How remembering the importance of our souls changes our outlook during a pandemic

April 23, 2020

Much has been said in Christian circles lately to remind us that the current viral crisis presents us with a novel set of particular problems, but it by no means changes one of our general problems: unless the Lord tarries, we shall all face death. We are confronted with a new way to die—and to suffer before we do—but the certainty of death and suffering has been present the whole time. These are healthy reminders. They should be at the forefront of our minds at all times, regardless of pandemics, and they should be woven throughout every presentation we make of the gospel. 

But there is another aspect worth considering that often escapes our notice: the importance of viewing ourselves not just as bodies but as spiritual beings who have a soul as well. 

There is a tendency in our modern era of brain imaging, scientific reductionism, and naturalistic evolutionary explanations to think that a person is nothing but a body. The traditional Christian teaching that humanity was created a little lower than the angels has been supplanted by a view that says we are just a little higher than the apes. The belief that we are “soulish creatures” has been at the heart of Christian teaching about the nature of humanity since the beginning, but today we are told that believing in a spiritual aspect to our nature is out of step with modern science. There are good answers to these modern challenges to Christian teaching, but let us instead take a few minutes to reflect on the importance of the classic Christian perspective in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.[1]

It is natural, when faced with mortal threats to the body, to focus on protection from them as our immediate and most pressing concern. The danger, however, is to lose sight of something equally important; indeed, if we are to believe Jesus Christ, infinitely more important. When discussing the various fears that beset humanity—things like hunger, lack of shelter and clothing, and even persecution—Jesus snaps our attention back to what matters most. “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matt. 10:28). It is vitally important to remember that the death of our body is not the end. It is not the end of us. 

Surely it is a good thing to have a body, and one day after we shed these mortal coils we will be clothed with imperishable ones. Our bodies were made by God, and having a body is how we flourish—it’s part of God’s plan for us to be embodied creatures, not only in the present life but also in the eternal kingdom to come. That is our hope and stay; without the resurrection Christianity is an empty faith and a deep deception. That is why the resurrection plays such a central role in Paul’s description of Christianity in 1 Corinthians 15. In that passage he argues that if there is no resurrection of the body, our hope is in vain. Paul reminds us that this body, which he calls our “earthly tent,” will be replaced. Yet we will not be left naked—disembodied spirits floating in the clouds—but will be further clothed by God in a “heavenly dwelling” that does not decay (2 Cor. 5:2). “We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord,” Paul says, “and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:6–8). So while our bodies are important, we are more than just our bodies. Our spirits will persist even after the body has died, and will one day be embodied again.

What is needed today is the medicine this perspective offers. Remembering that we are spiritual beings changes our outlook in several ways. 

In these times when death and uncertainty stalk our globe, let us embrace and proclaim the important truth that we are more than our bodies. We would do well in these days, as Peter teaches us, to “entrust [our] souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”

First, it undermines the common attitude that science can solve all of our problems. Even if a vaccine for COVID-19 becomes available tomorrow, and even if we can treat everyone who is currently infected and prevent their deaths, there are more serious issues that no physical remedies can help with. Our immediate problems concern the body and its health, but our spiritual problems can only have a spiritual cure. That cure is offered by the work of Jesus Christ and is only available to those who join the invisible Church—a hospital for sinners and the only place a remedy is available. As important as the work of scientists is, their greatest accomplishments will be of no ultimate help on this front. Our problems are not all physical, so our solutions can’t be either. 

Second, it provides the best motivation for seeking a cure for the virus to begin with. Unless our view of humanity is buttressed by an understanding of our spiritual nature, it is nearly impossible to adequately establish the value of human persons and why it is important to save lives. As J. P. Moreland says, “There is a deep connection between the reality of the human soul and the sort of high, intrinsic value human persons possess.”[2] That is, without belief in the soul, it becomes difficult to provide a philosophical justification for the very task of directing science to a cure. Why should the death of a few more animals (which is all humans are in the secular materialist view) be of so much importance? What could ground the belief we all share that every life matters? Not only would science be unable to solve all our problems, it is difficult to see why it should even try. The Christian view of humanity is uniquely positioned to explain why we think the scientific effort is worth it in the first place. 

Finally, it motivates us to brace ourselves for the afterlife. It is appointed for all of us to die, and after that to stand before God’s righteous judgment of the life we lived in these bodies (Heb. 9:27). As C. S. Lewis said, “You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”[3] The body will die, but the soul will not. Thinking of humans as spiritual creatures protects us from the deception that physical death is the end of our existence. 

In a passage where he predicted his own death, Jesus asked, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?” (Mark 8:36–37) In these times when death and uncertainty stalk our globe, let us embrace and proclaim the important truth that we are more than our bodies. We would do well in these days, as Peter teaches us, to “entrust [our] souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Pet. 4:19).


  1. ^ For those who are interested, I address some of these in my upcoming book, God on the Brain (Crossway, July 2020).
  2. ^  J.P. Moreland, The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why It Matters, (Moody Publishers, 2014), p. 15.
  3. ^ C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (HarperOne, 2001), p. 46.

Bradley L. Sickler

Bradley L. Sickler (Ph.D., Purdue University) is associate professor of philosophy and the program director for the master of arts in theological studies program at the University of Northwestern St. Paul in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is the author of the forthcoming book, God on the Brain: What Cognitive Science Does … 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