Why Is Morality Ultimately Relational?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Can a person be moral without knowing God? Yes, but this kind of moral life is stunted and incomplete. It is only through relationship with God that the moral life flowers. Once again, I must quote from David Baggett and Jerry Walls’ brilliant work, Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality.

If God is the source and root of morality—in any fashion close to the way that we have depicted it here—then the tug of morality within us is less like a cold deliverance of reason, and more like a warm and personal invitation to come and partake, to drink from a brook whose water quenches our thirst in the most deeply satisfying way we can imagine.

The voice of morality is the call of God to return to our only true and ultimate source of happiness. It’s not an overactive superego or a societally imposed joy-killing curfew, but an intimation of the eternal, a personal overture to run with rather than against the grain of the universe. It’s a confirmation of our suspicions that love and relationship have not just happened to bubble up to the top of the evolutionary chain, reflecting nothing, but rather that they penetrate to the very foundation of all that is real.

Reason and relationship, rationality and relationality, go hand in hand, and they weren’t merely the culmination of the elaborate process that enabled us to reflect about it all and inquire into the meaning of life; no, they were what began it all and imbued the process with meaning right from the start.

How does our relationship with God make us more virtuous?

Virtue itself is relational. Experience reveals that we grow to become like those with whom we fraternize. Relationship with God is what makes us more like him; intimacy with Christ makes us fully human. By hiding his words in our heart we become better able to resist sin; by yielding to his will we walk uprightly; by allowing the power of the Holy Spirit to animate us, we find deliverance from the bondage to sin.

Virtue, to our thinking, is not just a set of dispositional qualities; it’s a function of ongoing relationship. Intimacy with God is what engenders holiness of heart. Trust in his faithfulness and goodness manifests itself in a holy life. Morality, ultimately, for the Christian, is all about relationship, first and foremost with God, and then secondarily with others. All the law and the prophets, Jesus assured us, hang on these two commandments: To love God with all of our hearts, souls, and minds, and our neighbor as ourselves.

Yes, we can be virtuous without knowing God, but it is of a secondary quality. The path to true virtue is through relationship with Jesus Christ.

  • rericsawyer

    Just the other day I read another take which could have used the same title line. This author’s thought was that the idea of the fundamental righteousness of God was preserved from arbitrariness, and all the issues that have been tossed around on these pages, by being founded in the *relational righteousness* of the relationship within the Holy Trinity.

    That just as God without relationship cannot be love, only potential love, (and thus actual love would be something acquired, as an add-on, in creation) so righteousness is a meaningless term without relationship. And if that relationship had a beginning point, as in creation, then the righteousness of God becomes arbitrary, to be taken up or laid aside as conditions (such as the existence of created entities) warrant. It becomes arbitrary, instead of inherent.

    The idea was not well fleshed out, and I suspect not original, but it was the first time I had heard it, and sounded interesting.

  • Rusty Southwick

    It makes sense that mankind’s judgments would always be subject to revision. Thus, mankind cannot be the ultimate arbiter on morals, but needs assistance in such determinations. The judgment is only absolute if it comes from a supernatural source.

    Nice topic…

  • Joseph O Polanco

    Thing is, Moral Relativism is, conceptually, an irrational oxymoron. For genuine ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ to exist morality cannot be relative for it places ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ at the mercy of mere caprice. Under such a paradigm nothing is truly ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ making such terms completely otiose; expressing a distinction without a difference.

    Trying to form a prosperous, harmonious society on such a miry foundation is like trying to build a fantastic neoteric megalopolis on quagmire. It’s an exercise in absolute futility.

    This is why we live in a world that’s getting worse, not better …