In freshman philosophy courses professors often like to bring up the Euthyphro dilemma to throw young Christians into a tizzy. The Euthyphro dilemma is a challenge about the foundation of ethics found in Plato’s writings, that asks the question: Is that which is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it morally good because it is commanded by God? In other words, is something good or bad because God declared it to be good or bad? Or is it greater than God and therefore binding on Him? Careful here Christian… heed the wisdom of Admiral Ackbar: “It’s a trap!” You might immediately think “nothing is binding on God, therefore something is good or evil because God declared it to be good.” But do you believe that? Was God simply bringing up a topic like adultery then flipping a coin to determine if it was good or bad and determining it would be sinful. Could God had made torture or racism a morally good thing on a whim? A Christ-follower should not be comfortable with God just arbitrarily choosing to tag some aspects of the human experience as “sin.” So I guess what we’re left with is the alternative? Good and evil are bigger than God and therefore binding on Him, right? God Himself is subject to a rule set and He is just as bound by these principles as the rest of us? But wait, if that’s the case then God is not omnipotent (all-powerful). He’s just as bound by rules as everyone else and therefore less than “God.”
Many Christians just get irritated by philosophical conundrums like the Euthyphro dilemma because they see it as either “worldly wisdom” (which they deem to be foolishness) or simply wordplay meant to foul up a believer in his/her faith. I’d like to suggest that most all of these apparent philosophic dilemmas is an invitation to know God better. Often our responses don’t come from a place of righteous indignation that God’s character is being besmirched so much as they emerge from our intellectual laziness (we prefer neat answers to grappling with questions… Hmmm which did Jesus seem more inclined to give to his disciples?) The Euthyphro dilemma is not asking us an unanswerable question, it’s actually asking us a fairly basic question: the question is essentially what makes sin sin and virtue virtue? If we were honest, this is why Christians often get flustered by the question. It reveals that we have not thought through one of the basics of the faith. Well this week we’re going to think through this issue of what makes “wrong” wrong, “sin” sin, and “evil” evil. And if you pay attention, you should be able to easily answer the Euthyphro dilemma from here forward.