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Answering Michael Martin's
"Atheism, Christian Theism, and Rape"

by Rev. Ralph Allan Smith


This brings me to my third and most important point. The Christian has an answer to Euthyphros Dilemma because the Christian God is absolute and transcendent. In addition, it is important to stress that ethical standards are related to Gods character in a much more specific way than many Christians have argued. What I am referring to is the fact that the doctrine of the Trinity is the true source for specifically Christian ethics. The Christian answer to Euthyphro is found in an ethic of love specifically grounded in the fact of Gods triunity.

First, according to Jesus, the very essence of the Christian ethic is found in the two great commandments that summarize the whole law of God.

And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law? And He said to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets. (Mat. 22:35-40)

Second, this ethic of love is grounded in two important truths. The first is that God is a God of love. The second is that we have been created in His image. For us to do what is good is to conform to God. In so doing, we fulfill the meaning of our creation and become like God Himself.

Third, God is a Trinity. God is one Being in three eternal Persons. The Father, Son, and Spirit are a society bound in covenantal love. Each gives Himself wholly to the others. And all share in their love for the others the Father and Son sharing together their love for the Spirit, the Spirit and Son sharing their love for the Father, and the Spirit and the Father sharing their love for the Son so that the Trinity is a perfect fullness of love. It is clear that in this understanding of God, He could not be other than what He is, not only because it is ontologically inconceivable for God to be other than what He is, but also because of the fact that for the Persons of the Trinity to relate to one another any other way would mean the dissolution of the Trinity itself. The love which God commands is not arbitrary for it is grounded in the ontological and ethical necessities of His own being.

For a man to be ethically right means to do what pleases God. God is one. The Father, Son, and Spirit never disagree about what is good or right. Pleasing a sovereign Creator to whom we are responsible for our whole lives is something quite different from pleasing, or attempting to please, the gods of ancient Greece. All relationships with other persons as well as our stewardship over the non-personal creation are first of all and primarily to be understood in terms of our relationship with God. That is what it means for Him to be an absolute Creator and Lord.

At the same time, relationships with other persons are the second priority. We are to love others as we love ourselves. What that means exactly in the everyday affairs of men is spelled out in the law of Moses. Though the law of Moses was given to ancient Israel for her use in the land of Palestine until the coming of the Messiah, the ethical teachings of that law are still relevant for us today for they show us concretely the meaning of love.

Would Socrates have posed the same kind of questions about this kind of God? He certainly could not have referred to jealousy and strife between the Persons of the Trinity and questioned our ability to know what pleases God, as if what were pleasing to the Father might not be pleasing to the Son. If he understood the Christian notion of God, he would not have asked how God knows what is good. God is love essentially and inescapably. When He commands what is right, we are to do it because it is pleasing to Him. Could He command us to do the opposite of what is loving? Not without ceasing to be Himself, for He is a God who subsists in three Persons who are equally ultimate, powerful, wise, and holy. What is right is what is loving and what is right and loving is what pleases the God of love who cannot be other than what He is. Euthyphros Dilemma does not seem to be relevant. Though we still have questions about defining what is right and loving in a particular situation, the Christian answer is that God has revealed the way of love in His Word.

To return to the example at hand, is rape wrong caused to be wrong because God condemned it, or did God condemn rape because rapes wrongness caused Him to condemn it? In part, it is a matter of perspective. First, we know that rape is wrong because God condemned it. If we had no other reason for thinking it wrong, that would be enough, for in the nature of the case, the command of an absolute God is the highest court of appeal. At the same time, it is legitimate for us to ask why God condemns rape. We cannot suspend our obedience to the commandments of God upon our attaining what we consider to be a satisfactory answer, but it is never wrong to ask why and to seek understanding. The simple answer is that rape is violating another person. It contradicts both the basic love commands. It is a sin against God since the other person is created in Gods image. It is also a sin against that person. Not loving a person is failing to treat that person with the honor and respect that Gods law commands.

What about the question, Did Gods command cause rape to be wrong? I think not. Did God condemn rape because it violated some standard of right? Yes. But that standard of right is God Himself. Rape is a contradiction of the kind of love that characterizes the Persons of the Trinity and is therefore also a contradiction of the kind of love that men are commanded to show toward one another.

The Christian answer is that what is right is what is pleasing to God, but what is pleasing to God is not arbitrary, for God is a God of love who cannot be other than what He is. He Himself is the love which He commands us to reflect in our personal relationships. Ethical conformity to God Himself is the essence of Christian ethics. Christ has an answer to Socrates question about the essence of piety, the true definition of what is right: first, to love God with all our being, and second, to love others as we love ourselves. This is the essence of what is good and right, for to do so is to be like God.

Finally, the importance of the doctrine of the Trinity in this regard may be illustrated by considering the problem for those religions and philosophies which conceive of God as a monad, like Judaism, Islam, and many of the modern cults. In this conception, God is one being and one person. No personal plurality in God Himself means that from eternity there is no love, goodness, kindness, or any other essentially ethical quality, for all of these words define how persons relate to one another. For in a monad, there are no personal relationships. If we conceive of God as a monad, there are fundamental problems in understanding how God can be the source of ethics. The notion of a monad existing eternally alone, neither needing or seeking fellowship or love, hardly suffices as an ultimate source for an ethic of love. Indeed, such a conception of God is closer to the notion of an impersonal absolute than it is to the Biblical and Christian belief in God as totally and radically personal.

For the Christian, then, saying that God is Himself the source of ethics is not simply philosophical speculation about where one can find absolute standards. It is confession of faith in the Father, Son, and Spirit who love one another from eternity. No doubt this is a position that we hold by faith based upon revelation in Holy Scripture. Though Christians believe that no other faith offers the kind of transcendent ground and eternal meaning for ethics that Christianity does, we did not come to believe in the Triune God because He answers our philosophical needs. We were drawn by the Holy Spirit to the Father because He loved the world and sent His Son to die for our sins and rise again to give life to those who believe.



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