Finding the (United) Kingdom of God in a graveyard

October 28, 2016

Kings and queens. Castles and crowns. Monarchs and majesties. A journey through the United Kingdom’s storied history is one rich in royal blood. To travel her winding roads by book is insightful. Yet to trod those well-worn paths in bodily experience is uniquely transformational.

What I encountered on a recent trip far surpassed everything chroniclers had helped me to imagine. Not merely a kingdom conquered by a soldier’s sword and kept by a sovereign’s scepter. Nor one flowing only from the English Channel to north of the Isle of Man. I experienced the kingdom of God.

And I found it in a graveyard.

This was a solo journey, a welcome respite from the Washington routine. Sure, I met many friendly locals and fellow travelers along the way. And I quickly learned how to drive on the left side of the road, from the right side of the car, while left-hand shifting a six-speed gearbox. But I found company, too, in rather unexpected places. Not in entry lines and eateries, nor over tea and scones, but instead in sand and stone, in marble and monument.

The first cemetery was hidden and hard to find. Homes populated the perimeter, and overgrown shrubs canvassed the weathered walls. I had been just steps away from the burial grounds’ latched gate—even passing it several times—unaware.

Five minutes at the foot of G.K. Chesterton’s modest marker would suffice. Stones, everyone knows, don’t speak. Only the rustle of leaves in the crisp autumn breeze broke the solitary silence. No gallery of gawkers or teary-eyed mourners to contend with. No Stonehenge charters on stopover to snap selfies beside a stone etched “Chesterton,” either. Not that I expected any.

This was, after all, a plot of earth reserved for the bones of a writer and thinker of the Christian tradition—a man who set voyage into eternity just days after the Queen Mary first made hers across the Atlantic. Eighty years later, people move on. Other ships sail.

Something, though, about the stillness stayed with me. And so it was a day later, in a church graveyard on the outskirts of Oxford.

A Lion ‘on the move’

C.S. Lewis rests, in the minds of many, in larger memory than Chesterton. Even so, the November 22, 1963, death of the author and professor affectionately known as “Jack” remains hidden, it seems, in the shadow of the same-day death of another Jack—John F. Kennedy.

But as I stood in mid-day quietness at the grave of England’s Jack—himself no president or king, just United Kingdom-born—others, I detected, had ventured by. A lion figurine atop the flat cut of stone distinguished Lewis’ from the others. Uniquely set apart, I reflected. The man who guided untold masses to Mere Christianity and led many through the enchanted land of Narnia had himself traveled on, into that otherworldly wardrobe.

Yet Aslan, reassuringly, stood watch—still, as Lewis would say, “on the move.” I reflected beyond Lewis’ stone to the Living Stone (1 Pet. 2:4). Struck with awe and wonder, I felt, at once, like Narnia’s storybook Pevensie children in the presence of an otherworldly lion: both “glad and quiet[,] and it didn’t seem awkward” for me “to stand and say nothing.”

And in the stillness, atop the stone, amid a rising sun, came forth a sound, inaudible and indescribable—as if out of the mane of a tender yet triumphant Lion from another kingdom. A still, small voice.

If the dead could speak

My respite to the royal kingdom had quickly become a solo tour of the living among the many dead. Up through England and into Scotland—from the Bath Abbey and York Minster to St. Andrews’ greens and Edinburgh’s ruins—I stumbled upon stone after stone, tomb after tomb. They were the celebrated and scorned, the long remembered and fast forgotten. Kings and queens, knights and nobles, poets and princes—all of them definitively . . . dead.

But their markers said much. Not the epitaphs, but the dashes. Each small line separating dates born and died, I pondered, contains a story—some profound, others common; some long, others short. Yet each a life. Each created as an image-bearer of God. And all still very much alive, beyond the grave, eternally rescued and transferred into the kingdom of light or forever captive of the domain of darkness (Col. 1:13–14; 1 Pet. 2:9–10).

Fellow pilgrims in the graveyard

My more than 1,000-mile journey ended not far from where I had started. London’s Westminster Abbey would mark a final window. And it was the memorial window to John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress and a man of whom I had previously written, that I most wanted to see. But only after walking the entire abbey, and asking two guides to point it out, did I find the glass. I had passed it as I entered, unaware, as though it were hidden. How could I have missed it? I wondered.

Gazing at the stained glass panes depicting a pilgrim’s journey, I thought back on my own United Kingdom pilgrimage. My mind flashed back to the middle of my trip, to a Sunday in St. Andrews, sitting in church pews among two evangelical congregations—a worship gathering in the morning and a second in the evening. And though our dialects were distinctly different, our spiritual dialects are the same—that of a shared King, of another kingdom. “For if we have been united with him in a death like his,” I remembered, “we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom. 6:5). We worshipped, Scottish and American alike, as part of a truly united kingdom—the kingdom of God.

Proclamations of the King

I thought back to those moments in the shadow of death, among Chesterton and Lewis. And I thought back further still to kings who reigned before them—and before the United Kingdom was born into existence. “The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all” (Ps. 103:19), declared David.

“My kingdom,” proclaimed the King of kings, who sits on David’s throne, “is not of this world” (John 18:36). God the Father himself declared of his Son, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom” (Heb. 1:8). In this King, the God-Man Jesus Christ, “the mystery hidden for ages and generations” is “now revealed to his saints” (Col. 1:26). And people “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages,” will one day stand and worship before his throne (Rev. 7:9–10).

I had been traveling, all those British miles, through an already-but-not-yet kingdom.

The road to the royal kingdom

Today many of the United Kingdom’s dead lie side by side in body, covered by dirt and marked by stone, yet live in spirit kingdoms apart. A difficult road and narrow gate determine the difference (Matt. 7:13–14).

The well-worn road to royal robes runs rich in royal blood. A rolled-back stone, beyond a cross of suffering for sin, marks the only entry. And the grave’s righteous Door (John 10:9), reminds a since-passed pilgrim named Paul, “is actually not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27), his Spirit-breathed Book the all-sufficient guide (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:20–21).

A still, small voice echoing that of this conquering King calls out from his royal kingdom, beyond the English Channel and the Isle of Man, to the wayward, searching soul with a wondrous word of hope: “You’re close,” he says. “I am just around the corner.”

A tender, triumphant—talking—Lion of Judah is, indeed, on the move. His voice—the accent of this cornerstone, living and precious (1 Pet. 2:4–8)—is unmistakable. He knows the way—and is the way (John 14:6)—both to his empty graveyard and into his everlasting united kingdom.

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