Rebelling against ingratitude

Thanksgiving for those who don't feel thankful

November 25, 2015

Some of us may not feel like entering into a season of thanksgiving and celebration, where all the happy people feel at home. Terrorist attacks, the in-your-face horrors of Planned Parenthood’s gruesomeness, plane crashes—all cause our stomachs to churn. Or, maybe you know suffering that won’t be televised, gaining the empathy of an entire nation—the loved one that struggles with relentless addiction, a terminal illness, a broken relationship, a good desire unfulfilled.

A friend of mine recently shared an article by Arthur C. Brooks, where Brooks recalls a question his wife’s family posed during one of their first Thanksgivings: “Should you celebrate this holiday even if you don’t feel grateful?”

It’s a question that many of us grapple with. It feels insincere to slap a smile on our faces, laugh with friends, and stuff our bellies with good food while feeling sad, empty and disappointed in our spirits. As Christians, we may especially wrestle with it, knowing that gratitude is demanded of us—and rightly so (Heb. 12:28-29). So, how do we deal with this?

Brooks has an interesting answer, even if solely from a psychological perspective: “Building the best life does not require fealty to feelings in the name of authenticity, but rather rebelling against negative impulses and acting right even when we don’t feel like it. In a nutshell, acting grateful can actually make you grateful.”

The wisdom of God on display

Rebelling against the negative impulses? Acting right even when we don’t feel like it? This advice, though without any biblical reference, makes me realize just how wise our God is.

Scripture often commands us to act differently than we feel and links it with being changed. We are to be transformed in our thinking (Rom. 12:1-2) and find joy in the midst of seemingly upside down things. For example, we’re called to rejoice in trials (Jam. 1:2; Rom. 5:3) and give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18). Really, Lord? All? Sometimes it seems like too heavy of a load to bear.

Brooks goes on to explore a purely physiological reason some of us may have an easier time with this. You know, those friends who see the glass half full. All. The. Time.

Beyond rotten circumstances, some people are just naturally more grateful than others. A 2014 article in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience identified a variation in a gene (CD38) associated with gratitude. Some people simply have a heightened genetic tendency to experience, in the researchers’ words, “global relationship satisfaction, perceived partner responsiveness and positive emotions (particularly love).” That is, those relentlessly positive people you know who seem grateful all the time may simply be mutants.

Again, the wisdom of God is on display. I know some of those “mutants,” and even though I sometimes roll my eyes, I wish I could be more like them. God knows how we are knit together—where we excel and where the fall has severely affected us (Ps. 103:14; 139:13). He is acquainted with our sorrows and our suffering (Isa. 53:3; Heb. 4:15).

So God, in his mercy and wisdom, has given us the means by which we can actually be changed on the inside and express genuine gratitude. He puts a new spirit within us (Ezk. 36:26) so that we become obedient from the heart (Rom. 6:17). And he does this through his precious Son (Gal. 4:4-6).

Our earthly circumstances may not be much to look at or give thanks for. In fact, they may make us want to look away. On the other hand, our circumstances may be great. We will experience a constant flux of one or the other throughout our lives. So, ultimately, it’s not our circumstances that ought to motivate our sincere thanksgiving. The Lord, who is sovereign over each ebb and flow, should.

What “holds you back from your bliss?”

We’re called to rejoice in him—the one who takes our good, bad, happy, sad and everything-in-between circumstances and uses them for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Phil. 4:4; Rom. 8:28). He is the unshakable ground for our thanksgiving and gratitude. He is the one who is thoroughly good and always does right, even when we cannot see or comprehend (Ps. 119:68). And his Spirit is the one who enables us to be grateful toward our Creator even when Satan schemes against us, the world is falling apart, and our flesh fights back.

As Brooks quotes, Stoic philosopher Epictetus is onto something, though he may not have realized just how right he was. “He is a man of sense who does not grieve for what he has not, but rejoices in what he has.” We Christians have so much. We have Christ in us, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27). We have a share in Jesus’s inheritance—one that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading (1 Pet. 1:4). We have a hundred-fold gain of whatever we’ve lost for his sake (Matt. 19:27-30). Ultimately, we have the very opposite of anything we ever deserved. We actually get what Jesus deserves. And, on top of that, we get him—the only one who can satisfy us with his steadfast love (Ps. 90:14).

So, choosing gratitude this holiday season will be a conscious belief issue for many of us—myself chief among them. Does the reality of what the Father has given us in Christ meet us in the day to day? Do we believe in his goodness? Do we grumble about what we don’t have, instead of giving thanks for what we do have? Are we choosing ingratitude (Rom. 1:21)? Do we want him, even if we have nothing else?

I need help to apply Brooks’ advice. “This Thanksgiving, don’t express gratitude only when you feel it. Give thanks especially when you don’t feel it. Rebel against the emotional ‘authenticity’ that holds you back from your bliss.” As a Christian, how much more should I seek to put this into practice?

I’m not sure what “rebellion” looks like for you this holiday season. Maybe there’s no rebellion involved because you’re enjoying a season on cloud nine. But, some of you may stare at your gratitude list for a good 10 minutes before writing anything down. Or, maybe your thanksgiving is a true sacrifice offered through bottles and bottles of tears (Heb. 13:15). As a friend commented just the other afternoon, “Sometimes, all you can muster is, ‘I believe. Help my unbelief’” (Mark 9:24).

Let’s ask the Lord to help us rebel against unbelief—not just during the holidays but all throughout the year. It is right to give thanks to our God (Ps. 92:1). He is so worthy. And though we may not see it now, our perfect, eternal holiday of celebration is just around the corner.

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