How College Students Can Fight for Faith

August 10, 2015

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Genesis 32. Jacob is fleeing his father-in-law Laban after spending twenty years in his household. As he flees, Jacob is anticipating meeting his elder brother Esau, whose birthright he stole prior to leaving home. The first 21 verses of chapter 32 relay Jacob’s fear of his brother Esau because of the anger he expects to find in him. Chapter 33 discusses the meeting of the two brothers, and the remarkable grace Esau extends to Jacob. Jacob’s fear and the meeting with Esau bookend the final 11 verses of chapter 32, where Jacob physically wrestles with God, seeking to obtain His blessing. It is only after this wrestling and the blessing of God that Jacob is prepared to move forward and approach Esau.

I love this passage because I see its pattern of fear, wrestling and ensuing blessing in much of life. Perhaps more than any other time in our lives, this Genesis 32 model applies to the college years for young Christians. As a rising junior at a large public university, I have experienced this pattern of fear, wrestling and blessing in my own life. I believe that my experiences and relationships have given me insight into some of the biggest inhibitors to faith for college students.

I have seen two primary forces in the college experience that sidetrack, and in many cases, derail, the faith of Christian students: the persistent and ubiquitous presence of doubt and the constant affirmation and promotion of a self-centered lifestyle. An understanding of both of these forces sheds light on the lies that students believe and leads to a deeper understanding of the God who enables his children to grow in their relationship with Him through their earnest wrestling.

The inevitability of doubt

From the day I stepped on campus, I began to learn that doubt is at the very core of the college student’s life. I experienced this with the people I encountered during my first month at school. When weeks passed and I did not immediately find a group of friends that I wanted to identify with, the self-doubt set in. I think this is an experience that resonates with many students.

Though including doubt regarding the nature and presence of God, the doubt in the mind of the college student extends far beyond that. College provides an endless source of questions, some trivial and some important: Do I fit in here? Do I have the right clothes? Who do I spend my time with? What will people think if I eat dinner by myself in the dining hall? What am I going to do with my life? They are endless and persistent. All this questioning can lead to doubt within, including doubting the nature and presence of God. The pervasive presence of doubt challenges even the strongest confidence in the truth of the gospel.

The lure of the self-centered life

Additionally, college is inherently a self-centered time of life. It’s designed to be a time to prepare yourself for your future, and so it should be. However, this necessary focus on bettering yourself creates a deeply self-serving lifestyle. The good of learning and developing skills frequently degenerates into grade competition, resume’ padding and activities and connections pursued because they look good.

In this environment, the self becomes far more salient than all others. This is entirely contrary to the truth of the gospel. The teaching of the Bible, in the words of 1 Corinthians is that you are not your own. And the very nature of Jesus is self-sacrificing. The dichotomy between the self-serving nature of college and the self-denying nature of the gospel produces a serious conflict in the minds of college students.

The honest way to wrestle with doubts

These are both issues that college students, myself included, need to wrestle with deeply, praying for the Lord to bless our wrestling. How can we honestly wrestle with the temptations doubts and self-centeredness present during our college years and remain in a posture of dependence on and trust in God?

It is necessary to recognize that uncertainty is not exclusive to Christianity. You should not abandon Christianity solely on the basis of uncertainty or doctrinal questions because those are not qualities produced by Christianity, Instead, they are qualities that are intrinsic to human nature. Whatever alternative you choose will also produce deep uncertainty and questions; whatever doctrine you accept (and you will accept one) will have its grey areas. As Tim Keller puts it in his introduction to The Reason for God, “The only way to doubt Christianity rightly and fairly is to discern the alternate belief under each of your doubts and then to ask yourself what reasons you have for believing it.”

We can pursue answers to our questions without our faith depending on finding them. But, what do we need to understand about God to help us do that? College students need to believe that the God of the Bible is big enough to speak contrary to their beliefs. He is not merely an advocate for specific issues; He is a God of the fathomless, eternal big picture. Instead of specifically speaking to most of the issues that confront us daily, His teaching and His story tell us the nature of God, the truth about the fallenness of man, and the story of redemption, providing us with truth of cosmic proportions.

When college students come to know a God who is a moralist do-gooder, they find a God too small and unworthy to correct them. When college students come to know a God whose truth, rooted in the gospel, touches every issue and extends far beyond any single issue, they find the one true and worthy God, the only one big enough to contradict them.

Praise God that He does not begin and end with an issue; instead, He begins and ends with love and truth, the reality for which college students are perpetually yearning. May the college years not cause us to turn away from the truth we crave but instead lead us to wrestle with God through our questions, finding Him in that wrestling.

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