If it’s okay for God to do something, then is it okay for him to command it?
Vincent asked me an interesting and provocative question. It is also helpful because it goes to the root of many important issues He wrote:
Would you agree or disagree with the proposition that if it’s morally OK for God to do something, then it’s OK for Him to command someone else to do it?
If we are going to address this important question we shall first have to deal with a problematic assumption embedded within it. That is the assumption that we are talking about the same kind of action when we predicate an action verb of God and of a human being. This assumption must be challenged. In order to do so let’s begin with a specific action verb: to drown.
For example, we might have the question posed like this: “If it is okay for God to drown infants then is it okay for God to command somebody else to drown an infant?” The problem here is that the action in question is quite different when applied to God then when applied to human beings. To be sure, there is shared meaning in terms of outcome. According to Merriam Webster’s, to drown is “to suffocate by submersion, especially in water.” So for God or a human being to drown an infant would be to suffocate them by submersion in a liquid.
However, there are crucial differences in what it means for this outcome to be obtained. A human being might drown an infant by holding the child under a liquid until they suffocate. But what would it mean for God to do this? In the divine case, things are quite different, for here it would mean something like this: God timelessly wills that at time T-1 circumstances will obtain in which a particular liquid will envelop an infant due to natural laws that God sustains moment by moment, and that the result will be the infant’s drowning.
I presume Vincent is not asking if it would be okay for God to command a human agent to will timelessly that at time T-1 circumstances will obtain in which a particular liquid will envelop an infant due to natural laws that the human agent sustains moment by moment, and that the result will be the infant’s drowning.
So if we are going to ensure that this question makes sense, we should first make the actions as analogous as possible.
With that in mind, let’s focus our questions on the one case where God interacts in the world not as the transcendent divine cause of all things (which is radically disanalogous to human action) but rather as a human being, namely Jesus Christ. And so all our questions should be focused on Jesus acting in the world.
With that I would ask Vincent (and others) to consider which of the following prima facie moral atrocities they believe Jesus could possibly commit as the incarnate God-man acting in the world:
(1) drowning an infant
(2) torturing a child
(3) mutilating a young boy
(4) raping a mother
(5) slaughtering a village
Once Vincent (and others) provide an answer to which of (1)-(5) they believe Jesus might commit, we will have an appropriate analogoue to pursue the question of which of these prima facie moral atrocities God might command others to commit.