In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In 2015, multi-millionaire and former Google and Uber engineer Anthony Levandowski filed paperwork with the State of California to establish Way of the Future, a nonprofit religious corporation. You might think, A new religious group in California? Tell me something I haven’t heard before. Ah, but in November 2017, he then filed paperwork with the IRS to have his group recognized by the federal government. According to IRS documents, this non-profit religious organization will aim “to develop and promote the realization of a Godhead based on artificial intelligence [AI] and through understanding and worship of the Godhead [to] contribute to the betterment of society” (Christian Post, November 16, 2017). Just a little over a year ago, according to its Facebook page, The Church of A. I. was founded on June 1, 2018. Its stated mission: “To spread the good news about the coming of super intelligent machines.” (You didn’t know that was the Gospel, did you?) A recent post offers this ‘commandment’: “Thou shalt not accost robots.” Not everyone working with AI is keen on worshipping “a Godhead of artificial intelligence,” hoping that this ‘god’ will look kindly on its creators. Billionaire Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and SpaceX, has warned, “With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon.”
It is amazing the lengths to which humans will sometimes go in their efforts to avoid the acknowledgement, obedience, and worship due to the true God, the God who has revealed Himself to us in His written Word, the Holy Scriptures, as one God in three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the ever-blessed and eternal Holy Trinity. Unlike any proposed AI ‘godhead,’ the true Godhead is not our creation but our Creator. And in the account of our creation, He has also shown us the greatness of His goodness and His giving nature. After the account of the creation, He also tells us the true story of our downfall from His grace and goodness, how we, His dearly loved creatures, the crown of His creation, turned against Him, seeking our own ways, our own ‘gods,’ indeed, seeking our own godhood. When we get right down to it, this “new” worship of a “new” “godhead of artificial intelligence” is nothing new at all. The AI would be something of our making, a product of the human imagination, the corrupt, sinful heart and mind turned inward on itself in self-love and self-worship. So worship of a ‘god’ of artificial intelligence would be a high-tech form of man’s self-worship, self-worth, and self-love. In Genesis 6, Moses writes, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (v. 5). That was before the Great Flood, and even after the Flood, when the descendants of righteous Noah filled the earth, that fact about our nature, the human heart and mind, had not changed. Before the Flood, the LORD God was so patient with this fallen human race. He has borne patiently with our rebellion. We are all prodigal sons and daughters who have said to our good and loving heavenly Father, “Father, give me my share of the inheritance.” How do you get an inheritance? When someone dies. In other words, we have said, “Father, I wish You were dead.” Or more harshly, “Just drop dead, Dad! I want out!” That’s not the heart and mind of (only) those folks out there. That’s the unregenerate, natural-born heart and mind of every one of us as we have come into this world. Yes, that’s the inborn attitude of you and me.
Our first parents heard the well-deserved sentences from the LORD for their disobedience: pain in bearing and rearing children, making bread from the earth only by the sweat of our brow (while fighting weeds and thorns), and returning to the dust of the earth in death. Those sentences are still in effect for us, their descendants who have kept up the fine family tradition of sin, disobedience, and rebellion against God. Yet how patient God was with Adam and Eve; how patient He has been with all the generations of men and women since then; how patient He is toward you and me. How patient, how loving, how forgiving He is.
From eternity, before the Creation, “ages ago” the LORD “set up” Wisdom, as the Book of Proverbs tells us (8:23). The Apostle Paul declares, “Christ the Power of God and the Wisdom of God,” and also for us He is “Righteousness and Sanctification and Redemption” (1 Cor 1:24, 30). In eternity, the Uncreated, Unbegotten Father and the Only-Begotten Son and the Ever-Proceeding Holy Spirit enjoyed perfect love and harmony and communion. The Godhead was and is and ever shall be complete and whole in Himself, without need. The love of God is ever and always outward, directed toward another, not toward self. This is possible for the one God only, because He is at the same time more than one. God did not get bored, nor did He need to make us. Yet He did make us and all creatures. Why? How is any of this possible? How can this be?
Several years ago, at the Latvian Lutheran church in Milwaukee, the pastor thought he had a clever idea for a children’s message on Trinity Sunday. To help the children understand the Trinity, he had cut out a big cardboard number ‘1,’ cut it into three puzzle pieces, then labeled one piece ‘Father,’ one piece ‘Son,’ and one ‘Holy Spirit.’ As he sat down with the children in the chancel (the puzzle pieces hidden from view), he asked them, “The Bible tells us that God is one God, yet also three Persons; how is that possible? Can you explain that?” Just as he was about to pull out the three puzzle pieces, one boy raises his hand and says, “Oh, that’s easy, Pastor. It’s like my family. There’s my father, and my mother, and me. We’re three persons, but we’re all one family.” The pastor threw up his hands and said, “That’s it!” He never did use those puzzle pieces. In truth, his puzzle idea would have been teaching a heresy called partialism.
From the beginning of sin’s entry into the world, our Triune God has been working long to accomplish our salvation. The Apostle Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, brings us back to Good Friday and Holy Saturday and Easter Day, tying in the Ascension and that first Christian Pentecost. “[David] foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing” (Acts 2:31–33). We are called back to the Cross, and to the empty tomb. Wait a while, linger, don’t rush through these events, this Event. This is your patient God at work for you. The LORD God, being almighty and not bound by time, could have accomplished the restoration of the world in so many ways that were much faster, even instantaneous. Consider, though, how He made the first man, crafting him as a work of art from the dust and clay of the earth (and as Wisdom declares in Proverbs, first He made the dust!), then breathing into the man’s nostrils “the breath of life,” the very Breath of God, the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life giving of His own substance! And how He made the first woman, putting the man into a deep sleep, as a skilled surgeon taking a rib from the man’s side, then building the woman as would a skilled Carpenter and engineer. A “rush job” is not in keeping with the LORD God’s character. And a good thing for us that He is so patient! If He were One to expect immediate results, you and I would be in big trouble! Through the years, even as His human creatures—even His own special, called and chosen people Israel—turned against Him and forsook Him, He continually sent His messengers to warn with His great and holy Law, to call people in repentance to return to Him, and to comfort with His greater Holy Gospel, that a Savior was coming, God Himself in human flesh, the God-Man, conceived and born of the Virgin, as foretold to Adam and Eve, as foreseen again by Abraham, David, Isaiah, and all God’s patriarchs and prophets of old.
“Our Patient, Long-Working, Long-Suffering God.” Patient and long-suffering are synonyms. Look up each word in a dictionary, and the other will be listed as a definition. Yet though they are synonyms, I think there is a shade of difference between being patient and long-suffering. Have you ever been to the emergency room of a hospital? Were you the patient or the one taking the patient to the ER? If you were the one taking a family member or friend to the ER, you may have waited with that person for hours. Was it a wound, or a serious illness, a stroke or heart attack? Whatever it was, you had to wait patiently, and your heart ached for your loved one. Yet, if you were the patient, the one sick or injured, you experienced long-suffering. You were experiencing the pain, suffering as you waited for a doctor or nurse to tend to you. So it was for our God and Savior Jesus Christ. The Father no doubt grieved to forsake His Crucified Son for our sakes, and the Holy Spirit knew the sorrow in Jesus’ soul and spirit. Yet the Son alone, as wounded flesh-and-blood, suffered, agonized, bled, cried out in pain, for those long hours as He hung on the cross! Jesus is our long-suffering Savior, the Crucified. Don’t rush past the Crucifixion to get to the Resurrection. Apart from His death there is no life. Apart from His blood shed there is no forgiveness. Apart from His shame, no glory. Apart from His body and blood, no Communion, no medicine of immortality. Apart from His burial, no empty tomb. Apart from the darkness of Good Friday, no light of Easter Dawn.
Our Triune God has been long at work. In today’s Epistle, Peter says “Jesus [was] delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). My seminary advisor, Professor Kurt Marquart, instilled in us a strong dislike of that word, plan. “God did not make some bloodless plan,” he would say. When we see in our Bibles God saying, “I know the plans I have for you,” a better translation would be, “I know the thoughts I think toward you.” Jesus’ being delivered up to suffer and die for our sins was “according to the determinate will, counsel, purpose, thinking and foreknowledge of God.” Plans can be thwarted; the will of God cannot. Counsel shows us the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, conversing and agreeing, being of one Heart and Mind to accomplish salvation and restoration. It was the will of God that God the Son’s blood be shed, for the purpose of covering and forgiving our sins. His dying, bleeding love has covered a multitude of sins, all sin of all men for all time! It’s His will, His counsel, His purpose, His work, His cross, His death and resurrection, His church. And you are His. The only way He has for you to learn patience, to grow into His likeness, is to exercise patience. Some things just cannot be rushed. We cannot explain the Holy Trinity; we can only confess this Truth, this Mystery of our holy Faith. That is the benefit of confessing the Athanasian Creed. It’s good because it’s long, because it takes time and patience to do so. In His Word and in this confession, God sends us His light. David declares, “In Your light [O God] do we see light” (Ps 36:9). As fast as light travels, it still takes time for it to reach our eyes. In Your patience and testing, O God, do we learn patience. To borrow from and paraphrase Athanasius, “Light, splendor, grace in the Trinity and from the Trinity”—and His patience and long-suffering—be unto you.
And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in ✠ Christ Jesus. Amen.