Category Archives: General

What Is Health for?

Hi everyone,

I’m Calvin. This post is supposed to be an introduction of sorts, so I’ll start with some stuff about me. I’m tall, I’m half-indian, I’m awful at dancing, I’m a recovering premed, I’m a southerner at heart, and I’m currently siting at my kitchen table eating carrots. Basically, I’m a lot of stuff. The most important thing about me, though, is that I’m trying to follow Jesus, even if I’m pretty bad at it.

But for a more serious introduction, I’m the 4th of 5 kids in a family of all homeschooled children. I graduated from Princeton in 2015 with a degree in Classics, and I now live in inner city Chicago, working at a low-income health center (the same one Daniel used to work at.) I’m also trying to go to medical school.

I love the places where faith and medicine interact. As I’ve spent 4 years preparing for med school, I’ve seen more and more ways that medicine is broken. As I’ve grown in my faith though, I’ve seen so many ways in which Christ is the perfect answer to that brokenness. There are other times when I get frustrated because I don’t see how the problems can be fixed. But then I remember that Jesus is returning and that we’ll eventually have a neverending party with the king of all glory. That makes me feel a lot better. There are a couple other topics you may hear me write about: poverty, education, mental health, and sexual assault are all things I care deeply about.

One of the main reasons I’m writing for this blog is that I love to ask why. I want to know why we do things a certain way, why we say what we say, and especially, why we want what we want.

In fact, while I’m sitting here at my kitchen table, writing this blog post and eating my baby carrots, I have a sinus infection. I find that pretty annoying. My ears have a constant crackling noise like someone is unwrapping a twinkie right next to them, my head feels like someone is blowing up a balloon inside it, and my teeth feel like someone is beating them from behind with one of those carrots. As I’m sure you understand, I want to get better. I want to be healthy!

But, because I can’t stop myself from asking questions, a little voice in the back of my head says to me “Why do you want to be healthy? What is health even for?” Shoot. That one made me think. But I have what I think is a pretty good answer: I want to be healthy because then I don’t have to experience this pain and discomfort which kind of sucks.

Then God puts a passage of scripture in my mind to remind me of my own selfishness.

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” Romans 5:3-4

God tells me to rejoice in my suffering, not to lie here moaning about my pain and wishing it would end. God may use my suffering to build my character. Maybe he’ll use my illness to bring me in contact with a doctor who could be opened to Christ by my love for faith and medicine. Who knows? But here I am, shortsightedly wishing that my teeth didn’t hurt.

All the more, while God may use my suffering for good, I’m not sitting here thinking of how I could use my health for him. I’m not sitting here saying “God make me better so that I can serve you better.” I’m allowing health to become and end, rather than God himself. That my friends, is called the idolatry of health. It’s so easy to fall into, as my overly-pressurized sinus passages will attest to.

In any case, I hope this post made you think a little bit, laugh a little bit, or better yet ask God how he can use your health or lack of health.

not enough…

Hi! My name is Victor and this is my first GWBlog post, in which I will be briefly introducing myself and my interests.

I recently graduated from Princeton as a biology major and am currently in the midst of the medical school application process. Like a young middle-school boy, I easily get distracted by whatever is going on around me and have a wide variety of interests, whether travelling, trying new foods, or spending time outdoors.

For me, seeing the world through the lens of the gospel has meant exploring and considering how the gospel appears in the little things in my life. Maybe it’s because committing to delving too far into a single topic sometimes makes my head hurt, but I like thinking about a wide range of topics relating to my life and examining how the given situation in my life is touched by and changes because of the gospel. I am very interested in trying to find ways that my daily experiences relate to my faith walk.

For example, I truly believe that it was not simply through hard work and luck that I recently finished my medical school secondary applications in a timely manner. For the past three weeks, while being on a mission trip in Taiwan, I was writing tens of essays and consequently got very little sleep on most days. It was definitely through God’s grace that I had so much energy during these two weeks. One of the students I was working with commented that their first impression of me was that I always had so much energy. Maybe the milk tea in Taiwan was extra caffeinated, or the kids were just that fun. But regardless, I believe that it was truly God’s grace that I had the energy that I did given how little I was sleeping.

Recently something that has been pressing on my heart, especially as I tried to explain to medical schools (in my applications) why they would want me as a future student, is that I can never be enough.

I am constantly reminded about how I am not enough. Not smart enough, not good-looking enough, not [fill in any positive adjective] enough… Being on the swim team at Princeton, I was constantly reminded of how I wasn’t fast enough, not strong enough, etc. With friends, I’m not nice enough, not patient enough, not understanding enough. As I worked on my medical school applications, I realized that my grades could be higher, I could have published some papers, I could be a more eloquent writer, I could be more insightful and have a more interesting life. As a Christian I wonder why I still get so nervous and anxious in the face of adversity even though I believe in God. The list goes on…

But I am encouraged that God loves me for who I am and that if my identity is rooted in Christ, I am enough because my identity is rooted in something far greater than me. Christ never changes and thus if my identity is rooted in Him, I have nothing to fear. Of course, this is much easier to have as head knowledge than to actually believe wholeheartedly and live out.

I was recently very encouraged by this verse:

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”
-1 Corinthians 1:26-31

Despite our weaknesses, God makes us enough.

On a somewhat related note, I think in our quest to try to be enough, we also try to change ourselves to become something other than what has God has created us to be. We try to conform ourselves to being happier, funnier, more outgoing, smarter, etc. (or maybe we try to adjust our personas in the other direction). But recently I was encouraged as I watched Pixar’s Inside Out (a film about how our emotions work inside our heads…https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-kArxASiw3Y). For some brief background, Joy (the yellow colored “emotion” character) and Sadness (the blue colored “emotion” character) are two of the emotions that inhabit the mind of the main character Riley (the middle-school girl in the trailer). I was touched as I watched the film and realized, with Joy, why Sadness was a critical component of the main character Riley’s mind. Sadness was just different, not better or worse than Joy, and I think so often we are tempted to think of ourselves as not enough because we focus on who we are compared to others. But really we’re just different from those around us, not necessarily better or worse. I believe that God has created us to be enough with a very unique, important role in His plan and that we just need to find out what that role is.

I’d really encourage you to dig deep and look at where the foundation of your identity lies. Can you say it’s wholly based in Christ? Ask the hard questions. What’s the worst that can happen because you aren’t enough in this way or that way? Will God still be there with you even if you utterly fail? Like it will be for you I’m sure, I am only slowly understanding what it means to have my identity fully rooted in Christ.

As you can see, my thoughts sometimes wander as I try to incorporate too many different parts of my life into a single post. Thanks for reading. I would love to hear your thoughts!

Thinking about transitions

My name is Jojo and this is my first post to the GWBlog. Here I’d like to introduce myself and my areas of interest.

I am currently in transition right now: I was previously a math student at Princeton and I hope to be a med student in the future. We already have two resident mathematics academicians [1, 2] and three resident medical experts [3, 4, 5] on the blog, so as to not saturate this blog with lower quality content about maths and medicine, for now I will be blogging about transitions.

We usually say we are in transition when we are between two jobs, changing careers, or waiting for our next big “life stage” to begin. We often think of transitioning as the time we spend before the beginning of a state worth existing in. In my limited experience, this mindset tends to shift my life’s narrative from one that is Gospel-centered and driven by the good news to one more concerned about reaching the next milestone. Although all the eschatological hopes of the Old Testament and our personal yearning have been fulfilled in Christ and he is coming back to establish his visible reign, I become consumed with getting to the next destination. I am tempted to reduce life into several big goals, possibly subdividing these goals along the way: get into X college, land Y internship, get Z job. The change in thinking leads to restlessness that I’m not making progress towards the next goal. In college, the flags for this change in mentality were when I realized I was living problem set to problem set, or completing a term and feeling empty that I had arrived. I spent my energies anticipating completion or certain dates, but it failed to satisfy.

When I lose sight of the true destination worth orienting my life around, my sinful tendencies also start to reveal themselves. Slowly, I begin to focus more on the goals themselves and I assume an implicit purpose that my life should be optimized to reach these goals. I’ve noticed that I seem to undergo a type of transformation coined by sociologists P. J. DiMaggio and W. Powell as institutional isomorphism*. These sociologists noticed that there is a collective rationality that similar types of organizations share that makes them converge. They hypothesized that competing organizations tend to converge because they model themselves on more successful rivals, common consultants move between the organizations, and they must compete under the same laws.

Similarly, I tend to imitate successful individuals striving for similar goals, receive advice from the same counselors about these goals, and experience the same formative processes (classes, standardized testing, etc.) more than I imitate Christ, submit myself to his Word, and practice spiritual disciplines. I am trying to be careful not to dichotomize imitating good examples and imitating Christ; I just think we should be wary of normative pressures diminishing the way in which the uniqueness and surprising nature of the Christ-event shapes our lives. My own sinful tendency is to imitate those who aren’t imitating Christ (1 Cor 11:1) and my motivations start to shift towards selfish ambition, comfort, and prestige.

I’d like to briefly argue that life is all about transitioning and that it should be celebrated. Indeed, since the moment of our regeneration, we have become new creations (2 Cor. 5:17), crucified (Gal. 2:20) and raised with Christ (Col. 3:1-3), but at the same time we are not yet perfected to our resurrection bodies:

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep,but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. (1 Cor. 15:51-53)

God saw it fit that we were not immediately transformed at the moment of our conversion. Instead, we are tasked with the job of partnering with the Holy Spirit in our sanctification until that day. This tension is probably familiar to many readers of this blog as the “already, but not yet.” As good as our resurrection bodies may be, God’s plan for humanity is not an instant transformation but a gradual one. Sanctification is in fact the greatest transition we will make in our life and it is worth striving for.

I’d like to point out something I find interesting about New Testament encouragements: we are often spurred on to be more or do more of an ongoing action – be more loving, take up our crosses, persevere – rather than called to accomplish some task or reach a goal, since the greatest “task” has already been accomplished! Life does not begin at the next milestone, it began for us 2000 years ago; let us then press onward toward the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Php. 3:12-16).

Here are some questions maybe worth using for reflection:

  • Am I orienting my life around accomplishing certain goals more than becoming a type of person?
  • What are the tendencies of people who work in my major/profession or those who strive for the same goals? Similarly, how have I changed the more I’ve progressed towards these goals?
  • How do I feel after I reach the big goals or are hindered from achieving them?

*I would like to cite more things for you, but I don’t have access to a nice library right now.

The Human Will: Shackled and Redeemed

We often do not pay much mind to our habits, especially innocuous ones like brushing teeth or checking the weather before deciding what to wear. Habits entail those behaviors that have become relatively automatized, so they can be executed with ease and efficiency. Cognitive resources in turn become freed up and can be devoted to more effortful, deliberate thinking. But here’s a disquieting thought: in reality, a wider swath of our behaviors, which should otherwise be subject to deliberation and possible revision, tends to land on the habitual side of this automatic/controlled spectrum—if we’re honest with ourselves.

Think about the last time you or someone you know started gossiping about others, almost effortlessly. Or, think of someone quickly launching into an unchecked, villifying tirade or tantrum. Indeed, we seem to be too good at falling into habitual patterns of thought and action. Sayings in English reflect some awareness of this fact. When attempting to account for erratic or harmful behavior, we’ll say things like, “S/he just couldn’t help it.”

This comes to a head in the case of more severe addictive and compulsive behaviors. Those who suffer from drug or alcohol dependence, as specified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), will openly acknowledge the destructive effects of their addiction, but also claim it’s incredibly difficult to inhibit their drug-seeking behaviors. In the past decade or so, research in psychology and neuroscience has begun to shed light on the neural bases for these powerful and seemingly inescapable compulsions. The brain’s reward system, which usually promotes healthy and adaptive reward-seeking behaviors (e.g., acquiring food and drink, selecting a mate), effectively gets hijacked when drugs take on affective and motivational value. Then, the perfect storm of sensitization (i.e., a lower threshold of activation when a drug cue is present) and tolerance (i.e., diminished responses to the drug after repeated exposure and intake) occurs, severely compromising one’s ability to resist the impulse to seek out the drug.

In discussing the topic of drug addiction here, I hope to illuminate a wider issue about the will and nature of the human heart. That is, the reality of sin has penetrated even into our neurochemistry, such that our God-given capacity to freely decide between different courses of action becomes constrained and sometimes threatened altogether. Now, a captive will does not mean it is no longer free. But, this dire example screams of the need for an all-encompassing change whereby the human heart is renewed and no longer prone to destructive, compulsive ruts of thought and behavior. Although a very learned man and righteous in the eyes of many, St. Paul saw this need in himself when he was writing to the Roman church: “For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15). Later in the same letter, he admonishes his audience to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (12:2).

How is this transformation possible, especially given the unshakeable nature of habits and addiction? In Jesus Christ, we are entirely new creatures, with re-fashioned hearts that enable us to freely love God and others. God, speaking through prophet Ezekiel, made the following radical promise that finds its consummation in Christ:

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God (36:26-28).

The human will is indeed fragile and fickle, but the hope of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ freely and willfully chose the brutality of the Cross, so that our wills and capacities could be redeemed and re-purposed in such a way that we can freely respond to the amazing love of God in Christ.

Sabbath Rest

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8-11)

My pastor has been giving a sermon series on the Ten Commandments and a couple of weeks ago, we learned about the 4th (or 3rd, depending on how you’re counting): Remember the Sabbath day. It was a great message and I figured I’d write out my notes for this post.

I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around. (Psalm 3:5-6)

In this psalm, David shows us an example of what it means to rest. He lies down to sleep before going into a battle where he’ll be surrounded by thousands of people who want to kill him. Many of us have trouble sleeping the night before an exam, a presentation, or a romantic date; how much harder would it be to sleep if we knew that the following morning, we would wake up to thousands of guns pointed at us?

While David’s example may be hard to follow, the Sabbath rest commandment is not one we can ignore. Many Christians often misconstrue this commandment as a mere “suggestion,” one that is no longer applicable to our busy lives today. That sentiment cannot be further from the truth. Because God rested on the seventh day and we were created in His image, we were designed by God to rest on the Sabbath.  So when we ignore this commandment (and any other commandment1), we are inherently violating our design and destroying ourselves. The Sabbath rest commandment is given to save us from our own destruction.

We have to define rest Biblically. To rest doesn’t mean “to be inactive;” we can be weary even if we’re inactive and we can be deeply at rest even if we’re busy. Instead, to be at rest means to be utterly satisfied with what’s been done. Genesis tells us that God saw everything that He had made and declared it “very good,” so on the seventh day God rested from all His work.

Unfortunately for us broken human beings, we can never be at rest in this way because we can never look at our work and be completely satisfied like God was. It feels like our work is never done because we can always do better. Similarly, we can’t shut off our “internal” work because we’re always trying to earn a favorable verdict or prove ourselves; this is what makes us weary. Even the most successful people struggle with this:

This doesn’t just apply to people who try to “succeed” in the most conventional societal ways, but also to those in callings that serve the world more humbly, such as nonprofit work, social work, teaching, etc. In the end, everyone can have the attitude of trying to prove ourselves in some way to the world or even to God.

However, we have to understand that this verdict is already set because of Jesus’ death on the cross. We may never be completely satisfied with our work in the sense that we cannot be perfect like God, but we also have nothing to prove to anyone or to God because of His overflowing grace in sending His son to die for our sins.

How do we apply this Sabbath rest commandment in our lives and encourage ourselves to rest, knowing that Jesus has already finished the work for us?

  1. If we’re asking ourselves how much time to take to rest for the Sabbath, then the answer is most likely more.”
  2. Sabbath is for others. If we do not rest, we’ll begin to see others not as persons but as “equipment” to help us with our work; we will treat others for what they do, not who they are.
  3. When we are sleeping, God is working. This is shown in Genesis 1, where a day is defined as beginning in the evening and ending in the morning (“And there was evening and there was morning, the first day”). While we are sleeping, God works to redeem the mistakes we make during daylight hours.
  4. Also when we’re sleeping, we relinquish control and trust God to be in command, reminding ourselves that we are not God.
  5. We need to balance our Sabbath time in a structured way to include all forms of rest. Avocational time is when we are not working in our jobs. Contemplative time is when we reflect and grow spiritually. Inactive time is when we sleep, rest, and relax in conventional meanings of the words.
  6. There are times in our lives when work/life is busier and we’ll naturally have less time to rest. We have to be accountable and when the busy period is done, stop and rest.
  7. Invite community into your Sabbath time, both to rest and also to keep each other accountable.
  8. Inject Sabbath time in your work if it takes a large portion of your week.

At the end of the sermon, my pastor said these encouraging words to the young adults in the congregation: “The people who are ‘ahead’ of you…. You know where they’re headed when they don’t rest. At least you’ll be sane and whole at the end of it all. What you take into God’s kingdom is not the works you’ve done, but the person you become.”

Then we all repeated at the end of the service: “My work, my parents, my friends’ expectations, my love life, and my money do not define me. Christ defines me.

1   In the opening sermon of this series on the Ten Commandments, my pastor talked about how these laws are for freedom not bondage. This kind of freedom is defined as living the life that we were meant to, i.e., freedom comes as a result of honoring our design. For example: a bird that flies is free, but if it wants to learn to swim, it’s not acting in accordance to its design.

A Gospel Recap

This summer has been one marked with many personal transitions and new beginnings.  In chronological order, I graduated business school, moved back to NY, began the membership process at our local church, married my beautiful wife, moved into our first apartment, was baptized, and next week will terminate my stay-at-home husband status and start working again.

I’d like to write posts on topics related to the above in the future.  For my first post, I’ll reflect on:

What is the gospel?  

Two Sundays ago, I got baptized in Long Beach, NY.  My wife and I, along with around 15 others from our church and a nearby church plant, shared brief accounts of Christ’s work in our lives.  The backgrounds varied widely, but it was the same gospel that had markedly transformed our lives.  As these stories repeatedly pointed me to the gospel, I remembered the joy and healthiness of coming back to the gospel often.

For I know that my heart is prone to wander.  I’m quick to forget where my identity lies and who purchased it.  It’s easier for me to think about how to live a Christian life rather than to be in awe of and give thanks to the one who has shown me ultimate grace.

As a Christian, I have turned from sin, a life of worship of my idols, and turned to Christ as my lord.  In this new life, I’m called to honor Christ in all things (Philippians 1:20-21).  However, I’m unable to do this if Christ drifts to the recesses of my thoughts.  I must regularly come back to the “Author of life, whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 3:15) so that I remember to who I am to bring glory and why.

We see an example of this in 1 Corinthians 15.  Here, Paul brings the Corinthian church back to the gospel, reminding them of what he preached to them.  I recently listened to an old sermon in which John Piper preaches on the first few verses of this chapter.  I’ll attempt now to recap Piper’s recap of Paul’s recap of the gospel.

1) The gospel is a plan according to the Scriptures.

The gospel events were foretold in the Old Testament and occurred “in accordance with the Scriptures” (v3 and v4), reflecting God’s sovereignty.  For example, Isaiah 53:10 prophesies Christ’s death and resurrection: “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.”

2) The gospel is an event in history.

The gospel is an actual occurrence of a death and resurrection – “He was buried” and “he was raised on the third day” (v4).  Paul further emphasizes this by recalling the eyewitnesses that attest to these events – Peter, the disciples, Jesus’ brother James, more than 500 others, and Paul himself (v5-8).  This recollection reminds us that the gospel is not a hypothetical occurrence.  It is not a fairy tale to bring us false comfort.  In fact, if Christ did not really die and then rise, Christian faith and life would be meaningless and to be pitied (v19).

3) The gospel is an accomplishment.  

There was a purpose of these real events – “Christ died for our sins” (v3).  All people have sinned (Romans 3:23), and the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).  We have merited death, no matter how relatively good we may think we are.

The good news is that “God put forward [Christ] as propitiation” for our sins (Romans 3:25, Hebrews 2:17).  Christ was a sacrifice for us, paying the penalty for our sins, and taking on God’s wrath (Romans 5:9).  The “record of debt” that we owed because of our sins was “[nailed] to the cross” (Colossians 2:14).

4) The gospel is a free offer.

Paul reminds that accepting the gospel is a matter of “belief” (v2).  It is not an invitation to a self-help guide of how to gain salvation by obeying certain steps.  Rather, it is a free offer to believe – “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

5) The gospel is an application of what Christ accomplished.

The accomplishment of Christ is applied to those who believe, allowing Christians to “stand” and be “saved” (v1).  The believer’s sins were imputed to the sinless Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21), and Christ died for those sins (v3).  From this application, believers gain much:

  • Forgiveness  – “…all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43)
  • Righteousness – “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Romans 4:5)
  • Reconciliation – “More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Romans 5:11)
  • Adoption – “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons” (Romans 8:15)
  • Sanctification – “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” (Romans 6:22)

It is in this good news (‘the news that changes everything’) that Christians base faith.  As Christian faith is marked not just by believing but also by a turn to Christ in repentance, a Christian life is one of living to serve God in praise of his glorious and gracious work.  For this reason, Paul encourages the Corinthians in their work: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (v58).  In the same manner, contemporary Christians aim to live out the gospel in all areas of life, aiming to honor Christ through developing and engaging a gospel worldview.

 

 

A New Breed of Philosopher King

“Plato imagined philosopher-kings guarding his utopia. Here in Aspen, a modern day utopia, we have Bill Gates…” (The Atlantic, 2010)

My most recent post on technology discussed what it might mean for a Christian working in cyber security to commit to helping those who are weak and oppressed. In it, I attempted to draw a picture of the weak and oppressed in this field: they are those who are unable either to communicate without being spied upon, or to protect their information and data.

I also argued that working in the field of security does not mean that you are helping the weak and oppressed, just as its true that simply by working as a doctor does not guarantee that you are practicing a healing form of medicine. In the case of security, the injustice in the field stems from the fact that security technologies can be used either to help people find their voice, or it can be used to oppress it with even greater efficiency than ever before. Towards the end of the post, I briefly mentioned that this notion of helping the weak and oppressed can be hard to do in practice, because usually money or success – or both – is often on the line.

This idea – that in the business of security, a righteous decision to help those who are oppressed is often in direct conflict with profit or worldly success – is at its heart an issue of business ethics, and so I want to expand a bit on business ethics in the technology sphere in this post.

Developing an ethic around technology is elusive, partly because it’s so difficult to understand or foresee the implications of technology once it’s out of your hands. Most technologists would argue that this simply isn’t their problem: leave the ethical questions to the philosophers.

So, rather than struggle with these issues, a task which, to be fair, requires as much philosophy as it does technical knowledge, the approach for virtually the entire post-Industrial period has been “shoot first, ask the ethical questions later.” But that’s starting to change: those in the technology sphere are finally realizing that the pursuit and promotion of technology simply for its own sake can indeed be a great good, but also a great evil, and that an ethic of sorts to govern technology is needed.

“Don’t Be Evil”

An interesting take on business ethics, and in particular on business ethics as it pertains to technology, comes from Google’s well-known slogan: “don’t be evil.” Despite the flak that Google and the rest of the tech industry has taken about invasions of privacy during the past few years, if you think about it, it’s not a terrible slogan: much to its credit, it directly addresses a central element of ethics in technology, which is that technical innovators are often faced with a dilemma about the dual uses of their technology and quite regularly have to make what amounts to a moral decision (I’m thinking here of the obvious examples: nuclear technology, some of the interesting consequences  of 3-D printing, and even controversies over Google Glass, but surely there are others as well).

“Don’t be evil” seems to suggest that intentionality is the key to these ethical dilemmas: don’t intentionally create something for evil purposes. But there’s a problem with this approach: who’s definition of evil are we going with? There’s a sense in which such evilness should be blatantly obvious and apparent on first blush. But what about business choices which are cowardly, or deceptive, or unwise, but are not evil? Is there a responsibility as technologists to define business ethics more broadly than the affirmation of a negative: “not evil”? Is there a responsibility to do good?

These are some challenging questions – questions that seem to cut across a lot of the topics discussed on this blog. Last week, Daniel Song wrote a piece titled What Medicine Cannot Give. He points out that technology is fundamentally altering the way we do medicine, sometimes in ways that we haven’t really worked out. He’s asking essentially the same questions: what is the end purpose of technology? Is technological progress always good? What parts of technology are good?

The Jobs Ethic: “Be Simple. Be Perfect”

In contrast to Google’s “don’t be evil” is Apple, who have, implicitly, formed their own ethic (or rather, have inherited the legacy of an ethic shaped by Steve Job’s dominating presence). I highly recommend an essay by Andy Crouch which he wrote in 2011 about Steve Jobs and Apple – he addresses many of these same questions in the context of the rising phenomenon of the ubiquitous personal electronic device, and offers an extremely insightful look at the underlying ethics propelling many of the creative processes at Apple. Crouch makes the point that the Apple phenomenon has at its center a religious-like worship of technology as the Ultimate Answer (and perhaps Jobs as the medium by which the Ultimate Answer is revealed). That’s certainly a worldview!

But if Google’s ethic of “don’t be evil” fails because it lacks a central, positively defined anchor, the Jobs ethic fails because it centers around the wrong thing. Technology cannot save this world: its solutions are dazzlingly efficient, but not effective; its successes are proclaimed overwhelming, but not everlasting; its uses impart power, but not the ability to wield that power for good. An ethic centered around technology misses the key catalyst to real progress in this world: changed human hearts. This is something that only Christ can deliver on.

A Christian Technology Ethic Centered on Christ

Christian technologists have a mandate that goes far beyond the moralized “don’t be evil.” We’re instructed to “avoid every kind of evil”, but we’re also told to “hold fast what is good” and even more importantly to “test everything” (1 Thessalonians) by continually evaluating whether good fruit has been, or will be, produced.

Jacques Ellul makes an interesting point in his writings on technology: technology has a way of getting out of control. Increasingly, and especially since the industrial revolution, it rules us rather than us ruling it. The underlying truth of this is deeply ingrained in the human psyche: the concept of technology that has gone out of control permeates literature. Think of Babel. Think of Frankenstein. Think of Hal. (As a side note, I think hackers implicitly understand this idea as well, thus the thrill of excitement that happens when we do, at last, get technology to work as we will and do our bidding.)

As Christians, we have to find ways to ensure that technology remains secondary to the person, and that it does not take up the center of our belief system and crowd out Christ. The arc of history has made it clear that this won’t “just happen” on its own: it will take thought and the answering of difficult questions. It will mean admitting when technology is out of control and stepping on the brakes. And troublingly, it might mean turning away from or delaying promising technologies that go against what it means to be human, or what it means to thrive.

I want to be crystal clear that a Christian ethic for technology does not mean the rejection of technology as an inherent evil. It does not mean setting the default view of technology as something to be suspicious of. And it does not mean some sort of acceptance of neo-luddite thought.

Instead, it is a call for discernment. As much as the ancient world yearned for the philosopher kings, in this new millennium we need philosopher builders who, in their role as technology-creators, are anchored in a Christ-centered worldview and willing to take upon themselves the task of asking and answering these difficult questions.