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The burden of Jesus is light, but oppression weighs it down
“Can artificial intelligence follow Jesus better than we can?”
That’s the question my friend Wes asked after hearing from Will Penman, a former Princeton professor, about how Christianity and artificial intelligence intersect. The question originated from the idea that AI learned how to play both chess and poker better than human beings good – so naturally, can it also learn how to follow Christ better? While Will advised us not to underestimate what AI could do, I wondered about where or not “better” or “worse,” or any evaluation whatsoever, is how we should approach how we relate to Jesus. I wondered if AI could fall in love better than we can. Can it worship better than us? Can it love better than us? Evaluating any of these as better or worse misses the joy of experiencing any of them. Our communion with God is an end until itself, not a task to be accomplished better or worse than someone else.
Jesus’ invitation to us is to become more human alongside him. Christianity is about becoming more truly human, more like ourselves, more like the Human One or the Son of Man. Can artificial intelligence become more human than we are? No, in fact, one of the things artificial intelligence cannot become is human.
Being true is what God is calling us to be, not being perfect. Being human is what God wants us to be, so God sent Jesus to be human with us so that we might become more human ourselves. The Rich Young Ruler thought he followed God the best, and still couldn’t enter the Kingdom of God because he refused to relinquish his wealth. Jesus invited this perfect follower to follow him in humility, but he failed to do it. He could not rest in Jesus and elected to rest on his laurels and his wealth.
Jesus tells us he is the resting place for the weary. That his burden is easy and that his yoke is light. That we don’t need to yearn anymore, that we’ve arrived at home, and we can rest in the bosom of our Lord. Jesus will carry us like a mother. We don’t need to toil anymore, our savior and our salvation have arrived. There is no better what to follow him than to bask and be in the grace of Jesus.
The invitation from God is an invitation into a life of being known and being loved. Our work is inviting people into that life. We offer God prayer and thanksgiving back for the abundant love God has provided for us. We do this when we gather for worship together. When we break bread, we broadcast the death of Christ, and remember where our salvation and liberation come from. In that space, we invite the captives to experience their hope for liberation, as we continue to face the oppressive forces around us.
Our openness of heart allows us to follow Christ, not our ability to do the right thing. This is essential for us to consider as we fight forces of oppression. Too often we think of our advocacy and activism in terms of performance. We want to be the best at liberating oppressed people. But antioppression is not about doing the right thing. It’s not about not messing up. It’s about offering complete love and grace, the kind we get from God to the oppressed. Sometimes, this mentality is twisted into “grace and love” for people who are complicit in oppression. Our whole religion becomes about comforting those who afflict oppression, and not the afflicted! When we name oppression as what limits people from experiencing Christian communion and love, we’re told we are being ungracious and unloving. The fact is that those who participate in systems of oppression and death are the ones who are ungracious and unloving. Naming oppression isn’t trying to get someone to “do better,” but rather, to allow space for someone who is oppressed to be at the table, to be nourished, loved, and made fully human. Christians must practice this kind of discipleship, and we must name that in our sordid history, we have often had oppressive obstacles that prevented the lowly and the meek from following. We must take responsibility for the ableism, homophobia, and white supremacy that is often done in the name of Christ. We must clear out what blocks seeds of faith from growing in the rest Christ offers us.
There is no “better” way to follow Jesus. Jesus has set already set the table for us. We have arrived when we accept that. But we must be vigilant when we encounter forces of death that prevent people from finding that grace and love of Jesus. There is no right and wrong way to follow, but there are forces we need to address that keep people from following Jesus.