Christmas: The hinge of history

December 24, 2014

We can’t imagine a world without Christmas. Since childhood, our days have been numbered by what preceded and proceeded from Christmas. There is Before Christmas (B.C.) and After Christmas (A.D., the year of our Lord). Though some of our post-Christian neighbors would like to change the acronym, we know what the hinge of history is—the Day that changed everything.

I’ve been thinking about this lack of historical objectivity a lot lately. I’ve spent time reading and meditating on the Christmas narrative in the Scriptures, reading the Advent lectionaries and trying to imagine what it would have been like to be there. I’ve wondered what it felt like to be among those to whom it was announced, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:11-12).

'Go see the King. He’s in the barn'

There’s a deep irony in the Christmas story. First, there’s the nativity itself. The creator of the universe, the King of kings, was born in a barn. In Christmas, God unveils an economy of what is truly “good” and “blessed.” It’s in harmony with the Sermon on the Mount and 1 Corinthians 1:20-31, turning the wisdom of the world on its head.

The news of the Savior’s birth is not announced to the cultural elites or the middle class, but to shepherds. Smelly, unkempt, hill-dwelling, bottom-caste outsiders. And to add insult to injury, the signs of the Savior’s birth are comprehended not by the religious establishment—those with their theological “i’s” dotted and “t’s” crossed—but by Magi, about whom we know very little. Perhaps they were faithful believers in Babylon, carrying on the work that Daniel began when he served in the kingdom there. Perhaps something else. They certainly weren’t priests, Pharisees, or ethnic Jews.

As Andrew Peterson says, “It was not a silent night.” It was a dingy and earthy experience. I have friends who unexpectedly delivered a baby at home. I stood in their bathroom a few hours afterward, hearing the story, viewing the aftermath. There’s not much that’s dignified about such an experience. And that was with the luxury of clean linens and air conditioning. The ceramic creche on a mantle doesn’t give us a sense of the violence, the viscera, the scarring and tearing, the deeply human and hauntingly cursed pain of such a moment, the indignity of birthing surrounded by cud-chewing ruminants.

Christmas’s cosmic violence

The Scriptures tell us that something cataclysmic was going on. As Mary labored, an evil stirred that was so great, so devilish that it called for the blood of all Bethlehem’s infant sons. Our hero and has family were hunted by Satan himself and fled to Egypt, chased by an ancient evil throwing stars down from the sky.

Christmas is violent. It’s earth-shattering. The very order of things, the way the world worked, was being rewritten. In 1811, an earthquake in Missouri caused church bells to ring in Philadelphia and made the Mississipi River run backwards. When the Christ-child gasped his first breath, the hinge of history swung in a new direction, and hell shuddered. The assault on its gates had begun.

We celebrate Christmas right at the Winter Solstice—a bit of metaphorical genius, if you ask me (at least for those of us in the northern hemisphere). Right as the year reaches its coldest, just as the nights get their longest and darkest, we open our Bibles and read,

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light; o
n those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned. (Is. 9:2)

Historically, the church observed Advent in the month before Christmas, a month of fasting and anticipation. I grew up in churches that skipped the fasts and dove straight into the fa-la-la’s. Discovering Advent was like discovering Good Friday. A deep well of meaning gave Christmas wider and broader dimensions. For all of Christmas’s cause for celebration, there’s an accompanying need to awaken our minds to the surrounding desperation. The world was, and remains in many ways, in darkness. Christmas is part of that glorious already/not-yet tension, where the finished song of redemption awaits the “Amen!” of restoration. We celebrate Christmas in a broken and fallen world, in broken and fallen churches full of broken and fallen people.

Whatever we do in these coming days, let’s not miss the truly epic story of irony and violence that is the “true meaning” of Christmas. Jerome may have said it best when he said:

He found no room in the Holy of Holies that shone with gold, precious stones, pure silk, and silver. He is born not in the midst of gold and riches, but in the midst of dung, in a stable (wherever there is a stable, there is also dung) where our sins were more filthy than the dung. He is born on a dunghill in order to lift up those who come from it; “from a dunghill he lifts up the poor” (Ps. 113:7).

The season takes a toll upon many. It exposes our consumerism and our empty pocketbooks; our lack of generosity and impatience with crowds and families. It reveals our loneliness and sense of isolation, and often ends with a great sense of letdown. Many who gather with us in worship will find themselves on a dunghill, or on a lonely mountain. Those we often dismiss as “Scrooges” are just the down-trodden to whom the angels sang, and for whom the one perfect, pure thing in the universe suffered such violence and indignity.

As Isaac Watts taught us to sing:

No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make his blessings flow Far as the curse is found.

This article was originally published by The Gospel Coalition.

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