Post Author: Bill Pratt
I have been asked, on occasion, why it is that human beings should obey the commands of God. After all, just because God created us does not mean that he has ultimate authority over us. We would never argue that a mother who gives life to her child has ultimate authority over that child. The mother’s authority only goes so far.
So how is God any different?
Davis Baggett and Jerry Walls give an insightful answer to this question in their book Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality. Here is their approach to this question:
Let us consider the reasons we normally ascribe authority to someone. Sometimes it is a simple matter of power. A person who has the legal power to enforce his will, for instance, has a certain kind of authority. Another source of authority is knowledge and information. We recognize as authorities those persons who have sufficient mastery of a field or discipline that they can command respect for what they know and understand. A third source of authority is moral integrity and character, the sort of authority that appeals to our conscience and demands respect in a deeper sense than the authority that comes from mere power, or even knowledge. Indeed, a person who has mere power or legal authority but who lacks moral integrity lacks the authority to command our respect, even if he has the power to enforce his will on us.
As we mentioned earlier, just because God created us (has power over us), does not necessarily mean that he has the knowledge, wisdom, or moral character to exercise authority over us. After all, human parents lack the knowledge, wisdom, and moral character that would enable them to exercise complete authority over their children for their children’s entire lives.
Does God lack those same attributes? Not if we’re talking about the Christian God.
God has supreme power, knowledge, and goodness, and all of these underwrite his moral authority. He created us and this world and stamped us with his image, and has the power to hold us fully accountable for our actions. Since he has perfect knowledge of us, he understands perfectly what is good for us and our flourishing. Moreover, since he is perfectly good he desires our well-being and does everything short of overriding our freedom to promote it.
In view of his nature as a perfect being, there are no good grounds for doubting his authority. There can be no blindsidedness, no bias, no imperfect understanding, no possibility of misuse of power, or having obtained it wrongly. If all rational withholdings are blocked, we ought to accept God as an authority. And part of what is involved in that is accepting his commands, unless we have good reason to do otherwise; but again, with a perfect being, there can’t possibly be good reasons to do otherwise. In short, we think the issue of authority is a matter of power, knowledge, and character, all of which add up to moral authority.
The Christian God, therefore, possesses all of the qualities we would want to underwrite his complete and total authority over all human beings. God is not like our earthly parents. He is the most perfect Being and the source of all that is good, true, and beautiful. There is no reason to ever doubt his legitimate authority over us.