Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Judging God's morality

If a person claims he doesn’t “judge God’s morality” it can only be because he is a nominalist. To such a person I ask “What makes God worthy of worship?” The answer must be “just because he’s God.” To that I can only respond “Oh, really? Why, then, do Psalm 106 and 118 (among other passages of the Bible) say to worship God because he’s good? It’s obvious to me that the Psalmist was telling his listeners (and us who read his Psalms) that God is worshipful, whereas “the gods” are not, because our God, the true God, is good. And, according to Psalm 106, God is good because “his steadfast love endures forever.”
Was the Psalmist judging God’s morality? Is someone who obeys him by worshiping God BECAUSE he’s good judging God’s morality? It seems ridiculous to say so.
What I get from the Bible is that God is worshipful because he is good. Yes, also because he is all powerful and holy.  But it’s a package deal. Take away goodness and he wouldn’t be worshipful. That’s how I understand Psalm 106 and Psalm 118.
The main reason most Christians don’t consider Mormonism a form of Christianity is precisely because its god is not worshipful. By what standard? By the standard given to us by God himself in Scripture.
The standard of goodness I’m using as the criterion is the one given by God himself—loving kindness and steadfast love. That’s the standard I’m using to judge OTHER so-called “gods.” I’m not “judging” my God, the God of the Bible, at all. I’m simply accepting the standard he has revealed for worshipfulness and using it to rule out worshiping other gods (which, of course, don’t exist as real gods because they’re not worshipful).

There are several glaring problems with this argument:

i) The original question at issue was whether Olson would worship the God of Calvinism if he became convinced that Scripture taught Calvinism. His response was to say that, in that event, he’d reject Scripture.

It is therefore incoherent to say he’s applying a biblical standard. For, if push came to shove, he’d reject the biblical standard. As he himself says, it’s a package deal.

ii) Put another way, he’s not using Scripture as an objective standard or criterion of truth. Rather, he’s only applying the Biblical standard for the sake of argument.

iii) He’s also treating Psalmnodic ascriptions of divine “goodness” as a cipher. The psalmist doesn’t say God would be monstrous unless he gave us libertarian freedom. Olson didn’t get that from Ps 106 or Ps 118.

iv) In addition, the psalmist isn’t merely talking about God, or for God, but from God. By inspiration, God reveals himself to and through the psalmist. The psalmist’s words are ultimately God’s words. So of course this isn’t a case of the psalmist holding God to some independent standard of morality. And by that same token, the psalmist isn’t using that to judge whether or not the God of Scripture is the true God.

v) Finally, the problem with the god(s) of Mormonism isn’t so much their unworthiness but their nonexistence. 


  1. The best antidote to such poison is a big dose of Saint Augustine. It was Augustine's overwhelming presentation of God as absolute Goodness and Wisdom, Justice and Mercy, Love and Steadfastness -- but above all, Holiness -- that led me to realize the Lord's radical and meticulous sovereignty.

    If you believe that God is all-wise and all-good, what need is there to consider His motives? What room is there to question His actions? Lacking exhaustive knowledge of reality, we must simply embrace His decisions, however much they puzzle or even offend our frail human sensibilities.

  2. It's funny (foolish?) how Olson did not mention Psalm 136 which also uses the same language as Psalm 106 and 118. In Psalm 136 the goodness of God as expressed in his everlasting lovingkindness is expressed in killing the firstborn of the Egyptians (v. 10). Also it is expressed and praised for killing great kings (Sihon and Og, specifically vv. 19-20). This actions of God are due to his sovereign choice. And if the original context of Sihon is referenced then the language of "hardening" of hearts is found (Deut 2.30). Olson doesn't let Scripture define "good."

  3. You haven't, by chance, read Brian Davies book on the problem of evil have you? He disposes of the idea of applying moral attributes to God rather nicely. He also made the interesting comment ( I will get the page number later) that God only loves those in Covenant with him. Which if that is the case, the Psalmist could most certainly speak of God's goodness to him.

  4. If a person claims he doesn’t “judge God’s morality” it can only be because he is a nominalist.

    Pros and Cons for Freight Brokers

  5. How does holding a position of theistic skepticism toward evil make one a nominalist? I could say that God has perfectly good reasons for allowing the evil to happen in the world, even though I do not know what they are. I simply think that an omnipotent, omnibenevolent, omniscient being would know better than me. I don't see how that commits a person to nominalism. I am not denying that there are universals in math, logic, or even morals. The only claim I am making is that I am ignorant of the ways of God. So, either you are redefining nominalism (not so sure it is a bad thing) and applying it to a position you find uncomfortable. Try again.