Response to Dr. Elkins: On Playing God

Please excuse my annoying pedantry to follow…


I have always had difficulty considering any medical decision-making, or for that matter, any decision to justify the use of the phrase “playing God”. Usually when we (those of us involved in ethical discourse) use this phrase we are speaking of some special power with moral consequence over oneself or another. Or simply, meddling with things that are not in our realm.

While I do like the idea of what you (Gary Elkins) say, “I think we play God when we make crucial medical decisions (i.e. decisions with moral consequences) without taking God into consideration,” I find the phrase inadequately addresses the idea we are trying to communicate and that it may be detrimental to our larger cause, for a couple of reasons:

1.)  It seems that we do not take God, that is, as we understand His whole essence, into consideration when we use this phrase.

2.)  It seems that when we use this phrase we are indicating, “playing something other than God” rather than we are “playing God”.

From a Christian worldview we understand God to be loving, just, omniscient (all-knowing), while being (omnipotent) all-powerful. The phrase in question only allows for one part of the being of God, His Power. When we strip away the other attributes of God, we are left with something other than God.

If we were truly trying to, or in actuality, play God in these major decisions of life, we would not just be invoking or abusing power. We would be protecting and preserving life justly.

What we ARE trying to communicate in these situations is that we are attempting to reach beyond our God-given boundaries in support of our interests.

In sum, I think we should use a different phrase to communicate the idea “playing God”. One that conveys our concern for possible abuses, for human dignity, and, ultimately, for the true character of God.

Please excuse the coarseness of my argument in that I don’t offer a real solution, but we need to find new language to communicate this old argument against abuse of power.

I look forward to any thoughts that you may have in response to this proposal.

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Gary Elkins
Gary Elkins

Thank you, Chris, for your response to my discussion about playing God (see “Death and Dying in the Land of Paradise, part 3”). I found it beneficial for me to reflect on your rejoinder. I may have misunderstood what you are suggesting. Here are a few possible interpretations and/or implications of your comments: 1. Expressions such as “playing God” should not be used because they don’t adequately present God for who He is (i.e., His “whole essence”). 2. Another interpretation, similar to the first one, is to suggest that the name “God,” on its own, even in the context of… Read more »

chris audino
chris audino

I fear I did not offer a coherent presentation of my thoughts in the previous blog. After seeing your response and reading my own, I see how you arrived where you did. I will make another attempt to clarify my thoughts on this thought (that has been looming in my mind for some time). A response to your interpretations/implications… 1. I do fully recognize that no person could express the full essence of God. I also recognize that it would be silly to have to clarify the extent of God’s attributes when discoursing, especially about moral issues; this would be… Read more »