God strikes some priests down for using the wrong kind of fire. God allows Satan to kill Job’s entire family just to test Job. God sends a “lying spirit” out to deceive King Ahab into pursuing a fatal war.
There are few actions that God takes in the Bible that are not brought under some kind of scrutiny by critics. To do these justice, they would all require independent examination. Since space forbids this kind of detail, a general defense of God’s nature must suffice.
In order to call any action of God “wrong” one must first define the kind of moral law God ought to be held to. All too often, people who criticize God’s actions assume that God must abide by the same moral laws as humans. However, this kind of reasoning has some obvious problems.
Perhaps the best way to highlight these problems is to take a human moral code and attempt to apply it to God. For this purpose, this article will take a look at the most famous of moral codes: the Ten Commandments.
I.No Other Gods Before Me
This commandment underscores the preeminence of God. He exists before all things, he exists above all things, and all things exist for his purposes. For humans, this law instructs us to lay aside our self-interests and devote ourselves to God alone. However, God is self-existent. He acts from his nature, and his nature is to actualize himself by exercising his characteristics and attributes.
This might seem like arrogance or selfishness on the part of God, but “arrogance” and “selfishness” exist when a person elevates themselves above what they deserve. This is impossible for God, because he is the highest being.
More than this, however, God’s nature is made up of three persons, all of which act for the benefit of the other. The Son obeys the Father , the Father glorifies the son, and the Spirit manifests and communicates their nature. In this sense, then, God exercises an attitude of giving, even as he exults himself.
In one sense, this alone justifies any actions God may take. God will always act out of his nature, and his nature defines what is good and perfect. Moreover, all things were created by him, so he has the right to do what he will with his own creations. As the Apostle Paul tells it:
Romans 9:20-21 English Standard Version (ESV)
20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?
II.No Engraved Images
At first glance, this commandment seems like an extension of the first commandment. Upon closer examination, though, this is an instruction against attempting to capture God’s nature in a physical image. God is a spiritual being. Humans, who have no way of comprehending God’s nature would inevitably misrepresent God in any attempt to create his image in some physical form. This misrepresentation would be a blasphemy and idolatry.
One might argue that God did exactly this by taking on the form of a human in the person of Christ. The key difference, of course, is that God is the only one who could accurately represent his own nature. God is not restricted in his capacity to reveal his nature to humans.
III.Do Not Take God’s Name in Vain
In its entire meaning, this commandment is against misrepresenting God’s name. In reaction to this very command, the Jewish people adopted the practice of never saying or writing God’s name in its entirety, lest they invoke it improperly.
Throughout the Bible, God identifies himself by a variety of names, each of which reflects something profound about his nature. The most sacred and meaningful of these, however, seems to be the name he provides for Moses: I AM. This name sums up God’s self-existent nature. There is no person or object that exists that can say “I AM because I AM.” They must say “I am because I was made. I am the end result of a process that brought about my existence.”
Because God is God, it would be impossible for him to misrepresent his name. Not only this, but God’s self existence makes him the source of meaning. Everything that exists takes its meaning directly from its relationship to God, such that having an improper idea of God’s nature throws ones idea of reality into confusion.
IV.Keep the Sabbath
The subject of the Sabbath is complex and controversial, however the command to keep the Sabbath was rooted in the actions taken by God. God is said to have rested on the seventh day of the Creation week, therefore his people are commanded to rest on the seventh day of their week. God’s actions define the imperative, the imperative does not restrict God’s actions.
V.Honor Your Parents
The command to pay respect and bring honor to your parents is not conditional on the nature of the parents. The parents are held responsible before God for their treatment of the children, and the children are held responsible for their honoring of the parents independently of one another.
So that children are commanded to respect and honor their parents unconditionally, this appears to be a moral obligation to one’s origin and legacy. Moreover, it is a mandate to respect authority.
God has no origin, nor authority figure that exceeds himself. Nevertheless, in the person of Christ, we see him submit to the will of both his earthly mother when he honors her request to turn the water into wine, and his heavenly father by going to the cross.
VI.Do Not Murder
If there was any commandment that God could be argued to have violated, it would be this one. Levitical Law makes it fairly clear that the definition of “murder” is intentionally killing someone without just cause. Just cause includes such things as warfare, penal execution for crimes after a fair trial, or defense of oneself or others.
In all of these cases, what makes a killing “just” is the relationship of the death to other humans. A life for a life. If a man kills another man, he is then deserving of death; or if he is about to kill another, he can be killed to prevent the death.
A human cannot punish another human for crimes against God, or simply choose to kill another human. To do so is to “play God.” Each person is answerable to God alone for their sins. God makes it clear that death is the penalty for sin. Moreover, God is the only one capable of manufacturing life. Because he can give life, he can justly take it away.
VII. Do Not Commit Adultery
The marriage is the first institution created by God. It is one of the things that separates humans from animals. Ending a marriage is a violation of one of the basic laws that God used to define human beings.
By his very nature, God is faithful. When a violation of trust occurs between humans and God, it is the human who violates, not God. This seems to be at least one respect in which God requires humans to act as he acts. Of course, the definition of “faithful” comes from God’s nature and actions.
VIII.Do Not Steal
Everything that exists was created by God. Consequently, everything that exists belongs to God. People are born without possession, and eventually die. When they die, they no longer own anything. So everything that a person owns is in reality on loan from God. This being the case, it is impossible for God to steal.
IX.Do Not Bear False Witness
This is typically paraphrased “Don’t lie,” however this commandment applies very specifically to a witness in a courtroom trial. A more accurate paraphrase would be “Do not commit perjury.”
This command is an appeal to justice. When it comes to judging a person’s wrongdoing, fairness and justice are the supreme measures. If God ever accused someone falsely, or judged anyone without reason, he would be in violation of this law. God, being the maker of all things, is the only one who can determine if that thing conforms to his standards or not. In other words, God cannot judge falsely.
X.Do Not Covet
To covet is to desire that which does not belong to you. As relates to God’s nature, this has already been addressed in the command not to steal. It is impossible for God to desire something that is not his, since all things are his.
Through this quick exercise of applying moral laws to God, it is easy to see that God’s nature and attributes are the grounding of moral law. One cannot accuse God of doing wrong, since anything God does is, by definition, right. At best, one could make the case that God acts in wildly erratic ways that are inconsistent with his nature. To do so, the accuser would first have to construct a careful definition of God’s nature and characteristics, and then show how he violates those characteristics.
This is often what the argument from evil and suffering does. God is broadly defined as “good” and then God’s allowing “evil” to exist is said to be contrary to his “goodness.”
A very brief answer to this claim would be this:
Part of God’s “goodness” is to allow freedom and autonomy to his self-aware creations. Freedom has led to a state of affairs where his creatures have strayed from their assigned purpose. God consequently provides his creatures a choice between two options: repent of their evil and be forgiven or fail to repent and be judged. Either way, justice is served and evil is reconciled.