What our son’s life reminds us of this Christmas

Grief in light of the manger

December 22, 2020

Taking a miniature Christmas tree to your child’s gravesite is no parent’s wish, but that is what my wife and I did this year for the first time. It’s 18 inches tall with a string of white solar powered lights, navy blue ornaments, and a Nashville Predators—his favorite sports team—ornament at the top.

Our son, Kaleb, died on Dec. 1, 2019. Last year was our first Christmas without him. Our house, including his room, sat decorated for Christmas as we spent the last three weeks of his life at the hospital. Since then, everything has been our first experience of doing things without him here. As we decorated the house for Christmas, we even put his tree in his room like we’ve done each year.  

This Christmas, his gravesite has a headstone. The black granite monument marks where we buried our son’s body to await the return of Jesus and the resurrection of the dead. We know Kaleb is with Jesus (2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23), and only the remains of his earthly body are in that grave, but we still wanted to put something out there for the holidays. There’s a strange tug you feel as a parent: you know your child is with Christ in heaven, yet you don’t want them to feel alone at the graveyard. So we placed a smaller version of the tree in his room at his gravesite. 

Kaleb’s story

Kaleb was 15 years old. He suffered with health issues his entire life, some seasons more severe than others. A surgical mistake when he was two months old altered his life forever. A surgeon operated to remove a bad kidney, but instead of taking only the bad one, he also took the good one. It devastated us. We knew the implications were far-reaching. He couldn’t live without a kidney, and a transplanted kidney—which he received two years later—wouldn’t last forever. He could need multiple transplants throughout his lifetime. The medications to suppress his immune system would make him susceptible to infections and viruses that otherwise may never bother him.  

This is precisely what happened when he was 13 years old. Kaleb contracted fungal meningitis. It caused a stroke that left him unable to talk or use his motor skills as effortlessly as he did before. His entire life changed. He never returned to school, played video games online with his friends, or shot hoops in the driveway again. 

This change was hard on him, and our family. He required constant care. Our smiling and fun-loving boy was still there, but his body struggled. His lungs eventually gave way to years of infection, as he could no longer cough on command to keep them clear. He died from respiratory failure, but that was just the last cause in a line of preceding issues that began with the surgical mistake. Our worst fear, which we always knew could happen, happened.  

Lessons along the way

When I think about Kaleb’s life and struggles, and I look at how he handled them so faithfully, there are several lessons worth sharing. These lessons apply to anyone, regardless of what circumstance they are facing.

First, he accepted whatever God brought into his life. We talked to Kaleb about his story throughout his life. He knew what happened to him as a baby. He understood that his daily medical routine and physical limitations resulted from a surgical mistake. He also knew what future prospects could hold. Yet he trusted that God’s plan for his life was unfolding according to his sovereign wisdom. There was no questioning “why” or accusations of injustice levied against God. He received it and understood there was a responsibility to steward his struggles in such a way that gave God glory through them. 

Second, he lived with joy despite his physical struggles and the limitations that came with them. He didn’t just exhibit trust in God’s plans for his life, but he lived with joy through them. It’s one thing to begrudgingly accept what God places in your hands, it’s another thing to find joy in it, especially when that thing is suffering.

We do not grieve as those without hope. We are hopeful sufferers because we know the baby born in a manger is the King of Glory who sacrificially died and rose again on the third day.

Kaleb’s light shone out for everyone around him to see. His smile radiated with substance. His joy wasn’t airy, or a consequence of trivial happiness. It had depth. If you knew the health issues he dealt with daily, and you watched his life, the only conclusion you could draw was he was tapping into a well available to all, but pursued by few (John 15:11). 

Third, he longed for the world to come. Trials and suffering have a way of loosening your grip from this world. Kaleb knew what awaited him upon death or Christ’s return. We spoke constantly about it as a family from the time he could comprehend it. His body stayed sick most of the time. It was weak and frail. But he looked forward to a day when Jesus would eradicate sickness forever.

Many today rarely focus on the world to come. We get entangled in trying to improve our temporal comforts and live as if this life is our forever home. But the promise of Scripture is that this life is but a shadow of the real thing. Total health. Fullness of joy. And dwelling in the presence of God forever. These things await us.

Kaleb’s life teaches not only those who hear his story, but it ministers to his mom and me. We embedded a theology of suffering into his life from a young age, but he walked it out in reliance upon Christ. We learned to walk it out as a family. We knew what the Scriptures taught, but we learned obedience through our suffering. 

Come, Jesus

Our daily lives are drastically different without Kaleb here with us. Cherish those around you. Remember the preciousness and shortness of life. We grieve Kaleb’s absence from our Christmas traditions and gatherings. 

But we do not grieve as those without hope. We are hopeful sufferers because we know the baby born in a manger is the King of Glory who sacrificially died and rose again on the third day. He purchased our salvation and secured for us an inheritance that is imperishable, and unfading, kept in Heaven for us. One day he will return to make all things new. He will wipe away our tears, restore our lowly bodies, and usher in life eternal with a renewed heaven and Earth. 

Our family longs for that this Christmas. We all should. It should be our cry now, as it was for his people prior to his first coming, “Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free.”

Erik Reed

Erik is the founding and lead pastor of The Journey Church in Lebanon, Tennessee. He has a B.A. in Religious Studies from Western Kentucky University and an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Erik is married to Katrina. They have three children: Kaleb (who is with the Lord), Kaleigh … 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