Sunday, September 14, 2014

Why Obey God? [rough draft]

I'm currently working on this blog. Comments and Objections welcome. Sometimes objections are the best way to help refine one's arguments.
See also my blog: God in Relation to Law: Ex Lex, Sub Lego or Sibi Ipsi Lex

In this blog I'll try to map out the reasons for obeying God. It'll be in the form of a dialogue. I'll be giving answers, objections and commentary as I play both Christian theist and atheist.

A = Christian Answer
O = Atheist Objection
C = My Commentary

Why should one obey God?

A. Because God is the ultimate authority and commands you to.

O. But that begs the question, since we're asking why  one should obey God. Saying one should obey God because God is the ultimate authority doesn't actually answer the question. It merely bypasses or dismisses or ignores the question. Why should one accept God's claimed authority in the first place? What reasons can you give me to believe that God does have such an authority and is deserving my obedience?

A. But to ask why one should obey God is itself to beg the question as to whether God actually does possess ultimate authority such that you must obey God.

C. I agree and disagree with both responses. I do believe that to question God's authority is to beg the question as to whether God does have such an authority. As a Christian I do believe God has that kind of authority and is deserving such implicit obedience. However, questioning God's authority is not the same thing as asking for reasons why one ought to obey God. There's nothing inherently wrong in asking for such reasons.

A. You ought to obey God because God is the source of our being and well being. By believing in God you avoid hell and will potentially enter heaven. God is omnipotent and can enforce His punishment on the disobedient and distribute His blessings on the obedient. God is not only our Creator, but also our Sustainer. By God's providence He conserves and preserves our continued existence. We are alive because God continues to uphold our being and existence along with providing whatever good things we do happen to enjoy in this world.

O. But those are prudential reasons, not rational reasons. With that approach one is merely obeying God for mercenary reasons. In essence, you're telling us to become cosmic sycophants, brown nosers and ass kissers. Also, your reference to God being powerful enough to enforce his punishment on the disobedient borders on, or commits the argumentum ad baculum fallacy. You and God are threatening me with the consequence of eternal punishment if I don't accept God's (claimed) authority.

C. Biblically, prudential reasons (like those mentioned above) are good and permissible reasons to obey God, but they are NOT the only reasons or even the BEST reasons. Also, I'm not so sure I'm committing the ad baculum fallacy. I might be, but not all ad baculum arguments are fallacious (see Here).

What is really being asked is what are the rational reasons one should obey God.

A. A rational reason to obey God is because He is your Creator. Your ontological Father, so to speak. In the same way you ought to implicitly obey your parents who gave you being, so you ought to obey God your Heavenly Father and Creator. You owe Him your being. Also, as your Creator, His commands to you and your duties to Him are adapted to your nature. So, they aren't arbitrary. As one person put it, "God doesn’t arbitrarily decree social ethics irrespective of the nature of social creatures. He has endowed us with a certain nature. The code of conduct is adapted to the way in which he designed us."

O. But earthly parents or creators don't have intrinsic authority. Just because someone is your parent or your creator doesn't entail you must obey them implicitly. A parent has no right to command you to to do evil. They have no right to murder you, or command you to commit murder. Consider this thought experiment. If Dr. Frankenstein or Satan created you, are you obligated to do their bidding merely because they command or wish it? Obviously not. Also, humans eventually become as knowledgeable as their parents (if not surpass them in knowledge). Good parents don't expect you to obey them implicitly all your life. If they did their job of parenting right, they expect you to reach a stage of development that you objectively consider their statements and advice and make rational decisions. You expect us to eternally be dependent on God's wisdom. To virtually remain children all our lives.

A. But God is all wise, all good, all powerful etc. That is to say, we should obey God because God is the kind of being God is. God is the maximally great being who is the summum bonum (highest Good), the ens perfectissimum (i.e. the most perfect being). Yes, humans do eventually equal their parents in intelligence when they grow up, but that's not true with God. The difference between finite human intelligence and divine infinite intelligence is a chasm that can never be gulfed. In fact, the more a human develops intellectually, the more he ought to realize how wide that gap is. God can see deeper, wider and more long term than you can. God sees the end from the beginning and the parts in relation to the whole (and vice versa). This is illustrated by a purported conversation Dr. Timothy Keller had with his son. The conversation went something like this:

Now I had a ten year old, my middle son, who was a very hard person...I would say to him, "Obey me! I'm your father. I told you to do this, just do it because I told you." And he would always say, "Dad, I would be happy to obey you if you could just make it reasonable...Tell me why this is helpful..." I would say, "If you only obey me when I explain it to you then you are not obeying me, you are just agreeing with me. I want you to obey me because I'm forty-five and you are ten. I know a little bit more about life than you do and I don't want to have to explain it to you because I couldn't get it into your ten year-old brain"
If this is true of human parents, how much more of the infinitely knowledgeable God? Also, if one developed properly in terms of rationality and morality, one should come to see how reasonable it is to obey God. Also, it's not as if God hasn't given us rational reasons for obeying Him in the Bible. He has along with other types of reasons. See John Piper's book Christian Hedonism and C.S. Lewis' sermon The Weight of Glory.

O. Okay, let's go through some of those attributes individually. You focused on God's knowledge. What does possessing all knowledge have anything to do with my obeying God? Just because God has a lot of facts and data doesn't make him worthy of obedience. There are a lot of knowledgeable people in the world who are evil. Think of people who commit IT computer crimes.

A. It's not just that God possesses all knowledge (omniscience), God also possesses all wisdom (omnisapience). God's knowledge is not limited to His 1. free knowledge (i.e. of the world as it is or will be), nor to His. 2. natural/necessary knowledge of all necessary truths and all possible contingent worlds. God's knowledge includes His informed wisdom. Wisdom can be defined as knowing the best ends, and knowing the best means to arrive at those ends. And so, God knows which instructions to give you by which you can know the best way to navigate your way in the world when it comes to temporal things (earthly) and spiritual things (heavenly).  As people jokingly say, "BIBLE" stands for "Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth."

O. That might be true about God being able to help us in life, but don't you see that that appeal again boils down to prudential reasons? In essence, you're telling me to obey God because God's "wisdom" (we might as well add "power") can lead to my greatest benefit if not also in this world, then at the very least in the afterlife (i.e. ultimately, finally and lastingly).

A. But God is also all good. The source of all goodness. The standard, exemplar and paragon of goodness.

O. To say that God is the source of all goodness is not the same thing as saying God is good or even that God is the standard of Goodness.

First, to answer by saying God is the source of all goodness would seem, once again, to reduce to an appeal to prudential reasons. In other words, obey God and you'll receive good things since He's the source and "fount of every blessing" [as the hymn and Bible teaches (James 1:17; Ps. 36:9)].

Second, to say that God is all good, implies that there is some standard of goodness which God himself obeys. That would mean that there are absolutes outside of God. Something which you as a Christian theist deny.  But if true, then I don't need God in order to be moral. Which means, I don't need to obey God. God would be on the same plane with me morally. He would have to obey the laws of morality and goodness in the same way I do. Just as I'm not required to blindly obey or follow a human being, so I'm not required to blindly obey God.

Third, your only consistent option is the last statement you made where you claimed God is the standard of Goodness. But what are you really saying when you say that? It seems you're not really saying anything. It's a tautology. It's circular because all you're really saying is "God's nature is that which is God's nature" or " God is being God-like." 

A. Regarding the charge of a tautology, that objection is like asking the question, "What's north of the north pole?" Or, "Why is a bachelor and unmarried man?" The north pole is north by definition, just like bachelors are unmarried men by definition. The reason why we have a moral sense in the first place is because God implanted it within us by making us in His moral and rational image. To question God being the standard of goodness is to assume morality and goodness exist outside of God. It is to beg the question about the source of goodness and morality. Unless and until a better explanation is offered for the source of morality and goodness one cannot even begin to judge, evaluate or object to God's being the standard and source of goodness and morality. No one, including God, is asking you to obey Him blindly. Only trustingly based on your innate knowledge of God that is itself based on the sensus divinitatis/deitatis, His general revelation and (if you're fortunate enough to be exposed to it) His special revelation.

C. I would refer people to my blog that deals with these questions a bit more thoroughly here:

God in Relation to Law: Ex Lex, Sub Lego or Sibi Ipsi Lex  
A. I'll admit one thing. You got me into implying that any individual attribute of God separated from all the others can be used to argue for why one should obey Him. His attributes can be distinguished, but they shouldn't be separated. It's each of His attributes individually AND collectively that provides the rational (not to mention pragmatic, prudential etc.) reasons for obeying God. Beyond answering the question, "Why (rationally) should I obey God?," the related and more pointed question is, "How can God obligate us?"

You're asking for a RATIONAL answer, right? Well, One of many answers is because God is Himself the source of Rationality. God isn't merely the greatest participant of rationality among lesser participants. God is Ultimate Perfect Rationality. Along with being the source of being, blessing/benefits, love, and personality. God is the solution to the Greek philosophers' search for the transcendentals (e.g. the good, the true, and the beautiful etc.). All of God's perfections and excellencies individually and put together constitute the reason and reasons (rational, practical, pragmatic, prudential, existential) for obeying, loving, trusting and (to sum it all up) worshipping God. It is because God is the all glorious Supreme Being who is worthy of worship that we ought to worship Him. God possesses all perfections infinitely, without limitation and to their highest degree. "Infinity" here of course refers not to quantity, but quality. As William Lane Craig wrote:

But when theologians speak of the infinity of God, they are not using the word in a mathematical sense to refer to an aggregate of an infinite number of elements. God's infinity is, as it were, qualitative, not quantitative. It means that God is metaphysically necessary, morally perfect, omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, and so on.
Really "infinity" is just a sort of umbrella term used to cover all of God's superlative attributes.
You can't be rational without being dependent on God who is the source and paragon of rationality and morality. It's precisely because you are made in God's rational and moral image that you ought (rationally and morally) to obey God. To disobey God is the pinnacle of irrationality and immorality. You want to be logical, but God is the source of logic itself. As the Bible says, "In the beginning was the Word ["logos" in Greek], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1). Logic is part of God's nature, and when you attempt to be logical you're tacitly admitting your dependence upon Him for your being AND rationality. So, it's eminently reasonable and rational to obey God.To do anything else is irrational.

O. Okay, let's say for the meantime I grant you that those are rational reasons for obeying God. But there's another level to this question. What rational reasons do I have to believe God possesses such attributes? For example, how can I believe that God is good and wise when I see so much evil in the world and seemingly bad design in the world? Bad design exemplified precisely because of the evil in the world. A world in which evil exists seems to be poorly designed. Poor design is a manifestation of folly rather than wisdom. What about God's apparent absence and indifference?

A. Now you're delving into the philosophical and theological issue of the problem of evil (PoE). We can eventually discuss that new objection, but that's a different topic. Before we move into that topic, let's probe deeper in our current discussion. We can also eventually discuss whether God actually is good (or not) and whether God is the standard of goodness. But hypothetically speaking, are you willing to admit that if God were the maximally great being (per the definition of God in the ontological argument) as well as the very standard of goodness itself (i.e. Himself), that it would be rational to obey such a Being?

One has to eventually ask, "How can ultimate goodness by impersonal?" How can goodness and morality be grounded in a materialistic worldview? Even given Atheistic Moral Platonism which posits immaterial forms or ideas, these ideas aren't personal. Positing Platonic forms may give one models for ideal behavior, but since they aren't personal they cannot truly obligate. There are real moral obligations and only persons can obligate us. If one agrees there are universal obligations, then one ought also to agree that we are obligated by a universal person, namely God. Causally effete abstract entities cannot obligate persons. Craig even questions whether atheistic moral Platonism is rationally coherent.

If God were really morally perfect and the very source of morality, then it naturally follows that to disobey God is, by definition, immoral. God, being the kind of Being God is, ought to be obeyed. That's an eminently rational reason to obey God. 

This is worthy of repetition. It is rational and reasonable to obey God because God is the very source of rationality. God is ABSOLUTE RATIONALITY in PERSON (and eternally so). God's Absolute Personality and Absolute Rationality are what makes God GOD. That is, what qualifies God to be God who is worthy to be worshipped, believed, loved, trusted and obeyed. It's no accident that Jesus Christ is described in the Bible as the "Word" or "logos" in Greek. "Logos" in Greek means "reason" (and all that that entails). Logos is also the etymological source of the English word logic. God's absolute personality is also why God must be multi-personal (as Christians believe God is as a Trinity). Trinitarianism solves the problem of the one and the many. BOTH unity and diversity are ultimate. Ultimate in the Triune God. To obey God is to follow the dictates of perfect Reason (Himself/Themselves). So, if you want to be rational, logical, and reasonable, then be like God by following His dictates.

What reason do I have to believe that even if God were absolutely rational that his dictates are moral? Even among human beings having superior intelligence and reasoning capacity doesn't guarantee moral behavior.

That's because human beings are finite in personality, knowledge, and rationality. At a minimum, morality and moral behavior among finite creatures like humans requires personal agency, knowledge, rationality and a standard of value. With God you have absolute personality, absolute knowledge (omniscience), absolute wisdom (omnisapience), absolute rationality, and an absolute value. Each infinite person of the Trinity esteeming Himself and the other two infinite persons of the Trinity as having infinite value. God is the "gold standard" (if you will, and in a manner of speaking) by which humans, made in God's image, can value other human beings as they too are minted with God's stamp of value. This is the meaning of Christ's request for a denarius and his statement, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (cf. Mark 12:13-17//Matt. 22:15-22). Meaning, just as the denarius has the image of Caesar on it and it belongs to Caesar, so also in a higher sense humans have God's image inscribed on them, and we are to worship God in whom all the glories and values of man are only a reflection of God's own perfect and infinite glory and value. Thus, to obey God is to be as close to being like the Supreme Being as our finite nature allows.

"You shall be holy, for I am holy." - 1 Peter 1:16 ESV
"You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect"- Matt. 5:48

"Be ye holy; for I am holy."- 1 Peter 1:16 KJV
"Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."- Matt. 5:48

Here's another analogy that uses gold. If humans were analogous to paper currency (e.g. $100 dollar bills), then God is the gold that backs up the value of the paper money. Without the gold, the money is worthless. It's because God has eternally valued Himself that humans made in His image (and who reflect His value) have value and worth in themselves. Christianity can ground human dignity and worth and so can make sense of moral obligations between human beings. As I argued elsewhere, values flow from God's nature, while our moral duties as God's creatures flow from God's will as expressed in commands (i.e. Divine Command Essentialism).

Is Atheistic Moral Platonism More Plausible Than Theism?
(video link)

Ultimately, we obey God because obeying God is one of the aspects of worship. And we worship God because, to quote William Lane Craig....

"You believe in  [and worship] God because God, as the supreme Good, is the appropriate object of adoration and love. He is Goodness itself, to be desired for its own sake. And so the fulfillment of human existence is to be found in relation to God. It's because of who God is and his moral worth that he is worthy of worship. It has nothing to do with avoiding Hell, or promoting your own well-being." [source]

Finally, while prudential reasons are not the best motivations or the ultimate reasons why we ought to obey and worship God, prudential reasons are nevertheless legitimate penultimate or antepenultimate reasons.

Here are some links to prudential reasons for obeying God.

 In my blog on Sermons and Books on Heaven I have three resources that provide really good prudential reasons for obeying God.

The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis

Heaven by Edward D. Griffin

 Pascal's Wager [collection of articles from Christians, atheists and non-Christians in general]

I also recommend a blog of mine dealing with God's relation to law and morality. It deals with the question, "Where is goodness located?"

Here are links to William Lane Craig videos on The Problem of Evil

 Why Doesn't God Reveal the Reasons For Permitting Evil and Suffering?
(video link)

"The Problem of Evil and Suffering"
(video link)

Here are links to three of my blogs that have some relevance to the topic of this blog.

God in Relation to Law: Ex Lex, Sub Lego or Sibi Ipsi Lex

"Unveiling" The Hiddenness of God

Detecting and Finding God 

Answering Moral Objections to the Bible

Book Reviews of Recent Atheist Authors by Christian Apologists 

Resources for Dealing with Alleged Bible Contradictions, Discrepancies and Errors

Dealing with Christian Doubts

Christian Apologetics: Who Needs It? by William Lane Craig 

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