Thanksgiving Day every day

November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Day, commonly marked by celebrations with family, friends, feasts, and football, is one of those holidays rooted in tradition and firmly embedded in the American experience. Turkey may well be the staple fare, but gratitude is the dressing that makes the meal. It’s a table inviting to all.

But for the follower of Jesus, every day, not just the fourth Thursday in November, ought to be a day of thanksgiving and remembrance. We are called to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18), whether in feast or famine. We should, like the psalmist, “remember the deeds of the LORD” and his “wonders of old,” “ponder[ing] all [his] work, and meditat[ing] on [his] mighty deeds” (Ps. 77:11-12).

Perhaps no one has demonstrated a heart of gratitude better than the Apostle Paul. To the church in Philippi he wrote: “I thank my God in all remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Phil. 1:3-5). The church persecutor-turned-apostle opened his letters to the believers in Ephesus and Colossae and to his fellow laborer Philemon with similar thanks-filled words and equal joyful candor.

And he did so, remarkably, from prison.

Friends across the ocean

Two millennia later, here in the “land of the free,” my mind turns back this Thanksgiving, in remembrance and thanksgiving to God, to some special people I’ve encountered along my journey as well. Family and friendships born in the American context immediately flood my thoughts, of course. But I’m thinking in particular about some newfound friends—brothers and sisters—whom I met across an ocean, over in the Middle East, not long ago.

The calendar reads August. I, along with a small team from my church, have just arrived in the hot Middle Eastern sun, safely distanced from mortar fire and the clear and present dangers of ISIS, to minister to a band of believers heavily persecuted for their faith in the Lord Jesus. Our team of seven—six adults and a one-year-old child—would spend a week teaching, worshiping with, and seeking to encourage a gathering of two dozen believers. This would mark my third trip of its kind in four years.

These converts from Islam, a few of whom I had met on previous trips, are well acquainted with suffering, I soon realize. Many of them cannot get preferred jobs on account of their faith. None are free to speak of Christ openly or to worship with other believers congregationally. One has not experienced fellowship with other believers in more than a decade. Another, a young woman in her 20s, has endured beatings and broken bones from a Muslim brother. Several have been detained and imprisoned for their faith. Others are blacklisted from and barred return to their native land. Theirs is a homeland downright hostile, not merely inhospitable, to anyone bearing the name Christian.

The Apostle Paul’s declaration that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12), I ponder, must mean something altogether different to them than to what I’ve known under a free church and a First Amendment. Christ’s admonition to the church in Smyrna to “be faithful unto death” (Rev. 2:10) surely carries pronounced meaning in their daily lives. Their testimonies of affliction and abuse, after all, sound more like harrowing scenes from first-century churches in Asia Minor than from the Christianity to which the church in America is accustomed.

A profound joy in suffering

Yet, noticeably, none of these beleaguered saints initiates talk of his or her own plight. Only point-blank questioning yields distressing insights. Instead, I find, all possess a “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7), and “rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Pet. 1:8). Theirs is the kind of joy the world promises, in fame and fortune, yet fails to deliver. They, like Moses, have “considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt,” for they are “looking to the reward” found in a crucified and coming King (Heb. 11:26). They gaze, beamingly, heavenward toward an inheritance ultimately theirs.

Much like what I shared following my first Middle East trip among Muslim-background believers, I witnessed worship without performance, a joy that could not be measured, and a thirst for the Word that could not be quenched. They gathered for Bible study sessions early and stayed late. I was the real student.

Then, building to crescendo, our week together concluded with a touchstone event: a wedding, two of the persecuted believers uniting their lives as one. The bride and groom, in fact, insisted that our team of Americans—people whom they had never met—organize the trans-Atlantic trip to align with the wedding day. And the seven of us, once strangers from the States, were welcomed as the guests of honor. It was a wedding and a feast, days long in preparation, I shall never forget.

Sitting here back across the Atlantic, on the eve of Thanksgiving, I can’t help but think that such an ending to our journey, a wedding, was only fitting, a picture of an “already, but not yet” kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ and his bride, the church, for whom he laid down his life.

The love letter of Almighty God to sinful man, after all, closes with the wedding of all weddings, “the marriage of the Lamb” featuring the once slain but now risen and reigning Lamb, King Jesus, and his bride, the church, rescued and redeemed (Rev. 19:7). The invitations have been printed, and a world full of strangers—as I once was—with nothing to offer but garments stained by sin, have been invited to share in that altar and taste of that feast. That’s good news. Indeed, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9).

Yes, I have much to be grateful for this Thanksgiving. So does everyone else, for that matter, who has received “such a great salvation” in faith and repentance (Heb. 2:3).

Today and every day, let’s thank God for this indescribable gift, blood-bought by his Son, the Lord Jesus. Let’s thank him upon every remembrance of our brothers and sisters suffering persecution in the Middle East and around the globe. Let’s “remember their chains” (Col. 4:18). And, above all, let’s not neglect to extend an invitation to all who are thirsty to “come” and to “take the water of life without price” (Rev. 22:17).

There’s plenty of room at the table. Thanks be to God.

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