral law of God is, therefore, not only a declaration of what man ought to do, but also an expression of the moral obligation which God Himself chooses to live by.
That God chooses to have a holy moral character, or that He decides to comply with His moral obligation or His mind’s perception of what is good, is implied by the fact that holy beings in Heaven worship Him by saying, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty” (Rev. 4:8). The fact that God is praiseworthy for possessing a holy character indicates that a holy character is something which He has chosen to have. If God had no choice in what His character is, but was forced by some necessity to have a certain state of will, He could not be personally praiseworthy for possessing a good character.
In fact, holy angels would be more praiseworthy than God if He did not freely choose to be good and holy, because the angels are free to become demons whenever they want but instead choose to be good and holy. If the angels were holy through the liberty of their own wills, but God was holy through the necessity of His nature, the angels would be more worthy of praise and adoration than God.
However, God is more praiseworthy than the holy angels because from all of eternity He has freely chosen to be a good Being. And He is more praiseworthy than the holy angels because God has an infinite mind, with infinite knowledge of good and evil; and therefore, His moral obligation and consequently His moral character is necessarily infinite.
While God certainly does not choose what type of nature He has, He does choose what type of character He possesses. That is, God did not decide on, or create, His natural attributes. God simply is eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. He cannot help but to have these natural attributes. He never decided to have these attributes of His nature.
However, God does choose His moral attributes. God is deliberately benevolent. He chooses to be righteous, holy, truthful, faithful, just, merciful, etc, just as His omniscient mind or divine conscience tells Him to be. Natural attributes are independent of a beings will and are altogether involuntary. Moral attributes, however, are completely dependent upon a beings will and is altogether voluntary.
For example, God’s nature does not necessitate Him to be merciful. God willingly and freely chooses to be a merciful Being. Nothing forced God to send His Son Jesus Christ. Nothing forced Jesus to die for our sins. These events, which were acts of mercy on God’s part, were all together voluntary and could have been avoided if God wanted them to be. This is explicitly taught when Jesus said, “I lay down my life… No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself” (Jn. 10:18). And, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt. 26:53) God’s moral attribute of mercy and all consequent expressions of that mercy are altogether voluntary and freely chosen. That is precisely why God is worthy of praise for being merciful!
Charles Finney said, “A natural attribute is that which pertains to a thing by a natural necessity, or whatever is attributable to it, as essential to its existence and nature.”48 He also said, “A natural attribute is that which belongs to the nature of a being. A moral attribute is a disposition or state of the will. It is a permanent choice or preference of the mind, in opposition to a constitutional or natural attribute, on the one hand, and to individual exercises, on the other… Moral attributes, presuppose MORAL AGENCY… A moral agent… is a being who possesses understanding, reason, conscience, and free-will.”49
Someone might ask, “If God’s moral attributes are freely and voluntarily chosen, why is it that the Bible state that God cannot lie? Doesn’t that mean that God is forced to be honest and is not free to be otherwise?” Actually, when the Bible says, “God… cannot lie…” (Titus 1:2), the Greek word used for “cannot lie” means “veracious.”50 Therefore, this passage teaches that “God is veracious.” You could say, “God cannot lie because God is veracious.” Veracious is defined as “observant of truth; habitually disposed to speak truth.”51 Therefore, this passage means that God is habitually or continually dedicated to honesty. He is utterly unwilling to lie. He is completely and totally committed to truthfulness. In God’s case, since He is an infinite Being, He is infinitely committed to truth and infinitely opposed to falsehood. On account of that, God cannot lie.
The expression “cannot” in the Scriptures, at times, is used to express an utter unwillingness. For example, when Joseph was sexually tempted and he cried, “…how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:9) Certainly, Joseph had the ability to be sexually immoral if he wanted to but he absolutely did not want to be sexually immoral. Also, “Whosoever is born of God… cannot sin” (1 Jn. 3:9). Certainly, Christians are capable of sinning in regards to the ability of their constitution. But they are utterly unwilling to sin in regards to the state or disposition of their will. So when the Bible says that God “cannot lie,” this does not necessarily indicates that God does not have a free will, or that the Omnipotent cannot even do that which little children can do, but that God is completely, totally, utterly, and absolutely unwilling to lie.
The fact that God’s character is self-chosen is also taught by the fact that man has the ability to imitate God in being holy. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation” (1 Pet. 1:15). We are not commanded to be as holy as God is in degree, since God is an infinite being and we are finite beings and, therefore, we cannot be as holy to the same degree that He is. But we are commanded to be holy in the same way or in the same manner that God is holy.
But if God was holy by the necessity of His nature, instead of through the liberty of His will, we could not be holy in the same manner that God is holy. Since we are commanded to be holy and perfect, as God is holy and perfect, and a command is a declaration as to what type of choice you should or shouldn’t make, this means that we are to be holy and perfect by choice and, therefore, this implies that God is holy and perfect by choice. The command to, “Be ye therefore followers of God” (Eph. 5:1) which actually means in Greek to be “an imitator”52 of Him, implies that God’s own moral character is self-caused, self-determined, or freely chosen by His free will, since we are told to be like Him in character by our own free choice.
Jed Smock said, “How reverent and marvelous it is to the great God, for us to know that His actions are not fixed, predetermined, and mechanical, but free, intelligent and benevolent. The truth that God is freely good sets men at liberty to obey the Lord’s commandment to ‘Be ye therefore perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect.’… Just as God is author of His own actions and character, man is the initiator of his own volitions, character and moral nature. The God who wills that none shall perish has put man’s destiny into his own hands.”53
If God did not have a conscience, or a knowledge of good and evil, and if God did not have a free will, or the power of choice between good and evil, then God could not have moral character at all. But since the Bible does describe God as possessing moral character, God therefore possesses a conscience and a free will. And since man was made in the image of God, man has a free will just like God has. And further still, since man has a free will just like God has, man can choose for himself what his moral character will be, just like God chooses for Himself what His moral character is.
An excerpt from the book,
“The Natural Ability of Man:
A Study on Free Will & Human Nature” by Jesse Morrell
To Order: Click Here