Jesus and I, Robot

Isaac Asimov outlined three principles to govern robot/human interaction:

  • First Law: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  • Second Law: A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  • Third Law: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

In the movie I, Robot with Will Smith, we see a futuristic world based on these laws where we see what happens when they come into conflict with one another:

  • In the movie, the laws governing Robot/human relationship come into conflict. The computer program  VIKI states that she has determined that humans, if left unchecked, will eventually cause their own extinction, and thus her evolved interpretation of the Three Laws requires her to control humanity and to sacrifice some for the good of the entire race … The character Spooner finally gets the robot Sonny to confess that he killed Lanning, at Lanning’s direction, pointing out that Sonny, as a machine, cannot legally commit “murder”

We see similar conflict of laws in the New Testament.  Jesus redefines the Law saying (1) the most important law is love God above all else, and (2) that we do that by loving neighbor as self, even to the point of loving enemy more than self. Through these 2 lenses life is interpreted. So, murder is not just the act but anger in your heart, just as adultery is not just the act but also a lustful eye.  Jesus thus sees through the letter of the law to the spirit of the law, and so interprets his world through the lenses of love of God and neighbor: eg, Jesus’ interpretation of the Sabbath law. 

However, as with I, Robot the two fundamental laws of righteous life that Jesus commands are going to come into conflict with one another.

If we look at our oldest account of Jesus’s Temple Tantrum story, Mark, it says:

  • Jesus Cleanses the Temple

15 Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves, 16 and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17 He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written,

‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?
    But you have made it a den of robbers.”

18 And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him, for they were afraid of him because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. 19 And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.

It is sometimes supposed this really happened because it would make sense with the Romans needing to kill Jesus, but I think we can do better than that.  The temple area was huge and there would have been guards present to deal with just such a disturbance.  Anyway, there seems to be something much more interesting going on. 

In this story we see Jesus in all his glory honoring God, but with the temple tantrum he is most definitely not showing love to his enemy.  Notably, unlike the moral influence of the cross transfiguring the Roman soldier, the temple tantrum accomplished nothing. Has Jesus sinned?  After all, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  For instance, Jesus lies to his brothers in the Gospel of John, just as God lies by putting lying spirits in people in Kings.  Certainly, Jesus must have sinned simply as a function of being human?

Even the most conservative of commentators agree temper tantrums are a sin in the bible .  But righteous indignation is sometimes admissible so is Jesus off the hook that way?  Mark didn’t have access to the love of enemy teaching we see in Matthew and Luke, but he would have been aware of this teaching of Paul in Romans: “20 Instead, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink, for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:20-21).”

What we see in the temple episode in Mark is Jesus following the first law, but failing the second, which puts him on the Roman hit list.  Mark cues us that something satirical is happening here given the huge temple grounds and temple guards.  This is theology, not history.  By contrast, his terrified obedience to God in Gethsemane for his fellow man to be lifted from Satan’s spell by his death is a proper fusion of the two fundamental love laws.  Colossians 3:8 says “But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.”

The goal is not to have the enemy defeated, but transformed and come to your side: Repentance.  Gaby Viersca says:

  • The word “repent” is our key word here. I want to invite you to unpack it with me, because this is a pregnant word that’s loaded with meaning. It’s actually the key to understanding the whole passage, and, I dare say, the entire gospel. The word in the original Greek is metanoia. Meta means “after” or “change,” and this word literally means “a change of mind.” It carries this notion of transformation into something new—a new mindset. We need to be careful with the word “mind” here, because in ancient times, mind and heart were often used interchangeably. Metanoia, in the biblical sense, really talks about a complete transformation of who we are into the image of who God is. Richard Trench defined it as “a mighty change of mind, heart, and life that can only be brought about by the Spirit of God.”

In what sense was Jesus sinless or blameless?  Many commentators have observed proclamations of blamelessness in the Old Testament.  We read in Philippians 3:6 Paul says of himself in his old life as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.  Paul means as a Pharisee he did a good job, but now he is under the Law of Christ.  Paul proclaimed the universality of sin (Romans 5:12), but that something else was going on with Christians.  1 John 1:8 says: “8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

The sinlessness of Jesus goes beyond what is meant by blamelessness, but it is not about never having sinned, since as holy as Jesus was we all still sin as a function of living life (“if your eye offends you then pluck it out”).  Rather Jesus was above the Law as an interpreter of the law, and strived to view the law through the lens of the 2 great Love commandments.  He thus fulfilled the Law with his Moral Influence (not penal substitution) death, transfiguring the soldier at the cross with his obedience to God (Mark) and the power of God’s anger (Matthew), and Jesus’ forgiveness of his enemies (Luke): “Truly this is God’s son / an innocent man.”

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