Grieving with hope after another tragedy

February 15, 2018

Yesterday we witnessed another mass shooting. As students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., were preparing for the end of another school day, a lone gunman entered the building and opened fire, and in an instant their lives were changed forever. Another school shooting. Another horrific tragedy.

I watched on television from my office as the events on the ground unfolded in real time. I stood there, grieved and horrified, watching in disbelief as the news anchor set forth the details. First there were reports of serious injuries, and then numerous fatalities. And in those moments, witnessing a scene that has become too familiar, I felt a few well-known emotions welling up inside of me.

It’s not a secret that tragedy evokes our strongest emotions. But beyond my sense of grief and horror, the strongest emotion I experienced in those moments was fear; not so much a fear related to the physical safety of myself or the people I love most (although certainly that to a lesser degree), but fear concerning the question that I knew countless thousands, if not millions, of people would ask themselves after learning of these events. In the face of unspeakable acts of violence, many people will ask: How can a good God let this happen?

It’s not the actual answer to that question that fills me with fear and dread. It is my awareness that in the middle of such tragedies, many people will rightly recognize the evil in the world for what it is yet wrongly conclude that such a world could not exist under the watchful care of an all-powerful and benevolent God. My is fear that their grief and horror and outrage will drive them farther from grace. But in addition, I am also fearful in these circumstances as I anticipate the cheap, rote answers that some of my fellow believers will put forth to assuage these concerns.

Evil presents difficult questions. How indeed can a good God allow the world to be so violent and cruel? Such a question deserves no pat response. And the truth is, that isn’t what people are even looking for. They don’t want easy answers, and that is good, because the church really doesn’t have any. During times of apparent suffering or tragedy, we are often quick to remind those who are hurting that “God works all things together for good.” But even this assertion that seems so straightforward and simple is neither easy nor cheap. Yes, God is working together all things for good. But at the very center of this tapestry of “good” that God is knitting together are two, perpendicular, blood-soaked pieces of wood.

The ache of our hearts and the pain in our souls bears witness to the truth: things are not supposed to be this way.

Our world was so broken and our hearts were so evil that we could not be saved, and the creation could not be redeemed, apart from Christ. The gospel is a message of love and redemption, but it is founded upon the suffering of God’s Son. And even as Jesus “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,” he promised that those who would be his disciples will live lives of bearing crosses, experiencing afflictions and tribulations, and following him in his suffering (2 Tim. 1:10; Luke 9:23; Acts 14:22). Jesus himself taught us that the presence of suffering is no sign of God’s absence, nor is the presence of evil a sign of God’s indifference.

In the aftermath of a tragedy, we look to reason. We seek to understand the various details in order to find peace and move on. But sometimes, indeed it is often the case that acts of violence and tragedy are beyond our ability to rationalize or comprehend. Still, there is more good news. Our hope is not based on our understanding. There are many things about yesterday’s events that we may never fully grasp. Still, we can grieve with hope, not because we understand, but because we know. “I know whom I have believed,” the Apostle Paul declared (2 Tim. 1:12). It wasn’t that Paul understood how each trial and hardship fit into God’s plan: indeed much of his pain remained a mystery to him (2 Cor. 12:7-8). Rather, Paul was filled with hope in the midst of suffering because Paul knew God. He did the only thing he could do, entrusted his suffering and his soul to a faithful Creator. And in the face of tragedy, often we can do nothing more.

Days like yesterday, we feel the full force of the curse’s sting. But even there, in the midst of our grief, in the midst of the deepest sorrow and pain and despair, we experience the longing for redemption. The ache of our hearts and the pain in our souls bears witness to the truth: things are not supposed to be this way. Ultimately, our response to these tragedies shouldn’t be to question God’s goodness, but to beg for his mercy and to extend his comfort to those who are suffering unbearably. These are the birth pangs. In our darkest moments and our lowest points, may God give us grace to place our hope where it belongs, in his promise of redemption.

When we speak to tragedies, we don’t need easy answers. We never need to minimize pain or explain away evil. We need the gospel. Even now, our God is working. He makes beauty from ashes. He brings light out of darkness. And he brings peace to chaos. Even as we grieve, we can remain full of hope because we know whom we have believed. And he is making all things new.

Josh Wester

Joshua B. Wester is the lead pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. Read More by this Author

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