Dear Theophilus: Where Does Morality Come From?

Peter Anderson

Praying to God

Dear Faculty,

Where does morality come from?


Dear Theophilus,

It is good to hear from you again and I am encouraged by the question you are asking. Let me explain why it is so encouraging to hear you ask this question and then I will take a minute to help you start to find an answer. I am encouraged by your question because this line of thinking reveals a deeper desire to discover a path through life that is fulfilling, good and beautiful. You seem to want to live life for more than your own benefit and that is a wonderful way to view the world. We are here for a reason so discovering and pursuing our purpose for living brings us back into a way of life that brings joy and peace.

I am also encouraged because you seem open to discovering a source of authority and moral excellence apart from your own life experience, point of view or cultural moment. It is very easy to become convinced that our own personal view of the world is the ONLY way to view the world. That is, it can be hard to be empathic and humble in a world where the loudest, angriest voice is often the most influential.

Stay strong. While significant to the story of our life, personal experiences in the world do not serve as the ultimate source of meaning and moral guidance in the world. Considering the pressures from the world around us and the desires swirling in our hearts, each of us needs a reliable source and the right questions for knowing and embracing what is good, true and beautiful. Let me take a minute to lay out that reliable source and the right questions for living a life that answers your question well.

God as the Source of the Good and Beautiful

The simple, straightforward answer to your question about the source of morality is this: God is the source of morality. Now, I will offer a bit of an explanation on this truth but I want to be abundantly clear with you. God is the sole source of the truly good and beautiful in life. Yet, this does not mean you will never encounter a perspective on morality that identifies the source of morality outside of God. In fact, I guarantee you will constantly encounter competing visions of the good life rising up from your own heart and the world around you. Your task more often than not will be to return constantly to the vision for life sustained and rooted in God alone.

Our heart stands in rebellion to God’s ways and only through the redemptive work of Christ and by the renewal of Holy Spirit do we stand a chance to embrace God’s way of life. Consider the original temptation of Adam and Eve, our first parents, in the Garden. The serpent draws Adam and Eve away from trusting in God by tempting them to believe they in and of themselves could serve as the source of morality for their own lives.

We all know how that turned out! In a similar fashion, we wrestle with the temptation to distrust who God is and what he has revealed about himself in favor of seeing ourselves as the sole source of authority over our own lives. Sadder still, we often take advantage of others, misusing our place in the world in order to pursue our personal desires. Even as we live the life of faith, there will be perpetual struggles to live in submission to God’s will and God’s ways. What you feel and think about the world is important but always submit all that you are to God so that he can guide you through life.

While we face internal pressures to root morality outside of God himself, the world around also tempts us to buy into other visions of the good and beautiful. Whether in the name of social pressures, convenience or cultural prestige, other sources of morality advertise a better way of doing things by excluding God from the equation. Yet, Proverbs clearly indicates that the way of wisdom and peace cannot be achieved apart from the fear of God, that is, a worshipful submission to God’s infinite goodness and glory as the sole source of meaning and purpose.

Stand strong in the face of the internal pressures of your heart and the external pressures of the world. Read yourself and the world around you through God’s self-revelation, Scripture, prayerfully seeking his wisdom and guidance in every decision. Cultivate a trusting heart in God but also seek to live out life in a way that supports a morality rooted in God alone. That said, I want to say something about the importance of asking the right questions in your pursuit of the good and beautiful life found in God.

Living the Good Life in the Community of Faith

Before I close out my comments to you, I want to point out the importance of sourcing morality in God and sustaining morality in the life of faith lived in communion with God’s people. I know it may not be in good form to answer your question with more questions but I have found that finding the right answers means asking the right questions. In this instance, your original question seeks to discover the foundations for morality and I pointed to God as the sole source of morality.

Yet, I want to take things a step further by equipping you to do something with the growing conviction that God is your source for morality, a life defined by the good and beautiful found in him alone. So, in that spirit, I want to offer you a few questions that get to the heart of living life well in submission to God alone. Along with each question, I want to offer a few Scripture passages that will help you reflect on living out a morality rooted in God alone.

• What does God require of his people?

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” - Micah 6:8

If you’re looking for a clear description of a living a life God’s way, here you go. Acting justly means seeking to restore God’s good intent for all of creation through selflessness in word and action that corrects injustice and serves the weak and vulnerable. Mercy demands active reconciliation and restoration through radical forgiveness granted to others in the name of Christ. Humility means having a Christ-ordered vision of self and others that frees a person to live honestly and sincerely. Passionately seek these for yourself and work with others to create Christian communities identifiable by these traits.

• How can I gain godly character, wisdom, and discernment? “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” -Proverbs 9:10

Gaining character, wisdom and discernment only comes from living in relationship with God. “Knowing God” means so much more than possessing some facts about God. Know him by loving him and you can only love him by engaging your heart, soul, mind and strength in faithful discipleship with Jesus.

• How can I find God's path for me?

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him and he will make your paths straight.” -Proverbs 3:5-6

Finding God’s path for your life really means wrestling with his ongoing call in your life to worship Jesus above all else. When life’s confusing or disappointments flood your life, see all of your life as the orchestrations of a good, powerful God and you’ll begin to gain your footing through every phase of life. This way of life won’t erase heartache but you’ll gain a companion for the journey who will offer you all the strength, mercy and love you need to remain faithful to the end.

• How can we see the world God’s way? “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” -Ephesians 1:18-19

Seeing the world God’s way means we lose the right to have things our way, changing from a life dependent on self to a life prayerfully dependent on God. Submitting to God through faith and hope in Christ for redemption starts us on the path of faith and the work of the Holy Spirit begins to reshape our perspective to see his heart for all tongues, tribes, and nations. As our heart is changed in the power of the gospel, God plants his mission in our hearts to send us out to proclaim his goodness and serve others for the sake of God’s glory alone.

I hope my comments have been helpful to you. Keep asking good questions and seeking God alone.

Have your own theology questions? Get your questions answered by emailing using the subject line “Dear Theophilus.” To learn more about GCU’s College of Theology visit our website or use the request more information button at the top of the page. If you feel called to a life of ministry, visit our Theology and Ministry degree page.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.