Why Christmas is for the discouraged ones, too

December 16, 2016

Even before I stepped on the plane, I knew it would be anything but a holly jolly Christmas. I was walking into the home of family members who were left hollowed by an ugly divorce. And I was determined to bring whatever joy I could into an otherwise sad and awkward situation.

In the quiet of the night, I received a phone call that added to the heartache and made this one of the bleakest Christmases of my life. Another family member, caught in the on-and-off-again throes of addiction, was taken to rehab for the upteenth time. She was alone, and that broke my heart. So, I put a smile on my face on Christmas morning, asked the Lord for strength, opened presents and drove four hours to a rehab center. Presents in hand, I tried to bring a little bit of Christmas into that small room for visitors. I spent the remainder of Christmas Day, by myself, cleaning up a house marked by the mess of addiction.

It was lonely. It seemed hopeless and “unfair.” And I didn’t understand how the Lord was using this for my good and his glory. It was the bitterest of Decembers, and I hope to never re-live it.

For all the sentimentality of the Christmas season, it’s far from the most wonderful time of the year in many homes and hearts. The twinkling lights and sappy songs, both of which I’m a sucker for, can be catalysts for depression and despair in souls that are wrestling against the powers and principalities who rule over this fallen world.

The temptation to withdraw into cynicism, shut the blinds to block out the lights and wait until Christmas passes can be overwhelming. But this is what Christmas—the first Advent—is for. It reminds us that life—and trusting in the God of the Bible—is not in vain. The same promise-keeping God who spoke into the 400-year silence with the Word made flesh is the same God who is guarding us through faith for a salvation that will be revealed and fulfilled in due time (1 Peter 1:5).

This hope means everything for Christians as we seek to influence the various cultures around us. As we look back on a year that has been one for the history books in some of the worst of ways, as we look forward to an unknown future that incites us to fear and as we often wonder what difference our meager little lives and offerings make, the fact that Jesus, fulfilling hundreds of years of prophecies, has come should spur us on to unfettered faithfulness, because we know that our lives, our faith and our efforts are not in vain.

The whole birth story of Jesus might have appeared underwhelming and mundane, even horrifying, to us if we were there. Joseph was a humble carpenter. Mary was an ordinary teenager, pregnant by suspicious circumstances. The Savior was laid in a disgusting feeding trough. Lowly and despised shepherds were among the first witnesses to his birth. And because of Herod’s wrath, many young boys were slaughtered (Matt. 2:16-18).

Following the Messiah also seemed like a dead end at first. You certainly wouldn’t have been impressed with him if you were seeking political, financial or social advantage, or were concerned about the comfort and longevity of your physical life. Yet, that’s how the kingdom works, isn’t it? It’s the mustard seed that grows into the largest of trees. It’s the smallest bit of yeast that permeates the whole batch of bread. It often starts with what is tossed aside and barely perceived until, one day, the unmistakable work of God is ubiquitous.

It’s good news that Christmas isn’t just for the cheerful one who loves sipping hot chocolate by the tree. Christmas is for the downtrodden and defeated ones who have been praying for years and want to give up. Christmas is for the distraught and discouraged ones who have had another setback in their life’s work. Christmas is for the depressed and despairing ones who are barely hanging on. Christmas is for the ones in the middle of the darkest night of the soul.

I look back on that hard Advent season I experienced and see how seeds of the kingdom were being scattered, even as I cleaned up the mess of a house that revealed an even messier soul. Years later, I can see how God has been gracious to give glimpses of the second anticipated Advent. He has made his blessings flow in places where the curse is found within my family. And one day, no more remnants of that curse will remain—in their place, only joy.

Wherever you find yourself this Christmas—in the middle of nowhere, in the dark of the lonely night, in the repetition of the messy mundane—may God meet you like he met the shepherds that night, suddenly surrounding you with his glory and causing your heart to join in the angels’ song,

“Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.”

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