Book Review

The burden and gift of living

A review of On Getting Out of Bed by Alan Noble

August 9, 2023

Life is hard. I’m not sure any three words better encapsulate what many people feel on a daily basis. The statistics are staggering. We are among the most anxious, most depressed, most stressed, most overwhelmed, and even hopeless groups of people who have ever lived—at least in the last several hundred years. Despite all the so-called progress we’ve made, all the advancements in science and technology, all the wealth and convenience and relative ease we enjoy, the fact remains: life sometimes feels like a burden too great to bear. Some days, it’s hard to even claw ourselves out of bed.

And life’s difficulties are not reserved for a select few. They are universal, and they are universally hard. Even for Christians, whether we like to admit it or not. That’s why Alan Noble’s new book On Getting Out of Bed: The Burden and Gift of Living is so timely; because for many, the burden of living feels heavier now than it ever has.

In On Getting Out of Bed, Noble takes on a tender topic and does so with both candor and compassion, with sensitivity and sincerity. Life can feel overwhelming, but Noble reminds readers that “life is a good gift from a loving God, even when subjectively it doesn’t feel good or like a gift.” 

The burden of living

“There’s a kind of unspoken conspiracy to ignore how difficult life is,” Noble says. Like most conspiracies, this one diverts our attention from what’s plainly true. We can ignore life’s difficulties in any number of ways—by trying to numb the pain, by reframing them “as something romantic” or “heroic,” or by trying “to hide our scars from those closest to us and even from ourselves.” But sooner or later, the unspoken conspiracy will no longer hold. The truth emerges, the dam breaks, and we are forced to admit that “Life is far more difficult than we let on.”

One of the unfortunate realities about the moment in which we find ourselves is that our society is “governed by technique.” It’s a society that prizes maximum efficiency. We see this, as Noble points out, in our “time-saving technolog[ies], apps that maximize our workouts, drugs that drown out our anxiety, ubiquitous entertainment in our pockets, and scientifically proven methods for parenting, working, eating, shopping, budgeting, folding clothes, sleeping, sex, dating, and buying a car.” Of course, none of these things are necessarily bad, but all of them together have conditioned us to expect efficiency over inefficiency, ease over difficulty, now over later. And life just doesn’t work that way. Life in this fallen world is inefficient, difficult, and slow.

Our techniques will not deliver us from the burdens we bear as humans. In fact, when they fail to deliver it’ll send us down a spiral of shame. We’ll be left thinking that it’s our fault when we can’t move past the grief we feel or that there’s something wrong with us when the darkness won’t ever seem to lift. “If life doesn’t have to be this hard,” we think, “then it really is my fault that I’m overwhelmed or a failure.” This is the burden of living in the 21st century when technique is expected to solve every problem we face. And however we choose to “explain the difficulty of living in the modern world” or attempt to cope with it, we’re still “stuck with the reality that a normal life includes a great deal of suffering. 

The gift of living

But life in the modern world is not chiefly a burden; it is a gift. Despite the challenges, the difficulty, the heartbreak, the suffering, and the anguish that awaits us all, “life is good and worth preserving.” 

One of the stories Noble uses to illustrate this point is Cormac McCarthy’s heart-wrenching novel The Road. In the novel, a father and son struggle to survive at what appears to be civilization’s end. Facing unthinkable conditions, this father and son press on for survival because they recognize “the goodness of life,” even though their circumstances are bleak. Life testifies to God’s goodness, the father says, “even in a world with few other signs of goodness.” And the choice to go on living in the face of hardship testifies that life is good, that life is worth living. 

Think about our lives, and all the little joys—the evidences of God’s grace—we get to enjoy every day: “beauty, love, a good meal, [and] laughter.” What are these “but the means of grace through which God nurtures us?” What are they but gifts that testify to the gift of life and love of the Father? Sure, life is hard—it can be brutal sometimes. But Noble is rightly insistent that life is good regardless, despite all the pain, despite all the loss, despite all the hardship. “Life is worth living despite the risk and uncertainty and the inevitability of suffering,” because life is a gift. 

Noble’s plea

In his book, Noble is clear-eyed and plain-spoken about the burden and gift of living. Both are true. Neither negates the other. He stares the hardships of life in the face and names them, which is important for those of us given to “the conspiracy to ignore how difficult life is;” and for those of us who want to grin and bear it or tough it out. He gives credence to the mental suffering we all feel at one time or another. But he argues against the primacy of life’s inherent burden by reminding us that life is a good gift from a good Father who wants good things for us (Gen. 1 and 2; Rom. 8:28). And in that, he helps to redirect our focus to what’s most true: that life is a gift.

Throughout the book, Noble gives readers some important directives that are both sensitive and stern. Recognizing the difficulties that many face, he encourages readers to press on, to do the next thing God puts in front of us, and to do everything we can to claw ourselves out of bed every morning. “The decision to get out of bed is the decision to live,” he says. “It is a claim that life is worth living.” The world needs you. Your neighbors need you. Your friends need you. Your family needs you.

The importance of community and relationships, which includes our contributions to the community around us and the benefits we derive from it, cannot be overstated. And belonging to a community—really belonging—can be the difference between getting out of bed or not. So, if you do struggle to get out of bed in the morning, give those closest to you the privilege of bearing your burdens with you. Give them the chance to hold you up, to remind you “of the truth that is truer than [y]our deepest misery . . . that our lives are good even when we do not feel that goodness at all.” 

The bravest thing

In reading On Getting Out of Bed, I couldn’t help but think of a poem by John Blase that has meant a lot to me over the years. It’s titled “the bravest thing:”

“Maybe the bravest thing,
Is opening your eyes in the
Morning and placing your
Two feet on the cold floor and
Rising up against the gravity
Of the night. Maybe that’s the
Brave thing from which all other
Bravery flows, the brave to
Seek ye first. Maybe that’s the
Single thing God requires of you,
The spiritual discipline that takes
All your will to muster. Swallow
Down the fear, my child, and face
The dawning day for what the
Surface of the world needs most
Of all is bravery skipping and
You, yes you are the stone.”

Maybe the bravest thing we can do daily is to conquer the temptation we face each morning to stay in bed. Maybe the first step to bearing the heavy burden we feel is to stare the inevitable hardships we’ll encounter in the face and put our two feet on the floor anyway, recognizing that life is a gift. Maybe the first step to a life of faithfulness lies in the simple act of getting out of bed and doing the next thing God puts in front of us. In doing so, Noble argues, we’ll “bear witness to the goodness of this existence God has given us.”

Jordan Wootten

Jordan Wootten serves as a News and Culture Channel Editor at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and a writer/editor at RightNow Media. He's a board member at The LoveX2 Project, an organization seeking to make the world a better place for moms and babies. Jordan is a graduate of … 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