By Rev. Joan Kessler
Genesis 1 – 2:4a
This morning, we return to the beginning and hear the words of birth and creation and possibility. This is an ancient story, believed to have its roots in the oral tradition from some 1500 years before Christ and was believed to have been the first book written down. Scholars believe this Creation story began to take shape when the Israelites were exiled to Babylon, as a response to their captors who insisted their rulers held all the power; these exiled told a story about their God that insisted otherwise.
Creation stories blend evolutionary processes and events with cultural understandings of where we come from and remind us of how we all live in relationship. Genesis 1 and 2 did not originate as a means of scientific explanation of how the world came to be. Instead it emerged as an assertion of the creative power of God from whom all things came to be and in whose hands the future, past, and present remained. The oral tradition of the Jewish people enables listeners to enter the story as if it is ongoing and God’s creative work continues. This was not to be shared as a historical recollection but rather as a reminder that God is not finished with Creation.
Out of nothing comes something. Out of chaos comes beautiful order. Creator is painstakingly invested in this work in a loving, thoughtful pattern. We heard Jim read a beautiful paraphrase this morning … one good action is met with another complimentary one. In the beginning there was formlessness, a dark void, and a strong wind swept over the face of the waters. God gets to work. Day and night find distinction; land and water are separated and a sky dome arched over all. And then the plants began to take root and flourish, yielding seeds and fruit trees of every kind; this was followed by the arrival of sea creatures and trilobites. Then the birds and the decree to be fruitful and multiply was spoken and it was so. And then God said let us make humankind in our image according to our likeness and let them have dominion over all the creatures. And God saw that it was very good and blessed them and said go forth and be fruitful and multiply. Even in the chaotic messiness, the Divine focuses energy on ensuring that every aspect of creation is just as it should be and creation stretches beyond time and space, from the finite to the infinite.
A.I., the acronym for Artificial Intelligence is a new word taking root in our languages and is quickly becoming part of our societal discourse as an existential issue and raises the question of what it means to be human. I read articles this past week that argued both sides of the A.I. debate: those who are calling for a halt to its advancement pending further study, and those who feel it is not advancement that needs to be paused but rather a discussion around how A.I. will be used and managed. Artificial Intelligence is showing up in all kinds of places. When you play a video game, the software plays against you. Students can now enter some key words into a GPT program (and I don’t even know what GPT stands for in this moment but I am sure by month’s end, I will know) and they can use this technology to generate a term paper that the student didn’t write. There are chat sites online where humans can converse with bots and the bots learn to respond and can fake intimacy.
There are benefits to technological advances too, don’t get me wrong. And yet, my bias is coming through and I share deep concern for what some are calling an even bigger crisis than climate change. Who will decide how A.I. is utilized and developed? Who will hold this power? How will boundaries be put in place to safeguard human civilization if artificial intelligence one day becomes better than that of the average human at telling stories, writing music, painting pictures, writing laws, preserving democracies? Who holds the power? Humanity or technology?
This is a conversation that we as people of faith, as people who question our place and our role as caretakers of the earth must be prepared to undertake. What does it mean to be human in this moment? I suspect most of us have a smartphone and we are already cognizant of the benefits of this technology, like driving in an unfamiliar city and calling up an address on Apple Maps. The benefits are endless, but we need to recognize that this technology is accelerating. As we heard in our newscasts this week, a call went out to halt this progress and do some discernment. In interviews I watched with experts and leading academics, there was an air of mystery and unknowing with so many questions to answer about what A.I. will mean to human progress.
So, I ask you now: what does it mean to you to be human right now. Is it to feel pain in your body? Is it to eat your favorite meal that you might enjoy later today? Is it to know the sensation of the warm sun on your face? Is it that person sitting next to you right now that makes life real? I think historically, the Judeo-Christian tradition has abused power and authority, the Genesis 1 account of creation. Human’s dominion over creation, over the plants, the animals, the soil, the water, other humans who are weak or on the margins. The advancement of A.I. technology calls into question of who we are and what is our place in the world.
If there is solace is to be found by the mystery and all the unknowns and possible anxieties that this issue raises, I found it in our Creation story for today. It reminds me of the beauty and the wonder of the order of things and how all is interrelated and purposeful. The Spirit of God is always creating and doing a new thing within us and through us. This creation story is told from the perspective of the Holy. God understands barriers and fills the space between them. Day or night, land or sea, animals, and humans. They are not polarities, but rather are all created for the good order and working of our earth.
We are to take care of the plants, the animals, the soil, the air, the water, one another. A.I. will perhaps help to these ends. But as I heard in conversations with you earlier this week on this very topic, we need, perhaps like never before, uphold the value and practice of meeting face to face and breaking bread together. Where we are limited in seeing binaries, God sees diversity in all the spaces along the continuum. We put things into categories of useful vs. redundant. This creation story calls us together into a creating community, always growing and changing, never stoic nor the same. God is Love, and God is diverse and bigger than any one story.
We are entering a new frontier of human organization and civilization. What role will the Church and communities of faith take in this new venture? A.I. will compel us to explore our understanding of humanity and our relationships and help to ensure that technology is used wisely and ethically in order to serve the common good and contribute to the flourishing of all Creation.
May it be so and Amen.