How the Incarnation gives us hope amidst the chaos

December 18, 2017

Each Advent season, I find myself reading through a Gospel. There is just something about revisiting the story of Jesus in the weeks leading up to Christmas that is good for my soul. This year, I’ve been especially helped by that practice as I reflect back on the tumultuous events of 2017.

Chaos and conflict

This has been a year of chaos and conflict. Natural disasters brought on devastating flooding in Houston and Puerto Rico, historic wildfires in northern California, and earthquakes, monsoons, and mudslides that affected or displaced countless thousands of people across the globe. Add to this the acts of terror we’ve witnessed this year, including bombings, multiple mass shootings, and vehicular assaults, all of which have heightened our collective sense of fear. And as we wind down the year, we do so beneath the looming shadow of a very public confrontation with the disturbing, predatory culture of sexual aggression that has for too long defined many of our nation’s most preeminent institutions. All of this, without mentioning the unceasing chaos of politics in our divided and uncertain time.

These things take their toll on us. After receiving word of another shooting, witnessing the devastation of a violent storm, watching the next prominent figure be publicly disgraced, or experiencing any number of personal tragedies, we are repeatedly forced to grapple again with common questions. We ask how God could let this happen. We ask how much more we can take. We ask who is next. And in all of this, we search desperately for some reason not to despair.

In the wake of such a difficult year, one filled with so much brokenness and so much pain, the most pressing question that arises is also very simple: is there any hope?

Nothing reminds us of the brokenness of our world like tragedy. And sadly, tragedy is all around us. In ways both big and small, our lives are filled with constant, and often painful, reminders that something isn’t right; things aren’t they way they are supposed to be. In the wake of such a difficult year, one filled with so much brokenness and so much pain, the most pressing question that arises is also very simple: is there any hope?

Advent and Incarnation

Every year, as we take stock of the events that mark the past and make our plans for the days ahead, Advent comes around again. In God’s providence, the very time of year when we are most inclined to reflect and remember is full of reminders of the coming of Jesus. This is not by accident.

As a millenial who didn’t grow up celebrating Advent, I find the practice to be both strange and important. Advent is strange because it signifies a period of waiting. Anyone who has spent more than five minutes with a millennial—myself included—is aware that we aren’t accustomed to waiting for anything. So, I find the practice strange because it runs against the grain. Coincidentally, this is the same reason I believe it is so important.

Advent is a season of waiting and expectation. As we count down the days to Christmas, these weeks are filled with anticipation. And in the midst of our year-end reflections, Advent points us toward a hope that transcends even the worst of circumstances. Jesus was born into chaos so that he might bring peace.

Jesus, after all, was not delivered in a hospital room or even inside of someone's home. Instead, he made his entrance into the world among the beasts of a manger. And as an infant, he and his parents fled to a faraway country, seeking refuge from a wicked despot who sought to take his life. At the Incarnation, God’s perfect Son came into our broken world to become Emmanuel—God with us.

Our waiting isn’t in vain

It is fitting that the biggest question brought on by tragedy is answered at the incarnation. This is because the sense of waiting and anticipation we feel at Advent is similar to the longing and expectation born out of tragedy. In the midst of our darkest days and deepest sorrows, we long for respite and relief. More than that, we long for a time when these horrible events that mark our years will finally come to an end—an end to cancer, an end to sexual assault, an end to earthquakes and hurricanes, an end to racial hatred, and an end to violence of every kind. Advent teaches us that our waiting is not in vain.

We all experience days when the darkness seems too strong, and hope feels far away. The Incarnation reminds us that light has pierced that darkness and has become our living hope (John 1:5; 1 Pet. 1:3). There is an infinite amount of hope bound up in the Incarnation. No matter how desperate the circumstance or deep the darkness, nothing is more powerful than the truth that, in Jesus, God came for us.

Jesus took on flesh and suffered a brutal death on the cross so that our suffering might come to an end. Even now, he is still Emmanuel, and he is with us in every moment of our pain. As we long for deliverance, we remember Jesus’ coming. Though the world is full of darkness, Jesus is the true light who has come into the world. Though we are tempted to despair, we remember Jesus is our blessed hope. And though we struggle in this life, we eagerly await the fulfilment of his promise, that surely he is coming soon (Rev. 22:20).

Even when life is most peaceful, there is never any shortage of evidence to remind us of how fallen and broken things are. Reading through the Gospels each year at Advent reminds me that Jesus literally stepped into our brokenness. I’m not sure there is a better hope than that.

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