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 Sanders 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.
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 Sanders 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:
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.