Friday, March 23, 2012

A God Governed by Law

I have been reviewing notes and books from last semester, and stumbled across this question posed by Acquinas (built on the thinking of Plato):

Are the commands of God moral because they are commanded, or do the Gods command things because they are antecedently good?

The question was stirred up when, during the Thirty and Eighty Years Wars in Europe, philosophers and legal minds began looking for more harmonious rules which would establish peace rather than war as the commanding norm.

The study of Antiquity and Roman Law by Grotius in Leiden yielded this and similar questions in the process of "discovering" the existence of a natural law which would govern all and which God recognized. Useful in seeking for universal laws that could govern even peoples who did not believe in a God, such as those in the growing world of European domination through colonial expansion.

The logic had stunning consequences.  Even the king was under God and his law (whose commands coincided with natural law).  Locke used it to develop a theory of natural, or inherent rights.  We find this language in the 1776 American Declaration of Independence.  We find it now in the language of the Arab Spring.

Interestingly, the concept "first" conceived by Plato was also recognized by a Book of Mormon prophet before the advent of Christ.  In a doctrine unique to my faith,  the prophet Alma said that if mercy could rob justice, "God would cease to be God."  This is a doctrine I have pondered for years and years, and so was familiar with the concept when brought up in class last semester.

Yet I believe that Alma and, by extension, LDS doctrine goes a bit further than Plato or Acquinas.  Like these philosophers, we recognize that there is an antecedent system of principles and eternal laws to which God adheres.  But more, that He would cease to be God should He violate these laws.

Now, we don't believe God will.  But He has a choice.  This doctrine of universal laws intersects at this point with our belief in agency, or in the ability to chose, as an equally eternal principle.  We *always* have the opportunity to chose. Even God has that opportunity, even now.  Even Christ did, as beautifully illustrated in the Garden.  The Savior had a choice, and he chose us.


  1. I really appreciate this and it is so good to think about, there is univeral truth that cannot be defined by religion or politics or anything that man has made up. Some things are just naturally kept in balance and no matter how you try to get around the consequences, they are still there. Thanks for sharing these thoughts.

  2. I love when the Gospel connects back to those old Greek guys. Usually, they agree in a way that not only makes the Gospel make sense, but makes the Gospel the only thing that makes sense. Incidentally, Aristotle's idea of eudaemonea matches everything the BoM says about happiness.