The question of morals and why we should follow moral guidelines is always a question in philosophy and theology. One of the common questions that often arises is Divine Command Theory, which deals with God giving commands that we should follow, usually moral commands. What can get lost in the discussion is not only whether we should follow God’s commands, but why God gives His commands.
Divine command theory should be discussed with the theological terms of voluntarism and essentialism. Voluntarism holds that God gives His moral commands based on His will — He decided to give a particular command, but could have decided to give another, different command. Voluntarism would hold that God said “thou shalt not commit adultery,” but He could have just as easily said “thou shalt mate with as many people as possible to survive” and such a command would then be the moral thing to do.
By contrast, essentialism says that God could only have given the commands that He did give, because God’s nature is such that He can only do things consistent with His nature. Since God’s nature is righteous and good, He can only give commands that are righteous and good.
Those who hold divine command theory would typicaly be voluntarists, holding that the moral commands we currently have in the Bible are based in God’s voluntary will, but He could have commanded otherwise, and if He did, the new commands would have been just as moral. Essentialists disagree, and maintain that God could not have commanded otherwise since He only commands good things. His nature is good, therefore all His commands are good commands.
When moral commands interface with us as humans, we must consider human nature. If we are honest with ourselves, we all know we are fallable, and do not by nature obey moral commands. Christians refer to this as sin, and since we are all sinful, we do not have an accurate moral compass. The Bible teaches we are not merely morally neutral, but morally flawed, unable to accurately determine moral goodness without external direction. Therefore we follow God’s commands because we know they are good and we are not. But the reason we follow the commands is not because God just happened to tell us to, but rather because God is good, and only gives us good commands.
We therefore reject divine command theory and voluntarism, and hold to essentialism as the correct explanation for God’s moral commands. God could not have commanded “thou shalt steal” because His nature is good and every command He gives is for good.