April 23, 2017

What Could God Not Have Commanded?

Dr. Craig,

In your past debates and discussions, you have often addressed the question of genocide and/or atrocities in the Bible, for example, the Amalekites or the Canaanites, in particular, with your Divine Command Theory. Specifically, you have dealt with objections to God's commands in those situations by asserting that it's possible God had morally sufficient reasons for those commands to the Israelites.

In this case, I am stipulating for the moment the existence of God and the validity of your Moral Argument for God. I also want to avoid the issue of whether or not the commands were actually issued, and the issue of Biblical inerrancy, which you often point out is irrelevant, and instead, focus on the argument itself. My question is this. If any command given or action taken by God can be defended on the basis that God must have "morally sufficient reasons", then what command cannot be given or action not taken by God, who, at the same time, remains a morally perfect being? Put another way, what are some examples of commands that God would not give or actions God would not take because it's NOT possible he could have a morally sufficient reason for doing so?

If there are no such examples, it seems to me as if this falls under the category of an answer that explains everything and therefore nothing - it only seems to be a viable defense if there are certain specific things God could not have morally sufficient reasons for doing.

Finally, if there are no such examples, or very few such examples (I can concede the God committing suicide might be such an example), doesn't that render morality to be, de facto, relativistic rather than objective?

Thanks for your time,


United States

Before I address your question, David, let’s make sure that we state accurately the view I have defended. God’s freedom to issue commands to do certain things that would be immoral in the absence of a divine command is not rooted in God’s having morally sufficient reasons for so commanding. Rather it is rooted in the idea that the source of moral obligation is divine commands, and since God doesn’t issue commands to Himself, He therefore has no moral obligations.

That does not, however, imply that God’s freedom to issue moral commands is unconstrained, in the way that voluntaristic Divine Command Theorists maintain. Rather on the view I have defended, God’s commands must be consistent with His nature as perfectly loving, kind, fair, etc. God Himself is the Good, and His commands reflect His character. So although God has the freedom to issue commands that are startling, He cannot command just anything.

For example, He could not command that we should worship other gods before Him (nor could He do such a thing). He could not command that we should hate one another and seek to do one another harm rather than love our neighbor as ourselves. He could not command that love be evil and hatred good. Just think of the virtues that God possesses essentially and then ask if God could have stood things on their head so that these things become vices rather than virtues and we have the opposite obligations. So to command would be inconsistent with God’s nature and is therefore impossible.