How should Christians respond to the recent tragedies in California?

November 14, 2018

If you’ve grown up in California as I have or lived here any number of years, then seeing, hearing about, and smelling fires becomes a fairly regular thing. I’ve woken up multiple times to find soot on my car from a nearby fire, to find myself outside when ash is falling from the sky, or to see the sunlight turn red from the smoke.

Then, there are fires like the ones we are seeing right now. As of the writing of this article, the death toll for the Camp Fire in northern California has risen to 42, making it the deadliest wildfire in the state’s history. Currently, more than 52,000 people have been evacuated while the fire has destroyed over 6,400 homes and 260 other structures. Around 228 people remain missing.

Multiple fires are also blazing in southern California. The biggest one, the Woolsey Fire, has burned over 91,000 acres, destroyed 370 structures, and killed two people. This brings the statewide death count from these fires to 44. And both fires are still only about 30 percent contained.

On top of the fires, California is also reeling from a deadly mass shooting last Wednesday at the Country Music Bar in Thousand Oaks during the bar’s “College Country Night!”. Many in attendance were between the ages of 18-24. A 28-year-old gunman entered the bar, set off a smoke bomb, then shot and killed 12 while wounding several others before killing himself. His motive is still unknown. Several of those who were there that night, including one victim, had also survived the deadly shooting in Las Vegas last October.

In response to such horrendous tragedies, what are we as Christians supposed to do? What can we even say?

The problem of evil

Albert Mohler, in his Briefing podcast Monday morning, astutely pointed out that both of these headlines demonstrate the two major kinds of evil: moral evil (evil perpetrated by a moral agent like a person, such as with the mass shooting) and natural evil (evil that results from natural events, like fires or earthquakes). Try as we might with our limited vocabulary, ‘evil’ seems to be the only word which captures enough gravitas to communicate the moral weight of what has taken place. Even then, we have to qualify ‘evil’ with words like ‘heinous’ or ‘egregious.’

In the wake of such events, morality is inescapable. Even in our modern, secular culture, no person would be able to maintain a relativistic morality in the face of such tragedies without immediately losing credibility. This goes back to the image of God in each person. We are all created moral beings with moral responsibilities. We all maintain and act according to a system of morality whether we will admit it or not.

As Christians, we understand that both kinds of evil have a common root—sin. Genesis 3 tells us that when sin entered the world, it led to the corruption of both human nature and creation itself. It separated us from God and distorted our relationships with one another. Genesis 4 paints no clearer picture of this than when Cain murdered Abel.

Yet, we must also remember not just the origins of evil but also the solution which God has provided through the gospel. Because of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, God opened a way for the root of moral evil to be dealt with—our redemption through the forgiveness of sins (2 Cor. 5:17, Rom. 6:6).

The gospel also brings with it hope for the future. We still live in a world where the effects of sin are palpably present in the actions of others, in the created order, and in our own lives. We await a future in which true justice reigns under the authority of Christ, and everything is made right in the new heavens and new earth, when God will, “wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away" (Rev. 21:4). We are told in the next verse that these words are trustworthy and true. Ultimately, our hope rests in the perfect God who has promised this will come to pass.

Until then, we groan, and creation along with us (Rom. 8:18-23), because we know that things aren’t the way they are supposed to be.

What can we do?

In the midst of these tragedies, we should never cease to do several things:

  1. Pray. Even as our culture grows more hostile toward prayer after tragedies, let’s not waver in our commitment to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17, Rom. 12:12). We should pray that God would comfort the victims and for guidance in how we might respond to this situation.
  2. Be hospitable and generous (Rom. 12:13). If you live near one of the affected areas, open your home to a family who needs a temporary place to stay, or have a family over for a home-cooked meal. If you are able, give financially to a trusted organization to help provide relief to those suffering because of these tragedies.
  3. Mourn with those who mourn (Rom. 12:15). Even if we struggle with answering the big questions in the face of evil, we should always be physically and emotionally present to comfort those who need comfort (2 Cor. 1:3-4).
  4. Love. All of the above suggestions (and many more which I failed to mention) can be summed up in the command to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31). However the Spirit is moving in your heart to respond to these tragedies, be obedient to his voice, trusting that he will give you the ability to accomplish what he has given you to do.

Neal Hardin

Neal Hardin grew up in Murrieta, CA before getting his BS in Metallurgical Engineering from the University of Utah in 2012. Following that, he worked as an engineer for 4 years at a steel mill before the Lord called him to pursue a seminary education in 2016. Neal is currently a … 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