The Long Hike After Salvation

May 30, 2014

I re-watched the 1998 film Prince of Egypt with my kids recently. The film is a beautiful and moving dramatization of the Exodus, taking plenty of license to fill in narrative details where the Bible is silent. I appreciate the drama because it can help us see aspects of the story that we might miss otherwise. In this case, I was struck that when Pharaoh finally relents and lets Israel go, God won a total victory and set Israel freebut at the moment of Pharaohs surrender, the people of Israel were still in Egypt. God didnt send a whirlwind to whisk them effortlessly away. They had to get up and walk out of Egypt.

This would have been a grueling and dangerous hike. From Luxor and Thebes, the ancient capitals of Egypt, to the nearest point on the Red Sea is some 130 miles. Im an avid hiker and in good shape: if I walked all day with a light pack and no delays, I might cover a little more than 20 milesand I would be exhausted and have a hard time getting up to do the same thing the next day. With laden pack animals and children in tow, youd be lucky to cover 5 to 7 miles per day, and it would just get harder day after day.

Which means that after God set them free, the Israelites faced three or four weeks of grueling, dangerous hiking in the wilderness. Three or four weeks of hard, repetitive labor; of hunger, thirst, heat stroke, sand, and probably snakes and scorpions. Hour after hour of the simplest and most menial act: walking. For weeks on end. No wonder the Israelites grumbled about being led out of Egypt to die in the wilderness.

It must have seemed odd: God himself had just accomplished a mind-blowing act of stupendous power in overthrowing the power of Egypt. He unmade creation around the Egyptians, taking away light, slaying the animals, devouring the plants, sending hail and blood and boils, and ultimately striking down the first-born sons. Couldnt he do something about the heat? Or shorten the trip a little?

There is a curiosity at the heart of the Christian Gospel. God does it all, yet leaves a little something for us to do. We celebrate that God accomplished our salvation through Christ on the crossbut he left us here on earth still wrestling with the curse and bound to die. Our justification is complete. Our sanctification is just begun.

Ive developed the remarkable ability to complain about both aspects of this truth. Some days I want God to do more. You elected, called, regenerated, justified, and adopted me: can you please glorify me already? Why dont you come again and get this tiresome life over with? Im ready for my rapture now, Mr. DeMille.

Other days, I wish God left more for me to do. I dislike passivity and love achievement. When I reflect that God has completely accomplished my salvation, I feel a little deflated. Salvation is a glorious act. Could I get in on a little of that glory? The wonderful distinctive truth of Christianity is that our good works contribute nothing to our eternal fate. Id have made a great Hindu because its so much more flattering to believe in karma.

The first complaint is the sin of apathy and fatalism. The second is legalism and works-righteousness. The first gives up and imagines that the Christian life is about sitting around waiting for miracles. The second tries to perform them. The first expects too little of ourselves; the second, too much. The first is what we feel in the midst of trials; the second, in the midst of blessings. We are most tempted to apathy when we feel weak; legalism looks reasonable when we feel strong.

Gods act of redemption allows us neither indulgence and demands that we constantly keep watch against both. The Christian life involves ceaseless effort and striving. We are to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, and recognize that faith apart from works is dead, that we were literally created for good works, (Philippians 2:12, James 2:26, Ephesians 2:9). But the Christian life also involves surrender, dependence, and passivity. We should also be humble enough to recognize that it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure, that our good works were prepared beforehand by God that we should walk in them, and that we should be still, and know that I am God, (Philippians 2:13, Ephesians 2:10, Psalm 46:10).

I dont know why God saved us and then left us here, why there is the interim of human history between Gods redemptive acts; why he freed Israel and immediately led them on what must have felt like a death march. The only Biblically reliable answer is that this is for Gods glory and the good of his people. And we know that in our suffering we are like Christ, we learn perseverance, and we grow in our love for others.

I might also speculate that God has graciously allowed us the dignity of participating in one small step towards our sanctification and glorification because this is part of what it means to be a human made in his image. God is active, so we should be likewise: God made us persons, not puppets, and wants to save us with personhood intact (or restored), which requires a harder and longer order of salvation in which our lives, our choices, and our history matter for our sanctification. To put it another way, more Christologically, just as we image the creator by working and we image the king by having dominion, so too perhaps we image the savior by suffering–and suffering requires a life and a history and things to suffer for.

And finally, perhaps God permits us this small act of participation because in doing so we come to appreciate more fully our total incapacity to contribute to our justification. In our stories we all come to moments of despair and weakness. Israel on the road to the Red Sea and beyond more than once grumbled that they werent going to make it. In those moments we get a glimpse of how hard it can get, and thus how much God spares us from all the rest of the time. By the time the Israelites finished their hike, exhausted and weary, Im sure they knew more truly than ever that they never would have had the strength to defeat Pharaoh and win their freedom themselves. Much more so for us when we see how our own sin weakens us and works against the sanctification God has for us to work out. In those moments we recognize the true extent of our dependence on God in every aspect of our lives.

Like so many great truths of Christianitythe Trinity, the dual nature of Christthe doctrine of Gods salvation demands that we acknowledge the unresolved tension and trust that Gods word is true. We are called to be neither wholly passive nor entirely active in our salvation. In his redemptive act, God is neither manipulating a puppet nor rewarding achievement. He is saving a people.

Paul D. Miller

Paul D. Miller is a professor of the practice of international affairs at Georgetown University, a visiting professor with the American Enterprise Institute, and a research fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. 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