From past study, I have come to the conclusion that that morality, right and wrong, are bound up in the nature of God himself. Things are not right or wrong “just because God said so,” – that is, God does not arbitrarily declare a thing to be wrong that would otherwise be permissible, nor does he arbitrarily declare a thing right that otherwise would be wrong. Things are right or wrong based on their relation to God’s nature, something God himself cannot change. I believe that God has always held men to the same basic standard of morality, grounded in God's nature and the fact that man is made in the image of God. Thus, for example, I don't believe the "sermon on the mount" of Matthew 5 was some great overturning of the Law of Moses with new teaching, but rather a reaffirmation of what God had wanted all along (something I got from your own lesson book on the subject).
That said, I am having difficulty figuring out how exactly I reached this conclusion. What scripture suggests that right and wrong - morality - are derived from the eternal, changeless nature of God rather than from essentially whimsical decrees? Or am I off base here from the scripture actually says?
Many thanks for any insight you can provide.
Let's start with a fundamental point -- one among many -- about the nature of God. "He who does not love does not know God, for God is love" (I John 4:8). God is the embodiment of love and all that we know about love can correctly be stated as coming from God.
"Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us. If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also" (I John 4:17-21).
When we love we are imitating God. Love did not start with us, it started with God and then we mimic our Father. "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (I John 4:10).
The reason for mention all of this is that Jesus said that the core of all law resides in the concept of love. "'Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?' Jesus said to him, 'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets'" (Matthew 22:36-40). So love is the core of law, but both law and love come from God (II Timothy 3:16-17). Law never originated in man. "And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (II Peter 1:19-21).
You are correct in your observation that God never gives laws arbitrarily. Laws are given because they are good for the people under the law. Moses told Israel this: "And the LORD commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that He might preserve us alive, as it is this day" (Deuteronomy 6:24). And in a prophecy of the new Law, Jeremiah said, "then I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever, for the good of them and their children after them" (Jeremiah 32:39). Thus, we learn that God gives us law so we might have life (Romans 6:21-22).
In other words, God, in His love for us, gave us laws to explain to us what is right and what is wrong. "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome" (I John 5:2-3). We, in turn, show our love for God by keeping his commandments (John 14:15).
God gives us laws to protect us from harm that we might not be knowledgeable enough to detect. "When you roam, they will lead you; when you sleep, they will keep you; and when you awake, they will speak with you. For the commandment is a lamp, and the law a light; reproofs of instruction are the way of life, to keep you from the evil woman, from the flattering tongue of a seductress." (Proverbs 6:22-24).
By following God's laws, we become pure like Him. "Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart" (I Peter 1:22).
We need law because on our own we do not accurately distinguish between good and evil. It is only by learning God's law and putting it into practice that we are able to make the distinction. "For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil" (Hebrews 5:13-14). Though morality doesn't come from law, law does teach us what is moral. Paul pointed out in Romans 2:14-15 that the Gentiles were able to do right and wrong without having a law; therefore, morality isn't derived from law. Instead, law defines the right and wrong that already existed (Romans 7:7-13). For example, in science, we have formulated a law of gravity. Now gravity existed long before someone came up with the law of gravity. The law of gravity defines how gravity operates, but it did not create gravity. In the same way, law doesn't make things right and wrong; it simply states what is right and wrong. Murder is wrong. The law explains that murder is a sin, but the law did not make murder into an immoral act. It was already immoral.
People often don't recognize evil and its dangers. "Deliver the poor and needy; free them from the hand of the wicked. They do not know, nor do they understand; they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are unstable" (Psalms 82:4-5). When God told Adam and Eve not to eat of one tree in the garden, He was telling them about the danger that already existed (Genesis 2:16-17). Adam and Eve were made aware of the danger by the commandment that God gave them. Yet they broke the commandment and thereby sinned.
God has always warned us of the dangers. That is why there has always been law. "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned-- For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come" (Romans 5:12-14). Even before the law of Moses, law was in the world. We know that because we can see that sin was in the world (Genesis 6 is a prime example). Sin doesn't exist without the presence of law since sin is the breaking of law (I John 3:4).
If I had to pick one chapter to explain how God cared for us by giving us laws to explain the difference between good and evil, safety and danger, I would recommend Proverbs 4. I guess this is just a long-winded way of saying, "I agree with your conclusion and here is why."