“Does God Saying Something Is Right Make It Right?”

My daughter’s philosophy professor posed the question, “Does God saying something is right make it right?” He says that if the answer is “yes” then God is arbitrary, and thus not loving, and if the answer is “No” then right and wrong had to exist prior to God and He is not all powerful. (The professor says that the later is the Catholic view, and seems to indicate that these are very early levels of philosophical thought.)

On a Web site about Socrates’ ideas on the good life (http://academics.vmi.edu/psy_dr/socrates.htm), there is this paragraph:

In the Euthyphro the main question raised is: Are right/good acts right/good just because God (or the gods) says so, or does God say so because they are right/good? If it is just because God says so, then God’s commandments seem arbitrary. And what if God does not exist? Does anything go? On the other hand, if God’s commandments are made for a reason, i.e. if there is something else (other than God’s arbitrary decree) about bad acts that makes them bad, what is it? And is God then irrelevant to ethics?

The answer to the next-to-the-last question is the option your daughter’s professor didn’t offer, namely, the nature or character of God. Theologian J. Oliver Buswell said this about God’s law: “The divine character is expressed by the divine will in the divine law” (A Systematic Theology, 1:264). What God says is good is good because it reflects the character of God which is good. What makes things bad is being against God’s character. If God just plucked a law out of thin air, He would be arbitrary. However, seeking some other source of right and wrong wasn’t the only other option. God’s law reflects God’s character. Thus, the answer to the last question in the above paragraph is no–God isn’t irrelevant to ethics. Morality is grounded in His nature and made known by His will.

I hope this helps.

Rick Wade
Probe Ministries