The Sabbath School Lesson Study: Does God Play Favorites?

Thanks, @Cliff.

You said, about @PapaAfful:

Well, I have, @Cliff.

I don’t know if you saw it, because I did not hear back from you.

However, I recently wrote to you, at the ABSG offices, about a passage that appeared in the quarterly on Sunday, May 9; one about how eagles care for their young.

It said:

“The eagle was known for its unusual devotions to its young. It too lived on mountain tops. In teaching its young to fly it carried them upon its back to those great heights that overlook the plains of Sinai, then it dropped them down into the depths. If the baby was still too young and too bewildered to fly, father-eagle would swoop down beneath it, catch it on his back, and fly up again with it to the eyrie on the crags above. And that, says the divine voice, is ‘how I brought you out of Egypt to myself.’” — George A. F. Knight, Theology of Narration (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976), p. 128.

This is all well and good, except for one problem: The aquiline behavior Knight describes is not observed in nature.

Put another way, no one whose ever watched a Richard Attenborough nature documentary, or even Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, has ever seen an eagle fly with an eaglet on its back.

Further, by the time a young eagle is ready to fly, she is nearly the size of her parents. So, the sight of a fully grown eagle, flying with another nearly grown eagle on its back, coasting about, dropping it, and catching it — with its back — would be preposterous.

Instead, eagles learn to fly in a manner akin to how babies learn to walk: They try it out until they get it right.

A very common developmental step before flying, and one that has been documented on film and video, is called “branching.” When branching, an eaglet will stand on a tree limb, or up in its own nest, extend its wings, and let the wind catch them, sometimes fluttering, sometimes rising briefly aloft, sometimes momentarily hovering, and/or “hop-flying” from branch to branch.

What one gets is the sense that the eaglet is acquiring a kinesthetic understanding of how air works when moving through their outstretched wings and feathers. This seems somewhat akin, for example, to how a human pilot, training for her license, might practice certain controlled movements in her Piper Cub.

Branching can be observed in the following video, starting around 1:07. Notice that the bird’s parent, which leaves the nest shortly after that point — see the YouTube still frame, below — does not carry the eaglet on its back, and is essentially the same size as its offspring.

Because of these facts, there has been a long-standing debate on how we should understand the verses cited in the ABSG, especially Deut. 32:10-12.

Perhaps, the next time those texts are taught, the ABSG could explore the approaches scholars have taken, over time, to explaining them. That way, we’ll know you’ve got our back.


Thanks, @thenerdwithin.

So, two points:

A) “Come the fu@k on” is an inappropriate response from you, both 1) to me — you don’t have any kind of relationship with me which permits you to speak so casually and indifferently to me; we’re not friends — and 2) in this particular forum; it’s against the spirit of this place.

Please apologize. That is, unless you don’t care how I receive your words.

Further — and because you’re a reasonable person, you’ll appreciate the nuances of this observation — incredulity is not an argument. You’re wasting time, and words, and not getting to your point, with your foul exclamation.

I’ve flagged your comment, for attention by the moderators.

B) I’m not talking about “ethnocide.” I’m not, because:

  1. I’m talking about the land being cleansed in a spiritual sense, of evil, not necessarily a physical one, of people. This is a meaning the Bible also presumes: When Rahab declared her allegiance to the True God, she was spared. When Nineveh repented in the book of Jonah, the Assyrians were spared and the land was cleansed.

  2. The text assumes a legitimate Divine dimension which “ethnocide” does not cover or address.

By your application, the 2nd Coming of Christ is ethnocide, or, worse, speciecide.

Is that what you’re claiming, also?

  1. Your use of that term is anachronistic; like asking Wilbur & Orville Wright about frequent flyer miles.

Imposing the overlay of “genocide,” “ethnocide,” etc. on the Bible is a common atheistic talking point, but these words are 20th century conceptions; they have no meaning in a historical analysis of Bronze Age conventions, except as a retrospective convenience.

You’re attempting to blanket your modern sensibilities over people who would merely sniff at your discomfort before, again, swinging the ax. Please read the International Bible Society’s NIV Study Bible essay, “The Conquest and The Ethical Question of War,” for more and better context that you are offering.

This is vitriolic, but ill-reasoned.

Seventh-day Adventists may have, in these instances, accommodated genocide, because it was politically expedient, or participated in it, because of ethnic animus. But they did neither because they’d received a divine command.

THEY don’t even claim that. So, how are you doing so?

Actually, I can tell you what kind of God I worship, and I’ve done so, here.

I agree!

So would I!

I’m not clear to what kind of theology you’re referring. The kind that you seem to imagine I possess isn’t the sort I actually have, at all.

Your statement is the victim of an unclear antecedent.

Thanks for this sober reflection.

The Rwanda Genocide is offensive, and was, because a group of people, who did not like their neighbors, went after them and killed them. They did this because they did not like their neighbors.

The story of the Israelite conquest of Canaan is not the same story. It’s not a) for the reasons I’ve already given, but it’s also not because b) the Israelites did not necessarily dislike their neighbors.

The problem was they liked them too much.

Indeed, this fact is what ultimately undermined their society on multiple levels; e.g., Solomon has 700 wives and 300 concubines, part and parcel of his allegiances with a multitude of kings. His descendant, Hezekiah, welcomes and entertains the Babylonian scouts…who later return, burn down Jerusalem, and cart off all the treasures he’d flossed in their presence.

Most of all, however, the Rwandan genocide lacks a Divine dimension. The Hutu invoke no God who accompanies or authenticates their rampage against the Tutsi and Twa.

By contrast, the Divine Fact is the basis of the biblical narrative. I’m not saying God exists. I’m saying that He does — indisputably — is an assumption of the narrative; its essential logic, and how one is supposed to understand it…if the God of the Bible exists. If He doesn’t, then Canaan is just a story of a tribal conquest, exactly like a million before or after it.

So, yes, God is good, by definition. He can take life, as He wants, because life is His property, and all living beings have it on loan. If this is an obstacle to you, conceptually, your beef isn’t with religion. It’s with property law.

That the Amalekites were a “cancer” is, again, your anachronistic overlay. When God saw them, He said, “They’re iniquitous, but I will give them 400 years to repent.” (Said no Hutu DJ, ever.)

He did. Then, He judged them.

He can do that, because He, by definition, is The Judge.

If not He, then who?


Frankly, I don’t see any further response as worth my effort. Your first complaint was about a four letter word. My first complaint was about apologetics for genocide. I think that puts the moral stakes in perspective here. Reject “genocide” as anachronistic if you want and call it something like “systematically fighting and then killing specific ethnicities in the ANE,” fine, but in that case you’re offering apologetics for THAT.

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I DO care how you receive my words. I wanted you to understand the absolute, gut-wrenching anguish and anger that comes over me when I read dehumanizing dismissals of human lives, ESPECIALLY when it is in defense of an all-good God. So, no I won’t apologize, and if speaking harshly and honestly against dehumanizing and dangerous views is against the spirit of this place, please count me out.


Thanks, @thenerdwithin.

I agree.

No, unless you meter the value, or impact, of words by their character count.

Let me say this in away that may make you less defensive:

If you were gracious enough to invite me to your family home for Thanksgiving — your parents, siblings, cousins, extended family, all there — and, after the blessing, I, needing some roux, turned to your mother and said, “Bitch, would you pass me the gravy?”, you’d be within your rights to quickly grab me by the shoulder, take me outside, and hit me in my jaw as hard as you could.

If I protested, “WHAT? ‘Bitch’ only has five letters!”, would you apologize, and escort me back to the table?


You’re not arguing well.

You lack the deference to immediately see where you are wrong. Thus, you cling to issues longer than you should. This drags the conversation, and exchange, down.

What you’ve just said means, if I say to your mother, “Bitch, what do you think about genocide?”, that should be enough to assure we, from there, have a friendly conversation.

This includes every time, thereafter, where, in your family’s presence, I begin a question to or comment toward her with the word “bitch.”


It’s even worse than that.

I’m saying that the narrative of the Canaanite submission is not a story about genocide.

If you read it as one, that is your choice. But if you do, you’re like the person who deems Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, not a work of cinematic art and genius but, garbage, “because it has guns, killing, sex, and drugs in it, and any movie with guns and drugs in it is trash.”

Level up.


One of these statements can’t be true. I firmly count you out.


Hello, I don’t think I ever said God “must” be good. What I meant is He has “proven” Himself to be good. if we believe the cross, then that should convince us that God is good even in the stories where we can only see from our extremely limited point of view. An infinite God who would become a human and suffer and die for the creatures that rejected Him and all the while be praying for the very children that were nailing Him to the cross, when He had no obligation to do so, would not then also be the kind of God who would callously treat the very same race of being He is dying for.

I do believe if we accept the story of the cross and see God there, then there’s no need to do what the author did, which was imply that The Old Testament stories aren’t really who God is. He is the God of the cross and the God that destroyed sodom. So I believe any God that would give everything for me, must have also given them a chance…which the story of sodom, the flood, the amorites etc clearly state that He did. And He did all He could to save them. So yeah, He is good because if He was not, Calvary would never have taken place.


Thanks, @DaveMoffatt.

I appreciate your kind and supportive words.

I agree with the idea that we can see, but not ponder, certain Bible verses, while emphasizing others, based on our own lives and psychology.

My most pertinent example of this is what I call SDA apathy for 1 Corinthians 13:9: “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.”

This stands out to me because knowledge and prophesy is Adventism’s entire schtick. It’s what we market ourselves as possessing in abundance, and what we believe we have in greater amounts than other denominations.

But Paul says at least two things:

  1. Your knowledge and prophesying is, at best, partial.

  2. Both are outweighed by the demands and requirement of love.

I am a practicing Seventh-day Adventist. I say this not only in fact, but as a recognition of myself and my tendencies. In other words, even as I criticize Adventism, I model it.

My posts, here, are not loving, but highly logic-driven; about cleaving right and wrong, truth and error. So, what tends to happen, I feel, is I win arguments, but not people. I don’t even think I know how to do that. Knowledge. Not love.

If I understand you, I don’t think God fine-tunes punishment, based on the person, so to speak. I think that Christ was using hyperbole to speak to what happens when people reject Him.

If you save up to buy something, then have to sell it because you’re in debt, then see it in a pawn shop window, your heart will leap. But a person who did not have the same experience with this object can look at the same window display and feel nothing.

I think, in a similar sense, the Judgment may be a moment of supernaturally-mediated self-recognition. People who reject Christ are going to feel it, all at once, so to speak, and this will be their punishment. Fire will be the relief. The torture will be a form of hyper-awareness of all one has lost.


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@Yoyito, we have strongly disagreed, and, certainly, almost totally still do about race.

However, this is perfectly said and stated. It’s also why I rejected Matt’s critique of your point as “circular”: It’s because you weren’t trying to prove God was good…by showing that He’s good. You assumed He was, based on evidence, and your conclusions followed.

I was going to respond to him about this very point, but decided not to do so…then saw that he’d responded to me. The rest is a minuscule slice of human history.


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Neither of us was invited to this forum. I read a thoughtful article that brought up important and challenging points, and then I scrolled down to find a commenter providing apologetics and justifications for ancient genocides. I find that morally appalling. A more apt comparison might be if the two of us were listening to a speaker at a public forum talk about the dangers of tribalism and othering in a shared society and you began offering counterarguments to explain how in specific situations tribalism and even mass killing would be not only justified but righteous and “cleansing.” In such a situation I would indeed feel an urge to hit you, but since I do not think violence is generally valuable, I would probably instead use some of those choice four letter words. They convey the depth of my feeling without physical violence.

Some rambling thoughts in an attempt to explain my anger and the incredible danger I see in this dehumanizing theology. Maybe it’s not logical enough for ya, but my conscience sure feels fine.

As a recovering ex-Christian, it has grown increasingly clear to me that for Christianity to move toward a moral future, it must boldly reject the morality of the Old Testament, especially the claimed actions of Yahweh. Otherwise, it makes the Christian claims of morality seem pretty odd to those of us who like to unequivocally condemn things like redemptive violence, reciprocal justice, collective and generational guilt, xenophobia, bigotry and genocide, rather than excuse or rationalize them as you do. It does not seem strange that people in the ANE would do and believe such things. What seems strange is the modern Christians who read those stories and the actions directly commanded by their Yahweh, and then make excuses as to how that entity can be both “all good” and genocidal.

It seems like many Christians have a strange, authoritarian view of morality that often goes by the technical name “Divine Command Theory.” Instead of basing our definition of right and wrong on something like the harm of our actions, the suggestion is is that morality is based only on God’s command or character. I fear this is a terrible mistake that is causing widespread harm in the world right now. Essentially, many Christians seem to mistake obedience to authority for morality. Instead of encouraging independent moral judgments based on harm or help to humans, this system teaches us to obey and trust in our authority without question, even when our conscience and empathy disagree. This, of course, allows people to cause harm to others and believe themselves to be justified. I think this basic moral mistake is the reason that many Christians harm women, LGBTQ folks and many others.

I think we can do much better. We MUST do better. What if we simply agreed that right and wrong should be based on our observations of how our actions help human well-being or reduce suffering? If, instead, we believe that right and wrong is decided by a God, who can sometimes command and desire at least apparently evil things (genocides, child sacrifice, punishment of innocents for the sins of others, etc.), then… how do we know when our harm to others is justified and when it is not? In our attempts to obey God’s commands, couldn’t we end up causing great harm to others while claiming religious justification for our actions?

I talk to Christians on an almost daily basis who appear to hold exactly this moral view. They appear to endorse actions or policies that cause measurable harm to other humans, but they justify their position by saying that it’s “Biblical” or “what God wants.” Basically, I think this twisted sort of authoritarian morality reduces to a kind of obedience that can’t, even in principal, be justified.

On a broader level, we can see this basic moral mistake when it comes to important ethical issues throughout the church. It changes the framing of every moral judgment to one of decoding the correct instructions from an authority, rather than evaluating the harm our actions may cause. For instance, consider the current debate about the place of women in the church of my youth, Seventh-day Adventists. Some in the debate seem to be asking the question “what does God want?” Some say he wants one thing, others say the opposite. Both claim the authority of the Bible and the Holy Spirit for their views. Other folks appear to be asking “are these policies or doctrines harmful to people?” Those are very different questions! If we ask the first, then harm to humans is not a part of the moral equation. It does not matter, only obedience to God, no matter the harm or apparent cost.

The most difficult issue here is that, in my opinion, many of the authors of the Hebrew Bible had an obedience-centered view of morality, rather than one based around harm. In other words, this is an easy doctrine to extract from the text. It’s not a crazy exegesis. For example, Abraham is given an explicit test of his obedience to God’s command, over and against his empathy for his son, the instinct of his conscience and the evident harm of the commanded child sacrifice. This kind of absolute obedience or faithfulness to God is a theme of scripture. I believe it is a deeply immoral theme of scripture that is actively causing Christians to harm others in our society.

My moral issues with Yahweh in the Hebrew Bible hit hard when I acted in a church drama as a kid. I was Isaac and my Dad played Abraham as we slowly walked up the “mountain” and acted out the ceremonial scene in front of the congregation. My dad cried, and so did I. After, I asked him what he would do if God really told him to do that. He said he didn’t know what he’d do, but that if he was faithful he’d at least try to obey. My father, a truly loving and kind man, hoped to be willing to kill me if his God instructed him to do so. I never forgot that.

While in a Christian ethics class in college many years later, I suddenly realized that this doctrine of obedience to authority over and above our conscience and the evidence of our senses was right through the Bible. People like my dad didn’t have some strange minority view. It was actually a theme of scripture. I’ve found many people in the last few months who have openly admitted the same thing to me. That they would at least hope to be faithful enough to murder their child at God’s command. Over the years, it’s become more and more obvious how this very basic moral mistake has caused harm throughout Christianity and the world.

If the God the OT describes truly exists, then I would actively oppose his leadership, just as I would have done (I’d like to think) during other instances of apparent evil. I’m sure you know that there have been people that have, repulsively, suggested that the holocaust might have had a greater moral purpose for the world that we don’t know or understand. Yikes! It is always possible to attempt to justify apparent evil with appeals to unknowable future goods. That is, precisely, the problem here. When believers have an obedience centered view of morality it becomes possible to do great harm and believe you’re acting on God’s behalf. I think that’s what happened on 9/11, I think that’s what is happening when Christians persecute LGBTQ folks, and I think that’s why women continue to be harmed by patriarchal believers. Apparent harm doesn’t matter under this view. Only obedience. Obedience to our own subjective view of God’s wishes…

Sometimes Yahweh’s reported commands are hard to imagine because they are so distant. What if you were an Israelite soldier commanded to go through the remaining Amalekites, running the infants through with a sword because Yahweh told you to do so. This was YOUR promised land after all. And, besides, everyone knows that the Amalekites waylaid your grandparents several generations back. Can’t have that again! That’s why Yahweh tells you to finish off these women and children so you won’t have to deal with them in the future! Yeah. I’m not going to worship that god… if you choose to accept those stories as the actions of men, that’s different. But many Christians insist that those commands were from Yahweh. Well. Ok. No thanks then!

Reading the Hebrew prophets with an eye toward their views of morality and suffering was a big part of why I now believe Christians must reject the Old Testament if they are to move toward a moral future. The prophets in the Hebrew Bible all seem to hold a view of the world that attributes all suffering or blessing directly to God as punishment or reward for behavior. This is of course a common ancient attitude. We see it in the gospels in the way that disabled people were excluded from society and worship. They were thought to be sinful, and their disability was direct punishment from God. All of the prophets express the same view of God. They believe that he directly punished people with suffering for their disobedience.

This is a very different view of God from what most modern Christians hold. Sure, some will say that cancer is a punishment from God… but most of us recognize how problematic that kind of view can be. It makes God directly responsible for pain and suffering, including “natural” evils like storms and famines. Instead of misfortune and suffering being either from “Satan” or a result of our own free actions like many theologians will say, the prophets were mouthpieces of Yahweh’s violent judgment on humans.

This kind of violence, even arbitrary violence against innocents, is absolutely all through the Hebrew Bible. It’s been amazing to read through it carefully without the moral blinders of my youth. Do you recall the story of David’s rape/adultery of Bathsheba and then murder of Uriah? I’m sure you do. Do you remember who Yahweh ultimately killed as the price for David’s sin? Not David, he was a man after God’s own heart, after all. No, Yahweh, in his all-good wisdom, evidently thought letting David’s infant son suffer and die would be a good idea. Maybe we can get the pro-lifers to make some signs about that.

Or, since we’re discussing David, perhaps you remember the time when David decided to take a census of his fighting men. Yahweh didn’t appreciate it, and most theologians seem to suggest that the reason was a failure of trust and obedience on David’s part. His fighting force wasn’t responsible for his military victories, Yahweh was, and damn it if Yahweh wasn’t going to remind David of his place. Again, David gets off the hook here (man after God’s own heart indeed!) and to teach him a lesson Yahweh instead lets him choose his punishment from a big wheel 'O mass death. David picks plague and… poof, Yahweh kills 70,000 Israelites in a day!

Scripture often seems to teach believers to obey authorities or rules over and above our conscience and the observable consequences of our actions. God is mysterious, we are to obey. If that means causing harm, whether it is flying planes into towers or making it illegal for two men to marry… well it’s “God’s Word.” Better follow it.

It seems to me that many Christians become used to the taste of this kind of “morality” because it’s all we were taught. We’ve never had the real thing! At least, that was the case for me. Once I realized that I could simply adjust my moral framework to be centered on harm rather than obedience to authority, everything began to fall into place. Suddenly, I no longer had to feel trapped between apparently harmful commands I didn’t really understand and the instincts of my own conscience. I could look at religiously motivated lies and call them lies, I could look at stories about child sacrifice and call them horrific, I could look at actions recommended by Christians and clearly call them wrong, I could look at genocide and call it genocide!

Ultimately, I think this moral mistake leads to many forms of harm in the church. I’ve mentioned a number, but one more that deserves specific attention is the way this protection of authorities tends to extend to humans all the way down the religious hierarchy. I think this makes it much more likely for people, even good people, to defend unjust authorities. Even against the instinct of their own consciences. For example, when an authority is using their power to abuse someone, and those around the situation give deference to the authority while blaming the victim.

It was hard to spit out that crap, I was conditioned to the taste! I already had rationalizations as long as my arm to try to explain how these stories could be the inerrant word of a morally perfect deity. Eventually the emotional and psychological strain was just too much for me to sustain. And then, once I honestly opened up my eyes I began to see how these same moral mistakes are at the root of so much Christian harm in the world right now… I wish I could help more people understand these issues. I think it’s important.

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On the subject of the circularity of Christian ethics and our view of God’s character, here’s something I sent to the Biblical Research Institute a few years back. Maybe you can help me figure out what I’m missing. Sure seems circular to me.

I’m writing to find out if the SDA Church has a theological resolution to an apparent logical incompatibility between two fundamental church beliefs: Great Controversy Theology and a Divine Command Theory view of morality. It seems to me that the Seventh-day Adventist doctrine of The Great Controversy is logically incompatible with Divine Command Theory, the Moral Argument for God and any other moral framework which grounds right and wrong in the character or commands of God. I believe at least one of these two doctrines must be a mistake, but I wanted to reach out to theologians who may have already wrestled with this issue and find out of there is an official church response or way to resolve the apparent incompatibility.

My definitions:

The Great Controversy is a doctrine that sees all of human history in the context of a quasi-dualistic cosmic controversy between God and Satan. In this view, Satan has called into question the justice and character of God. As a result of human free will, God is allowing Satan and sin to have temporary dominion over earth as part of a strategy to vindicate his justice and character, while saving humanity from sin. The Earth is a cosmic stage, where God’s actions are being watched and judged by both humanity and the larger universe of sinless created beings in order to disprove Satan’s accusations. In the end, according to this view, humans and all the created order will see God’s goodness demonstrated, and his character vindicated through his actions on Earth.

Divine Command Theory is the technical term for an ethical system which defines right as what God commands, and wrong as what God prohibits. A slight variation on this pins morality to God’s character, rather than commands. Either way, God or his actions are considered all-good, by definition. In this view there is not, and perhaps could not be, a standard of right and wrong grounded in anything apart from God. In my experience in the church this is the moral view of most Adventists, and seems to be implied by Fundamental Belief 19, The Law of God.

The case for incompatibility:

It seems like Divine Command Theory and a Great Controversy in which God’s character is questioned by Satan, judged by the universe, and finally vindicated, are fundamentally incompatible. The problem is easy to see if we ask this question: By what moral standard, or metric, are we (or any entity) to judge God’s actions and classify them as right or wrong? To do this we need a moral grounding separate from God’s commands or his nature.

In fact, if we define good as simply what God does or commands, saying “God is good” becomes a tautology–meaningless. It’s like saying “God will do what God will do,” or “God commands what he commands.” Literally any action by God would, by definition, be good.

It seems, then, that if we believe in a Divine Command Theory of ethics, it is impossible to judge if God’s actions toward humanity in the midst of this Great Controversy are good or evil. There is no way for God to “vindicate” his character, no way for God to demonstrate his justice, and in fact no way for us to evaluate his actions at all. If God is simply defined as good, there can be no cosmic moral controversy over his character, or the justice of his government.

Many Christians would likely say that we can’t or shouldn’t judge God’s actions at all. If that’s the case then Divine Command Theory can be believed consistently and moral actions become a sort of absolute, unquestioned obedience to an authority. But it seems like Great Controversy Theology isn’t based in that kind of “unquestioning” worldview. On the contrary, questioning God’s goodness and justice seems to be the whole point of the controversy.

I think any coherent response to this logical incompatibility needs to be able to answer the following question. Under Divine Command Theory is it possible, at least in principle, for humans to look at an action of God as recorded in the Hebrew Bible and reasonably conclude that the recorded action was immoral? If not, then I think the Great Controversy is out the window and we become committed to morality simply as unquestioned obedience to an authority who cannot provide moral justification for his own actions. If yes, then I’m curious what standard you believe we humans can use to rationally make the judgment that God’s action was immoral. What is the metric? Harm to humans? Instinct of our conscience? Something else? It’s hard for me to imagine any moral judgment of God’s actions which doesn’t include some kind of moral justifications–rational reasons “why” a given action is moral.

Even invoking the concept of moral justification, I think, presupposes a moral grounding apart from God which uses consequences of actions as a part of the moral formulation. Anytime we say “X action by God is moral because Y” aren’t we automatically referencing a standard of goodness outside of God? If morality is completely down to God’s commands or nature, then isn’t consequentialism completely out, and with it the entire concept of moral justification? We’re left with the epistemic challenge of correctly understanding God’s will/nature/commands, but that is really the only sense in which our reasoning plays a role. Once we correctly understand (or believe we are correctly understanding) God’s will and commands, DCT simply says the moral action always equals obedience.

In other words, under Divine Command Theory we may use our reasoning to say “maybe God didn’t say or doesn’t want that,” but never “God is morally mistaken.” The latter conclusion seems impossible under this view, right? And isn’t Satan’s core objection in the Great Controversy reducible to exactly that? He’s challenging the moral character of God and his government. If that is so, then for any judgment of God to be coherent we must be able to, in principle, arrive at the conclusion that “God is morally mistaken.”

It seems to me that to have any ability to make that kind of evaluation of God we must have moral standards apart from him, his nature, or commands. Otherwise any moral question applied to God’s actions is still asking some form of, “is God consistent with himself?” And I think a question like that can only be answered with “yes, of course he is.” And that leaves us with no way to evaluate God’s actions on earth or in the larger cosmic scale of a Great Controversy.

In fact, I think for us to make any meaningful claim about God’s goodness at all (apart from simply assuming his absolute goodness as a necessary metaphysical fact) we need a standard of goodness separate from God. That’s certainly possible, but I don’t think it’s what most Christians believe, and it would nullify a number of classic theistic arguments for God’s existence, such as the moral argument.

If there is not an adequate response to this logical incompatibility, it should have deep ramifications for SDA church doctrine. It’s not an empirical question that we can settle by going to the Bible or another source. This appears to be, prima facie, a logical incompatibility between two official church doctrines. If true, that’s a big deal which demands deep thought and perhaps a change in theological positions. Basic intellectual consistency and honesty is at stake. Does BRI have a response that can coherently reconcile this issue?

Formal argument:

Statement: The Great Controversy is a doctrine that claims our world is the site of a cosmic struggle between God and Satan. The “controversy” centers on Satan’s claim that God and his government/laws are immoral (unjust). According to this doctrine humans and other created beings are watching events on Earth (actions by God and Satan) and will eventually judge that God is morally good and Satan is morally evil.

Statement: Divine Command Theory describes an ethical system which defines right as what God commands, and wrong as what God prohibits. A slight variation defines morality by God’s character, and states that all God’s commands are a direct result of his character.

A. Good actions are defined as actions that express God’s nature.
B. God can necessarily only perform actions which express his nature.
C. Therefore, God can only perform good actions.
D. Conclusion: If God can only perform good actions, then any “controversy” over the moral goodness of his character is incoherent. His moral goodness is presupposed as an essential part of his character in premise A.

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Thanks, @thenerdwithin.

Matt, all of us were invited to this forum, because it’s open. It’s open as long as participants obey the guidelines.

Further, even though Spectrum’s beautiful motto is “Community Through Conversation,” one can be a member of this community and not participate in conversation.

That’s what you’re doing. You demonstrate a fine ability to make points, but possess a disappointing record on replying to direct questions, in conversation.

For example, the text you cited, by me, above, is merely a setup for the punch line, to which you’ve not yet responded.

Here it is, again:

If I protested, “WHAT? ‘Bitch’ only has five letters!”, would you apologize, and escort me back to the table?

That’s a question.

If the answer is, “No,” the next logical question is, “Why not, given that ‘bitch’ only has five letters?” Because your point was that my “first complaint was about a four letter word.”

No: My first complaint was about conduct in the community, which is fundamental to any community. Further, correct conduct is a re-requisite for any correct conversation. There’s no community in which conduct is irrelevant, even where those communities have opposing standards for conduct.

You’re a very smart person. You should be able to see this. You should even be able to say, “You’re correct. My language was inappropriate for this forum. I apologize.”

This would be manly, because it would demonstrate self-assuredness, and the ability to give of one’s generosity.

Instead, you said, before — to which I responded — and now, to which I do, below, that being offended about “genocide” covers anything you say, no matter how outrageous, because the conditions are more outrageous than anything you can say.

Odd: That’s what people who are about to commit genocide say.


Your description of experiencing God’s love personally is something I’ve heard a lot in defense of God’s moral goodness, but I don’t understand how this argument is meant to work. I have personal experiences of love with many people in my life, but I would hardly consider those positive experiences to be evidence of their perfect moral goodness. Some evidence of goodness does not then require that an entity be maximally or ultimately good, surely.

Here’s a little parable of sorts that I’ve used a few times to help get this point across to folks. Maybe it will be useful here. Imagine that you introduced me to a friend. He was the best, you said, absolutely loving, kind and the wisest person ever. He’s so great that his friends have written a long biography of his life and deeds. Read the book and, better yet, go meet him yourself, you say. Intrigued, I read the book cover to cover. Some of it seems very smart. Some of it seems wise. Some of it seems… strange, and, actually, about 3/4 of it was about a time when this good friend killed, like, millions of people. They were bad people though, to be sure. Well, some of them were. Others were kids, and, come to think of it, this friend used a lot of ethnic cleansing, threats and violence to get things done, according to this book. That’s weird, I don’t have a lot of friends like that…

Well, I think, I should meet this great fellow everyone is talking about and see what he says. You happily give me very detailed directions to his house, and cheer me on as I set off. “Can’t wait for you to meet him!” I find the house easy enough, but there is no answer to the knock at the door. I peek in the windows and see a well-furnished home, decorated with all the best from across human history, but nobody seems to be home. I knock again, but still no response. Not to be deterred, I camp outside the door, waiting and watching. While I wait, I read the autobiography again, and again, and again, trying to understand how you could believe this genocidal character was perfectly good. Finally, I give up and return home.

You are waiting excitedly, “wasn’t he the BEST!” “I don’t know, I couldn’t find him, and honestly this book you gave me makes him seem like kind of a monster. Tell me again why you like him?” “Oh, I don’t just like him I WORSHIP him and give up my will to him. I obey his every word and choose to trust him, even when my senses or conscience might object. He knows so much better than me.” You say. “Yes, the book says some confusing things,” you admit, “but my friend is perfectly good. Well, he’s always been good to me, at least. So if he does something like killing a bunch of innocent kids, he must have his reasons. I trust him.” Well, ok then. Again, I do not have friends like that.

I might bend the knee to such a character out of fear, perhaps, but certainly not out of love or respect… Do you see any possible way that asking people to sacrifice their wills and whole selves to obey and defend such a character might be toxic? Maybe teaching people to respect and defend unjust authorities has something to do with all the people in the church who are so willing to respect and defend unjust authorities…

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Man, you are really worried about decorum… and “manliness,” I guess? It’s possible that I’ve violated the terms of this community. If so I’m sure the moderators will let me know. But I absolutely will not apologize for something that was not a mistake. I chose my language purposefully and carefully, as I said, to try to get this point across to you. If it was a mistake, it was only in giving you something to distract us from the issue of apologetics for genocide.

Thanks, @thenerdwithin.

This may be a question, so I’ll address it.

I’m not worried about “decorum.” I’m worried about function. Decorum is a process by which elements remain functional.

Gravity is a form of decorum. So is the strong nuclear force. So are manners.

Manliness is my concern only to the degree I proffer, or you do, to be a man. I perceive you are male, and I perceive you to be an adult male. So, I spoke in those terms, because they are normative.

No, no, no, no, no, no, no.

You don’t see it do you?

First of all, I believe you’re lying. If you did not know the use of this word violated the terms of this community, then why did you replace the letter “c” with the “at” symbol, @?

Second, you are a person, in this forum, arguing for a higher moral center and standard in human beings. Yet, when it is pointed out you have acted beneath the standards of your present setting, you wipe your mouth with your sleeve and chalk it up to the job.

The center cannot hold. Those who urge for others to do better must be beyond reproach in their own conduct. Otherwise, they urinate on their own credibility. Such a person is not an enlightened activist. Such a person is a bore.

I know what you’ve just said may sound ramrod, but, from another perspective, it’s mere weak sauce. (Above, I said, “One of these statements can’t be true.”)

First, you failed. You didn’t get your point across. You just cursed. All this did was distract me, and move me to waste a lot of time arguing why this is not suitable.

You say:

Don’t you see that as a mistake, in a discussion about “genocide”? As I said, you should’ve given that CPU time to crafting a better argument.

Second, I’m not saying your choice was a mistake, or that you didn’t choose your language “purposefully and carefully.” I’m being deferential, here.

I’m like the guy on the subway who says, “Yo, man: You stepped on my foot.” He’s giving you the chance to do one of two things:

a) Say, “I’m sorry. That was a mistake. I apologize.”


b) Say, “I meant to step on your foot.”

What follows, then, depends on what path you take.

In my response to you, I said, in so many words, “You stepped on my foot.”

If this was intentional — if your goal was to annoy me, and throw the conversation off course — then you should not apologize, because your word choice succeeded.

But if that was a side-effect of you doing something else, you should apologize, because that would be the way you honor the words that come out of your own mouth, and your own intentionality.

So, no, I’m not responding for the reasons you give; “manliness,” “decorum.”

a) I’m asking you to answer my questions. I see the repeated failure of you to do so as representing a mutually acknowledged weakness in your argument.

It’s also a form of discourtesy. It makes me wonder why I should pay attention to anything you say. Your failure to respond meaningfully to my propositions suggests you’re just into what comes out of your own brain.

What comes out of one’s own brain certainly engages the person who devised it. I know: I think my stuff is dope.

But by responding to others, I demonstrate that I value their time and take them seriously, at least enough to respond. That’s a courtesy.

b) I’m trying to share something, by the logical contradictions you keep racking up, you may not yet have calculated or conceptualized, and, God forbid, may one day just save your life.


Thanks, @thenerdwithin.

I meant to comment on this, from your statement, above:

Your “urge to hit” is merely your brain searching for a way to compensate for the strong sense of rhetorical violation you feel, but opening the resource drawer and seeing spiderwebs.

Further, using violence to protest someone talking about it is a credibility incinerator. Also, it can get you arrested, and you don’t come across as the kind who’d do well in prison.

The same with your desire to curse, by which you would merely violate social order, and thus unsettle, causing a reaction. It’s akin to throwing a rock through a glass; disruptive. However, no one whose ever had a window broken in protest, as a result, stopped doing the thing that made people break their window. So, it’s, again, an action from weakness.

There’s a third way: Figure out how to craft a better argument; one that takes your opponent’s position apart at the legs.

With a better argument, one achieves the force of hitting, and the disruptive effect of cursing. However, what you also do, that those two do not do, is encroach on the intellectual space of your opponent, giving them less ground to make and effect their point. This is what your writing is missing: Any kind of strategy.


I think that Jesus agrees with you…“Do to others as you would have them do to you, on this hangs all the Torah and the Prophets.”


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I’ve attempted many arguments over the past few years, and while I often succeed in “winning,” I’ve found that it’s more useful at times to simply share my personal experiences and the emotional depth of pain and suffering that these ideas can cause. As you point out, it gets people’s attention. Obviously my initial response to you was emotional, your attempts to minimize and excuse what you believe to be real human suffering caused directly by your God made me angry. I’m not actually sure that’s a fault. I think it’s my conscience and empathy functioning properly.

After reading your posts I made a few tentative conclusions, rightly or wrongly. One, that you could put together a clever argument. Two, that you didn’t seem to understand or feel the weight of pain and hurt that your arguments might cause. My initial responses were simply a combination of reactionary anger and an attempt to convey the depth of my disgust with these ideas. I don’t claim any particular insight or ability here, but if you want my attempt at a more reasoned examination of some of these issues there are a few more clumsy essays above.

Might I humbly suggest that to win people, you might back off on the logic and embrace some empathy and emotionality. Seems a bit ironic that you admitted this and then proceeded to spend several posts attempting to educate me on the critical importance of engaging in logical discourse according to your standards. And if you’re looking to parse some truth and error from an analytic or philosophical perspective, feel free to give that DCT/Great Controversy dilemma a swing. I’m sure it’ll be easy to dismantle for someone like yourself, and I’d really like to find out where I’m going wrong with it. :slight_smile: