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Lesson 5: Creation and Morality *

Introduction: Do you know moral people who do not seem religious or believe in God? On what is their morality based? Today, we have competing views on what is moral. On one side is a belief in equality - that all ideas, all philosophies and all opinions are equal and should be equally valued. On the other side, the Bible declares that some opinions are worthy of eternal life and some worthy of eternal death. Equal opportunity is equal opportunity for salvation. Differences in life, even disabilities, are opportunities to bring glory to God. These are much different views of what is right, moral and just. Let's jump into our study of creation and the Bible and see if we can better understand this!

  1. Tree Morality

    1. Read Genesis 2:8-9. Who owned the trees? (Read Genesis 1:29-30. Trees were given to humans and animals to eat. They were a gift.)

      1. Would you say that humans had an inherent legal right to eat plants and the fruit of trees? (Unless you own something, you do not have the right to eat it. Once God gave them the right to eat, they had that right. But, it was not inherent.)

    2. Read Genesis 2:15-17. Does this change the nature of the legal right to eat the plants? (Yes. God has now entered into an employment contract with Adam. Adam takes care of the plants and trees in exchange for a promise that he can eat from what grows. He works for food. Adam has an enforceable legal right to eat if he works.)

      1. Does Adam's contract include the right to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? (No.)

    3. The law has two kinds of rules. Rules which exist only because the government has authority to make the rule, and rules which reflect morality. These are called "malum prohibitum" (bad because it is prohibited) and "malum in se" (bad because it is evil). Another way to say this is that rules which exist simply because humans have made them are "positive law" and rules which prohibit evil are "natural law." Is the speed limit malum prohibitum (positive law) or malum in se (natural law)? (The speed limits where I live get changed all the time, therefore they are malum prohibitum.)

    4. Look again at Genesis 2:16-17. Is this malum prohibitum or malum in se?

      1. Read Genesis 1:11-12. How does this impact your opinion? (The fruit of all trees was declared to be good. Therefore, God's rule on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil would seem to be malum prohibitum.)

    5. Read Genesis 3:2-5. What is Satan's argument? (That the rule is malum prohibitum, and it is wrong.)

      1. Is Satan arguing more than that? (He seems to say that God's rule is itself malum in se - that it violates the natural right of humans to know good and evil.)

      2. Can you explain why humans would have a natural right to know everything? (If they are to be treated equally with God and Satan then they would have a natural right to this information.)

      3. Is equality a natural right? Is it malum prohibitum to fail to treat everyone equally? (Clearly God and humans are not equal. God and Satan are not equal.)

    6. Let's step back a few moments and contemplate this.

      1. If the rule on eating fruit plunged the entire human race into sin and sentenced us all to death, how can it be malum prohibitum? Humans generally agree that killing someone is malum in se!

      2. What about the knowledge of good and evil? Isn't it inherently better to have more knowledge? In the abstract, isn't Satan right?(This shows that equality of opinion, at least, is not a natural right. Satan's opinion has been proven to be inferior to God's opinion.)

        1. How does the amount of information available to Eve impact this discussion? (If Eve knew more she would better understand the competing claims of God and Satan, and know that eating the fruit was the most serious malum in se issue.)

      3. What is the logical conclusion to be reached from the answers to these questions? What rule would you apply to decide which rules reflect the avoidance of true evil? What is the best guide to malum in se?(I suggest this: All of God's rules, whether they seem to be malum prohibitum or malum in se are to be treated as malum in se. The reason being that God knows and understands everything and we do not! Humans can create positive law which is only malum prohibitum, but all of God's commands reflect malum in se.)

  2. Examples

    1. Read Proverbs 14:31. Let's remove, for a minute, the references to God. Is it malum prohibitum or malum in se to treat a person who has less money differently?

      1. This text complicates the issue because it refers to oppression and kindness. But, let's say for purposes of this discussion, that not giving a person equal time or attention because of their lack of wealth would be considered "oppression" or "unkindness."

      2. If your philosophy is that all opinions, ideas and people are equal, what would be your answer to the malum prohibitum/malum in se question about how you treat the poor? (It would be malum prohibitum, because not considering everything to be equal would be evil.)

      3. What would be the answer if you were selling million dollar sailboats?

      4. What would be your answer if you were looking for a sales person for your company, and you know that this person is poor because he is lazy or lacks emotional intelligence?

    2. I can think of many practical reasons why you would not treat the poor equally. Let's go back to Proverbs 14:31 and consider the "God reasons." What reason does God say we should treat the poor equally, and what does this have to do with the Creation? (God is the One who created both the poor and the rich, and God says we dishonor Him when we treat the poor badly.)

    3. Read Proverbs 22:2, Proverbs 22:4 and Proverbs 22:7. Do these texts argue for equality of thought and action? (No. Certain decisions improve your life or make it worse.)

      1. What, then, is Proverbs 22:2 saying to us? (One area of equality is that God is the Maker of all humans. This forms a baseline for our treatment of others.)

    4. There are trends in "morality" that are based on something other than the Bible. About a hundred years ago a popular theory was eugenics, which said that the human race could be greatly improved by paying attention to its genetic composition. Abortion has its roots in this movement, because it was thought this was a good way to control the birth rate of "undesirable" individuals. How does Proverbs 22:2 speak to this kind of "morality?"

    5. Read Matthew 5:43-48. How would you resolve these "neighbor" issues without any reference to the words of Jesus?

      1. How does the creation and our status as children of God change the answer?

    6. Read Matthew 25:31-36 and Matthew 25:40. Let's just focus on one of these - taking care of the sick. What moral reasons could you think of for avoiding those who are ill? (They might be contagious! Think of what this might mean to you and your family? If you got sick you might not be able to work!)

      1. How does our conception of God as our Creator and Redeemer change our thinking? (God, as Creator, identifies with those in need. We might say that the sick got that way because they violated God's laws on health, God's laws on sexual purity, or in some other way "deserved" to be sick. We can say similar things about those who are poor. But, having a Creator God gives us all a certain level of dignity and worth. When we aid those who are suffering, we act like our God.)

    7. Scan Deuteronomy 28. Does this in some way moderate what we just discussed? Are there times when we should not rescue those in need? (God says that He will punish bad behavior. We need to pray for the Holy Spirit to guide us to be sure our actions are always in line with God's actions. We need to have the humility to say, "How many times have I failed God?")

    8. Friend, will you decide today to make God's word the only basis for your moral decisions? Will you decide that if God prohibits something, it is malum in se, even though you might not understand God's thinking?

  3. Next week: Creation and the Fall.
* Copr. 2013, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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