Technology, Theology, and the Trinity
How many of you have heard of Chat GPT? If you aren’t familiar, Chat GPT is an artificial intelligence chatbot, free to the public, that launched at the end of 2022. Think like a robot, namedGPT 3.5, who you can converse with on your computer. You can ask Chat GPT pretty much anything, and it will communicate with you very much like you are having a conversation with another person, but at an insanely fast rate. Chat GPT can do things like correct your grammar, summarize difficult texts into simple concepts, and solve complex math equations.Making me wonder if my children will ever actually have to do homework. Moreover, making myTI-84calculator look like an abacus. Either way, it is an astonishingly and somewhat frighteningly advanced innovation that will and is changing the course of how we live and move and have our being. In fact Open AI, the company behind Chat GPT, has just come out with GPT 4.0, a version that has passed the bar exam, made a perfect score on the SAT, and is working to preserve and save the Icelandic language (to name a few of its accomplishments and endeavors). Even recently at a clergy conference, a few of my colleagues noted Chat GPT as a source they used in helping them write sermons. Skeptical, but intrigued, I thought I would give Chat GPT a try and throw at it the most complex of theological topics which we celebrate on the most difficult of liturgical days that being today, Trinity Sunday.
Many theologians, biblical scholars, and preachers have worked over the last 2,000 + years to try and succinctly describe the Trinity. Our triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, or Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, has been described as a red hot iron, both red, and hot, and an iron, a variation of characteristics and yet a single entity. Or an egg, consisting of the egg white, yolk, and shell, three separate parts of one entire whole. And yet, it would seem year after year we are still unable to grasp the complexity or maybe the simplicity of our three in one God. Which is probably why Chat GPT entitled its sermon, The Mystery of the Trinity: Embracing the Divine Unity, a four part sermon consisting of over 500 words, and written in less than 20 seconds. I give Chat GPT serious credit though, there was a lot of good stuff in the fourpoints it used to explain the Trinity. Which were, 1. The unity of the Trinity, “not three separate gods but one God.” 2. The Diversity of the Trinity, reminding us “of the importance of embracing diversity.” 3. The Trinity’s Invitation to Relationship, inviting us to experience the depths of God’s love within the context of community.” And, 4. Embracing the Mystery, reminding us that there are aspects of God’s nature that are beyond our comprehension.” Like I said, it was good, I actually should have just preached that. I mean, you probably don’t even need me up here every Sunday, when GPT 3.5 can explain, or at least expound upon the idea, theology, and doctrine of the Trinity in less than 20 seconds.
While I will not pretend to even begin to understand how Chat GPT truly works, I can say this. GPT 3.5, as artificial intelligence, gathers its data, responses, and answers from the information it has at hand, which is more or less the entire internet. While we can assume that Chat GPT created a unique sermon on the Trinity within 20 seconds. Everything it used to create that sermon had already been created, written and researched. And, I would guess is the overarching information and beliefs that surround the idea we as Christians share about the Trinity. That’s pretty cool!
The fear of something like Chat GPT changing the way we as human beings live and move and have our being is a logical one. Anything with too much power, artificial or human, is something to call to question. Which is why the developers of GPT 3.5 have given the AI 175 billion parameters, as opposed to the mere 117 million parameters given to GPT 1.0. Making it as safe as possible, at least until we can come up with more then 100 zillion parameters. More so, though, Chat GPT is a reminder of what it means to be human, of the gift to live this life, to experience mortality and fallibility, to remember that I am a child of God created uniquely in the image of my own Creator. And, while I cannot come up with a sermon in less than 20 seconds, I can do something Chat GPT never can. I can share my own personal stories. As human beings we are shaped by the stories of those who came before (just think of our ancient text we hear each and every Sunday). And, we also participate in the creation of stories that shape those around us and those who will come after. Allowing us to become intimately involved in the creative experiment that is our human story, one that we are actively and intimately involved in.
Our reading today from Genesis, reminds us of the sacredness and power of our stories. As we hear one of the earliest creation stories. And, while it certainly would not be the story Chat GPT would write in response to the creation of our universe, we would be remiss not to acknowledge that the creation stories found within the pages of our Bibles hold great significance within our development as humans trying to make sense of place in this world. Because if we were to ask Chat GPT to tell us the creation story of our world it would spit out data about the time, “over 4.6 billion years ago,” and the way, “a cloud of rotating gas and dust, that was compacted by gravity to create the ground we stand on today.” And while this data may hold more scientific weight, it is certainly less memorable, less formational, less relatable. Even though we know it took more than 7 days, and a few details are definitely missing, Genesis 1 offers us something that Chat GPT never could. It holds the sacredly creative memory of a people trying to figure out what it means to be human on this earth. What it means to be divinely inspired and lovingly created. A part of a larger whole. Like the Trinity, there is more to it.
As human beings we want the facts and the truth, we want order and understanding, we want right from wrong. Yet, sometimes it is not that simple. In the beginning, as we are told in Genesis, there was chaos and God was there. God did not overcome the chaos or correct the chaos and God certainly did not destroy the chaos, God moved into the chaos, working within it, and God called it good. More so, God got together with God's self, to create us in that uniquely diverse and wholly united Divine image, and again God called it good. Which is how we know our creative stories, our unique human experience, are a necessary part of this divinely diverse and sacredly whole creation. I may not be able to explain the trinity in less than 20 seconds, but quite honestly neither was chat GPT. What Chat GPT did do, though, was take a myriad ofideas, theories, and stories that surround our Triune God throughout time and space and show us how all these varied and diverse definitions can create one holistic understanding. Reminding me that the only real way, I believe, we can begin to understand or at least grasp a portion of our Triune God, is by participating and continuing in the sacred story and this one life as the Divine does. By leaning into chaos and finding beauty. By seeing the unity that is only possibly with diversity. And by remembering that our unique creative ability is our divinely inspired brilliance. So that we, like God, might see that it, that all this, is good.
The Rev. Kate Byrd
A native of Arlington, VA, Rev. Kate grew up at Christ Church in Alexandria, VA. As a cradle Episcopalian, Kate has a long-held love and appreciation for the Anglican Communion and our Episcopal traditions. A graduate of Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, VA, she completed her Bachelors of Arts Degree in Sociology and soon after began her Masters of Divinity at Virginia Theological Seminary. During her first summer off from seminary, Kate worked at Camp Kanuga in Hendersonville, NC where she met her husband Drew. Kate and Drew’s family includes daughter Libbie, twins Thomas and Patrick, and their two dogs Sissy (Labra-doodle) and Radar (Shih Tzu Bichon). Since ordination in 2014, Kate has served in Lexington, KY at Christ Church Cathedral, Whitefish Bay, WI at Christ Church Episcopal, and Goldsboro, NC at St. Francis Church.
The Byrd’s moved to Smithfield in 2019 when Drew began a new position at Johnston Health. A native of Smithfield, Drew is passionate about his hometown, and the two feel blessed to raise their three children here. When he’s not at work you can find Drew at Health Quest, on the Parks and Rec board, riding his mower around their yard, or doing woodwork in his garage. In her spare time, you can find Kate on a run through Smithfield’s Greenway, practicing yoga with her toddler, working with the Junior Women’s League, or completing a craft project. All five Byrds, and their two dogs, enjoy hiking at the local parks, going out for ice cream, and soaking up the sun in their backyard. Kate is passionate about the Jesus Movement and sharing the love of God at St. Paul’s, in the community, and beyond.
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