Euthyphro, Accommodation and The Good

Unlike Calvin, who states that God (in His goodness) accommodated Himself to people by talking in baby talk (thus becoming understandable—which is a matter of how he communicates, not the content of the communication) there are a group of people that I’d call New Accommodationists who, borrowing the same language, state that God, because of His goodness, condescends to the morally dubious (I’m being generous with the use of the term since they’re more likely to use the word “evil”) situation of men . This is group denies the inerrancy of Scripture because, although God is good, he affirms things that are actual morally wrong.

For example: when God makes commands about slavery, he speaks into the situation of the people without ever correcting the morally dubious action. He gets his hands dirty, as it were, to pull humans up out of the mud and thus demonstrates his love via condescension. So this inerrancy isn’t about mistakes as much as God, in Scripture, affirming moral wrongness.

Enter Euthyphro’s dilemma.

Socrates, trying to get a meaning of Piety, asks him a question about the piety of the Gods. Piety is loved by the Gods—but why? Is it because piety (the Good) is holy (right) or because the Gods love it. In other words: is the good “good” because the Gods like it, or do the Gods love The Good because of some internal qualifying property of the Good?

Euthyphro eventually had something to do, but folk have taken his problem and aimed d it against the Christian: does your God command what is Good because it is Good or is what he commands good because He says so?

On one horn of the dilemma, the Christian finds himself looking at The Good existing apart from God—a law which He is subject to; on the other horn of the dilemma the Christian finds himself making a crazy claim: that anything evil would be Good if God said so. So if God’s commandments consisted of “Thou shall rape and murder children because this is Good,” it would automatically become morally good.

Christians have long responded by saying this is a false dilemma: God commands The Good because He is The Good. The Good, in other words, is not an arbitrary thing (one horn defeated) but rather an objective standard grounded within Himself (second horn defeated). So when God gives a command, it derives from His nature.

But I think the dilemma winds up being absurd to the New Accommodationists .

Surely they would affirm that God’s nature is The Good but this apparently The Good doesn’t inform what He commands. Indeed, the New Acommodationists are quick to rip out of context the passage in Ezekiel where God says he gave statutes which were Not-Good (Ezekiel 20:25).  God purposefully commands what is, in many cases (they’d say slavery, the treatment of women, the treatment of children) outright evil morally dubious.

And by accommodating himself in this way He effectively avoids illuminating what is Good: it is being purposefully occluded so that he can do something which is, apparently, better.

I don’t think we can only limit this to Moses. Christ winds up saying things that are wrong (the mustard seed: Mk 4:31), lacking knowledge (no man, except the Father, knows of the coming of the Son in judgment: Mt 24:36), and morally dubious (anger issues? Mk 11:15-19, 11:27-33; Matt 21:12-17, 21:23-27;Luke 19:45-48, 20:1-8;  John 2:13-16; Rev 14:20).

So, offhand, there seems to be a few options here:

  1. God’s nature isn’t bent towards The Good enough to mandate it
  2. Morality is less important than relationship (with Him)
  3. Morality is, not so much arbitrary, but fluid.
  4. God can’t offer a real corrective to moral dubious behavior

But even if there were more actions, I think it is safe to say that Socrates’ root question remains not only unanswered (after all, Euthyphro left early too) but impossible to even consider. The question goes from “What is The Good” to “Is there such a thing as The Good?”

Facebook Comments

Leave a Reply