Who is God? What comes into your mind when you think of god. A.W. Tozer famously said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” In this session of Secret Church 22, Pastor David Platt reminds us who God has revealed himself to be in Scripture: the perfect, holy, and loving Creator. In fact, the defining characteristic of humanity is the image of God. As this series of Secret Church concludes, David Platt calls us to become more like Jesus every day, proclaim the gospel of Jesus to everyone, and be ready for Jesus to come back at any moment.
[Prayer in foreign language – ends at 2:30]
All right, here we go. Coming together for the last session where things really start to get interesting. Nothing like thinking deeply about issues like genomics, AI and the metaverse around midnight. Before I dive in, I want to do one more round of biblical meditation. This final time will be on Revelation 22:1-5, the last chapter in the Bible. I want us to do the same thing we did with Genesis 1:26-31, and Psalm 8. So we started with the first chapter, now we’re ending with the last chapter. I want to give you just a few moments to meditate on this passage. Again, just read it slowly, circle words or phrases that stick out to you. Think about what it means. And if you have time, summarize the passage in one sentence. How would you put in one sentence what God is saying through his Spirit in Revelation 22:1-5. Spend a few moments just with this passage, between you and God, then we’re going to dive into these final issues with this word on our minds and hearts.
Let me pray for us.
God, we love your Word. It is life to us. We love communion with you through your Word and your Spirit speaking to us. We love this supernatural activity that happens when we read and meditate on your Word. So speak to us now, we pray, through Revelation 22:1-5. Help us understand this in a way that will be fixed in our minds and hearts as we go into this last session. Speak to us now, we pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
— Interlude —
1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
Ah, what a text! Instead of us walking through this passage together right now, I’m going to wait until the end, after we’ve explored these final four issues. So hold these truths you just saw in Revelation 22:1-5 in your heart and let’s dive right into the rest of the study guide.
HUMANITY, INFERTILITY & ARTIFICAL REPRODUCTIVE TECHNOLOGY
Consider this quote from Helmut Thielicke that really can apply to many of these issues: “The borderline situation [is] the crucial test of ethics.” . In other words, ethical questions are much easier when the line between right and wrong, good and evil, is clear, when it’s black and white. But when you get to the borderline, the gray area in the middle, things quickly get a lot more complex.
For a variety of the issues we’re about to dive into, including infertility and artificial reproductive technology, there are not clear answers. This is why I want to give you some time to reflect at the end of each of these sections. I want to be clear where God’s Word is clear, but for some of these issues we don’t have a clear word from God in Scripture. For example, as we’ll see in a minute, we don’t have a clear word from God in Scripture on what artificial reproductive technology should or should not be used for—at least not in every situation. When that’s the case, we need to apply the word we do have from God as wisely as possible. I’m hopeful that I can help set you up to do that.
So without further ado, let’s step into the borderline with some foundations for understanding infertility. This issue is a very personal part of my story, my marriage and the formation of my family. Heather and I walked through about five years of infertility before deciding to adopt our first son. We thought and prayed through many of the foundations and questions we’re about to dive into. What does the Bible say? What word do we have from God on this? Consider these clear foundations:
- God designs for children to be conceived in his image through sexual union between a husband and a wife. That’s clear from the first two chapters of the Bible.
- As we just talked about at the end of the second session, an unborn child is a human person from the moment of conception.
- Physical children are a blessing from the Lord. That’s language straight from Psalm 127:3.
- Spiritual children are also a blessing from the Lord. Isaiah 54:1 describes the song of a barren one bearing spiritual children as an eternal heritage.
- Medicine on the whole is a gift from God that is morally good. It’s given for the healing of various sicknesses, diseases and physical problems.
- Infertility, the inability to have children through sexual union, is common in the Bible. The list of infertile couples in the Bible is long, from Abram and Sarai at the beginning of the Old Testament, to Elizabeth and Zechariah in the beginning of the New Testament.
These are foundations we can stand on from the start, when thinking about infertility. I should add at this point that technically, or medically, there’s a difference between infertility and sterility. Infertility is the inability to conceive through natural means in a way that might lead someone to explore artificial reproductive technology. Sterility means a couple would not even be able to pursue those options, because a woman is medically unable to have biological children for medical reasons. Then there are some women who might be able to conceive, but not able to carry a pregnancy to term. My point is not necessarily to get into all the specific nuances here, but I at least wanted to acknowledge them under this broad banner of infertility.
This leads us to biblical encouragement amidst infertility. I was so helped in my preparation for this section by an excellent article by Kimberly and Philip Monroe in the Journal for Biblical Counseling on “The Bible and the Pain of Infertility.” It resonated with so much of the struggle Heather and I experienced, so I would highly recommend it.
You can read the story of Hannah and Samuel in 1 Samuel 1:1-20 as a powerful picture of her struggle with infertility and God’s eventual provision of a child.
I want to speak these words of encouragement specifically over every couple struggling with infertility, which some research would say could be one in every eight couples; other research puts it at one in every six. So what encouragement do we find in God’s Word amidst infertility?
Trust in the God who knows the end of your infertility. Based on Genesis 50:20 and Romans 8:28, I want to encourage you to trust in the God who is working out all things together for good in the end, even the hard things in this fallen world. Maybe that end is eventually having a child; maybe it’s not. But know that God is working in your infertility toward a good end.
Worship God and treasure him above all things, even a baby. God’s greatest gift is not a baby; God’s greatest gift is himself. So put your hope ultimately in him and not in a child. The gospel is good news for childless couples who hope in Christ, not who hope ultimately in procreation. If our ultimate hope is in procreation—having children—then that’s not going to be a sure foundation for your hope. Christ alone is a sure foundation for your hope.
Pray to God humbly, persistently, faithfully and boldly for children. It’s good to pray and not give up (Luke 18:1). Pray humbly, trusting God knows and sees far more than you know and see. At the same time, be honest about your hurt, “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). As you do this, realize the wide range of experiences and emotions on the journey of infertility.
Let’s think about the range of experiences and emotions on this journey: Hormones. Expenses associated with infertility testing, treatments or any use of technology. Decisions to make that are not just financially costly, but also ethically, biblically or theologically challenging. Anger when you see others who are pregnant or having babies. You don’t want to resent them, but you can feel this emotion rising in you.
Despair, wondering if this is ever going to change. Brokenness, feeling incomplete as a man or a woman if you’re not able to have children. Helplessness. You’ve done everything you can do, but it seems like it’s out of your hands and you can’t make your circumstances change. This leads to sadness on Mother’s Day and other special days, or when you’re around other moms and/or dads with their kids. Feeling uncomfortable at church when you see children rightly being celebrated all around you, yet you feel alone. Isolation, predictably when it’s hard for people to understand if they haven’t walked through this themselves. Even then, it’s unique for every couple.
Marital stress that can arise as you walk through this journey. Family members’ pain. Some family members getting pregnant and asking when you’re going to get pregnant. Friends’ reactions, as they’re either not sure how to encourage you, or sometimes they’re just completely insensitive to you.
Stories that people tell you about what happened to them, as if the same thing is guaranteed to happen with you. Even the reaction of Christians who say unhelpful things, either willfully or unintentionally, when they’re talking about infertility. The challenge of questioning your faith, sometimes wondering if God is even listening to you.
I remember month after month, year after year, saying to God, “I know you’re hearing us, God and I know you have the power to answer us. God, please either show your power and provide a child, or take away this desire. Why are you giving us this desire for children if you’re not going to provide in your power?” There were so many questions we wrestled with here.
Then, just waiting—month after month, year after year—to see if anything is going to happen. And finally, grief. Kimberly Monroe writes, “No funeral, no burial, no flowers, no cards, yet there is death. There’s the death of hopes, of the wonder of a child emerging from your love.” There’s so much here. So how do you deal with that range of emotions and experiences?
- Fill your mind with thoughts from God (2 Corinthians 10:5; Philippians 4:8-9). Make sure to ask, whenever you have a thought along these lines, “Is this thought from God, or elsewhere?” If it’s not from God, don’t dwell there.
- Recognize that God gives limits to humanity for good reason. Human satisfaction is not found in removing limits, which means that what’s technologically possible is not necessarily morally acceptable. In fact, there are many things that are technologically possible but may not be morally acceptable. We’ll talk about that more in a few minutes.
- Then this last word of encouragement actually relates to the first: believe that God ordains difficulties in our lives for good purposes (Romans 8:28-30). Believe this.
This doesn’t mean we don’t think and pray through all kinds of options amidst infertility. How does what we’ve seen about Scripture and humanity help us think wisely and biblically through these various options. On some of these options we’re about to dive into the Bible speaks clearly. On others, we really need God’s Spirit to help us apply God’s Word wisely. Which is why in this section you’ll see what I’m calling “Biblical Reminders” —things we know from God’s Word, followed by what I describe as “Biblical Concerns.” In some cases, this means the Bible warns against something; in other cases it means the Bible at least gives us pause to really pray and think through something. So with that setup, let’s consider several options:
Embracing infertility, which is basically a decision to not pursue any of the means of having children we’re about to discuss. I know several couples who have concluded that this is God’s will for them, so his will in this way is good. I would offer this biblical reminder that embracing infertility according to the leadership of God’s Spirit is a beautiful picture of trust in God’s sovereign goodness and a powerful testimony to the value of bearing spiritual children, like we’ve already seen (Isaiah 54:1). It’s not settling for less from God. It’s stepping into the fullness of God’s goodness in your life, as one person described to me as “Trusting that our Plan B or C or D, or Z for that matter, was indeed God’s Plan A for our lives—and his plan is good.” I praise God for his grace in couples who come to this conclusion.
Fertility medicine and procedures, which involves taking medicine or undergoing medical procedures aimed at increasing the likelihood of having a child through sexual union between a husband and a wife. Again, here I would offer this biblical reminder. Based on the foundation we saw earlier, medicine is a good gift from God that is morally good when it accompanies sexual union between a husband and a wife, which is God’s good design for having children.
Foster care and adoption—caring for children in your home—legally bringing another’s child to raise him or her as a full part of one’s family. This could either for a period of time (foster care) or for a lifetime (adoption). Part of me wishes I could spend a whole Secret Church right here, right now, because this has been such a significant part of our story. After five years of infertility, Heather and I concluded God was leading us to adopt. At that point in time, I probably would have even said that adoption was second best. Since God didn’t provide us children biologically, we would adopt. We learned quickly, though, that adoption was just as “best,” and we cannot imagine our family without adoption.
I praise God for adoption, as well as for the pictures of foster care that I’ve seen in so many different ways in the church, in so many families. I would positively encourage you, regardless of whether you struggle with infertility, to prayerfully consider the best way to care for children in need through foster care or adoption and what that might look like in your family. So don’t let thoughts like, “I don’t know if I can love this child the same,” or so many other thoughts, questions and initial objections that may come to your mind, keeping you from exploring the beauty of this picture.
There are even different options there. There is traditional foster care and adoption that occurs after a child is born. There is embryo adoption, which involves a woman carrying another’s embryo and giving birth to the child as a full part of one’s family. As we’ll talk about more in a few moments, when it comes to these artificial reproductive technologies, a woman may have an embryo that’s not in her body, that is a living being, so if destroyed would involve destroying a living being. So another woman may medically carry that embryo and give birth to that child in a picture of embryo adoption.
A biblical reminder here, based on tons of Scripture—from Deuteronomy 10:18 to James 1:27—foster care and adoption are powerful and often painful reflections of our Father’s love for the fatherless which is the gospel of Jesus Christ. I put that phrase “power and often painful reflections” here just to emphasize that foster care and adoption are beautiful, powerful pictures, but not easy processes—for parents or for children.
As need arise out of the fallenness of this broken world, this is part of the beauty of the Father’s love in this fallen world and ultimately a picture of the gospel that we see in adoption, as God adopts us into his family. Adoption and foster care are significant options.
This leads to another option amidst infertility and this is where we’re going to start to get into some more biblical concerns that we at least need to consider and pray through.
Artificial insemination. This is the process whereby sperm is artificially placed within a woman so as to make her pregnant. There are two types of insemination:
- First is homologous insemination, which involves sperm from the husband in a married couple.
- Then there is heterologous insemination, which involves sperm from a donor.
When it comes to biblical concerns, we need to realize that at this point we are separating sexual union between a husband and a wife from procreation. We’re separating the act God has designed for bearing children from actually bearing children. I want to be clear that I’m not saying the Bible forbids artificial insemination. You can find articles by strong Bible-believing Christians on both sides of this issue. But we really need to pray through and consider this reality before taking this route. We should note specifically that heterologous insemination compromises the unity of marriage by bringing a different husband’s sperm into the act of procreation, in a way that compromises God’s design even further for the union of a husband and wife in marriage to be the means for bearing children. Now, you could possibly say the same might be true for embryo adoption, which we mentioned earlier, but keep in mind that’s a living embryo. While not ideal, when it’s that option or that life is being taken, it seems to be glorifying to God to save that life.
In all these things, we’re dealing with unideal situations in a fallen world. But we want to think through what honors and holds fast to the biblical foundations we’ve already seen as wisely as possible and really hold them in tension. At the same time I would offer this biblical reminder that a child conceived through artificial insemination bears the image of God and possesses equal worth before God and others. To be absolutely clear, regardless of where you might land on the biblical wisdom of artificial insemination, a child conceived this way is a dignified image bearer of God, period.
In vitro fertilization (IVF), which is the process of combining sperm and one or more eggs outside a woman’s body, in a laboratory, for fertilization, then implanting an embryo or embryos in a woman’s uterus with hopes of her becoming pregnant and having a baby. Again, there are two kinds here:
- Homologous IVF uses sperm and egg from the husband and wife.
- Heterologous IVF uses a sperm or egg from someone who is not the husband or wife.
There are a variety of biblical concerns here, biblical questions to think through. Again, this separates the sexual union between a husband and wife from procreation. Also, heterologous IVF compromises the unit of marriage, much like we saw earlier. Then there are other concerns such as introducing selective reduction into the formation of human life. We’re opening the door for choosing optimal embryos over others.
In many ways, IVF can increase physical and medical risks for babies and mothers, specifically often leading to multitudes of embryos’ or children’s deaths. The embryos can either be frozen indefinitely or discarded, which is clearly not God’s design for these human lives. I would nuance this a bit because even the way a body normally processes eggs, some are lost. But there are still serious concerns with the way IVF approaches this.
As we’ll see later, IVF opens many opportunities for eugenics and genetic manipulation of embryos, which is really important to know and understand. Doctors don’t often go into these details and share reasons why certain embryos might be classified as “unfit.” These are all serious concerns to consider when it comes to IVF, with our Bibles and our hearts open to the Holy Spirit, with good medical and biblical research and counsel before us.
Keep in mind these biblical reminders, again, that a child conceived through IVF bears the image of God and possesses equal worth before God and others. She or he is not any less of a child or less in the image of God. As a reminder, beyond the concerns we mentioned earlier, an embryo created through IVF is an unborn child, therefore a human person made in the image of God.
So if you have walked or will walk through IVF and you have remaining embryos, consider attempting to give birth to them if at all possible, or consider allowing them to be given a family through adoption—either traditionally or through embryo adoption. If these are not options, then consider how to work to keep this child from being destroyed, indefinitely frozen or used for research, none of which are God’s design for any human life. I would conclude by saying if none of these options are possible, consider allowing this child to go into God’s hands with grieving that is appropriate for death.
We need to realize we’re talking about a life, and the loss of life here, in a world of medical advice and counsel that does not view life this way. We desperately need the Bible, God’s Word, to shape the way we think about these things, not a medical world that is often godless in its approach to life on these issues.
Let’s keep going to other options amidst infertility.
Surrogacy, the practice by which a woman—called a surrogate mother—becomes pregnant and gives birth to a baby in order to give this child to someone who can’t or will not be able to bear children of their own. We have pictures and a sense of this in Scripture (Genesis 16:2, 30:3), which doesn’t mean that God is advocating for this. Just because we see something in the Bible doesn’t mean it is God’s design; there are many things that people do in the Bible that are not God’s design.
Again, here we have different forms of surrogacy in the world.
- Traditional surrogacy in which a surrogate mother is impregnated naturally or artificially, but the resulting child is genetically related to the surrogate mother.
- Gestational surrogacy in which the pregnancy results from the transfer of an embryo created by in vitro fertilization, in a manner such that the resulting child is not genetically related to the surrogate.
- Rescue surrogacy in which a surrogate mother volunteers her womb to save an IVF-created embryo that’s been frozen and is destined for destruction otherwise.
In considering all these options, we should consider different biblical concerns. Surrogacy can violate the covenant of marriage, specifically if a surrogate mother is impregnated naturally in traditional surrogacy. Surrogacy also separates sexual union between a husband and wife from procreation. Then things go to a whole other level here, as surrogacy can lead to the exploitation of women in extremely harmful and unbiblical ways, even to the selling of children, which is obviously unbiblical and evil. There are increased risks for babies and mothers on multiple levels which often leads to multitude of embryos, children’s deaths, which again opens many opportunities for eugenics and manipulation genetically of embryos. There’s so much to think about on this issue.
I’m not presuming in any way to have covered these things exhaustively in these few minutes. I know that for many listening right now, these are not just theoretical and imaginary theological considerations; these are personal and deeply emotional considerations. I hope this lays some groundwork when it comes to foundations we need to stand on and cling to, options we could or could not or should not consider, as well as good questions to ask along the way. And not just if we’re in these situations, but as we’re walking alongside each other in a fallen world.
So here are four things to reflect on, then I will give you a few moments to think about them right where you are sitting. You can do this alone or turn and do this with others around you. Which options above do you believe are biblically appropriate amidst infertility? Where would you draw the line? Just take a moment and write down your thoughts, asking, “What would I say is biblically appropriate or biblically wise?”
If you’re one of those for whom this question is very personal and emotional right now, use this time just to be with God and pray. Maybe write out a prayer expressing your heart to God, whatever that looks like. Just spend a few moments in reflection, then I’ll bring us back in prayer together.
— Interlude —
O God, we need your help in this fallen world. I pray especially right now for couples who are walking though infertility. I pray for an extra measure of your grace over them right now, that all these biblical encouragements we’ve seen will be applied gently and helpfully to their hearts. Help them and all of us, as the body of Christ, to think well about these issues and take wise steps, clinging to your Word and following the leadership of your Spirit with desires we have for children. We pray that you would be glorified in the way we walk through this issue in a fallen world and as we walk with each other through these issues. God, help us, we pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
These are obviously complex, personal and emotional issues we’re walking through here, but we’re only getting deeper now. So let’s move on to humanity, genomics and eugenics.
HUMANITY, GENOMICS & EUGENICS
Just think about recent revolutions in these areas. This is how Walter Isaacson, in his book on Jennifer Doudna and gene editing, frames the conversation. The first half of the 20th century, driven by Einstein’s work on relativity and quantum theory, featured a physics revolution that revolved around the atom. This led to atom bombs, nuclear power, transistors, spaceships, lasers and radars.
The second half of the 20th century revolved around information technology, information encoded by binary digits known as bits. Which led to the development of the microchip, the computer, the internet. It was a digital revolution which has fundamentally affected all our lives in the ways we interact with each other as humans. But now, in the first half of the 21st century, we’re experiencing arguably a far greater, more momentous and significant revolution that revolves around the gene. This revolution hits at our fundamental makeup as humans.
So let’s establish some clear terms and definitions for what we’re talking about here.
Genome, an organism’s complete set of DNA, including all of its genes. In humans, a copy of the entire genome—more than three billon DNA base pairs—is contained in all cells that have a nucleus. That’s 20-25 thousand genes. This is absolutely mindboggling to think about.
I should mention that I’m drawing here from a variety of different sources for these definitions. I’m especially grateful for Joe Carter, one of my fellow pastors at MBC, who does an excellent job of summarizing complex issues like this in his articles that you can find online: Nine Things to Know About…(various topics). Wen you think about an organism, including a person, and you think about genomes, we’re talking about their set of DNA, with all their genes.
So when we talk about “genome editing” or “gene editing,” we’re talking about a form of genome engineering in which DNA is inserted, replaced or removed from the genetic material of the cell, using artificially engineered enzymes or “molecular scissors.” This is a technology that enables geneticists and medical researchers to edit the genome of plants, animals and humans. Lest this sounds like something that’s just for scientists who are holed up in labs somewhere, I put a quote her from He Jiankui, a Chinese scientist, at the center of controversy around gene editing back in 2018, when he used this technology to edit the genes of babies in ways that went against the moral, ethical and even legal norms that have been established among the scientific community. He stated that he wanted this kind of technology to be as simple and accessible as possible to as many people as possible. His lab wrote:
For billions of years, life progressed according to Darwin’s theory of evolution: random mutation in DNA, selection and reproduction. Today, human [sic] meet great challenge when the industrialization has caused great environment change. Genome sequencing and genome editing provided new powerful tools to control evolution. In our lab, we work hard to develop single molecule sequencing platform to read the genetic code of life. We aim to bring down the whole genome sequencing to the goal of $100 and make it available to everyone. As long as the genetic code is known, we use CRISPR-Cas9 to insert, edit or delete the associated gene for a particular trait. By correcting the disease genes, gaining protective alleles, we human [sic] can better live in the fast-changing environment.
Thus the door was opened for gene editing, irrespective of moral, ethical or even legal considerations. The goal was to make that available for anyone to do.
Coming back to our terms then, we have the “human germ line.” This is a term that’s used to refer to sex cells that are passed on from generation to generation, or to the lineage of cells spanning generations of individuals. That’s significant when you start thinking about “germline editing,” which is when genome editing is used on the genome of germline cells. Basically, you’re not just editing the genes of one person at that point, but you’re editing the genes of every person that comes after that person. You’re editing genes for generations of individuals. So I hope you’re starting to see why this is so significant.
And genomics inevitably relates to eugenics, which is the practice of improving the composition of a population by increasing the number of people who have more desirable traits and reducing the number of people with less desirable traits. There are two categories of eugenics, in a sense:
- Positive eugenics, which includes attempts to promote the proliferation of “good stock.” So picture people—in particular, the most wealthy or powerful people—creating designer babies with genetic improvement, physical stature, intelligence, longevity of life, to be passed on to future generations.
- Negative eugenics, which refers to attempts to discourage the continuation of “defective stock.” So if we find traits we don’t want in humans, we figure out a way to eliminate them. We prevent the birth of children who have “defective” genes.
So in these terms, let’s think about categories of gene editing:
- One category would be gene therapy, which includes preventions and treatments, basically efforts to edit patient genomes with the goal of preventing, stopping or reversing various diseases or disorders. Which, when you think about it, could be wise or helpful or really good for humanity. You can imagine a situation, for example, with a deadly disease, where preventing that disease would be desirable. There’s a lot of research being done right now that focuses on the eyes and vision, the ability to restore sight.
- Then move on to the next category of enhancements, which include attempts to edit patient genomes with the goal of optimizing capability according to our current understanding of humanity. Basically, how do we use gene editing to create—and I’m using that term pretty intentionally right now—to create optimal humans, at least according to what we think is optimal.
- Then there are super-enhancements, which are attempts to edit patient genomes with the goal of increasing capabilities beyond our current understanding of humanity. In other words, capabilities that humans have not had before. So think super-soldiers. We’ll get more into this when we get into AI, but just listen to this quote from Vladimir Putin in Russia:
Man has the opportunity to get into the genetic code created by either nature, or as religious people would say, by God. One may imagine that scientists could create a person with desired features. This may be a mathematical genius, an outstanding musician, but this can also be a soldier, a person who can fight without fear or compassion, mercy or pain.
Obviously, we need to listen to that quote in light of the tragedy we’ve seen unfold in Ukraine over recent days. There are two more categories of gene editing.
- Absolute improvements that are beneficial to you, even if everybody else gets them. Think genetic improvements for all humanity.
- Positional improvements, which are beneficial to you if everyone else does not get them. To illustrate the difference, if you’re able to edit your genes to become stronger or taller, or to gain advantages over others, those improvements are only beneficial if others don’t get them. If everybody else gets stronger or taller too, well then nobody is actually stronger or taller than anybody else.
So put all this together and there are so many significant and pressing consequential concerns and questions with gene editing. These are purely on the technical side of things, before we even get into the specifically biblical concerns and questions. Technical concerns and questions include these:
- Is this technology being used for therapy or enhancement?
- How will we use this technology to promote genetic enhancements/improvements and change non-medically relevant characteristics?
- Or specifically, where do you draw the line between therapy and enhancement?
- And who is able to make and carry out those determinations?
Josiah Zayner, whom I’ve already quoted from the beginning of the night, is a biohacker known for his self-experimentation with genetic material, says this:
People are already editing human cells using a $150 inverted microscope… The requirements of embryo injection are minimal: a micro-injector, micropipette and microscope. All of these can be purchased on eBay and assembled for a few thousand dollars… You can probably have the embryo transferred to a human by a medical doctor in the U.S. if you don’t tell him or her what you’ve done, or you can do it in another country… So it won’t be long until the next human embryo is edited and implanted… If I could have my children be less prone to being obese or having genes that make them perform better athletically and stuff, why would I say no?
In other words, these decisions are in the hands of just about anyone, who makes just about any determination of what they think is good, or maybe even what they think will be harmful for others. Which is why Walter Isaacson well writes this:
The issue is one of the most profound we humans have ever faced. For the first time in the evolution of life on this planet, a species has developed the capacity to edit its own genetic makeup. That offers the potential of wondrous benefits, including the elimination of many deadly diseases and debilitating abnormalities. And it will someday offer both the promise and the peril of allowing us, or some of us, to boost our bodies and enhance our babies to have better muscles, minds, memory and moods. In the upcoming decades, as we gain more power to hack our own evolution, we will have to wrestle with deep moral and spiritual questions: Is there an inherent goodness to nature? Is there a virtue that arises from accepting what is gifted to us? Does empathy depend on believing that, but for the grace of God or the randomness of the natural lottery, we could have been born with a different set of endowments? Will an emphasis on personal liberty turn the most fundamental aspects of human nature into consumer choices made at a genetic supermarket? Should the rich be able to buy the best genes? Should we leave such decisions to individual choice, or should society come to some consensus about what it will allow?
I assume you’re seeing how these questions and concerns strike at the heart of our humanity. And a related technical question and concern, based on what we mentioned earlier in terms of germ line editing, is: is this technology being used only on somatic cells, which are non-reproductive and would only affect the individual being treated, or germline cells, which are reproductive cells that could potentially affect future generations? Are we fundamentally altering, not just one human life, but generations of human lives to come? And how does that affect the decisions we make now?
These are questions that even godless scientists or medical professionals are asking but they’re not even considering biblical concerns and questions, which we all need to consider from God our creator. Questions like to what extent are we assuming we can “improve” on God’s natural design of the human body?
In the words of James Watson, who is a biologist and geneticist who cowrote the paper proposing the double-helix structure of DNA, speaking of Britain’s Parliamentary and Scientific Committee over 20 years ago, “If scientists don’t play God, who will?”
Walter Isaacson notes:
Another reason we might feel uncomfortable with directing our evolution and designing our babies is that we would be “playing God.” Like Prometheus snatching fire, we would be usurping a power that properly resides above our pay grade. In so doing, we’d lose a sense of humility about our place in creation.
From what I can gather, Isaacson is not a follower of Jesus or even a believer in God, but even he realizes the significance of what we’re doing right now and how harmful our lack of humility in creation can be. So we are actually asking in our day, to what extent should we design babies? Isaacson also wrote:
So what do we say to parents who want to use gene editing to produce bigger, more muscular kids with greater stamina? Ones who can run marathons, break tackles and bend steel with their bare hands? And what does that do to our concept of athletics? Do we go from admiring the diligence of the athlete to admiring instead the wizardry of their genetic engineers? It’s easy to put an asterisk next to the home run tallies of José Canseco or Mark McGwire when they admit that they were on steroids. But what do we do if athletes’ extra muscles come from genes they were born with? And does it matter if those genes were paid for by their parents rather than bestowed by a random natural lottery?
One odd result of allowing super-enhancements could be that children will become like iPhones: a new version will come out every few years with better features and apps. Will children as they age feel that they are becoming obsolete? That their eyes don’t have the cool triple-lens enhancements that are engineered into the latest version of kids? Fortunately, these are questions we can ask for amusement but not for an answer. It will be up to our grandchildren to figure these out.
Can I be clear here? This is not crazy talk. These are real questions we are asking in the day in which we are living, not just for the day we are living. We need to ask, what will be the effect on future generations and what decisions are appropriate for us to make for them? Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, who does profess to follow Jesus, said, “Evolution has been working toward optimizing the human genome for 3.85 billion years. Do we really think that some small group of human genome tinkerers could do better without all sorts of unintended consequences?”
Will gene editing lead to unjust forms of inequality? Will discrimination increase for those who are unable or unwilling to modify their children?
Lee Silver, a molecular biologist at Princeton, writes:
In a society that values individual freedom above all else, it is hard to find any legitimate basis for restricting the use of reprogenetics… If democratic societies allow parents to buy environmental advantages for their children, how can they prohibit them from buying genetic advantages? Americans would respond to any attempt at a ban with the question, “Why can’t I give my child beneficial genes that other children get naturally?”
We need to ask, in all of this, what will we lose in humanity, individually and altogether, in the process of trying to “improve” humanity? In Isaacson’s words:
At this point in our deliberations, we have to face the potential conflict between what is desired by the individual versus what is good for human civilization. A reduction in mood disorders would be seen as a benefit by most of the afflicted individuals, parents and families. They would desire it. But does the issue look different when asked from society’s vantage point? As we learn to treat mood disorders with drugs and eventually with genetic editing, will we have more happiness but fewer Hemingways? Do we wish to live in a world in which there are no Van Goghs? This question of engineering away mood disorders gets to an even more fundamental question: What is the aim or purpose of life? Is it happiness? Contentment? Lack of pain or bad moods? If so, that may be easy. Or does the good life have aims that are deeper? Should the goal be that each person can flourish, in a more profound fashion, by using talents and traits in a way that is truly fulfilling? If so, that would require authentic experiences, real accomplishments and true efforts, rather than engineered ones. Does the good life entail making a contribution to our community, society and civilization? Has evolution encoded such goals into human nature? That might entail sacrifice, pain, mental discomforts and challenges that we would not always choose.
BIBLICAL EXHORTATIONS IN A WORLD OF GENE EDITING.
There’s so much to think about and consider here and to do so standing on biblical foundations. The Bible clearly calls us to:
- Fear God humbly. If we do not fear God, we will prove ourselves to be fools, plain and simple. We live in a world that doesn’t fear God.
- Think and act wisely. It’s so interesting how even Walter Isaacson recognizes the need for wisdom in all of this and the disastrous effects of not thinking and acting wisely. He writes:
Now let’s deal with the final frontier, the one most promising and frightful: the possibility of improving cognitive skills such as memory, focus, information processing, and perhaps even someday the vaguely defined concept of intelligence. Unlike height, cognitive skills are beneficial in more than just a positional way. If everyone were a bit smarter, it probably would make all of us better off. In fact, even if only a portion of the population became smarter, it might benefit everyone in society. Perhaps we will be able to improve our cognitive skills so that we can keep up with the challenges of using our technology wisely. Ah, but there’s the rub: wisely. Of all the complex components that go into human intelligence, wisdom may be the most elusive. Understanding the genetic components of wisdom may require us to understand consciousness, and I suspect that’s not going to happen in this century. In the meantime, we will have to deploy the finite allocation of wisdom that nature has dealt us as we ponder how to use the gene-editing techniques that we’ve discovered. Ingenuity without wisdom is dangerous.
Do you see the danger here of what Isaacson is saying? His remedy is that we need to deploy the “wisdom that nature has dealt us” with the reality that our nature is sinful to the core. Which means we needs wisdom that only God can give. So let’s study and work diligently. Individually, we all need to think through these things together, as followers of Jesus, in our churches.
I would add, to students and all sorts of professionals who are listening right now, let’s be on the front line of these discussions. Followers of Jesus who fear God need to be leading the way in these discussions, not on the sidelines.
So God, raise up students who study and work diligently on these issues in high school, in university and graduate levels, as well as professionals who thrive in these areas.
All of us together, with fear before God, need to trust God completely. So let me close this section with one final quote from Isaacson. He writes:
After millions of centuries during which the evolution of organisms happened ‘naturally,’ we humans now have the ability to hack the code of life and engineer our own genetic future. Or, to flummox those who would label gene editing as ‘unnatural’ and ‘playing God,’ let’s put it another way: Nature and nature’s God, in their infinite wisdom, have evolved a species that is able to modify its own genome, and that species happens to be ours.
In light of all we’ve seen, when it comes to the sinfulness of humanity, that is a frightening reality. But the good news is—and this is actually where we’re going to end our time tonight in even greater ways—Psalm 2:1-4 says, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from among us.’ He who sits in the heavens laugh; the Lord holds them in derision.”
Amidst all these monumental questions, God is still on high; we are not. God is still the creator; we are all still creatures—and we can trust him.
So before we move on, I want to give you an opportunity for reflection. I tried to take some of the examples we talked about and put them here for you to consider. So which of the following potential uses of gene editing would you support based on biblical foundations for humanity?
- Helping people be less susceptible to deadly viruses?
- Eliminating Huntington’s disease, sickle cell anemia and cystic fibrosis?
- Preventing blindness or deafness?
- Preventing mental, emotional or even learning disorders?
- Determining gender, sexual inclinations, skin color, eye color or height?
- Enhancing cognitive abilities?
- Enhancing physical abilities?
In other words—this isn’t a perfect linear sequence here. Where would you draw the line with each of these different things, based on biblical foundations? You might do this on your own, or together others. Just go down that list. Which one do you think is a wise use of potential gene editing? Ask each other, “Where would you draw the line?” Spend the next few minutes in reflection, then I’m going to pray for us as we move on to our final two issues.
— Interlude —
O God, we need your help. Give those of us who are listening right now and others in the world proper humility and wisdom before you, we pray. You are all wise; we are not. Grant us wisdom to think well through these issues. We pray for your help and common grace for our world, even for those who might not believe in you. We pray for your grace and mercy for them, for wisdom for all kinds of people in all kinds of positions, as we think through and make decisions on these issues. We pray all of this with total trust in you, O God, as our sovereign Lord and King over all. Our times are in your hands and we are so glad they are. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
HUMANITY & ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
Just in case your mind is not blown enough, we’ve got two more issues to go. This next one will relate in many ways to what we just walked through. Flowing directly from what we just looked at, let’s think biblically about humanity and artificial intelligence. Let’s consider how these affect the way we think about what it means to be human and decisions we make that are very consequential. Let’s start with this quote from Francis Schaeffer, written decades ago:
So it is a truly wonderful thing that although man is twisted and corrupted and lost as a result of the Fall, yet he is still man. He has become neither a machine nor an animal nor a plant. The marks of mannishness are still upon him—love, rationality, longing for significance, fear of nonbeing, and so on. This is the case even when his non-Christian system leads him to say these things do not exist. It is these things which distinguish him from the animal and plant world and from the machine.
As we’ve seen throughout tonight in Scripture, this is clear. We’re uniquely made in these ways. But how does our humanity relate to machines when those machines are on an entirely new level than most of us have thought about before?
So let’s think through some terms and definitions here from the start.
- Artificial intelligence (AI) is non-biological intelligence involving a machine programmed to accomplish complex goals. You can even say “complex human goals,” which leads to two categories.
- Artificial general intelligence, referring to human-level artificial intelligence.
- Artificial super intelligence, which refers to that which is beyond—and perhaps way beyond—human-level artificial intelligence.
- Transhumanism. This is a movement whose aim is to transform humanity by improving human intelligence, physical strength and the five senses by technological means. Julian Huxley, whom I mentioned at the beginning of tonight, discovered what’s call “modern evolutionary synthesis” and was the first Director General of UNESCO. He wrote, “The human species can, if it wishes, transcend itself—not just sporadically, an individual here in one way, an individual there in another way—but in its entirety, as humanity.”
We see in Huxley’s quote here that transhumanism has one ultimate goal which is posthumanism, a stage beyond humanity. This goal is built on two fundamental principles: One, that humanity can overcome our humanity. We can leave behind our humanity with all its limitations and move on to something better. And two, that each individual has the fundamental right to pursue these enhancements, that it’s a human right to pursue enhancements that overcome our very humanity.
There are three primary waves that transhumanism perceives to achieve this goal. It starts with the morphological freedom to change ourselves. This then leads to—this is what we’re seeing more and more today with discussions of VR and AR—the use of augmented reality (AR) to merge the physical and digital worlds. Then eventually, the pursuit of artificial intelligence to finally transcend our human limitations entirely.
So let’s think through the gradual progression here:
- Morphological freedom. We can—or should or maybe even must—change ourselves.
- So we fuse technology with humanity in augmented reality, then eventually technology
- The pursuit of artificial intelligence takes over to transcend our human limitations entirely.
Let’s revisit a quote I shared at the beginning of the night. Stephen Hawking has made this statement that to some sounds ridiculous, but which to him sounds absolutely reasonable:
The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race… It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever-increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.
Questions to Consider
This all leads to so many questions we need to think through such as:
- What’s the difference between a human and a machine? The more we put the two together, the more that line is blurred.
- At what point do machines have rights?
- What are the dangers associated with adding components of machines to human development?
- Is there any moral code that should legislate the development of AI?
- Who is responsible for the control of AI?
- What role should AI systems have in government, military and business applications? To what extent should AI be used in war? To what extent should AI be used to gain advantages in business?
- To what extent will AI eliminate or even create human jobs?
We’re just getting started with these questions. Again, the goal of tonight is certainly not to answer all these questions in the middle of the night. But we want to give biblical foundations for thinking through them. This is where, instead of reinventing the wheel, I actually want to point you to what I think is an excellent statement of biblical foundations that the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission developed to provide a set of biblical and practical affirmations and denials that cover so many of these critical questions and issues associated with AI.
I actually inserted into your Study Guide this statement of biblical foundations. I did something similar one other time in Secret Church when it came to the authority and truthfulness of Scripture, having used articles from the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. I just want to put these principles before us tonight, along with Scriptures to go with them, most of which we’ve already looked at tonight, but now apply to AI here.
I want to give you a few minutes to reflect in a way that will guide you into a lot more reflection on and then application of God’s Word on this issue in the days to come. So here we go. Just follow along. Maybe underline, circle things or make notes along the way regarding the image of God.
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.
- This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created (Genesis 5:1–2).
Isn’t that a helpful statement? It applies all we’ve already seen to our use of technology today. Then next:
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.
So yes, there’s so much positive here, by God’s design, as his image bearers. At the same time:
- 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.
- You shall have no other gods before me (Exodus 20:3).
- The LORD said to Moses, See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, and the ark of the testimony, and the mercy seat that is on it, and all the furnishings of the tent, the table and its utensils, and the pure lampstand with all its utensils, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the basin and its stand, and the finely worked garments, the holy garments for Aaron the priest and the garments of his sons, for their service as priests, and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense for the Holy Place. According to all that I have commanded you, they shall do” (Exodus 31:1–11).
- The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble (Proverbs 16:4).
- And he said to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37–40).
- . . . for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God . . . (Romans 3:23).
In other words, AI is not the answer to humanity’s needs and we must guard against using AI in ways that actually devalue humanity. We see in Exodus 20:3 here the constant temptation to look to things to do what only God can do.
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.
This is a key distinction. In humanity, machines are not made in the image of God with moral agency or responsibility before God. So then:
- 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.
- He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury (Romans 2:6–8).
Morality is a fundamental part of humanity before God.
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.
This is what we’ve already walked through. It’s good to work in these ways for what is good and right for others and helpful for others. At the same time and this is so important,
- 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. Furthermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing or completing human beings.
- Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25–26).
- “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:55–57. .
- Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).
- Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:4).
In other words, we reject the idea that machines can do for us what only Jesus can do for us: make us complete human beings. You see how quickly AI actually becomes a false gospel that people believe and buy into and bank their lives on.
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.
- He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8).
- A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another (John 13:34).
See how we could build biases into AI in ways that harm certain types of people, groups of people or people with certain characteristics. Or we could promote particular ideologies or agendas. Imagine a government using its power through AI to subjugate certain types of people who do certain types of things. This is not just some time in the future. If you look at various countries right now, they are using technology to monitor people, to create a credit system where you’re allowed to do certain things and not allowed to do other things based on how much you align or don’t align with what a government is saying.
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.
- Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed (Genesis 2:24–25).
- For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor… (1 Thessalonians 4:3–4).
Why pursue sexual pleasure in covenant marriage when you can find it other ways? These are just more ways being creating to go outside God’s design. Are you starting to see how these biblical foundations we’ve hit on tonight—in all we’ve walked though—touch AI in so many different ways and apply practically to our lives? Think about AI and human work.
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 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 are 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.
- The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it (Genesis 2:15).
- They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord, and their descendants with them. Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear (Isaiah 65:21–24).
Basically, to the extent that AI frees us from work to pursue pleasure, it actually goes against our humanity. From the very beginning, we are created to work. We didn’t dive into a theology of work tonight; we did that years back in the “Cross and Everyday Life” Secret Church, but we see from the beginning of creation (Genesis 2:15), that humanity is made to work. Work is a good gift from God that was part of who we were before sin ever even entered in the world. If we’re thinking AI is going to rescue us from work, we’re actually missing the point of work in humanity.
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.
You see how AI can be used, or is being used?
- 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.
- You shall not steal (Exodus 20:15).
- Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure (Psalm 147:5).
- For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:12–13).
Again, we already see the effects of algorithms on the news we receive and the media we hear, in ways that reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful and demean the weak. Which leads right into security.
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.
- Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good (1 Peter 2:13–14).
AI in the hands of a totalitarian regime is an extremely dangerous reality, not just for that regime. Think about war.
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 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.
- And the LORD said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground” (Genesis 4:10).
- . . . for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer (Romans 13:4).
There are so many destructive and deadly ways this could be used, in ways that could clearly lead to devastating impacts on humanity. Two more areas.
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.
So with the responsibility to do justice with dominion as image bearers, we need to work together for justice when it comes to AI.
- 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 to the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone.
- Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed (Romans 13:1–7).
In other words, we don’t need machines that are given dominion and authority to rule, when God has given dominion and authority to rule to people made in his image.
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.
- In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1).
- I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols (Isaiah 42:8).
Ah, those are great summaries of what we’ve already seen in God’s Word regarding:
- Applications of God’s Word to this issue of artificial intelligence—programming a machine to accomplish complex goals on levels of humanity or even beyond humanity.
- Transhumanism—the attempt to transform humanity by improving different facets of humanity.
- Using technological means with an aim to get beyond the limitations of humanity altogether.
So is there anything worthy of reflection here? I think there is. Obviously more than just these moments. Let me bring all of this down to one question for a few minutes of reflection. Again, you can do this alone or with a few people around you. How would you answer this question? If someone were to ask you to explain the primary differences between humans and machines, and why those differences are significant, how would you respond? What’s the difference between humans and machines and why does that matter?
Spend the next few minutes in reflection, then I’ll come back with prayer that will then lead us into our final issue.
— Interlude —
O God, we humbly thank you for the gift of technology that you’ve given us and the many evidences of your grace toward us in the creation of many things that are all around us right now. We think about the opportunity to do what was unthinkable as this Secret Church has gathered 50,000 plus people together in all kinds of places around the world, to hear from you and pray together right now. What a gift! God, we thank you for this. At the same time, we pray you would help us use technology and machines wisely, humbly and responsibly with the dominion and responsibility you’ve given us.
Help us all think well about these things in each of our lives and to be in the forefront of culture around us, thinking on these things and making decisions about these things with your Word driving us with total confidence in you as the Lord over it all. God, we are so glad for the things that make us unique and distinct as human beings made in your image. Help us grow deeper in our understanding and appreciation of these things that set us apart, not just from animals, but also from machines. With these distinctions that come from being made in your image, help us use machines and technology wisely. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
HUMANITY, DIGITAL & SOCIAL MEDIA, THE METAVERSE
All right—are you awake? We are almost there. Final issue, then we’ll dive into some conclusions. So, humanity, digital and social media, and the metaverse. Let’s dive right into these three, starting with terms and definitions.
- Digital media, referring to video, audio, software or other content that is created, edited, stored or accessed in digital form, through numeric encoding and decoding of data.
- Social media, forms of electronic communication through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages and other content such as videos.
- Metaverse, “massively-scaled and interoperable network of real-time rendered 3D virtual worlds which can be experienced synchronously and persistently by an effectively unlimited number of users and with continuity of data, such as identity, history, entitlements, objects, communications and payments.” You got that? That was a mouthful here in the middle of the night. Here’s another way to put it: “A digital world of worlds through which people can travel seamlessly, retaining their appearance and digital possessions wherever they go.” These worlds do not merely exist in VR (virtual reality), but also layer onto physical reality through AR (augmented reality). So it’s a combination of physical and virtual realities. In Mark Zuckerberg’s words:
The feeling of presence [is] the defining quality of the metaverse. You’re going to really feel like you’re there with other people. You’ll see their facial expressions, you’ll see their body language…all the subtle ways we communicate that today’s technology can’t quite deliver.
- Virtual reality, an artificial environment experienced through sensory stimuli such as sights and sounds, provided by a computer and in which one’s actions partially determine what happens in the environment.
- Augmented reality, an enhanced version of reality created by the use of technology to overlay digital information on an image of something being viewed through a device.
This is where I really wish I had my friend Renji here to do a six-hour seminar on what all this means. Renji is a passionate follower of Jesus who is on the cutting edge of the metaverse. He’s telling me that soon—and he would say very soon—goggles will be just as common to us as our phones and we’ll be interacting in these worlds all the time. This brother—and those working alongside him—is an example of what is needed, Spirit-filled people saturated with God’s Word on the front lines engaging these issues. But he’s not here and my aim is not to try to explain the metaverse to you, as if I’m an expert on it. Instead I want to give you a list of biblical exhortations for when you think about how to address digital media, social media and the metaverse for the glory of God in your life. These are exhortations that can apply to your use of digital and social media right now, which is part of what I want to give you from the Word. These will also apply to any type of media, or even versions of reality like the metaverse, that you will encounter in the days, months and years to come.
We’re going to fly through these. Most of these were developed with a group of pastors at our church who wanted to create a discipleship resource to help people navigate how to follow Jesus faithfully in a world of digital and social media. I have added on a few specifically in light of the ongoing development of the metaverse. Here they are:
- Trust that the imago dei will always be better than the imago meta or imago anything else (Genesis 1:26). Our highest dignity and greatest joy is found in the identity we have received from God; no identity customized by us can ever come close to it. In fact, identities customized by us can rob us of the dignity and joy that our Creator has lovingly, carefully and personally designed for us. We would be wise to see ourselves and others as we have been made by God, not as we are projected through social media or the metaverse.
In other words, keep your eyes fixed on what God says about you, not what others say about you, not even what you say about you. I should have put 1 Corinthians 4 here. Fight to keep your eyes fixed on God and how he defines who you are—period.
- Insist upon the goodness of our physical bodies, physical relationships and physical spaces in God’s good design for the world (Genesis 2:15, 24-25). Far, far, far more important than interacting on that phone or putting on those goggles is having a physical relationship with others, in physical spaces, just as you’ve seen throughout the physical world that God has made as good, as “very good.”
- Proceed with extreme caution (Proverbs 17:24, 29:11; Ephesians 5:15-17). The negative effects of digital and social media are well-documented, both for those who post and for those who consume. Here are a few of these effects:
- Digital and social media often lead to addiction on various levels
- The spread of misinformation
- The distortion of news
- Mental, physical, emotional, financial and other manipulation
- Increased anxiety, stress, depression and loneliness
- Decreased productivity
- Lower attention spans
- Diminished listening and critical thinking skills
- Damaged personal relationships
- Unhealthy sleep and rest patterns
This list could go on and on and on. For all these reasons and more, seriously consider limiting, and in various ways even avoiding, the use of digital and social media in your life. Be wise in every way possible—guarding your heart, mind and speech when it comes to digital and social media. In other words, don’t, don’t, don’t jump wholesale into digital, social media or the metaverse, or anything else, without seriously considering the dangers and setting up safeguards in your life against them. If you decide to proceed further, proceed with caution.
- Fear God (Proverbs 1:7, 15:3). Let everything you see, say or do on digital or social media be done in the fear of God. This is the way to avoid foolishness.
- Cultivate beauty, truth and wonder in what you say and do (Proverbs 40:5). Use digital and social media to celebrate the beauty of God’s creation, the presence of his common grace and the many evidences of his goodness in the world around you. Share how God, his Word and his work are edifying you in a way that edifies others. Yes, there are many good uses for digital and social media; I trust there will be many good ways in the metaverse to take God’s grace in your life and exalt God’s glory in beautiful, true and wonderful ways. So redeem these mediums to the extent that’s possible.
- Enjoy and steward opportunities to encourage and connect with other people (Colossians 3:16). Use digital and social media to encourage and connect with brothers and sisters in Christ, people who don’t yet know Christ, family, friends and particularly people who you are not able to see or interact with on a regular basis. This can be a really good thing, so the opportunities to do this with people who are far from you—with whom you don’t share physical space—can be really valuable.
- Think and pray before you speak, act, send or post. Always take appropriate time to consider your words and actions before you say or do anything on digital and social media, as well as the metaverse. Take extra time when you are responding to someone or something else you have seen or heard. Whenever possible, consider waiting 24 hours before responding on digital or social media to anything.
- “Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Proverbs 29:20; also see Proverbs 13:3).
- Always ask two questions.
(a) Will what I say or do glorify God? Ask if what you are saying or doing will classify as a good work that brings glory to our Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:13-16).
(b) Will what I say or do adorn the gospel? Because the gospel of Jesus Christ is of primary importance in each of our lives, ask if what you are saying or doing will reflect positively on the picture people have of the gospel and the life of Jesus in you. These questions are good governors for everything we do on digital or social media (Colossians 4:3-6).
- When in doubt, don’t (Proverbs 10:19). When you are uncertain or have hesitations, don’t send, post, tweet or retweet, like or dislike, or say or do anything else on digital or social media. This is especially applicable when deeper discussion of an issue is either warranted or wise, when particular nuance is needed around certain ideas or statements, when definitions of words are not clear and when what you’re saying or doing is not clearly and unequivocally biblical and is likely to cause controversy. These mediums are not designed for those kinds of conversations. They’re just not. They’re actually designed to inflame those kinds of conversations and harm relationships in the process. So when in doubt, don’t. Don’t look to digital or social mediums to do the opposite of what they are actually designed to do.
- Avoid harsh and hurtful speech at all times (Proverbs 12:18, 15:18). Harsh and hurtful words are always dangerous and destructive. They’re a lot easier to express on digital or social media than in person. Avoid them completely. This is straight from God’s Word, all over God’s Word.
- Avoid quarrelsome, retaliatory and inflammatory speech (Proverbs 18:6, 20:3). Fools quarrel—that’s true, but especially quarreling over texts, emails, and digital and social media outlets. Explore God-glorifying, neighbor-loving ways to engage in meaningful dialog about myriad disagreements.
- Avoid gossip and slander (Proverbs 16:27-28). Make sure that everything you communicate on digital or social media is useful for building up others according to their needs in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 4:29-32). Flee from all gossip and slander in everything you read and communicate to others. Run from it, not just in what you say, but even in what you read. You may not be initiating the gossip or slander, but all too often you’re being entertained by it. Don’t do it. Don’t indulge in gossip or slander in any way. Run from it.
- Avoid grumbling and complaining, about anyone or anything (Philippians 2:14-15). How much of what you see on social media would be classified as grumbling or complaining? You are to avoid these things at all times, especially when you’re communicating to a variety of other people at one time.
- Avoid saying or doing on a screen or with goggles what you wouldn’t say or do in person (2 Corinthians 10:8-11). It is so much easier to do something or say something to or about someone in an email, post, message, text or in the metaverse that you would not do or say if you were physically with that person. Actually, it’s usually cowardly and selfish to do or say such things through digital mediums because you are intentionally avoiding any discomfort you might experience when you do or say hard things in person. You actually need to see and feel others’ physical responses when in these situations. Therefore, avoid actions or conversations over digital or social media that need to take place in person. Even if you conclude for wise and good reasons that something needs to be done or said on digital or social media, still do or say it in person first. Don’t be a lion behind a technological device and a lamb in front of actual people. This is where physical presence, by God’s design, really is so important. So don’t bypass it.
- Avoid communicating to “that” person or group of people at “that” time without considering “every” person and group of people at “any” time (Hebrews 10:24). When using digital or social media, you often have a particular audience in mind, including a specific person or group of people at a specific time. However, once you release something into the digital world, it may be observed by far more than “that” person or group of people at “any” time. So always consider how every person or group of people may perceive what you’re saying and how you’re saying it at any time, either now or in the future. That’s the nature of these mediums, in ways that are different from physical conversation in a physical place at a physical time. Realize the difference here and communicate differently—not inauthentically, but differently and wisely in light of the medium.
- Conduct yourself honestly (Proverbs 16:2; 1 Corinthians 4:5). Digital and social media can be used as a mask to present a false persona to other people in ways that you start to believe you are that person when you are not. Conduct yourself honestly and resist the temptation to put forward a false image of yourself. This doesn’t mean you must share every struggle you experience or all the details of your life. Some things are better shared when physically present with people who are close to you. This is so dangerous on so many levels, in ways you don’t realize. For one thing, other people can have a dishonest picture of you, then before long, you are contributing to that dishonest picture of yourself. Conduct yourself honestly.
- Cultivate humility. Approach digital and social media with a mindset that says, “Jesus must become greater; I must become less.” By all means, rejoice in God’s grace in your life in ways that point to his glory. At the same time, be cautious of the humble brag, describing how “humbled” or “grateful” you are to achieve something if you are actually desiring exaltation in others’ eyes. Don’t base your identity or mood on how many likes, follows, retweets or whatever you have. Your focus on these things exposes your desire for people’s approval, while in Christ you already have the approval of God. Ultimately, use digital and social media to point people to him, not you.
- He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30).
- When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom (Proverbs 11:2).
- Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips (Proverbs 27:2).
- If you have been foolish, exalting yourself, or if you have been devising evil, put your hand on your mouth (Proverbs 30:32).
- Have accountability (Proverbs 19:20, 27, 27:17). You need others in your life who have access to your digital and social media and input into your use of it. Don’t have an email, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or other account that another brother or sister in Christ cannot access. Consider giving your spouse, or another brother or sister in Christ whom you trust, access to your accounts. Moreover, if you have any question about something you are seeing, sending or doing, then discuss that with another brother or sister in Christ first. In the end, don’t trust yourself. Instead, trust the Spirit of Jesus in you and in other brothers and sisters in Christ around you. Sin always thrives in secret. So don’t have accounts that are secret. That’s wisdom.
- Don’t let digital or social media control you (1 Corinthians 6:12). Is your phone a constant pull in your life? Does a quick check of your phone turn into lost time of scrolling and searching? Whenever you have a free minute, do you default to your phone? Are you present in conversations and interactions with family and friends, or are you regularly pulling out your phone to check your digital and social media? Does a notification on your phone take precedence over whatever else you are doing in that moment? Resist the control that digital and social media can demand. Instead, walk in step with God’s Spirit. Let him be the only one who can speak into your life at any moment, not your phone, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, email or any other media outlet. This is a word for all of us. Don’t be dominated by anything. Don’t let these mediums control you.
- Don’t let digital or social media deceive you (Colossians 2:8). More friends, likes, or other affirmations on digital or social media do not mean that you are better known, more social, more well liked, or that you have a strong, healthy community filled with meaningful human connections. These indicators in digital and social media can actually mean the opposite, for the use of digital and social media often leads to less meaningful human connections, decreased attention spans, depression, mental instability and so much more. So don’t be deceived and don’t deceive yourself in ways that are really unhealthy for your heart, mind and life
- Guard your heart from envy, jealousy, pride and ambition (Proverbs 4:23; Philippians 2:3-4). Digital and social media can be contentment killers. Observing this person who has that, or that person who has achieved this, can subtly, almost unknowingly, fuel covetousness, insecurity and discontentment. This can also cut in prideful ways, fueling thoughts of superiority. In all of this, you have to guard your heart. Rejoice with others who are rejoicing, hurt with others who are hurting, keeping your eyes on Jesus and what he says to you and about you. There is an adversary who wants to use these mediums of communication to wreak havoc in your heart, in ways that fuel pride, envy, jealousy and selfish ambition. So, “Keep your heart with all vigilance” (Proverbs 4:23). And not just your heart…
- Guard your mind from falsehood, filth and frivolity (Psalm 101:3; Proverbs 12:11; Romans 12:2). Is your use of digital and social media conforming you to the pattern of this world or transforming you by the renewal of your mind? Make sure these media outlets are instruments in God’s hands for your sanctification, not instruments in the adversary’s hands for your destruction. Beware of falsehood, including lies about God, others, you and the world that spread so easily on digital and social media. Beware of filth which is available at your fingertips at every moment of the day. Beware of frivolity, filling your mind with an endless drivel of the world that leaves no room for what matters most according to God’s Word. Consider wise ways to limit or avoid altogether sources of falsehood, filth and frivolity.
- Guard your life from ungodly influences, unhealthy friendship and unhelpful associations (Proverbs 4:14-15, 12:26, 13:20; 1 Corinthians 15:33). Who and what you’re doing, seeing, hearing, following, liking and associating with on digital and social media will inevitably affect you and others’ perceptions of you. Personally, influences on social media will either push you toward godliness, healthy relationships and helpful connections or pull you away from these things. Do not assume that media content has no impact on your life and do not intentionally or unintentionally yield moral authority in your life to anyone but God and his Word. Even with a healthy desire to be aware of how other people think who believe differently than you, be aware of their influence upon you and others’ perception of you, especially as “likes” or “follows” can often be viewed by others as endorsements of certain things. Remember that social media is continually influencing and shaping your life, my life and the lives of people around us, especially as people are watching and listening to the things you do on digital and social media. There is so much more we could unpack here. Return to this another day, read this paragraph again and heed it.
- Flee sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:18-20). Digital and social media provide countless temptations to sexual immorality, which, as we saw earlier, includes any sexual thinking, desiring or acting outside of marriage between a man and a woman. So flee all sexual lust; do not view, send or do anything that provokes sexual immorality in your own life. Flee sexual immodesty; do not say, send or do anything that might provoke sexual immorality in others. Flee sexual allurement; do not say, send or do anything that in any way leads to inappropriate physical or emotional attachment. And flee viewing, sending or doing anything that exalts, glamorizes, jokes about or makes light of any kind of sexual immorality. Flee it.
- Be cautious in one-on-one interaction with someone else’s spouse (2 Peter 3:14). Don’t interact through digital or social media with someone who is married in a way that you would not interact with them with their husband or wife present. In order to be blameless and above reproach, consider appropriate times to include either that person’s spouse or another adult in that conversation. Not that it’s always necessary, but be wise. Similarly, if you are married and interacting with someone who is single, avoid interacting in a way that you would not do so with your spouse present.
- Avoid one-on-one interaction with minors (Matthew 18:5-6). Consider a couple exhortations here regarding minors, anyone under the age of 18, knowing that social and digital media can be used and abused by many people who seek to harm students and children. I would say that it is wise for any adult, or a minor outside your family, to avoid interaction with minors on digital or social media. In order to promote safety for minors, adults should always seek parental consent before directly interacting with a minor through digital or social media, then include an adult on that personal interaction with a minor. Again, this is just wise, helpful, protective and good on so many levels.
- Be open, honest and up-to-date in interaction between minors and parents (Ephesians 6:1-4). Children and teenagers, be open and honest with your parents or guardians about all your interactions online. Parents and guardians, love and serve your children and teenagers by learning about technology, exploring technology with your children and teenagers, introducing them to technology in helpful ways, promoting open communication and providing healthy boundaries. Stay up-to-speed on current technological resources, social trends, apps and lingo. This is part of discipleship, helping each other across generations navigate digital and social media and the metaverse together.
- Make the most of every opportunity (James 4:14; Colossians 4:5). Our lives are a mist in this world and every moment counts. God has given us the ability to communicate with people around us and around the world through digital and social media, so let’s maximize these means at every moment for the glory of God and the spread of the gospel. Let’s especially explore the limitless opportunities available for using digital and social media for the spread of the gospel among the unreached. This is what I love about my conversations with Renji and others who are saying, “The doors are wide open for us to spread the gospel and interact with people around the world, as the church, for the spread of the gospel, specifically among people who’ve never even heard it. There are three billion plus unreached people in the world. This is what last year’s Secret Church was all about. With all the technology we have available to us and accessible to others, there is no reason that this should be the case. Paul would have done anything for mediums to communicate the gospel message around the world like we have now. So let’s use them wisely toward that end, so that nations might see and hear the gospel.
29.Make sure not to neglect other priorities (Psalm 127:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; 2 Thessalonians 3:11-12). Even as we leverage digital and social media for good, let’s also limit them for good. Consider other priorities in your life that are more important. This is a summary of things we’ve already talked about. For example, God has created us to work hard for his glory, so if we’re not careful, digital and social media can hinder our productivity. Or consider God’s call for us to rest and how easy it is for us to think that when we have a free minute, we don’t want to waste it by just sitting there, so we might as well look at digital or social media. What if God has designed these moments for us to simply rest our minds and be present in that moment instead of being preoccupied on a screen?
Consider also your time physically with other people. Don’t let digital or social media replace personal, physical interaction with family, friends, co-workers, neighbors and other people God sovereignly brings into your path. Above all, consider your time alone with God. Scripture calls us to pray without ceasing, not text, email, post or game without ceasing. What if prayer was a more automatic reflex in your life than checking your phone? How might that change not just your prayer life, but your entire life? Prioritize your time with the God who loves you and who alone is worthy to be the dominant influence in your life. Don’t let digital or social media, the metaverse or anything else that comes along rob you of what matters most, keeping you from giving your life to what matters most.
- Do all to the glory of God. This leads right into the last biblical exhortation. So many opportunities exist to bring glory to God through digital and social media and the metaverse in the days to come. So to paraphrase 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Whether you text, send, post, tweet or whatever you do in the metaverse, do all to the glory of God.”
So here’s what I want you to do for reflection, before we close everything out. Out of the 30 encouragements listed above, what two or three do you need to grow in most? Just look back at this list for a moment and identify two or three that stick out to you as being areas in which you need to grow the most. Take a moment to do that, then we’ll pray, then we’re going to bring everything home. Go for it.
— Interlude —
O God, we pray, in this world of digital and social media—even with the development of the metaverse and whatever that means in the future—help us obey your word to us in 1 Corinthians 10:31, to do all that we do in these ways to your glory. Grant us wisdom, out of the overflow of fear of you, that we would use these mediums wisely for the glory of your name. We pray for the spread of the gospel message through these mediums. We pray for the spread of the gospel through these mediums to people who have never heard it. And we pray that you would help us use them in ways that are good for us, good for others and glorifying to you. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
ULTIMATE CONCLUSIONS: WHO IS GOD?
All right, here we go with our closing few minutes together tonight. We started with the question Who am I? We saw that I am, you are, a man or woman personally made by God, in the image of God, to enjoy and exalt the glory of God. If that’s true, if that’s what makes me who I am and makes you who you are, and is what separates us from everything else in all creation, including animals and machines and the fact that we are made in the image of God, then an even more fundamental question than that is: Who is God?
I love this quote from A.W. Tozer: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Our understanding of us hinges on our understanding of God. And having an understanding of God, Tozer says, is worthy of him. When it’s worthy of him, our understanding of ourselves will be worthy of us. This is why we see in Jeremiah 9:23-24 that we are to make this the boast in our lives—not that we are rich or wise or powerful, but that we understand and know God. Jesus says in John 17:3, “This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God.”
The defining characteristic of humanity is the image of God. We’ve seen this over and over again, so now I just want to bring it home to you, right where you’re sitting now.
- Your defining characteristic is that you are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).
- Your dignity is not achieved by what you create, but it’s received by the One who created you (Psalm 139:13-16(. You have a received dignity, not an achieved dignity. This is such a fundamentally different message than what this world is telling you.
- Your identity is not found in believing or living “your truth,” but in believing and living in “the One who is true.”
- Your happiness is not found in self-determination, but in self-denial, in turning from your sin and yourself to trust in Jesus as the Savior and Lord of your life, contrary to the ways and messages of this world. The defining characteristic of who you are is that you are made in the image of God to experience life in God and this reality will never, ever, ever change, no matter what happens in this world.
Which means that all of humanity’s efforts to reject, rebel against, compete with or oppose God are ultimately weak and futile. We’ve talked a lot about some mind-blowing things tonight, even dangerous, destructive, potentially deadly and devastating things in some people’s language when it comes to the future of humanity. But let us be clear:
God is in no way worried or threatened by any of man’s ingenuity or capabilities. Read Isaiah 40 there in your study guide, just to be reminded that the nations of the world and all who are in them are like a drop in a bucket, or as dust on a scale.
God sits above the earth and its inhabitants. You and I are like grasshoppers. He has no equal. No one or nothing is even close. He reigns supreme over all. So he is not worried or threatened in any way by anything we’ve explored tonight, because of who he is. The whole earth belongs to him (Psalm 24:1) and all who are in it—because of what he can do. Think of the tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9. God took all the highest ingenuity and capability of man, then in a millisecond he scattered them across the face of the earth. “The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples” (Psalm 33:10). God is in no way threatened by any of man’s ingenuity or capabilities.
God can be trusted to carry out all of his good purposes. No purpose of God can be thwarted (Job 42:2). He will accomplish all his purposes (Isaiah 46:10). He will work all things together for the good of those who love him and have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28-30).
Humanity will never be destroyed , no matter what Stephen Hawking has said. Instead, humanity will ultimately be renewed in all the ways we talked about earlier. For all who trust in Jesus—the Creator who has come to save his creation—we have new birth (1 Peter 1:23) and a new identity (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 2:20; Colossians 1:27), as we’re being transformed into a new image (2 Corinthians 3:18) with a new future (Philippians 3:20-21): “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself”.
One day, followers of Jesus will be completely redeemed, completely made new (Romans 8:18, 23-25). We will be free from the presence of sin (1 Corinthians 1:8; Revelation 10:7-8). We will be conformed into the likeness of Jesus when we see him as he is (1 John 3:2). And we will be welcomed into an everlasting Kingdom that we will enjoy forever and ever and ever (2 Peter 1:11; 2 Timothy 4:18). Don’t miss the sure hope that God gives us in his Word, amidst our lives in this world.
Most Christians will die (1 Corinthians 15:15-52), yet for Christians who die, their bodies are buried in earth, while their souls are immediately welcomed in heaven (Luke 23:43; Acts 7:59; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10). To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. So mark it down: death is not the end in this world. Death is just the beginning of another world and one day all Christians will be resurrected (1 Corinthians 15:42-47). We will be given new bodies, perfect bodies made whole, in the image of Jesus (Matthew 13:43). Like Jesus, our Savior, King and Lord, our bodies will be eternal, beautiful, powerful, spiritual—meaning perfectly Spirit-filled—and recognizable (Matthew 8:11; Romans 8:11). We will be us and we will be completely redeemed.
Creation also will be completely restored (Romans 8:19-22; Revelation 21:1), in a new heaven and a new earth, a place of unhindered fellowship with God (Revelation 21:1-4), where we will be with him and he will be with us. Where death will be replaced by life. There will be no more sin, no more sorrow, no more sickness and no more separation. Night will be replaced by light (Revelation 21:22-25, 22:5). As we saw in our meditation on Revelation 22 at the beginning of this session, God makes all things new, all corruption will be replaced by purity (Revelation 21:27) and all curses will be replaced by blessing (Revelation 22:1-3).
Then five of the most beautiful words in all the Bible will come true (Revelation 22:4): we will see his face! Heaven will be a place of unhindered fellowship with God and indescribable worship of God (Revelation 19:6-9). There will be a sound of worship like the roar of many waters, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns” (Revelation 19:6).
Consider these final exhortations, as men and women made in the image of this God, saved from our sin by the Son of God and now filled with the Holy Spirit of God (2 Peter 3:11-13).
- Let’s become more like Jesus every day (2 Corinthians 3:18). Let’s make it our aim to be more conformed into his image today than we were yesterday, and more the next day, and the next day, and the next day.
- Let’s proclaim the gospel of Jesus to everyone (Matthew 28:18-20). To the people right around us, people far from us, in other nations and languages and people groups. The good news of God’s great love has not yet gone to 3.2 billion people made in God’s image who need to hear about God’s grace, so let’s proclaim the gospel of Jesus to every single one of them.
- Let’s be ready for Jesus to come back at any moment (2 Timothy 4:7-8; Hebrews 9:28; Revelation 22:20-21). Let’s be people who love and long for his appearing and people who are eagerly waiting for him We are waiting for the day when:
…the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18).
Jesus, “who testifies to these things, says, ‘Surely I am coming soon’” (Revelation 22:20), and we say, “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!”
Thank you for making this time to dive into God’s Word and pray for persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ who are meeting in secret because they have to. Thank you for giving to them(just a reminder that you can still do that). Let’s get behind our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan. Let’s hold the rope for them. Let’s join them in this fallen world, living the good life—no matter what that may mean for our lives here—knowing God, being conformed into his image more and more every day, doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God amidst all these issues, until the day he returns.
Lord Jesus, we pray, come quickly.
Oh, with all these truths from God’s Word, let’s close out this time in prayer before him. So would you pray with me along these lines in light of all we’ve heard from God in his Word?
God, we praise you for how you formed and fashioned each one of us in your image, as men and women, to enjoy you and exalt you in all your glory to the ends of the earth. So we say yes, we want to live to fulfill the purpose you have for us. Thank you, Jesus, for dying on the cross for our sin, making it possible for us to be reconciled to you. Help us, Jesus, to become more like you every day. Transform us more and more into your image that we might be more and more truly human.
Help us to proclaim the good news of who you are and what you’ve done for everyone around us and everyone among the nations. God, we pray for our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan. We praise you for them. We praise you for your grace in them. And we pray that even what we’re giving tonight would be an instrument in your hands to show our brothers and sisters, your sons and daughters, how much we love them and that we’re with them. Bless our giving to bring more people into your family, to bring more people around the throne on that day. God, we pray for your blessings on our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan and so many other places like it.
As we close here, late at night, we pray, help us to be ready for your return at any moment. Help us to hasten the coming of that day with lives of holiness and godliness, proclaiming the gospel, ready for your return, being faithful amidst whatever issues we find ourselves walking through as human beings made in your image, as your children. We pray all this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Session 3 Discussion Questions
Humanity, Infertility, and Artificial Reproductive Technology
1. How should God’s original design for marriage and sex affect the way we address the issue of infertility?
2. What promises can Christians cling to amidst the pain and grief of infertility?
3. How might the use of some artificial reproductive technologies undermine God’s design for marriage and sex?
4. What options do you think are clearly unbiblical when it comes to addressing infertility? What questions do you still have? (Talk to one of your pastors or another member of your church or small group who you know well if you have further questions about this issue.)
5. What are some practical ways churches can care for members who are dealing with infertility?
Humanity, Genomics, and Eugenics
1. Though scientific discoveries and advances can be a great blessing, what’s wrong with viewing all scientific “progress” as something we should embrace?
2. God designed humans to be finite, or limited, and dependent on him. How should this reality affect the way we approach questions of genomics and eugenics?
3. Which uses (if any) of gene editing seem biblically permissible and wise? Which uses seem unbiblical and potentially problematic? (Explain your answers.)
4. What are some biblical truths and passages that ought to factor into our decisions concerning gene editing?
5. How should the potential effects of genomics and eugenics on the poor and vulnerable affect the way Christians think about this issue?
Humanity and Artificial Intelligence (AI)
1. In what ways have you already encountered AI in your own life?
2. How would you explain the difference between a human and a machine?
3. Which uses of AI seem biblically permissible and wise? Which uses seem unbiblical and/or potentially problematic? (Explain your answers.)
4. How might a biblical view of work affect the way we think about the benefits and drawbacks of AI?
5. Why will AI technologies always lack the kind of wisdom God requires of men and women?
Humanity, Digital and Social Media, and the Metaverse
1. On an average week, how much time do you spend on social and/or digital media? How do you think this affects the way you look at the world?
2. How might the goodness of God’s physical creation (see Genesis 1–2) affect the way we approach digital and social media? What about the metaverse?
3. We’re often quicker to assume the worst about people or treat them with a lack of dignity when we communicate through social media. Why do you think that is? How can we guard against this tendency?
4. Why is it important for followers of Christ to view their use of social/digital media and the metaverse not merely as a recreational activity but also as a discipleship issue?
5. In terms of your use of various forms of technology, what are some practical steps of accountability you could put in place with the help of fellow church members or mature Christian friends? (Make a list of potential steps and people.)
Who Is God?
1. How has this study affected the way you answer the question, “Who am I?”
2. One of our responses to God’s greatness and sovereignty should be humility. How might humility before God change your approach to many of the complex issues we’ve been looking at? In what ways have you treated God lightly?
3. Why is it critical that we keep returning to the Bible as we think about who God is and how he would have us respond to the issues covered in this study?
4. Why are attempts to break free from God’s design ultimately futile?
5. What promises does the Bible offer for the Christian beyond his or her physical death? How should our future hope affect the way we live today?
*If you have further questions about what it means to be a Christian, we would encourage you to talk to a Christian friend. If you are struggling with any of the issues covered in this study, talk with a pastor or another member of your church. In addition to giving us his Word, God gives us the church to provide counsel in understanding and applying the Word