Diana, Bunyan and Edison: 7 kingdom lessons from three lives

August 31, 2016

The fairy tale of yore leapt off the storybook’s page and onto history’s stage. It was a “Cinderella wedding.” The dark-haired prince would, at last, wed his bride-to-be, no longer titled lady only, but also a princess.

Thousands gathered and 750 million others tuned in from afar to witness this “wedding of the century”: Lady Diana Spencer uniting in holy matrimony to Prince Charles of Wales, royal heir to Britain’s throne.

The carillon of St. Paul’s Cathedral rang of royal one accord. Commoners and nobility cheered from London to lands abroad. The July 29, 1981, celebration spelled something of the dawning of an endless royal summer, a “happily ever after” tale to unfold across decades to come.

Except that it wasn’t so. The fairy tale ended in divorce in 1996. And, heartbreak upon heartbreak, the princess’ own final chapter came to a crashing conclusion one year later.

On August 31, 1997, Diana, Princess of Wales, dashed into eternity, a casualty of a car crash in a Paris tunnel, as an ever-present paparazzi followed in tow. In the blink of an eye, a royal life the world had followed incessantly through the lens of a camera was no more in this world. Lady Di, dead at 36.

Millions will forever remember that somber day, a tragic “The End.” And so will I–it was my 16th birthday.

Numbering our days

“The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away” (Ps. 90:10).

As I celebrate my 35th birthday, these words of Moses—especially weighty, it seems, in King James parlance—ring more loudly today than in years past. Math is my measure: By Moses’ reckoning, I’m now officially middle-aged, halfway to 70. For now, anyway, millennial suits me just fine.

But the brevity of life comes into full view by way of Diana, Princess of Wales. Likewise, it comes to us by way of a less remembered August 31 death—that of John Bunyan in 1688, three centuries earlier. The English author and preacher’s memory is mostly tied to his allegory of the Christian life, The Pilgrim’s Progress, penned while in prison on preaching-related charges.

And splitting the years between the princess and the pilgrim stood an August 31 innovation that gave us a window into both: On that date in 1897, a New Jersey inventor received a patent for a machine that took still camera shots in rapid fire succession to create one seemingly streamlined motion picture. Thomas Edison’s kinetograph would become the gateway to the modern movie-making machine.

But what do these three lives and moments have to do with each other?

Lessons from a princess, a pilgrim and a patent

Centuries separated them. Classes divided them. But the princess, the pilgrim and the patent of an inventor—taken together in Edison-style snapshot—speak to a larger narrative, unfolding chapter by chapter even today.

Here are seven ways they may speak to us as we journey together.

1. Life runs on a reel of red, not black and white.

Princess Diana’s bloody death headlined London papers and distant dailies in big, black print. Bunyan’s readers journey through his Pilgrim’s Progress via black ink set to white paper. And Edison’s first movies ran in colorless form.

But the reel of history runs decidedly red. A scarlet thread weaves together “In the beginning” (Gen. 1:1) to “It is finished” (John 19:30) to “Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:7). From a wedding in a garden to a marriage feast in glory, all of redemptive history is tied together by the spilled blood of one Man, the Bridegroom Prince.

To miss the red is to miss the message altogether. Crimson is the color that awakens all the others. And the more the crimson colors the screenplay of one’s life, the greater the clarity to an otherwise dark and destructive picture.

2. Life is a pilgrimage.

Countless thousands pilgrimaged to London’s Westminster Abbey to pay final respects to the late princess of Wales. The Christian life, however, is one long pilgrimage—not to a church, but as a church. We are, like Christian in Bunyan’s allegory, headed from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City, “strangers and exiles on the earth” (Heb. 11:13) joyfully journeying as part of a heavenly King’s kingdom.

As Russell Moore notes in his book Onward, “[W]e are not pilgrims cringing in protective silos, waiting for the sound of trumpets in the sky. We are part of a kingdom—a kingdom we see from afar (Heb. 11:13) and a kingdom we see assembling itself all around us in miniature, in these little outposts of the future called the church.”

Like a man in a movie or a pilgrim in a book, life is always moving with time. But as we move forward chronologically, by the clock, are we moving forward spiritually?

3. Life promises no “take 2’s.”

The paparazzi snapped thousands of photos of Princess Diana throughout her lifetime, often looking for one lucrative shot. First takes in film, too, are seldom successes. Following in the footsteps of Edison, filmmakers often shoot dozens of single, few-second shots before piecing them into larger works. While re-takes make for good movies—and comedic outtakes—life offers no such luxury of the do-over. Bunyan’s allegory reminds us of the trials and temptations that can trip us up as pilgrims.

We can’t, unfortunately, rewrite yesterday’s fumbled script, walking back our missed cues and cleaning up our messed up lines. But as long as this moment is with us, we can write a better, more godward today and ending. We should, as the apostle Paul puts it, “forget[ ] what lies behind and strain[ ] forward to what lies ahead . . .  press[ing] on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13–14).

Falls and failures need not frame our final act.

4. The Light of life pierces our darkness.

The story of the Christian life is one of darkness to light. The God who “called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9) desires to use even our darkest days to cast light on the excellencies of his Son.

When all seems hopeless and lost, the Prince of Peace picks us up and plucks us from the powers of the defeated prince of darkness. He “bind[s] up the brokenhearted” and “proclaim[s] liberty to the captives.” He gives beauty for ashes and “the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit” (Is. 61:1–3).

God desires to take our worst chapters—whether our own trials or wrongs, or the evils of others hurtled at us—and redeem them for his greater glory. The best stories and plot lines, after all, have unexpected twists and turns and triumphs from tragedies.

5. Other lives will read and watch our story.

Little did Diana know, as a child, that her every move would one day be filmed and photographed, and her life painstakingly analyzed long after her death. Neither did Edison know, when assembling his primitive movie machine, that he would give the world a front row seat both to the wedding and the funeral of a princess. Nor, for that matter, did Bunyan know, while writing in prison, that the paper in his hands would become a bestseller, still in print three centuries later.

Not many Dianas and Bunyans and Edisons walk among us. But all of us, however unknown to the masses, are telling one story or another to those in our midst today. And that story, as Bunyan writes in his allegory, should tell of an enthroned King, who has “made many pilgrims princes, though by nature they were beggars born.” Or, as the psalmist puts it, “Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be created may praise the LORD” (Ps. 102:18).

Our lives today—in words spoken or written, in actions taped or displayed—can serve as godly living testaments tomorrow. Anyone with an iPhone or a GoPro might well thank Edison for that.

6. Our royal title and inheritance are secure.

Upon marrying Prince Charles, Lady Diana acquired a royal title and regal estate. But divorce would change all of that. While she retained her wedded title, princess of Wales, Diana lost the honorific title “Her Royal Highness” and much of her wealth, receiving an estimated £17 million settlement.

Few of us will bear the title prince or princess in this earthly life. But if we bear the name pilgrim, we ultimately bear a royal name, Christian, betrothed as a church to the Prince of Glory. As a “royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:9), we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17). Our inheritance is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for [us], who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet. 1:3-5).

The seal—the “patent”—belongs to a singular Prince. “In him,” we “were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (Eph. 1:13–14). The U.S. Patent Office need not certify it. The Holy Spirit alone confers it. And no man or monarch can strip or steal it.

7. The Author of life writes “The End.”

When Princess Diana stepped into a Mercedes-Benz one late summer night in 1997, she had no idea it would be the last time. Nor did Bunyan know that the Celestial City of which he wrote and belonged would beckon him home en route to his intended earthly destination of London.

Even as we may hope for “fourscore” years and beyond, our final step as pilgrims may come at any time as well. The movie of our lives, as it were, will one day conclude. The closing scene, the final curtain—“The End”—should be placed in the hands of the Author of life. “So teach us to number our days,” Moses entreated the Lord, “that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:12).

Remembering the brevity of life will help to keep us on the right trajectory of life.

A meeting in an abbey

Today, Bunyan’s body lies, decayed and decomposed, in a plot of ground somewhere in England’s countryside. His was a simple burial.

But Westminster Abbey managed to make way for the deceased author-preacher to peer into Princess Diana’s funeral. A memorial window, installed in 1912, pays tribute to Bunyan, depicting him asleep and dreaming, surrounded by scenes from The Pilgrim’s Progress. And, as the princess’ funeral drew to a close, tearful mourners sang words that may have cheered Bunyan himself:

Guide me, O thou great Redeemer,
Pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but thou art mighty,
Hold me with thy powerful hand:
Bread of heaven, bread of heaven,
Feed me now and evermore;
Feed me now and evermore.

A pauper meets a Prince

As I turn 35 this August 31, I ponder anew the lives and lessons of a princess and a pilgrim. They remind me of when, as a boy of just five, a pauper met a Prince. It’s the rags-to-riches story of all stories: a Bridegroom Prince gives his life as a ransom to rescue and redeem his sin-stained Bride—clothing her “with the garments of salvation” and covering her “with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Is. 61:10). He ushers in a truly endless royal summer, a triumph amid otherwise tragedy.

We don’t need to pass through St. Paul’s to be betrothed to royalty. The road to royal blood may well begin in a cathedral, but it ends at a cross. A set of old stained glass panes in a London abbey tells that pilgrim story well. And, best of all, it’s no fairy tale.

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