Does God have a ‘moral obligation’ to His creation?
Published: 10 March 2013 (GMT+10)
Jared B. asks:
Greetings to you all at CMI! I’ve been a Christian for almost 10 years now, but lately I’ve discovered a growing interest within me to gain the courage to share my faith, to go deeper, and to truly understand why I believe what I believe. But in order to do that effectively, I would also have to be able to defend it, especially in this world where secular situational ethics are so common! I love that there’s such a great variety of topics here and the information is fantastic!
Let me get to my point. I was confronted by someone who asked me “Does God have a moral obligation to his creation?” The person compared God to parents having a moral obligation to raise their children the best they know how to prepare for to leave home eventually and lead adult lives. He also compared God to married people having the obligation to lead productive, loving lives. I wasn’t completely sure of his intentions or his assumptions. But his question seems to suppose that we are made in God’s image, but since there’s evil destroying mankind, and since God made us, all the blame should be place on him.
What do you think of this?
Lita Cosner responds:
Thanks for writing in. It’s great that you want to become equipped to share your faith. I’m glad you’ve found our information to be useful.
I dislike the term ‘moral obligation’ when applied to God because God has done so much more than He would ever be obligated to. His grace is so overabundant that to speak in terms of ‘obligation’ when we understand His grace is just sort of repugnant. It also gives the implication that we have the right to demand something of God, and that He might be less than completely righteous, both of which are wrongheaded. It further puts us as ‘judge’ over God as to whether He’s fulfilled that ‘obligation’. When Job tried to ‘sue’ God, God appeared, but didn’t answer Job, and Job realized his unworthiness to challenge God after God challenged him. Paul, in Romans 9, is very blunt: we have no more right to challenge our Creator than clay pots have to challenge their potter “why have you made me thus?” God is not in any way limited by His creation or intrinsically obligated to it.
God’s grace is so overabundant that to speak in terms of ‘obligation’ when we understand His grace is just sort of repugnant.
It is also very important to understand the framework of biblical history (see Why Bible history matters).
God created a ‘very good’ world, and existence itself is a gift. He created the pinnacle of His creation, human beings (Adam and Eve) with everything they needed in a perfect environment, in a perfect relationship with Himself. So certainly at this point, there’s no question about whether God fulfills any obligations (to the extent He had any to begin with) He might conceivably have.
But then of course sin enters the picture. All the bad stuff that’s happened in the 6,000 years since is attributable to that sin. We can’t accuse God of any of the ‘bad things’, because it’s our ancestor Adam’s fault that there is sin and death and suffering in the world. God doesn’t have any moral obligation to mitigate the effects of sin; in fact, He has a ‘moral obligation’ to blot out sin (and before you start cheering for that solution, remember that we’re sinners!). If there were no sin, there would be no suffering.
But we know that He is merciful, and He continues to care providentially for His creation (the theological term for this is ‘common grace’—Jesus said, “For [God] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” Matthew 5:45). Even in this sin-cursed world, we have a lot of good things, and God is the author of those things, so we should be grateful to Him.
Furthermore, God wasn’t content to just leave us in our sin, or to destroy us so that His universe would be sinless again. Instead, He went completely beyond any obligation to us. God Himself, the Second Person of the Trinity, took on human nature in Jesus Christ, who was absolutely sinless, to die to pay the price for our sin. His Resurrection serves as a sort of promise that God will eventually restore the whole creation, and raise all those who love Him to live with Him forever in a perfect New Heavens and Earth.
So in other words, I think we’re not knowledgeable enough about what goes on in the heavenly realm to even evaluate God’s actions beyond what’s revealed in Scripture, but then even what we do know reveals that not only does He fulfill every obligation perfectly; He goes unimaginably further than that in providing salvation through Christ.
After talking with a pastor holding that the earth is not 6,000 years old I was left pondering one of his points. It would be kind if you could refer me to some material on the matter as I could not find any.
He firstly says that the ages noted in the chronologies are not literal, and that this is proven by the round numbers we are given, i.e. Noah being 950 and Shem 600. Among others I found your “Meeting the ancestors” article. Your arguments combined with the fact that many of the ages given seem too exact for his assertion to seem probable.
I would be interested to hear your thoughts on his second point however: In a highly patriarchal society details would not be recorded of someone’s sons and their sons whilst the patriarch is still alive. I note that the article states that; “Notice that Shem (died AM 2158) and Eber (died AM 2187) both outlived all their descendants down to Abraham. In the patriarchal society that then was, it is no wonder that the Israelites were also known as ‘Semites’ (after Shem) or ‘Hebrews’ (after Eber)”. Would not the patriarchs completely overshadow their offspring?
It would be kind if you could refer me to any relevant articles or share your thoughts.
Lita Cosner answers:
The pastor’s argument would seem to be that the genealogies are not precise, not that they’re not literal. If Noah’s and Shem’s ages were rounded, they would still be literal, but imprecise. It would be hard though to argue that the imprecision is such that you can get from 6,000 years to billions of years.
But the ages of Adam and his descendants are as follows:
Where does mainstream science find its proof of millions of years? In the rock layers!
Adam: 930 years
Seth: 912 years
Enosh: 905 years
Kenan: 910 years
Mahalalel: 895 years
Jared: 962 years
Enoch: 365 years
Methuselah: 969 years
Lamech: 777 years
Noah: 950 years
Shem: 600 years
Arpachshad: 438 years
Shelah: 433 years
Eber: 464 years
And so on. We see several things. First, not all the ages look rounded (912, 962, etc). Why would Adam be rounded and not Seth and Methuselah? Any system of rounding has to work for the whole set. And a bunch of the ‘roundings’ would be to the nearest five, which wouldn’t make as much sense in Hebrew where 5 wasn’t a particularly ‘special’ number.
Furthermore, what would rounding the ages gain? Decades at most! Therefore, even if the Genesis genealogies were less precise than we argue them to be, Genesis would still teach an earth that’s around 6,000 years old.
But what is this pastor’s motivation for long ages? He didn’t get that idea from Scripture, but from mainstream science. And where does mainstream science find its proof of millions of years? In the rock layers! And what do the rock layers, dated to supposedly millions of years old, have in them? Dead things, thorns, evidence of carnivory and disease, long before any possible date for Adam, so before Adam ever sinned. And if death and suffering and carnivory and bad things were around before Adam ever sinned, is that what the restoration is going to look like? See Did God create over billions of years?
I hope these thoughts are helpful.
Re: God's 'moral obligation'
Those who hold to the argument that God has a moral obligation to his creation have not understood the reality of God's holiness.
This also makes it very difficult for them to understand reason for some of his judgements, like the examples of that which happened to those who perished in the Flood, and in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. These judgements came as a result of those people having done despite to God’s longsuffering, kind and patient nature, and rejecting his offer of salvation.
Because they rather wanted continue on in their sins, he eventually (for the sake of his Name and honour [Ezekiel 36:22 Psalm 138:2]) had to withdraw his offer of grace and judge them.
It is impossible to properly understand God and his Word without understanding of the reality of his holiness.
As was pointed out in the article: when the full realization of God’s holiness in comparison to his own corrupted human nature finally dawned on Job (“I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you…”), he reacted by saying,
“Therefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42:5, 6
Now Job was a blameless and upright man…
“Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?” Job 1:8
…but only relative to the rest of mankind. Relative to the Creator’s holiness he was still a sinner, as he says of himself,
“Behold, I am vile…” Job 40:4
The notion that God 'owes' us anything, is trying to make him our servant. God owes us nothing; he does because he desires to do, for free, not because he has to.
“For God so LOVED the world that he GAVE his only begotten Son..." John 3:16
Blaming God for sin requires invoking an absolute moral standard to apply - and attempt to show that the only possible source for this standard broke this standard - God
The tempter placed an alternate view in front of Eve. He told her that there was another way to true knowledge. On one hand she had God's revelation on the other hand she now had another idea (that would be settled in time she was told)
And she was to decide who was right.
To accept the position of ultimate judge between
these two opposing starting points constituted the fall of man.
For God had to become not ultimate - she was
Putting God on trial is not only absurd - it is destructive
50 x in Ezekiel alone - God spoke to Ezekiel as to what is to come - judgement and the reason for it was "they will know that i am the Lord"
"A small child can only slap his father in the face, if the father supports him on his lap" CVT
Thank you again for some really helpful answers.
The title of the first one brought to mind Moses pleading with God to spare His people (e.g. Numbers 14:11-19). Surely Moses was claiming that the Lord had a “moral obligation” to them?
Then I realised that Moses was NOT pleading on the grounds of “moral obligation” but the grounds of God’s HONOUR. He was asking that the Lord be true to His promise, and to His own merciful nature; in case the heathen nations round about might think He was unable or unwilling to fulfil His Word.
Grace, all grace. We shall know the truth, and the truth sets us free. Morality applies to us, because God is perfect. I love having to be held accountable for my actions because I would be a completely different person from what I am today. Grace, all grace. Thank you for your input Lita Cosner and for the thoughtful debate of the other two.
Re: the first article - While I understand and agree with your point about applying a "moral obligation" on the part of God, Is there a theological\legal reason for God to restore his creation to his original perfect creation (create a new heavens and earth) ?
Re: the second article - I appreciated the clarification of the rounding of the ages\years in the genealogies. In any case as your previous articles on the matter have shown there is no case for inserting missing time due to missing gaps that would allow for the harmonization of evolutionary long ages.
The new creation's most important reason is to fully demonstrate God's complete victory over sin and death. So the primary reason for the new creation is God's own glory. A secondary reason is that God loves His people and desired to save us so much that He sent Jesus to die on our behalf. Part of our salvation is the promised physical resurrection from the dead. A logical corollary of a resurrected people is a 'resurrected world'. This world is subject to decay, so not appropriate for resurrected people who aren't.
But while there are some theological reasons for the resurrection and the new heavens and earth, none of them has to do with an 'obligation'. And in fact, it would cheapen the doctrine considerably, in my view.
It would be presumptuous of any person to question God's motives, whether moral or any other measure.
God as the Creator of everything, whether seen or unseen, is the absolute Sovereign of the universe. He spoke and everything came into being, and he could speak again and everything could be gone in a moment. Because of his grace and goodness, He has not chosen to do that.
Because of His sovereignty residing solely in His Being, he answers to no-one.
An earthly father has to answer to authority. He must take care of his children while they are under his care, but when they are grown and if they reject him and fail to give him respect, he may take them out of the will or just refuse to support them. It would be his right but most fathers would not want to do that because of his love for his children, and the need to carry on his name. God has no such need from us except obedience. If we reject him, he has the right to withhold blessings from us, including our very lives. Thank you God for not giving us what we deserve.
God also has the right to take even children because he answers to no-one. Although it is painful for us to accept, we have no right to question, because we don't have all the facts and no authority.
Re: God's 'moral obligation'
Something I've never been able to figure out and to date no one has brought a rational answer. Actually I doubt anyone ever will, I think only God can answer (if He so chooses) when we finally meet him in heaven.
Anyway here is my question for you to ponder... If God knows the beginning from the end, He would know that Adam would fall for Satan's lie. So why did He let Satan loose down here in the first place?
He could have saved Himself/Jesus a whole lot of pain and trouble and we could have lived happy ever after, go figure?
Whenever we consider these sorts of questions dealing with God's foreknowledge, we have to accept that we don't have God's insight and knowledge, and so our judgment is going to fall short.
The simple answer is that God foreknew that mankind would fall before He even began creating, and He made mankind anyway. He didn't interfere with the Fall; instead, He had the solution in mind before He began creating. This is because God wanted a people who would love Him freely; not automatons.
The person of God and His character is the moral standard. God has not kept us in the dark pertaining to His moral standards. He made it clear to Adam what was required and the consequences of disobedience. The fact that we were created as free moral agents, in the image of God we are held accountable for any behavior that discredits that image. Even so God not only was gracious to Adam by killing an innocent animal to cover his sin, He joined us in the person of Jesus Christ to die Himself to make final atonement for all of Adams rebellious descendants. God was not obligated to create anything or anyone, nor is He obligated to redeem disobedient humans. God does what He chooses for His own glory, we humans just happen to be beneficiaries of His goodness and grace in spite of our rebellion.
before reading your article the title would have illicitted my response, "God already has met his obligation." After reading your article I felt I fell into the trap of 'questioning God'. Your article proved God true and me false. So I thank you for that.
Also the need for us to come humbly to God - The heart is desperately wicked and only God knows the depth of that wickedness - it also means that He is gracious and cost Him very dearly. God paid the debt not one of us could pay in our sinful condition. God has done more than we could have asked by giving the Saviour Jesus Christ, the Messiah.
regards Stuart Simmonds