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The looming spiritual crisis of AI: True transcendence (part 3)


The human spirit is made for God’s transcendence and needs it as much as lungs need air.  When a person is cut off physically from oxygen, he or she will try to fill themselves with anything breathable. So, in the absence of God’s transcendent reality, we turn to the machines we manufacture in our “idol factories,” as we discussed in Part 2 of this series.

Yuval Harari, perhaps without intending, voiced the dilemma of the world without true transcendence when he wrote: “We have advanced from canoes to galleys to steamships to space shuttles — but nobody knows where we are going … self-made gods with only the laws of physics to keep us company, we are accountable to no one … is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want?” (Yuval Harari, Sapiens, New York, Harper Collins, 2015, 415-16).

Consider, however, the effects of true transcendence on human beings and their endeavors:

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1. True transcendence has a positive formative effect. It lifts a human into the character of God, the image in which he or she is made.

The world, the flesh, and the devil exert a powerful pull downward on human nature (James 3:15). However, the counter lift comes from the Holy Spirit’s ministry of linking us to God’s true transcendence. The Apostle Paul aspired to the highest but struggled with the constant tug downward to the lowest. He spoke for us all, whether we acknowledge it or not, when he cried: “What I am doing I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15). 

The Apostle was expressing the frustrations of many of us as we struggle against the downward pull. 

Job understood those frustrations well. In his deep anguish, bitterness seeps into Job’s spirit and soul and he chastises God. Then, even in the searing heat of his sufferings, Job awakens as God points the embittered man to the Lord’s transcendent majesty, and asks, rhetorically, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?”

Job replies: “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. Therefore, I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…” (Job 42:1-6).

Job grasps the truth only through God’s perspective. So, the broken human can see things as they really are only against the backdrop of God’s transcendent majesty.

2. True transcendence infuses the immanent and the earthly with meaning and purpose.

Purpose and meaning can be frightening to those who seek to deny true transcendence or suppress belief in it. They are like Mustapha Mond, the controller in Huxley’s Brave New World. Mond reads a paper discussing a new theory of biology, submitted for his approval. Mond is impressed with the “ingeniousness of the author’s thought.” Nevertheless, Mond marks it NOT TO BE PUBLISHED. The author “toyed with the idea that that there might be purpose for humans,” as Huxley tells the story. Mond labeled that idea as “heretical.” Its author would be under surveillance and possible exile from World State — the nation of Mond’s supremacy.

In that dire culture, and in the absence of any belief in a loving God as the truly transcendent Being, the highest value had become “Sovereign Happiness,” the counterfeit transcendence, the property of the Controller and his minions.

3. The recognition of God’s transcendence brings propriety which establishes the stabilizing order of “seemliness.”

“There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death,” says Proverbs 14:12. 

“Propriety” is “rightness,” — that which is appropriate and fits into a design and plan for which it was made. Paul shows in Romans 1:28-32 that ignoring God’s transcendent holiness results in people abandoning propriety and destabilizing all other relationships: “Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, He abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that never should be done. Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarrelling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip…”

Society suffers great loss and is forced into relentless chaos of identity and behavior when the vision of God’s transcendence and all it implies is pushed out of view and replaced with the false transcendence of the human and all his and her “idol factories” can produce.

4. It is in the light of God’s true transcendence that we see true humanity and its value, including self-value.

King David reflects on the transcendence of God, realizes the implications for the value of humans created in the image of God, and cries out that the human is made “a little lower than God” and is crowned “with glory and majesty” (Psalm 8:1, 3-5).

Few events show this as graphically as Paul’s admonition to Philemon with respect to his runaway slave, Onesimus: “He is more than a slave, for he is a beloved brother, especially to me…” (Philemon 15-16).

Nations and civilizations have suffered greatly, ranging from Hitler’s holocaust against the Jews, to the shocking slaughter wrought by Pol Pot, Mao, and others, slavery of human beings, and other sins against humanity because of the loss of recognizing that we live and function Coram Deo — before the face of God. 

Until we repent and open our eyes and hearts to His majesty we will keep on digging new graves, assaulting the throne of God which is the throne of all decency, and building impressive machines that ultimately become our “transcendent” masters.

Wallace B. Henley is a former pastor, daily newspaper editor, White House and Congressional aide. He served 18 years as a teaching pastor at Houston's Second Baptist Church. Henley is author or co-author of more than 25 books, including God and Churchill, co-authored with Sir Winston Churchill's great grandson, Jonathan Sandys. Henley's latest  book is Who will rule the coming 'gods'? The looming  spiritual crisis of artificial intelligence.

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