Might Makes Right

I want to defend the thesis that might makes right.  Normally, we recoil in horror from that kind of statement because we see in it no way to check tyrrannical rule.  Those who are strongest gain power and use it to oppress the weak, and so far as the “might makes right” philosophy is concerned, they are ethically justified because, after all, might makes right.  The strength of the strong is their ethical justification. 

I am not referring to that kind of scenario when I say that might makes right.  I am referring to a greater might and a greater right.  I am referring to God and his relationship to what is right and wrong.  There are two propositions that I deny about God’s relationship to ethics:

(1) God is righteous because he conforms to a standard outside of himself.

(2) Right and wrong are determined by God’s will arbitrarily with no essential connection to his being. 

The first proposition places ethics above God; the second proposition divorces God’s will from his character.  Neither are correct.  That which is right derives its “rightness” from God’s own character, so that there is no standard above God, and yet what is right is not determined arbitrarily.  But here is the fundamental truth about God’s character: God’s supreme regard is for himself; therefore, that which is right is defined as right in relation to him. 

Think about it for a moment.  We all know it is wrong to murder.  But why?  Secular humanists recognize, at least to some degree, the value of a human being, and their ethical reflection generally flows from that.  Thus, whatever promotes the well-being of human beings (unborn human beings excepted) is right, and that which violates or harms a human being is wrong.  Thus, murder is wrong, but certain sexual acts between consenting adults is perfectly fine, so long as no other human being is violated or harmed. 

But believers know there is more to the story than that.  Believers know that the supreme reference point for all ethical reflection is God himself.  Murder is wrong because it assaults a creature made in God’s image who reflects God’s glory.   Consenting adults are not the only parties to take into account when considering the morality of certain sexual arrangements; the will and design of the Creator must be considered supreme. 

Why is God the supreme reference point for what is right and wrong?  Because he is God.  As such, he is exalted above us.  He transcends our limitations.  His essence is the standard of all that is right and good precisely because he is the self-existent, sovereign Lord of all.  Might truly makes right, in this sense. 

So why do we recoil at the idea that might makes right when applied to the human sphere of ethics?  It is because we recognize that only God is God, and therefore any human being who usurps the divine prerogative has committed high treason, the greatest of all sins and blasphemies.  The person who claims the right to determine right from wrong out of his own power has already removed God as central reference point and has appointed himself to that position.  What we recognize as so horribly wrong in this kind of situation is not the fact that might makes right; it is, rather, that someone whose might is infinitesimal compared to God’s is trying to assert himself over God.  The problem is not so much the idea that might makes right; it is the idea that inferior might makes right. 

This, I submit, is precisely the problem with abortion.  The woman who chooses to kill the human being inside her womb has made a decision based on the ethical consideration that she is the primary reference point.  What benefits her the most is the ethical course of action.  And why is that?  Because she is more physically and mentally developed than the child.  She has a life history to speak of.  She has the power to assert her will.  The baby, lacking these qualities and the strength to withstand (or even protest) her attacks, has no ethical standing.  The woman’s might makes her right.  Yet ironically enough, the one who is mightiest in this situation has already conferred value on the unborn child, and he will not allow that blood to be spilled in vain.  His might will, one day, make all things right.

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One Response to “Might Makes Right”

  1. Ali Says:

    I’m not convinced that “might makes right” explains the real situation with God and his creation. That phrase may be correct when dealing with rebellious creatures who respond to nothing else, but surely God’s sovereignty over the world also stems from ownership, his position of source of all life, the purpose of creation, design and so on. It’s only when all these other reasons that God is right are ignored that “might makes right” comes into play, and that only in the eyes of the rebellious subjects, not in the eyes of God.

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