About 80 years ago, a science fiction author named Isaac Asimov wrote a series of stories based on the creation of intelligent robots and their engagement with the world (some of you may have seen the movie based on his works, I, Robot.) Asimov wanted a way to provide a structure and purpose around these created beings, so he eventually crafted a set of rules by which the robots were bound:
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.Introduced in the 1942 short story “Runaround” (included in the 1950 collection I, Robot) by author Isaac Asimov.
While the stories explore a range of ways the robots engaged with these rules — from following them to their detriment to finding loop holes to break them — generally these defined who they were and how they were to function, as well as provided a safeguard for those around the robots. A robot could not harm you for no reason, and it must follow its mandates.
This is important because of the immense power the robots possessed, and their capacity to cause harm. First, the robots possessed incredible strength, were resistant to attacks that would harm others, and could not feel pain; this meant that on a physical level they were a formidable force. Second, the robots possessed incredible intellect, as their “brains” were literally super computers; this meant that they had access to information and knowledge that mere humans could not attain, at least not easily or quickly. If the robots decided to rebel, they’d be hard to stop, and the destruction would be devastating.
So there were laws that dictated that their existence was not about themselves, but the good of others.
If you are a Christian, this should sound familiar.
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”Matthew 22:36-40
We — created beings made in the image of God — were imbued with access to incredible strength— think of the feats and miracles of the likes of Joshua, David, Sampson, Jesus, and so forth — and infinite wisdom — God has allowed people to know and grasp truths they never could on their own.
In addition, we were given the gift of authority on the earth:
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”Genesis 1:28
We possess both immense power and the immense capacity to cause harm. It is not difficult to prove this: Cain killed Able, the people of God repeatedly did horrendous acts, the Pharisees killed Jesus, the Crusades killed millions, Christians enslaved and oppressed others, and most recently Christians helped storm the U.S. Capitol in the name of God.
Our gut instinct is to say “They are not us. We would never do that”, but history says otherwise: historically, God-followers and Christ-followers have been attached to the most horrific moments in human history.
So God created laws that dictate that our existence is not about ourselves, but the good of others. These define who we are and how we are to function, as well as provide safeguards against our natural, broken inclinations. “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. ‘All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
When we decide to follow Christ, we are committing to abide by these two laws; every thought and decision thereafter must not be engaged independently but considered from the core foundation of “love God and love others.” This is what makes us who we are — Children of God — because this is how God’s creation was designed to operate. This is what gives us purpose, because we cannot accomplish the Will of God outside of the Ways of God. This is what allows us to reflect Him, rather than ourselves.
These laws go against our broken nature; we are prone to reject them for our own will, ways, and preservation. God knew this.
That’s why, unlike Asimov, Jesus didn’t provide a third law, “A Christian must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.” Jesus actually said quite the opposite: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.” Yet so many of the actions of Christians are based in protecting our own existence, whether our actual life or our way of life.
Jesus does not force us to choose death, because forced death does not address the actual issue; Jesus didn’t want us to die, but to “die to self”, to our own will and ways. He knew that unless we did so, our application of the two greatest commandments would be but a dull reflection, limited by what we are willing to give in the moment. If we die to all, and have nothing left to give ourselves to, we can fully give ourselves to authentic love of God and others; it will no longer matter what it costs us because we’ve already given everything.
Unfortunately, we too often operate in the appearance of “children of God” while not abiding by the laws of children of God. We make decisions and stances that are a version of loving God and loving others while missing the mark. From that space we can do all manner of awful things, and remain convinced we are right.
As we near the end of the movie I, Robot — spoiler, in this paragraph — we find that the robots were operating within a version of the laws while missing the heart. While the law said they must protect humans, they realized humans were harming each other; in order to save humanity, the robots decided they must kill certain humans. They found a loophole in the law that allowed them to pursue their understanding of their purpose and goal, and in so doing, went against how they were originally designed.
Church, too often we have found loopholes in the laws God gave us, allowing us to pursue our understanding of our purpose and goals, and in so doing, we go against how we were originally designed. It is why it is fairly common to see Christians vilifying and insulting each other, pursuing paths that dishonor God, and stepping into spaces they never would have otherwise.
Like the robots, we have gotten so focused on a specific understanding of the Creator’s will that we no longer look to or listen to the Creator Himself, even as we actively seek Him. We tighten our grip on certain stances, certain outcomes, certain methods, giving more and more to those, and as a result less and less to “love God and love others.” We unintentionally defy the very laws that give us life, and willingly take a wide path that leads to death.
Interestingly, our denial of our true identity does not lead to God rejecting us as children of God, rather us rejecting that identity. Our refusal of His Will and Ways leads us to function like the prodigal son, who took the blessings and lived his life, at the detriment of himself and others, and the heartbreak of his Father.
Yet the story’s end is available to us as well: if we humbly own that we have taken the wrong path, turn, and submit ourselves to the Father, He will meet us on the road with profound love. The prodigal son was utterly humiliated and broken, and so had nothing left to hold instead of his Father’s hand; he did not have a secret stash or a place in the city he could return if things didn’t play out like he wanted. No; he was ready to be the lowest servant in his Father’s house for the remainder of his life, because he knew servitude with the Father was far greater than freedom within his sin. And the Father lovingly restored him.
Will we let go of those things which have shifted our focus from God? Are we willing to release the things that are important to us — even the truly good things — so that we can fully hold to Him? Are we willing to confess and repent the many, many ways we have chosen ourselves over Him? If we do, He will meet us.
I, child of God, must decide if I want to give up all to embrace that beautiful identity. We, children of God, must decide if we want to invite unity to embrace that identity as the Body of Christ. When we do, we will find ourselves able to easily live out those greatest commandments, discovering a full life for ourselves and those around us that could never have been attained on our own.
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