A blizzard, the Tomb of the Unknown, and the empty grave

February 2, 2016

Sweltering heat. Sub-zero cold. Torrential rains. Howling winds. Since 1948, soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment have guarded the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery throughout the Washington region’s most extreme weather conditions, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. No conditions have proven too tough, no threat too great.

So when Winter Storm Jonas recently bore down on the D.C. region, many wondered, “Are soldiers still guarding the Tomb of the Unknown, ’round the clock, during the blizzard?”

Not to worry. “The Old Guard,” as the regiment is also known, quickly assured the public that, true to time-honored commitment, Tomb patrol would continue, uninterrupted. “The Tomb Guards maintain a constant vigil at the Tomb no matter the weather conditions,” the group’s Facebook page stated in a January 22 post, alongside photos of a sentinel marching on guard as the storm’s first snowflakes fell. News reports and social media feeds spread the word. The nation could rest easy.

But there’s more to this inspiring story, a second account that bears sharing.

I was one of the few—and honored—people to witness this graveside watch first-hand. Not when a mere dusting of white had draped the landscape, as The Old Guard photos humbly depicted, but when snow tallies were inching closer to two feet. And I won’t soon forget it.

By mid-day January 23, cars sat parked, buried in a sea of white. Plows struggled to keep up with the falling and blowing snow. Jonas had picked up intensity, escalating toward an official blizzard.

So rather than begin the arduous task of digging out, I decided to set off on foot from my apartment to nearby Arlington Cemetery to offer some moral support and encouragement to the valiant soldiers standing watch over the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Trudging through the snow of Arlington’s hallowed grounds was an experience all its own. Falling snow climbed rows of white marble tombstones, seemingly erasing the etched names of men and women who had sacrificed much in service to our nation. Only the rush of the wind and the hums of plows blazing paths up and down the hilly, winding lanes could be heard. The 624-acre cemetery otherwise lay quiet.

Except for the plaza in front of the Tomb of the Unknowns, perched upon a hill.

Following snow-covered signs, I rounded the Memorial Amphitheater, headed for the Tomb. And what I witnessed next will stick in my mind long after the last of the snow has melted: a solitary soldier, M14 rifle strapped across his back, pushing a shovel across the paved plaza. Mounds of snow buttressed his marching grounds, evidence of labors likely begun some 24 hours earlier with the onset of white canvassing the grounds.

The cemetery was closed, I learned, making me an unexpected—and perhaps the only—civilian visitor of the day. Which is why the sight of this soldier, both guarding the Tomb of the unknown fallen and grooming the ground he’d so faithfully trod, was all the more impressive to behold.

While “walking the mat” during public viewing, Tomb guards adhere to the strictest of disciplines—21 paces at a 90-pace per minute cadence, turning and pausing twice, 21 seconds each, before repeating those steps in the opposite direction. Their demeanor is likewise measured—faces void of expression, eyes fixed squarely ahead.

But the guard I encountered in the apex of the blizzard showed me another side of his esteemed regiment: their humanness. As I approached the young man, he looked me in the eye and shared a brief, warm exchange.

“I just want to thank you for your dedication and commitment, even in this blizzard,” I began, introducing myself across the chained-off area as he shoveled near the plaza’s south side. “It’s an honor,” he responded, without losing his stride. I offered to relieve him from shoveling. He graciously declined. “Thank you for helping out,” he added with a smile, apparently mistaking me as part of a grounds crew clearing snow elsewhere.

In those few minutes at the Tomb, I witnessed not just a soldier on guard, but a servant in action. The young sentinel didn’t need to speak; his actions spoke loud enough. His footprints in the snow reminded me that freedom isn’t free and that integrity is among the highest of virtues. I pondered, as I watched, that duty is not an order to endure, but an opportunity to embrace; that life is not so much about what happens to us—sun or storm—as it is about how we respond to what happens to us; and that we must, in areas big and small in life, be ever vigilant, always on watch.

And as I stood there in the cold, facing east, I also thought about a tomb some 6,000 miles away. It lies empty. Guards once stood its watch, around the clock, heeding the command to “make it as secure as you can” (Matt. 27:62-66). But they could not, ultimately, secure it. Not because thieves overpowered them or the elements overtook them, but because death itself could not contain its occupant. And unlike the fallen soldiers remembered at the Tomb of the Unknowns, whose names are “known but to God,” this death-defying man’s name is known. His name is Jesus. And he, himself, is knowable.

Indeed, that snowy visit to Arlington got me thinking about much. I may never put on a uniform of the U.S. Armed Forces, or bear the esteemed name sentinel in The Old Guard. But I’m thankful the Commander who rose from the once guarded, now empty tomb has enlisted me in his Army of all armies, commissioned to “share in suffering as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2:3-4).

And I’m especially thankful, too, for the soldier at the hilltop Tomb in Arlington—humble and brave, committed and kind—for reminding me of such things. Simply by standing watch, in a blizzard. Shovel and all.

Doug Carlson

Doug Carlson came to the ERLC in 2004 and serves as the Leland House’s Office Manager, overseeing the administrative and organizational needs of the Washington office. A Fort Wayne, Ind., native, Doug attended Word of Life Bible Institute and received his B.S. from Liberty University and his Master of Public … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24