God’s Law: too Harsh—by what Standard?

We have been considering the claim that God’s law is too harsh.  Such an opinion may stem from a misunderstanding of the law.  We have seen that some of the apparent “harshness” of some Old Testament laws disappears when the laws are studied in their biblical context.  But what are we to make of those people who do understand the law, but are still uncomfortable with it?  For example, consider the person who says, “Yes I understand that law.  But it still seems wrong to me.  Some Old Testament laws are just too harsh.”  For this person, I have only one question: “too harsh by what standard?”

The person who finds God’s law to be off the mark (too harsh or too lenient) must have some way of knowing what the mark is.  As one example, what is the right penalty for a given crime?  And how do you know?  Many people appeal to their own subjective feelings of what they think to be right.  But that is completely arbitrary; it’s a mere opinion without any rational foundation.  What if two people disagree on what is morally right?  How would they decide who is correct?  Clearly, they must appeal to some greater standard that ultimately determines what is morally right.  What is that standard?

Some people believe that morality is that which achieves a certain goal, such as the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.  The problem here is that not everyone agrees on what the end result should be.  Why this particular goal and not some other?  Once again, we are back to an arbitrary opinion.  We need an objective standard if we are to have objective morality and not just conflicting subjective opinions.

Some people believe that morality is determined by majority vote.  But that criterion leads to absurd results.  After all, if the majority of people could be convinced that it’s okay to murder people, would that really make it morally acceptable?  History is full of examples of the majority of people doing what is morally wrong.  But that couldn’t be if the majority determined what is right.  Appealing to the majority simply shifts an arbitrary opinion from one person to a group of people.  It does not make the opinion any less arbitrary.  After all, why should I do what the majority says?

None of the above opinions can make the leap from what is to what should be.  Only God’s law can do this.  God is our Creator and will hold us accountable for our behavior.  Therefore, we all have a very good objective reason to behave as God has commanded in His law.  Any standard for morality apart from God’s Word is arbitrary, and therefore irrational.

“Good” is that which corresponds to the will of God (Romans 12:2, Hebrews 13:16, 3 John 1:11).  God’s law is good because it corresponds perfectly to His will.  When a person thinks that a law of God is not good (e.g. too harsh), this does not indicate a problem with the law of God.  Rather, it indicates a problem with the person.  It shows that the individual does not truly understand what morality is.  Such a person is trying to appeal to his own subjective feelings of right and wrong rather than the supreme and unchanging Word of God.  This is sin.

In the days of the judges this sin characterized Israel.  Consider the words of Judges 17:6, “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.”  The Lord commands us not to behave in such a way (Deuteronomy 12:8).  God’s law reveals what is right; it shows us God’s standards.  When a person disagrees with God’s standards, He is trying to judge the law by some greater standard.  But there is no greater standard.  In such a case, the person is not thinking biblically.  He is relying on inward feelings rather than God’s objective standard to decide what’s right.  He is acting foolishly (Proverbs 12:15)

People may be uncomfortable with God’s law because they (1) misunderstand the law of God, or (2) disagree with the law of God.  In the former case, the solution is education.  In the latter case, the solution is repentance.  Rather than trying to tell God why He got it wrong, we should have the humility to allow God’s Word to instruct us in what is right (2 Timothy 3:16).

8 Responses to God’s Law: too Harsh—by what Standard?

  1. Jboy Flaga says:

    This is very true.
    Thank you so much for this Dr. Lisle.

  2. Jboy Flaga says:

    Hello Dr. Lisle

    Is it right to say this?:
    “The majority determines what is right” is arbitrary because the only reason that one can give for stating this is “Because they are the majority” and that would be circular reasoning.

    Thanks Dr. Lisle

    • Jboy Flaga says:

      I think my statement above is backwards

      I think it should be like this:
      The statement “The majority determines what is right because they are the majority” is circular reasoning and it is an invalid circular reasoning because it is arbitrary.

      I’m very thankful to God for Christians like you Dr. Lisle who have dedicated their lives for defending the truth – God’s Word.

  3. […] J. (2012). God’s Law: too Harsh—by what Standard? Available: http://www.jasonlisle.com/2012/01/23/gods-law-too-harsh-by-what-standard/. Last accessed 23rd Jun […]

  4. […] than God. It is the height of presumption for man to think his law is better than God’s Law. Jason Lisle sums up the solution to such erroneous views of God’s […]

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