I’ve been reflecting on that reality in light of the astounding success of ChatGPT. At last count over a billion people, or more than one tenth of the world’s population, have downloaded the artificial intelligence application since it was launched in November 2022.
ChatGPT trawls the internet to generate text in response to questions and requests from users. Students can ask it to complete assignments and preachers, this one included, have asked it to write sermons. (In case you are wondering I don’t know anyone who has actually delivered a ChatGPT sermon.)
What ChatGPT does, it can do quite well. The latest version passed the exam for admission to the American Bar Association in the top ten per cent of applicants. The sermon it prepared for me was clear, concise and generally true to the particular Bible passage.
At the same time, I find there is something hollow about speech that is generated by artificial intelligence. In large part, that’s because I know there is no person behind the words who will commit to standing by them. So ChatGPT can explain the causes of climate change, but it will never commit to making any lifestyle changes. It can write a sermon, but it will never commit to practicing what it’s preached. It can make a prediction, but it will never commit to making a promise.
In contrast, Easter reminds us that God’s speech is always personal and always committed. When God spoke the creation into being, He committed to sustaining its seasons. When God spoke to His people through the prophets, He committed to doing for them what was promised. When God spoke through the Son, He committed to becoming one of us, bearing our sins and dying our death.
“Your sins are forgiven” Jesus says to the paralysed man in the gospels. Those words meant life and hope to the one who heard them. For Jesus they meant a costly commitment that would take Him all the way to the agony of the cross.
Easter is also a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the commitment behind our own words. Those of us in church on Easter Sunday will hear the greeting “Christ is Risen Indeed. Alleluia!” and we’ll be invited to respond “He is Risen Indeed. Alleluia!”
It is possible to speak those words abstractly, as a mere statement of fact that costs us nothing. Or we can speak them personally, as a profound commitment that changes everything. To know that Christ is Risen is to walk in the new life He offers and to share that life with others in our speech and actions.
May God speak life to you and through you this Easter,