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Articles

Why friendship serves as a moral anchor

Our God-ordained craving for real-life relationships

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August 19, 2020

Aristotle said that friendship is “an absolute necessity in life.” And from a Christian perspective, I think that is on target. “No one would choose to live without friends,” the philosopher wrote, “even if he had all the other goods.” Indeed, if we think back to the opening pages of Scripture, we see this same idea in the life of Adam. After God completed the rest of his work of creation, he placed Adam in the garden of Eden to “work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). In the midst of a perfect creation, there was one problem: Adam was alone.

Adam at that time had every kind of good. He lived in a perfect world. He experienced none of the pain or hardships of life. There was no sickness nor affliction nor strife. And above all of that, he had a relationship with the Living God, who walked with Adam in the garden in the cool of the day (3:8). But even though Adam had a seemingly perfect existence, being at peace with God and the creation that surrounded him, his life was incomplete. And recognizing this, God made for Adam “a helper fit for him” (Gen. 2:18).

Friendship is indispensable

Friendship is something common to humanity because it accords with our nature. God created us as relational beings. As we live our lives, we crave relationships. That is one of the reasons the lockdowns of this season have been so devastating. People are not able to experience the benefits of in-person relationships at nearly the same volume or frequency that they are accustomed to. And, like Adam, we are not meant to live alone. Few of us are able to thrive in extended periods of isolation. 

Think about the indispensable role that friends play in our lives. We find happiness in the company of friends as we share time and experiences together. We find comfort in our friends as we experience hardships and trials in our lives. And we find ourselves turning to our friends to celebrate the joys of life. True friends are companions that stick with us through the best and worst times of our lives, which is why Proverbs speaks of the friend “who sticks closer than a brother” (18:24). Friendship is something we are not supposed to live without.

Friendship is valuable

Our friends serve us in many ways. And one of the most important ways they do so is by helping us see things more clearly. Recently, I posted on social media about the value of having friends across the ideological spectrum. My point was that having friends who disagree with us about important issues can keep us from arguing against caricatures or straw men because we can put the face of a friend with the position we are speaking against. Honestly, I was surprised by how deeply that message seemed to resonate with a lot of people. 

None of us are prepared to withstand all of life’s challenges, at least not on our own. But the good news is that for Christians, we not only have the Holy Spirit within us, but the church around us as we “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).

I was thinking about this aspect of friendship because a friend from work recently pointed me toward their.tube, which is a website I had never heard of. But if you visit the site, you’ll discover that it models how different types of people experience YouTube. Like almost every form of social media, YouTube is driven by an algorithm. It shows you more of what you want to see and screens out things you don’t like so that you will spend more time on the platform. 

It only takes a few minutes on their.tube to size up the impact of these algorithms. To keep you on the platform, they create a giant echo chamber. From the moment you log on, YouTube (or Twitter or Facebook) creates a feedback loop that is designed to show you things you want to see—not necessarily things that make you happy, but whatever keeps you engaged. I suppose that is fine if we are talking about videos of kittens or comedians. But social media is actually where many people turn to gather information about much more important matters, like politics and culture and even religion. 

Those are critical areas of our lives to hand over to an algorithm. And that is why it’s helpful to remind ourselves that what we see on social media doesn’t always correspond to real life. More than that, it’s one of the reasons we need relationships in the real world. Meaningful friendships serve as a kind of moral anchor; they can help us keep our bearings whether we are encountering echo chambers, ethical dilemmas, or other kinds of challenging circumstances.

Friendship and faith

Our craving for relationships not only accords with our nature, but it also aligns with God’s plan of redemption. Through Jesus, God reconciles us to himself. But he also brings us into a new family, the church. As we read through the New Testament, what we see is that the church is supposed to be a loving community made of people who serve and sacrifice for one another (John 13:34; Gal. 5:13; Eph. 5:21). In fact, it is a community that was, as Jesus taught us, created by friendship: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). And in the church, we not only find brothers and sisters with whom we will spend eternity, but friends to walk alongside us as we follow after him.

None of this means that friendship is always easy. Sometimes we experience periods of loneliness. Sometimes our relationships are filled with discord (even Jesus was betrayed by one of his closest followers). But when we encounter such things, we should remember that friendship, like every good gift, comes from above. Pray. Ask the Lord to bless your pursuit of  deep friendships or to bring reconciliation and peace when your relationships become contentious. He is faithful. He cares for you. And he will provide all that you need.

Jesus’ earthly ministry took place in the context of friendship. He chose a group of 12 men and loved, taught, and served them. He modeled the kind of commitment and patience and grace that friendship requires. And in his example, he showed us how friendship is a critical part of the Christian life. None of us are prepared to withstand all of life’s challenges, at least not on our own. But the good news is that for Christians, we not only have the Holy Spirit within us, but the church around us as we “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).

Josh Wester

Joshua B. Wester is the lead pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. 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