What Isaiah’s prophecies can teach our children this Advent season

December 3, 2020

If you’ve had kids and know how they make all sorts of requests, then you’ll also know the favorite parental answer: “Maybe; we’ll see.” When one of our sons was four and received this reply, he said to my wife, “Just say, ‘Yes,’ mom, that’s much better.”

Yet saying “No,” often feels like better parenting. I find myself occupied with protecting my kids from whatever might harm them. We’re vigilant because the dangers are real: the risks of social media, of online pornography, of politically-correct indoctrination, of bad friends, etc. We don’t want our kids to be hurt physically, spiritually, or emotionally. So we teach our children what (and why and how) to say “No” to ungodly worldviews, actions, and temptations.

Yet the impulse to say “No”—to keep distance between those we love and what God hates, must be joined by the impulse to say “Yes”—to keep together what God loves and sin separates. Ever since the fall, sin has created division. Like a wedge, it has put distance between God and humanity, between humans and the natural order, and between human beings themselves. 

Lessons from Isaiah

Yet through Christ, God is restoring all that sin ruined. He’s uniting in Christ what sin divided. That’s not only the message of Ephesians, for example. It’s also a lesson we find in the prophecy of Isaiah.

 Let’s help the next generation take in the vastness of God’s work and Word—a plan that spans spiritual and physical, old and new, encompassing both justice and mercy.

The book of Isaiah is packed with prophecies about Jesus the Messiah. Some examples, especially familiar at Christmastime, include Isaiah 7:14; 9:6; 11:1–2; 25:8; 40:2–5,11; 53:1–6. I hope you’ll take time to discuss some of them with your family this Advent season. As you read, notice what Isaiah’s prophesies are doing, uniting what we might tend to keep apart.

  1. Connecting the spiritual and the physical. Isaiah’s prophesies speak of virgins,  infants, trees, and fruit, wolves, lions, roads, and roots, mountains, valleys, flocks, and shepherds. God is at work in the real world. Sometimes our Bible lessons might seem like God is only interested in character qualities or spiritual truths, but he came to Earth as a real human with hunger pains, tear ducts, sweat glands, and blood vessels—to save real humanity. If we talk to our kids as if God and Jesus and the Bible are good for the invisible world—for the heavenly realm—but not for real life, then we’re not only miscommunicating God’s Word, we may also be communicating that what God says is not real. Instead, let’s help our children see that God’s Word describes the real world.
  2. Connecting the Old Testament prophecies to the coming Messiah. When the New Testament authors quote the Old Testament, they cite it as the very Word of God. It’s not just that God said something (in the past tense), but that he continues to speak through those ancient Scriptures (in the present tense) today. For example, Matthew writes that Isaiah “says” (Matt. 13:14 citing Isa. 6:9); Luke writes that the prophet Isaiah “says” (Acts 7:48–49 citing Isa. 66:1–2), and Paul writes that Isaiah “says” (Rom. 10:11 citing Isa. 28:16). When we read Isaiah to our families, we hear him pointing to the Messiah. And we hear God speaking to us today. As such, the Bible has never mainly been a book that we examine. Instead, it’s always been a book that examines us. So as you read Isaiah to your family, remind them that all of God’s Word, both Old and New Testaments, speaks to us today with God’s own authority.
  3. Connecting actions and accountability. Some of Isaiah’s most striking prophecies contain stunning metaphors of judgment. A stubborn donkey refusing to obey (1:2–3); the stench of rotten fruit (5:1–2); a tree stripped of its fruit (17:6); a swimmer attempting a run away from God (25:11). Isaiah paints dark and terrible pictures of the person who rebels against God. If the sinner does not turn back, he will face judgment, the kind that is as terrible as it is unavoidable. There’s an unbreakable connection, then, that exists between the responsibility of human actions and the justice of God’s response. If somehow we paper over this livewire, we neglect to serve the next generation well. Yet even this does not cover the breadth of his plan.
  4. Connecting weakness with strength, freedom with forgiveness. Isaiah’s prophesies startle us not just in their statements of judgment but in their promises of mercy. Who among us would ever have created a hero who is also weak and unattractive, disfigured and despised (52:14–53:3)? Yet this is the One who saves the day—a baby, not a warrior (7:14), a tiny shoot out of the dry ground (11:1–2; 53:2). Our human nature wants the mighty and majestic to win. That’s why we feel good about ourselves on our good days, and bad on our bad days. We traffic in the currency of what we feel we’ve earned. Yet the one who came in weakness and misery meets us where we actually are. We don’t have to become strong to meet the Strong One; and we don’t have to become attractive to access the Beautiful One. He meets us and forgives us not because of who we are or what we deserve. Therefore his forgiveness is completely free—wine and milk without money and without cost (55:1).

So let’s keep together what God has put together. Let’s help the next generation take in the vastness of God’s work and Word—a plan that spans spiritual and physical, old and new, encompassing both justice and mercy. As we read the ancient prophecies of Isaiah this holiday season, let’s help our children hear God’s own voice of authority and love. A voice that always says “Yes and Amen” in Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 1:20).

Champ Thornton

Champ Thornton (Ph.D.) is an acquisitions editor at Crossway. He and his wife, Robben, live in Newark, Delaware, have been married since 1996, and enjoy being parents to three energetic teenage children. He’s the author of numbers of books for kids and families, including The Radical Book for Kids, The Serpent Slayer and … 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