I truly have no business even broaching this subject. Honestly, I feel a little silly doing so. I am not a theologian or philosopher, nor am I a technologist. In fact, I am less adequate to discuss this now than when I first started my rough draft of this blog post a while back. And perhaps even less so today than just last week. Every day more information, both praises and warnings, are coming out about AI. Man’s relationship to technology is changing at a breathtaking pace! Still, this is a subject we should consider as we minister and as we recognize changes in the way media is delivered up to consumers.
We have observed the pattern of automated radio taking the place of live broadcasts. A small local station with a talented announcer who is in touch with the pulse of his local community is replaced by a national feed. Spontaneity is killed and the personal touch has disappeared.
A long-distance radio station with pre-produced programming chooses to automate recycled programming without much thought or consideration of the needs of the audience. Programming can easily be set to automatically repeat.
In the future, is it possible AI-generated sermons and teachings will be commonplace? Recently ChatGPT was used to write a sermon that simply connected correlating information into a message. The conclusion? The “sermon” was merely adequate. It lacked the depth of human reasoning and spiritual insight. This is not a surprise since robots do not have a soul, nor personal experiences to put information into a context. Imperfect outcomes are unlikely to discourage designers, however. Instead, they are likely to improve the sophistication of their design in order to increase acceptance.
As society evolves technically, will God use automation and robots to bring people to Himself? Surely God can use any means to reach a person. He has used both animate and inanimate objects to get a message across and to reveal His glory. However, Would He prefer to use an inanimate object that man has contrived rather than working through His children? This seems inconsistent with God’s character and ways. For He has always given His children the privilege and blessing of working with Him as His instruments to accomplish His purposes.
God works in ways that are consistent with His character and value. He greatly values people, and we should too. If there is a person available and willing to do a job, we shouldn’t devalue that person by rushing to replace them with a machine. God created us to work using the talents and gifts He has given us, both in our vocation and in our personal ministries. As His servants, called to minister, some of the fruit occurs within those serving as we participate with Him in His work. Let’s not rob ourselves nor others of the blessing that comes from walking with God and watching Him work through us.
For quite some time now, robots have been tested to aid in religious activities by either increasing spiritual interest or standing in when clergy are otherwise not available. In 2017, India introduced a robot to perform Hindu rituals. Also in 2017, in honor of the Protestant Reformation’s 500th anniversary, a robot in Germany offered preprogrammed blessings to thousands of people.
In Japan and Beijing, over a million dollars was invested in robotic Buddhist monks in an effort to revive a fading interest in the religion. The robot was programmed with information to disseminate, but with a goal of increasing in sophistication over time, through AI learning.
Not to be left out, robotic Catholic saintlike figurines “counseled” elderly and others who couldn’t get to the priest, using automated responses to their concerns. Roboticist Gabriele Trovato, who designed the 17-foot SanTO (Sanctified Theomorphic Operator), wants to move now to designing devices to support the Muslim religion.
Apart from God’s hand, the slippery slope of artificial cognition knows no bounds. Some have gone so far as to suggest that robots can get to the point of having a free will and thus needing a catechism of their own. I guess they better talk to God about that! Christians can’t even agree on the doctrine of man’s free will. However, you can be sure there will be those who will try to get as close as humanly possible to replicate this belief.
Then there is the legitimate concern of AI becoming an object of worship in and of itself. God has given warning against worshipping that which our own hands have made. Oh! the irony of the created worshiping his own creation. Could this not lead to a modern-day Babel situation where man self-destructs?
Spiritual usage aside, many experts are warning of the dangers of AI. How much more must we be cautious of the traps and temptations in the Christian realm. We should be concerned as to Who? or What? is the source of “truth” as purported by AI. AI would choose to homogenize answers to queries according to what it considers and perpetuates as “truth.”
God works in mysterious ways and His Spirit’s moving cannot be predicted, boxed in, nor controlled. His Word is living and active. Without soul nor spirit, and ignorant of the future, how could a robot ever deliver a personalized, Spirit-filled, and life-changing message? For God has said, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways…For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa. 55:8-9)
It’s truly remarkable the intellect God has put in man. Let’s be responsible to put our minds to good use in considering the ramifications of sliding down the dangerous slope into robotic “ministry.” As powerful and time-saving as AI appears, we can take comfort that it is impotent to do anything outside of the sovereignty of God. One thing we know for sure is that God will always accomplish all that He desires, and He intends to use His children as His instruments in the process. It behooves us to cooperate with Him and not try to run ahead of him.
“God calls us, not to success, but to faith-obedience and trust and service-and He bids us to be unconcerned with measuring the merits of our work the way the world does. We are to sow; He will reap as He pleases.” –Charles Colson
While we may gain some ideas and practical methods from the world of business, we should not seek to emulate the world’s business and marketing practices. God’s ways are far superior than man’s ways. Surprisingly, He uses weak and simple things to “confound the wise.” (I Cor. 1:27 ) In God’s “business” of drawing people to Himself and changing lives, we need to “get used to different.” (The Chosen) Our part is to step out in faith according to God’s leading no matter how foolish we may appear.
Consider some of the bizarre-seeming methods God used to glorify Himself:
-He asked Noah to build an ark for… flooding rain. Whatever that is..?!
-He used a talking donkey to get Balaam’s attention. Say what!?!
-He had Joshua instruct the people to march around the city for seven days, blow the trumpet and shout. How’s that for a sensible business plan?
-Naaman wasn’t exactly thrilled when Elisha told him to go dip himself in the muddy Jordan to be healed. But it was God’s plan and it worked!
-And shrimpy David was no match for a Philistine giant! Or so it appeared.
The list is endless. Indeed, God works in mysterious ways! Certainly these practices wouldn’t be considered sound business applications by most. From a natural perspective, they sound ridiculous, and yet, through the eyes of faith, God’s way is the only way to true success.
In the New Testament, Jesus had the servants fill jars with water and give some of it to the master at a wedding instead of wine. Risky! but it turned out just fine.
He instructed His followers to give up everything to follow Him, and His disciples to go out to minister without any money or food. Eek!
With just 5 loaves and 2 fish, He and the disciples fed 5,000 people! Doesn’t add up!
He taught about loving your enemies and turning the other cheek. The first shall be last. He ate with sinners and tax collectors, entered Jerusalem on a donkey, and, although innocent and sinless, He willingly gave up His life for the sinful.
This all seems upside down. Indeed, it is, because God’s values differ greatly from the world’s values.
So, I ask myself, Why would we think that we can figure out precisely how God will work, and narrow ministry down to a neat, worldly business model or formula? For we would see no need for God if we can simply follow the effective business plans of intelligent men and woman. Of course, we can glean some ideas from other churches and ministries. But we can’t expect what would work in one place to necessarily work in another. For the Holy Spirit works as He wills, first one way and then another.
It has been the story of our lives over the last couple years. Delays. Disruptions. Redirection. Waiting. And Waiting. And Waiting some more!
Just like Jesus’ triple repeat to Peter of, “Do you love me?” we could easily see how God might be asking us:
“Do you TRUST me?”
“Do you trust ME?”
“No. Really. DO YOU TRUST ME right now. And for your future?”
God’s glory is displayed through transformation. This is quite plain to understand as it relates to spiritual things. For 2 Corinthians 3:18 tells us, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” There is nothing more exciting that to see a person have a dramatic change in their lives, with “the (only) thing that happened in between” being Him, as beautifully depicted in The Chosen series.
This transformation causes believers to pass from (eternal) death to (eternal) life. Earlier in 2 Corinthians 3 we read that “the letter (of the Law) kills, but the Spirit gives life.” This is not simply a matter of “cleaning up our act,” or a self-help regiment if you will. No! It is a complete transformation. We need a new heart and a new spirit. We are new creatures in Christ, able to become all God created us to be.
God never intended us to separate our spiritual lives from our natural lives to the extent that we fail to apply biblical truths in our everyday lives and work. One might consider engineering to simply be an application of scientific principles and thus outside the scope of spiritual work and principles. Lest we forget that this world is His creation, we must remind ourselves that God can (and does) direct us, oftentimes by His Word, in any line of work. Recently, through a technical project, God directed Doug to transform an existing antenna system into one that works in alignment with its original design and goals. The solution to the antenna’s issue was identified through technical experimentation and study and then directionally reinforced while reading in 2 Corinthians one morning. Studying the transformation of our life in Christ prompted Doug to look at using a transformer to transform the existing antenna to better match the AM / Shortwave input of the RF chip in the radio and capture more RF signal. Additionally, insights were made while reading Hebrews 12:1 which talks about removing the things that weigh us down. This reminder from the spiritual world helped Doug to complete the project in the physical world. The project required the removal of unnecessary, noisy components that were corrupting the signal. To complete the transformation required removing components that amplified noise.
What a great lesson for spiritual life! We must remove what amplifies the noise (our sin) and allow ourselves to be transformed by the Holy Spirit who transfers His power to us, so we can then be used to communicate God’s Word to others!
“Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.” (William Carey, missionary to India) Is it okay to dream big dreams for ministry? Where does faith end and personal imagination begin? Or are they intertwined? When we walk closely with God will He not put His desires in our hearts? Psalm 37: 4 reads, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
I have to admit we have had recurring, “what ifs” over these last few years. We hold them loosely, our goal being to not run ahead of the Lord. At the same time, we won’t give up on these “what ifs” until the Lord redirects and closes the doors. He is able to do “abundantly more than all we can ask or think.”
There are some lessons that can only be learned through challenging times. Through a cancer diagnosis we were given the chance to trust God more. We learned how God makes a special place for those who are going through painful circumstances. A place of intimacy to know Him more deeply. Rest and peace in the midst of difficulty. In reflection, we can also see the way He provided in advance for us to ensure the diagnosis was made, the best healthcare was provided, stellar insurance covered the care, and the best outcome resulted. Covid, while making life more difficult for all of us, had prompted the two of us to get into a regular habit of walking together (including praying and processing of life’s challenges). We believe this helped with stamina for the treatments and the constant disruptions and challenges we would face. On top of all of that, God’s people stepped up to support and encourage through prayer and practical support, resulting in deepening connection and new relationships. To God be the glory!
“Receive” by Louis Muggleton, BSc(Eng), PhD, FIEE (London), 1993.
(abridged by Denise Gregson; 8/16/2020)
Louis Miles Muggleton, BSc(Eng), PhD, FIET(London) (8 July 1922 – 5 April 2015) was a South African-born British ionospheric physicist and electrical engineer. Building on the work of Sir Edward Appleton in 1975, Muggleton’s seminal work provided the international standard ITU model of radio wave absorption and reflection of the Heaviside layer (or E-layer) of the Ionosphere. This model was based on jointly published work with Stamatis Kouris from the early 1970s. (see online wikipedia for more)
in 1993, Dr Muggleton wrote a paper that bridged the technical and spiritual worlds using the illustration of radio receivers to express how both science and spirituality not only co-exist, but are both part of an incredible design. Read on for an abridged version of his writing.
In his paper “Receive” he wrote, “I do not know what kind of radio you have. But I am sure it is a wonderful instrument…The more you know about its inner workings, the more amazing it seems…[I]t has features that illustrate some of the most profound truths about life.
Before that receiver of yours came into existence its designer would have had various considerations in mind, and among his more important aims he would have wanted it to possess: good sensitivity, sharp selectivity, and dependable stability. “
Concerning sensitivity, Muggleton wrote, “Even when the incoming signal is weak, a receiver with good sensitivity will respond meaningfully. When we consider how small is the power picked up from the radio wave by the antenna of your receiver, we marvel at its ability to amplify that input signal enough for comfortable listening.”
He continues by discussing selectivity: “Not only is the power tiny, it is also mixed up with hundreds of other broadcasts. If your receiver has good selectivity it will respond clearly to only one of them, the selected broadcast.”Further, he describes the importance of both the broadcasting station and the receiver staying well-tuned to the frequency [remaining stable] to avoid distraction and to make for an enjoyable experience.
Like Muggleton, I hope your receiver is the type that produces these benefits. However, as Louis noted, without turning on the receiver none of these features can be appreciated. He expands, “movement in one direction switches the receiver ON, and movement in the opposite direction switches it OFF.” He compares the receiver’s “life” with our own lives: “When you switch ON your receiver the Power Supply pushes millions of electrons per second through the circuit. They are the lifeblood of the receiver. They flow down the “arteries”, and back through the “veins”, passing easily along the conductors, then pulsing through capacitors and inductors, and struggling through the resistors and semi-conductors. With all this activity the set ‘springs to life.’ Before that ON switch was operated the receiver had been ‘dead.’ ”
Muggleton explains: “Like your radio set, you and I are composed of three basic parts: 1) physical, 2) emotional, and 3) spiritual. And all three are intimately bound together in the one individual. We are balanced people only when all three parts are alive and well.
The physical and emotional parts of your being were switched ON before you were born.
But what of the spiritual component? [T]he Bible tells us authoritatively that the spiritual part is dead unless and until God has switched it ON. For example, Ephesians 2 verse 1 speaks of us being ‘… dead in transgressions and sins …’ But our Maker intended otherwise. Jesus said, ‘I’ have come that they might have life, and have it to the full’, (John 10:10). Saint Paul summarized it when he wrote, ‘For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord’.” (Romans 6 :23). In other words, Jesus paid the wages for our sin by dying on the cross in our place.
What this means for us is that without God, “the default-setting [of our lives] is at ‘OFF’, and if this describes your spiritual condition, it is of the utmost urgency that it should be switched ON. The procedure for switching ON your spiritual life is something like the operation of your radio receiver.
We saw earlier that moving the ON/OFF switch of the receiver in one direction had made the radio dead; but movement the opposite way had brought it to life. Now bear in mind that [the bible says] ‘… all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’ (Romans 3:23). We need to change direction (the Bible calls it ‘repent’), following Christ’s Way instead of our own. That Way leads to spiritual life; the opposite way leads to spiritual death.
As soon as the radio is switched ON, life rushes into the circuit from the power supply. Only then can it receive, or become sensitive to, the radio waves surrounding it. Similarly: ‘… to all who RECEIVED him (Jesus), to those who believed on his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision, … but born of God.’ (John 1:12). Receiving Jesus, you receive LIFE.
Eternal life in Christ is the gift of God, [offered to] all who receive him [in] His way. Because it is a gift, you cannot earn it. Learn again from your radio: if, after being switched ON, the radio is to perform as its maker intended, all it can do is to open its input to the energy surrounding it, and RECEIVE the broadcast to which it is tuned. And you, dear reader, having turned from the spiritual rebellion common to the human race, can RECEIVE Jesus Christ as Saviour from spiritual death. RECEIVE him who is Life.
Maybe you are asking: ‘How do I do that?’ Let Christ himself tell you how. He says ‘Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will go in and eat with him, and he with Me’ (Revelation 3:20). Graciously, through his Holy Spirit, he takes you over after you have invited him in, and gives you spiritual life in place of spiritual death.
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world.’ “(John 3:16, 17)
We can only be SENSITIVE [to the things of God], and have spiritual LIFE when we have been switched ON in Christ…’God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life’. (1 John 5:11,12)
We saw earlier that a receiver needs not only good sensitivity and selectivity, but also good STABILITY. Once tuned, it needs to STAY TUNED. And your Maker ….wants you to maintain a stable relationship with him. In the Bible he has promised that he will help you to STAY TUNED, through the gracious work of his Holy Spirit, who not only gives you spiritual life when you invite Jesus in, but also is willing to help you live day by day…
Bear in mind also that receiving him entails having him enter your life, not only as Guest, but also as Master of every department of it: you become his slave, but you also become his child, with all the joy and security that entails… Consider carefully. The choice is yours.”
I have set before you life and death… Now choose life. [Deuteronomy 30:19]
Dr. Muggleton contributed not only to the world of radio, propagation and science, but also assisted TWR in its antenna and propagation systems that continue until today.
When we rely on organization, we get what organization can do. When we rely upon education, we get what education can do. When we rely on eloquence, we get what eloquence can do. But when we rely on the Holy Spirit, we get what God can do.A. C. Dixon
We are learning the lesson of waiting on God, which isn’t easy for “doers,” but, nevertheless is essential for successful ministry. May we not run ahead of God, or lag behind Him. As we walk in pace with Him we see how the Holy Spirit links people, experiences and opportunities together with precise timing. This shows us that He leading us, and is weaving together pieces of the tapestry that we never could have conceived of nor orchestrated on our own.
Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.Zephaniah 4:6