When Men Call Good, Evil
The Divine Command Theory questions whether something is good and holy because God commanded it or whether God commands something because it is good and holy. This is commonly referred to as the Euthyphro Dilemma found in Plato’s The Last Days of Socrates. The storyline is set when Socrates is traveling to the courthouse to deal with charges levied against him by Meletus. While waiting outside, Socrates meets a young man by the name of Euthyphro who is there on the unusual mission of prosecuting his own father for the death of another man. Euthyphro sees his actions as just and good (holy). Socrates asks him to define ‘holiness.’ Euthyphro answers that whatever is agreeable to the gods is holy and what is not agreeable is unholy. Socrates observes, however, that even the gods are prone to disagree on any number of things. Therefore, there can be no common meaning of holiness among them. Euthyphro notes many things may be disagreed upon, but the killing of a man should be agreeable to all as unholy. When Socrates demands evidence for this assertion, the dilemma of Euthyphro is declared:
EUTHYPHRO – ‘Well, I should certainly say that what’s holy is whatever all the gods approve of, and that its opposite, what all the gods disprove of, is unholy.’
SOCRATES – ‘We’ll soon be in better position to judge, my good chap. Consider the following point: is the holy approved by the gods because it’s holy, or is it holy because it’s approved?’
Applying this to our current treatment of biblical texts: Do we call something good because God commanded it or does God command it because it is good? The line we take on this will largely determine the outcome of our doctrines. This is due to the fact that if something is good (holy) simply because God commands it, then at a later date if God removes the command it is then the opposite – evil (unholy). However, if what God has commanded is because it is good (holy) to start with, then regardless of the presence or removal of the command, it remains good (holy).
Good is not so because God calls it good – even though God would never call anything good that is not. It is good because it finds its origin in Him (Genesis 1:1, 31). Choice has been given to living creatures (such as men and angels) so they can choose to change from goodness to wickedness. Such choice is obviously not a part of an inanimate object or substance. How a ‘thing’ is used by something living with the consciousness of choice determines whether it is evil or good. Take for example the common butcher knife: in the kitchen it is an invaluable tool for food preparation; however, in the hands of a murderer, it is a weapon of destruction. The knife itself has no determination of holiness except that which it is used for. Therefore, all inanimate objects are subject to what we choose to use them.
If things then are good because they find their origin in God and thus He commands them as holy, we cannot point to things set apart in the ancient Scriptures that bring Him glory as something which turns to bring Him shame in the New Covenant. This would be philosophically contradictory.
The frightening aspect of this seemingly subtle shift is when men begin to call good, evil, they are in fact in the shadow of committing the unforgivable sin. This is consistent with the teaching Jesus gives in Mark chapter 3. As Jesus cast out demons, the scribes from Jerusalem accused Him of being possessed by Beelzebul and using powers of wickedness to exercise the spirits. Jesus referred to this as the act of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. They were accrediting the gracious act of deliverance to the evil power of Satan. They were in effect calling good, evil.
In God’s eyes, there is only good or evil, right or wrong, holy or unholy, sacred or profane, righteousness or wickedness, truth or lies, etc. Man cannot whitewash himself with vague and ambiguous language by saying, “I don’t agree with,” or “I don’t think that is right,” or “That is wrong.” It is either of God or of the devil. The looming danger is when we allow our own desires, prejudices, and even maliciousness to manipulate our discernment concerning what is of God and what is not. This style of thinking has permeated our doctrines, to which we are now submitting ourselves to answering for, calling things wicked and evil, which God has expressly called good. For this, we must repent and repent quickly.
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Colossae, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Col. 3:17). This means that in whatever you do, if you cannot do it the name of the Lord God, it is evil. This does away with the alleviation of our worldly lifestyles and heightens our accountability to everything in which we participate. The compartmentalization of Christian living should not come as any surprise to us. We have been laying the foundation for years by expressly changing the very commands of God to suit our desires. The evidence that this has backfired is clearly seen in the psychological response of contemporary Christians. While we may not articulate it, we have interpreted things changing from once called right (good) to now being inherently called wrong (evil). Therefore, we think in the subconscious that something can be right (good) outside of our assemblies and wrong (evil) inside. This is not only a gross philosophical inconsistency, it is giving the glory God deserves to the world and its ruler. Moreover, if anyone possesses God given gifts we do not view as ‘good’ within our assemblies, we compel them to take their gift to the world and lay it at its feet. This is a serious charge for which we will have to give an account. In Isaiah 5:20, the Lord says through His prophet, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”
Perhaps we should listen to the call of Moses to the people of God before they entered the land of promise:
You shall not do at all what we are doing here today, every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes; Deuteronomy 12:8