How Do We Minister Slow Hope?

Walking with Friends on the Marathon After Abuse

Brad Hambrick

When we face a crisis, we both desperately want and are intensely skeptical toward hope. We want to know that things will eventually be better. But we inherently mistrust those who say, “Everything is going to be okay.” It feels like they’re minimizing the problem. We experience this with the coronavirus crisis, and we experience this with the sexual abuse crisis in the church.

One of the things we glean from this is the power of hope. The influence of hope is too great to be treated cavalierly. As Christians, because of the ultimate hope we have in Christ, we tend to be triumphalistic in how we speak of hope toward major temporal concerns. If we’re guaranteed heaven, what on earth really matters? This rhetorical question can be both true and unhelpful at the same time.

This attitude causes us to be poor ambassadors of Christ in the midst of a crisis. In effect, we become like an orthodontist who promises to completely realign a teenager’s crooked teeth in less than a month. While initially appealing, we quickly realize that, even if possible, this remedy would be too painful to endure. In the midst of a crisis, this is how our appeals to fast hope sound.

In our administration of hope we should follow the guidance of James regarding speech, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak (1:19).” Too often, we only attach giving hope to the words we say, and neglect the power of giving hope found in the words we hear. Listening to someone is profoundly hope giving. 

What is a primary prayer of someone in crisis? “Hear me. Believe me. Let me know I am not alone. Let me know I am worth caring for.” We best embody God’s response to these prayers with attentive ears and compassionate eyes. Remember few things alleviate shame like empathetic eye contact from someone who knows what makes you feel ashamed. 

We must realize that slow hope is not weak or lesser faith. The journey after sexual abuse is a marathon, not a sprint. Fast hope reveals that we do not realize the journey on which we are joining our friend. Slow hope ministers out of Matthew 11:28-30 (i.e., “come to me all who are weary and heavy laden”) more than Isaiah 40:31 (i.e., “you will mount up with wings like eagles). Both are biblical. But one is a better theme verse for a marathon, while the other is better suited for a sprinter.

How to minister hope

This reflection begs the question, “How do we minister slow hope?” We have already mentioned the power of listening. The suggestions are really just extensions of listening well. 

Get to know your friend’s experience. Too often we think the event of abuse is the totality of what needs to be known about the experience of abuse. Often, we are hesitant to ask about the event of abuse. We realize those details are better addressed by law enforcement or a counselor. But, when a friend entrusts us with their story, we should ask about their experience of abuse. 

This list is not exhaustive. But, hopefully, you can begin to see that showing interest in these questions validates that your friend is on a long, hard journey. It says through actions, rather than words, “You are not alone on this journey.” That gives hope.

Ask, “Are you ready for the next step.” Sometimes, as your friend receives guidance on their legal or counseling journey, the next step will be clear, but your friend won’t be ready to take that step. Completing one step sometimes puts us in a position to rest before we take the next one. 

If our friend was recovering from knee surgery, we would get this. If they just finished a rehab session where they got full range of motion and the next step was to walk a flight of stairs, we wouldn’t rush them. We would celebrate the step taken, encourage them to listen to their doctors, and let them know it’s okay to take recovery at their pace. Alleviating this kind of internal drive to go too fast removes a frequent hope-depleter. 

Be present for key events. There are many key events on the journey after sexual abuse: talking to police, each part of the legal process, calling to set an appointment with a counselor, and even attending church can be a key event. Hard things are easier—not easy—with a friend. Periodically ask your friend, “What events are coming up that you don’t want to do alone?” 

The nature of abuse is that it happens alone. Privacy is a near necessary factor to allow for abuse. This means that being alone during a key event is about more than loneliness. It is an echo of the context that allowed abuse to happen. It screams, “The world hasn’t changed.” Your presence gives hope that the world is changing.

Ask about milestones on your friend’s nonpublic journey. Not everything that is significant on your friend’s journey is significant. Yes, there is a tension in the previous sentence. When only the abuse-related big things in your friend’s life get attention, it can feel like their life is being reduced to their experience of abuse in a new way.

Showing interest in a new hobby, a step toward making a new friend, a promotion at work, and other comparable life events allows your friend to realize, “I am more than my experience of abuse.” This is incredibly hope giving. 

Engage with your friend’s non-journey joys. In addiction counseling, this might be called “occupational therapy,” meaning learning to healthily occupy oneself with enjoyable activities. When a life struggle has been life dominating it consumes our life-giving activities. In this sense, going out to dinner with a friend is very therapeutic. 

While your friend is putting a great deal of emotional energy into their recovery or the legal process, ask, “What things do you enjoy that I could regularly invite you to do with me?” Friends can be a great excuse and reminder to enjoy life. But we should always add, “If my invitation is more than you have capacity for, I will never be offended if you take a raincheck.” But enjoying life and having someone who wants to enjoy life with you is hope giving.

Slow-hope conclusion

I know this article isn’t as profound and transformative as you hoped it would be. But that’s kind of the point. After a crisis, the best hope is patient hope. Considering these things, take a moment to read Psalm 23:1-4. I will take the liberty of emphasizing one word.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, 
I will fear no evil, for you are with me; 
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Why did I choose to emphasize the word “walk”? It is a pacing verb. It reveals the pace at which the Good Shepherd is willing to go. The Good Shepherd moves at the pace that is best for the sheep. The scary setting—the valley of the shadow of death—does not rush the pace. The health and ability of the sheep sets the pace. 

If we are going to be accurate ambassadors of the Good Shepherd, we must prioritize our ministry efforts the same way. We cannot let our zeal of the destination cause us to harm the sheep that have been entrusted to our care. That is what this reflection has been about: helping us pace our efforts to care well for the needs of those who have been hurt.

Brad serves as the Pastor of Counseling at The Summit Church in  Durham, North Carolina. He also serves as Instructor of Biblical Counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, a council member of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, and has authored several books including Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk: Why and How Christians Should Have Gay Friends and God’s Attributes: Rest for Life’s Struggles.

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