Christian, you are not the center of the universe

December 17, 2018

I recently revisited an old post on my blog, and I was struck by how relevant it still is and how helpful it might be to post it again. Surrounded as we are by sales pitches, hysterical rhetoric, and outright propaganda, it’s far too easy for us to develop a skewed view of what is happening in the world around us. Self-centered as we are, it comes naturally to think of ourselves as the center of the universe and to believe that our concerns define the human experience. And unfortunately, we often allow our small and distorted perspective to limit our awareness of what God is doing.

Christianity around the world

When I originally wrote this post, I had recently finished reading a book that introduced me to the history of the Christian church in Japan, which dates back at least to 1549. Some believe it may go back much farther to 400 AD. In the 1600s, a period of intense persecution drove Christians underground or to their deaths and helped fuel the severe isolationist policy of Japan that lasted until the late 1800s. But the church, although a tiny 1 percent of the population, has survived and continues today.

I decided to do more reading, and I discovered several reports that claimed what this Christianity Today article describes: In the wake of the devastating March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Northern Japan, Japanese Christians had an audience—unprecedented in our times—for the gospel among their fellow citizens. This was in a country long known as the least receptive to Christianity.

Furthermore, there’s ongoing news about the growth of Christianity in China, where one credible estimate from several years ago says there are at least 67 million Christians, while others estimate more than 100 million. Consider, as well, the startling growth of the church in India, where one estimate says there are now more than 58 million Christians. In both nations, Christians are experiencing increasing persecution, yet Christianity is growing exponentially.

Then, there’s this report from a few years back, illustrating the number and distribution of Christians throughout the world. While Western Christians have bemoaned the decline of the church in our own part of the world, the faith has spread dramatically around the globe. “Christianity today—unlike a century ago—is truly a global faith,” the report claims. It has spread so pervasively, “no single continent or region can indisputably claim to be the center of global Christianity.” In fact, 36.7 percent of the world’s Christians now live in sub-Saharan Africa and the Asia-Pacific region. I’m not sure many Western Christians are paying attention to this movement.

Where we place our hope

Information about these spiritual movements around the world is set against a backdrop of warnings and dire predictions about the declining influence of the church in the United States, and the consequences for the world. Like you, I’m regularly assaulted by propaganda-laced forwarded emails and social networking posts, mostly fueled by political conflict. If they are to be believed, God’s kingdom is at serious risk, dependent on the United States government for its lifeblood. The assumption is that God’s work in the world lives or dies with the status of American cultural Christianity.

Don’t get me wrong. I know there is much to grieve in our world. I know life is not what it should be. We can be reasonably certain we are not truly safe, we won’t all get along, and we will not make it to the end of our lives with everyone we love by our side. Our world and our culture are deeply troubled, and we can and should stand up against darkness and grieve whatever grieves God.

I also know it’s only human to grieve a loss of influence, and much of our alarm is motivated by a sense of frustration and powerlessness to make the world the way we believe it should be. But it is not ours to mold. If we believe God is sovereign, we must join his work and quell our craving for power. We must let go of our own sense of self-importance. We do not live at the center of the universe. God does not depend on the American (or any other) church to keep himself on his throne.

In the mix of human affairs, we are powerful people. And our choices are important. But our concern over our culture’s momentum is disproportionate to the momentum of God’s work in the world. Do we really believe his plans hinge on the functioning of our government? That he’s waiting to see what happens with the economy before he creates his budget for next year? That God’s kingdom depends, even a tiny bit, on ours?

We need a bigger perspective

When Jesus was on earth, many people thought he was building a kingdom in this world, planning a revolution to defeat the powers of his time and making the world more like the disciples thought it should be (Luke 19:11). This is how he responded: “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom . . . my Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). His work went far beyond what they could see, ask for, or imagine. And it went far beyond them, spanning the space and time of everyone in history.

God is always doing something much bigger than what people want him to do. His work is not done. And it is about us, but not in the way we like to think. Our vision is more global than ever. But we’re still so Western-centric that we mostly view other people and places only as in need of our help, not as objects of God’s work independent of his relationship with us.

If someone would have told our forebears that at this point in history, Nigeria would have more than twice as many Protestants as Germany, where the Protestant Reformation started, they would have been astonished. If they had known that the world’s largest church would be firmly planted in South Korea and the Chinese church would be growing faster than the church in any Western country, they would have known that something marvelous was happening. Many of us who are witnessing this work of God are instead bemoaning the loss of something we want and we think God needs.

Be encouraged! God is not limited as we are. He is not confounded by politics, apathy, economic woes, or weakness. His ways are higher than ours; he does not see the world from our perspective. And his work certainly is not limited to what we can see.

Next time you feel anxious after watching a cable news broadcast or reading a tweet, remember we worship the same God Daniel did:

“Praise the name of God forever and ever, for he has all wisdom and power. He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the scholars. He reveals deep and mysterious things and knows what lies hidden in darkness, though he is surrounded by light” (Dan. 2:20-22).

This article originally appeared here.

Amy Simpson

Amy Simpson is the award-winning author of Blessed Are the Unsatisfied: Finding Spiritual Freedom in an Imperfect World, Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry and Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission (both InterVarsity Press). She’s also an editor for Moody Publishing, a leadership coach, and a … 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