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Fear and Trembling…

December 9th, 2016 by Stephen Bauman

In a recent opinion piece, award-winning science fiction writer, Liu Cixin, considers the break-neck advance of robotic artificial intelligence and its impact on our society. While he doesn’t paint an ostentatiously imaginary and alien outcome, his conclusions still confound and disorient the reader. His analysis begins with autonomous cars but quickly includes other arenas and the inevitable disruption of jobs and the economy. Consider this snippet:

“In all previous technological revolutions, people who lost their jobs mostly moved to new ones, but that will be less likely when the robots take over. Artificial intelligence (A.I.) that can learn from experience will replace many accountants, lawyers, bankers, insurance adjusters, doctors, scientific researchers and some creative professionals. Intelligence and advanced training will no longer mean job stability.

“Gradually the A.I. era will transform the essence of human culture. When we’re no longer more intelligent than our machines, when they can easily outthink and outperform us, making the sort of intuitive leaps in research and other areas that we currently associate with genius, a sort of learned helplessness is likely to set in for us, and the idea of work itself may cease to hold meaning.”

Part of the social/political dislocation we’re experiencing today relates to the crushing change that rushes toward us through technological innovation. While much of the effect of this dislocation lies just below conscious awareness, our collective anxiety suggests that our emotions have already sensed what our cognition has not yet fully accepted: the near future will be irrevocably different than current conditions, no exemptions.

That’s the world the Christ child enters in 2016, an anxious and fearful world riven by divisive politics and a deep yearning for a return to idealized past conditions. But as we generally learn the hard way, the only direction we have available is forward. And for the thoughtful Christian, the way forward lies securely in God’s hands.  “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing” the psalmist declares. During Advent, we rehearse the radical idea that God is pleased to dwell with us, all of us, everywhere, all of the time. Our first response is simply to open our hands, our hearts and our minds to receive the astonishing gift of God’s own self.

Getting this right doesn’t predict traveling an easy street ahead, but it does create an accurate framework for working out the details of our lives in fear and trembling. Actually the full quote from Philippians 2:12 reads, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Hope abounds in this despite present conditions. Hope, along with its cousins, faith and love, form the enabling trifecta undergirding a life well-lived in the presence of God-with-us.

Stephen Bauman

Rev. Dr. Stephen P. Bauman is the Senior Minister at Christ Church.