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I can’t do that, Dave

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The problem with SciFi isn’t that it’s so often wrong. It’s that it’s so often right. What begins as a story designed to make us recoil in horror (Brave New World), ends as a blueprint for how the world should be. In the scene above, from 2001, the computer has analyzed the situation and come to the conclusion of what’s best. The life of Dave is of no consequence in the long run; greater things are ahead, things larger than the life of two men.

What we see is a machine taking on life of it’s own, determining right from wrong. The question we never ask is — from whom did the machine learn its concepts of right and wrong? If we’re created in the image of God, then in whom is the machine created in the image of?

As we stand on the cusp of a world where we ask, “will big data lead to big brother,” the answer to this question is crucial. Are we looking to the machines as our saviors?

Scanning large numbers of people looking for outlying behavior is what a computer could do best. So scanning a crowd going into an event looking for people who don’t look excited, are tense, and are not engaging with others as possible bomb carriers would be an obvious use of a computing resource. But once we are actively building ad profiles on people, these profiles could be used to risk assess everyone profiled and suggest approaching behaviors, which could result in unfortunate violence. … If you have the ability to individually profile someone deeply enough to change their behavior, you could also, at massive scale, have a running risk assessment on them. In other words, if I can predict, with increasing accuracy, someone’s buying behavior, I should also be able, with increasing accuracy, to predict their behavior in other areas. And, if I can do that deeply enough to identify threats, couldn’t I do it deeply enough to keep people from becoming threats?

Do we really need Watson to protect and nurture us?

Paul’s Amazing Answer

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In Romans 5, Paul argues we are saved through grace alone, culminating towards the end of the chapter:

Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 5:20-21 (ESV)

He anticipates the question many will ask at the beginning and middle of chapter 6:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? Romans 6:1 (ESV)
What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? Romans 6:15 (ESV)

We could imagine several possible answers, as we read this; for instance:

  • We are still under the Law of Christ, and following that Law will cause us to reduce the sin in our lives. It’s not about freedom from any set of laws, only that we don’t live under the Mosaic Law any longer.
  • Our salvation is dependent on our continuing in a proper relationship to God, so we must be careful to reduce the amount of sin in our lives, so as to remain saved.

There are other answers, of course, but the general idea is that while we’re saved by grace, we must somehow live by some law or another in order to remain in grace, or to maintain our salvation, or some such. Interestingly, Paul didn’t answer this question with an answer of the sort I’ve outlined above.

Let’s examine the case Paul does make, instead of the one we might make.

We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. Romans 6:6-8 (ESV)

The bottom line is we are dead to sin. But what does it mean to be dead to sin? Let’s try to concoct an example to try and understand what Paul is saying here. Suppose you live in a kingdom, A, under a king who is horrible–he is evil in all ways you understand evil. Along comes another king who promises you the ability to move to his kingdom, B, through a simple process, whatever that process might be. Once you’ve undergone that process, you are a member kingdom B, rather than kingdom A.

In other words, you continue to live in kingdom A, but you are a citizen of kingdom B. While you live under the influence of the laws of kingdom A, you aren’t truly subject to them–you are free from those laws. This is an “already is and will be” situation–while you live in kingdom A, and hence live under its laws, you are not bound by those laws.

This is, in essence, Paul’s answer. You are free from the king of this world, death, who rules through sin. Satan no longer has power over you in this world, because you’re not a citizen of this world, you just live here! Just as we might end up living in the Kingdom, and not possess the Kingdom, we live in this world, and do not possess it, nor are we possessed by it.

But how does this answer the question? Why would our citizenship matter? It’s simple, really. We should not rush out and sin because sin belongs to this world, and we don’t. It’s incongruent to chase the things of this world, when we don’t belong here. This answer pulls us away from sin, through freedom, rather than trying to push us away from sin, through willpower. If you want to get rid of sin in your life, just use your freedom to stop living in this world, and for this world.

This sounds simple, but how do you do it? Well, if you were going on vacation in a few weeks, and were really excited about it, you’d probably spend a lot of time learning about the place you were going, wouldn’t you? You’d read about the area, find out about local customs, look at the local foods, find maps by which you could navigate there, and other sorts of things.

Why should our citizenship status not drive us in the same direction? Instead of spending our time in this world, we should be spending our time learning about the Kingdom we are citizens of. How would you learn about that Kingdom? By reading the guidebook, of course, to learn about the King who rules there. What is this guidebook?

The Scriptures.

With Gods Like These…

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If knowledge is power, then gods we are.
The Riddler

The protesters on college campuses across the US have been called spoiled rotten brats. They’ve been called heroes. They’ve been called fascists. They’ve been called crybullies. But let’s put a real name on these people.

They are gods.

We live with a generation that has been told, from birth, that you can do anything you want to do, be anything you want to be. We live with a generation of people who’ve been told they are great no matter what. We live with a generation of people who believe the world should stop thinking — who say:

I don’t want to debate. I want to talk about my pain

Because “my” pain is more important than free speech, or your pain at being screamed at, called names, forced out of your career, and harassed. Like the oriental woman who was driven out of the “safe space” because she tried to make the point that anyone can be racist, and she’s a victim too.

How else can you describe a being who believes they should set the moral course of an entire college based on their feelings — regardless of anyone else’s feelings — than “god?” How else can you describe a being who believes that the entire job of a college administrator is to create a “safe space,” no matter the cost to education, or the people who actually work at the college, than “god?” How else can you describe a being that believes the First Amendment to the US Constitution should be ignored or eliminated in order to make certain the college creates a “safe learning space,” than “god?”

If these are gods, then who needs demons?

The problem is we’ve truly come to believe that if we have power then we truly are gods. But this reminds me of the old bit of folk wisdom: “If you gave me all of God’s power, you’d see just how fast I’d change things around here. But if you gave me all of God’s wisdom alongside his power, not much would probably change at all.” You see, it’s not power that makes us gods, for power without, without self-control, is not godlike at all.

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