God as the Moral Lawgiver
By Lance Mosher
Soon after becoming a Christian, I found myself in a position of having to defend my newfound faith to a close friend, who was a skeptic. My reputation with him was on the line, and he thought I had simply been brain washed into a superstition. I began doing my research, and he and I had some lengthy conversations and friendly debates that he admitted were not as easy to win as he had originally thought. When we arrived at the subject at hand, the existence and source of morality, however, he was left speechless.
I do not think it was anything genius on my part that caused that reaction. Instead, it was that, put plainly, if there is no Creator of the universe, if there is no moral lawgiver, then the idea of morality is completely subjective at best, and non-existent at worst.
MORAL IMPLICATIONS OF ATHEISM
Atheism is the belief that there is no God, no Creator of the universe. If there is no Creator, then everything that exists does so by chance and chemistry. If all we are are bags of molecules interacting with each other, where does morality come in?
For instance, when we see an atrocity, and we cry for justice, to whose morality are we appealing? It may be the case that most of us believe it is wrong to torture the innocent for pleasure. However, some do not. Why should one opinion be valued over the other? If there is ever a case that I believe that anything is objectively morally right or wrong that all people should respect, I am appealing to a moral law higher than humanity. If, however, I do not believe in a moral lawgiver, then there is no higher moral law to which any of us is subject. It is simply one person’s, or one society’s, opinion against the other.
It is important to note that I am not saying that atheists, those who do not recognize a moral lawgiver, cannot be moral. In fact, I have seen that some atheists have a better grip on what is right and wrong than some religious people. What I am saying is that atheists have no grounds on which to call anything morally right or wrong, other than opinion. If there is a moral law, there must be a moral lawgiver.
LOGICAL IMPLICATIONS OF MORALITY
Who is willing to admit that objective morality does not exist? I have read of some atheistic scientists who know the moral implications of atheism admit to the world that if, in fact, God does not exist, then everything is permissible. But those people do not represent the common man and woman. Generally, my neighbor is kind to me, and he expects me to be kind to him, regardless of our beliefs. Generally, the average person is outraged at cruelty to the innocent. Most of us take it for granted that there is a moral law to which we are all accountable.
For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.
Why is it that the Gentiles, who did not have access to the Law of Moses, which taught against murder, stealing, adultery, etc. (Exodus 20:12-17), instinctively followed the things of the Law, "their conscience also bearing witness”? Why is it that societies that are not shaped by the Scripture still find it repulsive and punishable to commit murder? Is it simply, as atheist Sam Harris claims, that we should do that which promotes “human flourishing” (The Moral Landscape, 2010)? Consider the following parable Jesus taught.
A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, “Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.”
Personally, who do you think did the “right thing”? If we are to do that which promotes “human flourishing,” or if we are to apply survival of the fittest, the priest and the Levite did what was best. But if you believe the Samaritan did the right thing, ask yourself why? Why is it the right thing for one person to sacrifice resources, time, and energy to help those less fortunate than himself? Taking it even further, why is it that the robbers in the story did the wrong thing? Does it simply boil down to opinion, or is there something, someone, to whom we are accountable?
ETERNAL IMPLICATIONS OF A MORAL LAWGIVER
If one’s conscience will allow him to deny the existence of God, he can become very comfortable living only for himself, doing only that which makes him “feel good.” If he sees a man left for dead in a ditch, he can pass by on the other side with no guilt. After all, why should he sacrifice for someone else’s benefit? To whom will he answer if he does not do what society thinks is the right thing?
On the other hand, if a moral lawgiver does exist, then the words of James condemns the apathetic.
Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.
It is morally comfortable to kid oneself into the notion that we are not accountable for our actions. If there is no immortality of the soul, if there is no judgment day, if there is no Judge, then “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.” If you need a boost of esteem, then go ahead and do something good for your neighbor. But remember, if there is no God, then it does not matter in the end, anyway, and we are left to only agree with famous atheist, Richard Dawkins: “there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference” (River Out of Eden, 1995).
But if (since) there is a God, then “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.