Why our possessions shouldn’t determine our enjoyment in life

Learning to delight in God, regardless of what we have

May 16, 2019

Certain questions tend to arise after returning from a short-term mission trip to an impoverished area or after hearing a missionary serving in such a locale talk about the destitute conditions in which local Christians live: “Do I need to downgrade my lifestyle and live with less? Is it wrong for me to enjoy so much when they enjoy so little?” A Christian can become paralyzed with indecision or guilt when encountering other brothers and sisters in Christ with significantly less of this world’s goods.

At times, a gut check like this may reveal the sin of consumerism, and therefore, action should be taken. (For guidance determining the extent of consumerism in your life, please see John Piper’s “Ask Pastor John.”) On the other hand, the guilt trip may be self-imposed and along with the uncertainty, a larger issue may be revealed—an incorrect perspective on what you own. The manner in which one views possessions significantly shapes his or her concept of enjoyment and how it is attained. In other words, numerous Christians in the West wrongly equate the depth of enjoyment with certain means of enjoyment—what I own or am doing determines how much satisfaction I have.

Many Christians think what they are doing, what they have, and where they live determine their capacity to be satisfied. But we all have the same intrinsic capacity to experience an equal depth of enjoyment as God intended regardless of income level, geography, activity, or possessions. Our focus for enjoyment should be informed by our common design and set on God and his creation. These means of enjoyment are accessible to all and lead to deep enjoyment in this life.

One designer, one type of soul

The foundation of biblical anthropology is God created us “in His image” (Genesis 1:27). Our design is based upon a higher design. Enjoyment is defined by what he enjoys—what he calls “good.” Seeing all have been made in his image, all have inherited the same abilities of the soul and the same capacity to utilize those abilities. Among our souls’ “faculties” are ones that give us the tools to take in our experiences, analyze them (actively or passively), and emote accordingly, says Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland. The Fall crippled this process. The Cross redeems it, progressively.

The soul is the place where the body’s interactions with the physical world (including people) are given a qualitative assessment of enjoyment (pleasurable worth). The soul determines the degree to which an activity, event, or conversation enriches one’s life.

And when one’s soul is enlarged (Psa. 119:32) or expanded, as J.I. Packer put it, there is “a renewed sense of the momentousness of being alive, the sheer bigness and awesomeness of being a human being alive in God’s world with light, with grace, with wisdom, with responsibility, with biblical truth.”

Created in God’s image communicates an equity of momentous joy. It is found in the enjoyment of the Divine and his handiwork based on not who we are or where we reside or what we possess, but it is based on the status of the soul in each man and woman with him.

Universal means to enjoyment

Seeing we should not define enjoyment based upon activities, possessions, money, or types of people, we must identify realities that are universal to all. The first reality may be somewhat surprising: work. There is a depth of enjoyment connected to work (Eccl. 5:18). The connection between enjoyment and work is bound up in the design of our beings. We were created to work (Gen. 1:28). Our efforts to please God by “subdu[ing] the earth”—to take raw materials or data or information and create a process, a work, a structure, an object, or provide food—is an enjoyable endeavor. Our souls were created to delight in the accomplishment of such tasks.

Another reality accessible to all for meaningful enjoyment is nature. Nature continually declares God’s glory (Psa. 19:1-6), his “eternal power and divine nature” (Rom. 1:20). Observing God’s nature can be considerably enjoyable. For some, there is endless delight in watching two kittens play. For others, the eyes can never seem to take in the complete awe of celestial wonders like the Crab Nebula. While many people are overwhelmed with the beauty of the Grand Canyon. Or the meadow, the secluded creek, or the waterfall provide an entrée into the serene for a number of people. Various aspects of enjoyment are experienced by being in nature.

The greatest earthly enjoyment is connecting with people in relationships. Family is the first social circle we encounter on this earth and the profound enjoyment of being in a healthy, functioning family is undeniable. We were also created to unite with other people in ways that surpass even familial bonds (Prov. 18:24). With certain friends, it is possible to enjoy an unconditional love present in every season of life (Prov. 17:17). David and Jonathan exemplified this type of soul-satisfying friendship (I Sam. 18:1-4). Of course, the greatest depths of enjoyment experienced in a friendship or relationship are those enjoyed by a husband and wife (Gen. 2:24). The two sexes are built to complement each other in the richest, most significant way possible of any earthly relationship.

But the enjoyment experienced in a healthy, biblical marriage is a shadow of the deepest enjoyment of any form known to mankind. The relationship bringing the richest joy to the human soul is the one between God and his children. Nothing can compare with the enjoyment one’s soul is flooded with when in the presence of the triune God communing with him in humble adoration.

I would lovingly contend we express hollow pity when we learn of or see fellow Christians in dire economic situations and presume their enjoyments in life are less than ours. I would also challenge our thinking when we believe we must sell a majority of our possessions due to self-imposed guilt—guilt brought on by comparison and equating enjoyment with incorrect means or geography. In God’s economy, the “haves” and “have nots” are on equal ground. Both can be recipients of the good gifts that “com[e] down from the Father of lights.”

Tim Scheiderer

Tim Scheiderer (M.Div, Southern Seminary) is a freelance writer living in metro Washington, D.C., with his wife and daughter. His other writings can be found at TPScheiderer.com. He is also a founding board member of The Augustine Center, a Christian Study Center at Georgetown University. 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