Friday, April 5, 2024

Part I

The Finitude of Human Scale: What the Ship Crash into the Francis Scott Key Bridge Reminds Us About Theology and the Limits of Humanity

These days very modern people are very accustomed to being thrown giant statistics. We have a massive economy. We’re a massively complicated society. We’re able to do incredible things. We can send rockets into space, we can look through the electron microscope and even other technologies and we can look at the complexity of things that are just invisibly small. But at the same time, sometimes the size of what we get into becomes quite a problem. Just ask those who are looking at the wreckage of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore.

One of the things many people miss is that that particular accident is an accident of scale, which is to say, yes, it happened because a big ship lost power and eventually drifted into a pier of a massively huge bridge leading to the absolute collapse of the bridge. And yet the scale is a part of the problem. And this is perhaps helpful for us to think about because we are increasingly accustomed to things getting way outside of human scale. And to be honest, we now talk routinely about things which are so out of scale. We really can’t imagine them. We can talk about trillions of dollars, but we can’t imagine trillions of dollars. We know that’s a matter of reality and accountability. We want people to count those trillions of dollars rightly, but at the end of the day, we really can’t get our minds around say a trillion dollars, much less multiple trillions of dollars.

And then you look at other things. You look at say, distances in space. Now I know we know or can determine many of those distances, but in honest terms, they boggle the human imagination. It’s very hard for us to come up with anything analogous to those kinds of distances on a human scale. And we also understand the way our economy and the society is moving is towards bigger and bigger all the time. And the ship bigness is now a part of the problem. Just ask again, the folks in Baltimore who were looking at that incredible disaster with the collision between a big ship, but not the world’s biggest ships, and a bridge that was built at a time when ships of that size and that tonnage weren’t even imaginable.

So the Francis Scott Key Bridge there in Baltimore, it was finished in 1977, so that’s not ancient history. I’ll admit it may seem like it. I graduated from high school that year. But we are talking about a term of life in which you have many living Americans who can say, “Yeah, 1977,” and that was the year the Francis Scott Key Bridge was opened. At that time, you’re talking about a big vessel in terms of cargo having 3000 TEUs. Now I know you’re dying to find out what a TEU is. Well, think of these container ships and think of the containers, and they often look like, say the trailer on a semi tractor trailer rig, and you see these massive cargo ships with all these containers stacked up, and that is now the measurement. It’s a TEU, is a Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit.

So you’re thinking about one of those containers 20 feet long. It is the TEU, the Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit. If you go back to 1977, the Hamburg Express and the Wall Street Journal lays this out beautifully. The Hamburg Express carried 3000 TEUs. Now that’s a lot because just going back, say 10 years to 1968, you’re really looking at a TEU limit of about 1500. So 1500, that’s been doubled by the time you get to 1977. Where are we now? Well, you can talk about a ship known as the MSC Arena, 24,300 TEUs. So we’re not just talking about a bigger ship, we’re talking about, frankly, a completely different phenomenon. We’re talking about massive, massive tonnage. You’re talking about dozens of these previous big ships being bundled together in one ship.

In this case, you could take eight of those ships that were typical in 1977 when that bridge opened. You could put them together in one ship, and that’s just about where you are with the ship known as the Arena. Now, that’s bigger than the Dolly. The Dolly, the ship that crashed into the bridge is 10,000 TEUs because the bridge was at a certain height and many of those larger container ships couldn’t get through it. Now, that’s the reason why, for example, they’re talking in Savannah about a massive project to lift the Talmadge Bridge there by a significant factor in order to get these larger ships through. But the Francis Scott Key Bridge would’ve allowed the Dolly at a certain point in the bridge to have passed, but of course it ran into the pier. But the Dolly’s little these days as compared to the ships that are often crossing the Atlantic and the Pacific.

Now shipping’s had a hard time this year. You’ve got the Houthi rebels there in Yemen who are a direct threat in the Red Sea. You’ve got water level problems in the Panama Canal that have restricted commerce, and now you’ve got incidents like this. It’s just a reminder of how fragile our transportation system is. But I want to go back to where we started. It’s also just a matter of scale. We human beings can scale things up so far, that we frankly lose control of how even to handle what we have created. Now, not saying that’s what has happened with these ships in general, but we are talking about this bridge being knocked down by a ship that no one could even have imagined when the bridge was dedicated just a matter of a few decades ago.

That of course leads to some other questions because now you have to ask, if we have to replace that bridge in Baltimore, how far do we scale up? It won’t make sense to put the Francis Scott Key Bridge back in place. That would make no sense at all. Frankly, it wouldn’t make sense to come up with a bridge that has a higher opening for say, a ship just like the Dolly. You know the way this logic is going, no. Now that we have to build this bridge, we need to build it big enough not just for the ships of the present, but for the ships of the future. How large may they be? Now you’d say there might have to be some physical constraints because you do have something like the Panama Canal, but in reality, it’s a matter of economic scale.

Some of these shipping companies are deciding it might be to their advantage to have far larger ships that may have to go even around the entire point in South America or for that matter, Africa, in order to avoid going through say a canal, the ship won’t fit through because the shipping of this cargo on the scale will be financially rewarding enough. You can just forget the canal. Just stay in the Atlantic. Stay in the Pacific. Stay in the Indian Ocean. Just imagine how large these ships could one day be.

But my problem frankly is not the navigation of the seas. My issue here really isn’t the size of ships. It is human scale, and it is just a reminder to us, that human beings live in a human scale, and that scale is not changed appreciably and isn’t going to change appreciably because this is the way the Creator made us. And even as we look at basic measurements, we still have very familiar measurements that are tied to the human body, including the measurement of something like a foot. The more we abstract anything from that human scale, the harder it is for us to take the measure of it and understand it.

I’m not against this massive shipping in terms of what it can deliver for us and the savings of cost and the gain that comes to the economy. It’s great to be able to order something and know that it will be coming in an affordable way from somewhere all the way around the world. That’s a great thing. But the human scale is still something that shows itself as when you look at those very human workers now quite courageously working on the wreckage of that bridge. And you look at that big bridge and you look at that big ship and you look at these very small human beings by comparison, and we know that it is the human beings who are the very point.

Part II

Artificial Intelligence Has an Insatiable Appetite: Even the Internet is Not Big Enough to Feed AI Demands

But while we’re thinking about that just in terms of say TEUs, 20-foot equivalent units, we think about feet, we think about yards, we think about miles. It’s a bit different when we think in digital terms. And I want to draw attention to an article that appeared on the front page of the business edition in the Wall Street Journal this week. The headline is this, The Internet is too Small to Feed Artificial Intelligence Ambitions. Okay, this really is interesting.

The reporter’s, Deepa Seetharaman and the reporter writes, “Companies racing to develop more powerful artificial intelligence are rapidly nearing a new problem. The internet might be too small for their plans.” Now, I don’t know what comes after this, but the point is that even when you exhaust the internet, artificial intelligence is still hungry. “Ever more robust systems developed by open AI, Google and others require larger oceans of information to learn from. That demand is straining the available pool of quality public data online, at the same time that some data owners are blocking access to AI companies. Some executives and researchers say the industry’s need for high-quality text data could outstrip supply within two years, potentially slowing artificial intelligence or AI’s development.”

So the internet, which is so large, larger than most of us can even imagine in terms of its reach, its content, its scale. The internet just isn’t big enough for the rapacious appetite of artificial intelligence. And if all this didn’t sound threatening enough, just listen to this. “AI companies are hunting for untapped information sources and rethinking how they train these systems. OpenAI, the maker of ChatGPT has discussed training its next model on transcriptions of public YouTube videos, people familiar with the matter said. So yeah, you or your kid’s YouTube video could be all of a sudden sucked up in order to train artificial intelligence. How’s that for encouraging news on a Friday? But maybe these big social media companies and platforms are going to find a way to use say our content in order to feed this artificial intelligence.

The Wall Street Journal article says this, “Meta platform CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, recently touted his company’s access to data on its platforms as a significant advantage in its AI efforts. He said, Meta can mine hundreds of billions of publicly shared images and videos across its networks, including Facebook and Instagram.” Yeah, artificial intelligence has an appetite and somebody’s going to feed that appetite. This gets back to one of the primal stories of fallen humanity, and that is the story of technology that gets out of control. To the ancients, that power might be fire. In more recent days, it might be out of control, artificial intelligence. Back when I was a boy, the danger in terms of an earth created problem that would turn on humanity was robots or computers that turn violent and malevolent. But then we need to realize that the power of those stories is not based in the fact that they’re impossible, but our fear that in actuality they’re not.

Part III

A Tragedy with Multiple Lessons: Modern Protections Prevented the Damage and Death Toll of Taiwan’s Earthquake From Being Worse

But just before we turn to questions on a similar theme, we are reminded of how small we as human beings are when you look at the scale of what it means to be a human being up over against the power of something like an earthquake. And we saw that tragically enough in a very powerful earthquake this week in the island nation of Taiwan. And of course, even as human beings throughout time have heard the tales of such earthquakes we’re the first generation to be able to see these if not in real time, then very close to it with the hundreds of videos that became very apparent very, very quickly. Thankfully, given architectural and engineering planning there in Taiwan, even as in previous an earthquake of this scale would’ve killed perhaps hundreds or thousands of people, there is a death toll. But at this point, thankfully it is remarkably low compared to those other previous earthquake disasters.

The people of Taiwan live with many dangers frankly, and not all of them from earthquakes. They are also all too close to China. And of course, we’ve been talking about the military threat there. But the threat of an earthquake just reminds us of human scale and how small we are and how little control we have over such things. So as we get ready for questions and go into the weekend, we’ll be praying for those in Taiwan and we will remember a basic Christian truth, and that is that even though the ground under our feet seems so firm, it is not something we can just take for granted and assume will always be firm.

Part IV

I am a Palestinian Christian. I Am Concerned About Your Teachings about the Israel-Palestinian Conflict — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Okay. Now let’s turn to questions. A man wrote in and he asked that his name not be used, and he made a very serious statement that I think deserves a serious response and frankly, a compassionate response. This man identifies as a Palestinian, and he wrote in that he feels threatened by my teachings. He says, “Your lack of compassion toward the Palestinian people is very sad. Thousands of innocent people are being starved and killed, and you do not address it as wrong.” He goes on and says he’s a Palestinian Christian. He speaks of living in the United States and saying that there is hatred expressed towards Palestinians, and at least in this context he says sometimes coming from Christians. He then asked the question, “Is it possible for you to start teaching love and respect to all human race regardless of religion or ethnic background?”

I want to say first of all that it is entirely possible for any Christian speaking to any of these issues, to sin by failing to express adequate, and for that matter, comprehensive compassion when it comes to stories like this, to unfolding realities like this, to horrors like what is taking place in Gaza. I’ve tried not to do that, and it’s simply impossible in every single episode and every single conversation covering these issues, it’s impossible to speak of all these things simultaneously. But this listener has raised a point, and I want to dignify the point and I want to respond to it as compassionately and honestly as I can.

And that’s to say yes. I may not have adequately, certainly at some point when you were listening spoken of the suffering of the Palestinian people, that is a very pressing moral reality. But in this situation, I want to say it’s very, very difficult to extricate the fact of Palestinian suffering and what we should do about that or even what the international community should do about that from the context of the savage attack by Hamas on Israel. And the fact that Israel defending itself against Hamas is now undertaking a military action that quite frankly is very similar to actions taken by the United States and the war on terror and other similar historical developments.

I believe that there are few people on planet earth who have been as besieged and maligned and misused as the Palestinian people. I don’t want to state that, but I think the main abusers of the Palestinian people have been in many cases, those who have sought to use their cause, for instance, in order to argue for the non-existence of Israel, or to make claims that quite frankly just don’t align with history. It is true that the Palestinian people lost a very great deal with the establishment of Israel as a state in 1948, 1949. No honest person denies that. But when you look at the situation of the Palestinian people over time, and that means even before and after 1948, 1949, quite honestly, the Palestinian people have been more abused by other nations, and that means other than Israel.

So you look right now at the situation, where are the Arab nations coming to the relief of the Palestinians, inviting the Palestinians to come and to seek refuge in their nations? You just don’t see that, and that’s a hidden part of this story. And also you have the fact that Hamas is in control in much of this territory and was actually elected there. Now, one of the difficulties for Christians is that when you look at say the occupied territories, there have been a lot of Christians, a lot of Palestinian and Christians in those territories. A lot of Christian work in those territories. They’re on the West Bank and in Gaza. So there’s a lot of legitimate Christian heartbreak over this. By the way, one of the very sad things taking place, and this is not because of the Israeli military action, but rather it is because of longer trends and the Islamification of much of this territory and of much of the Palestinian community, you’re really looking at a fast decrease in Christian presence there among the Palestinians.

I want this listener to know that I appreciate the fact that you wrote and once you wrote, I felt like I was really morally responsible to discuss this on the program today. And I want to do anything I can to express all the compassion that I think Christians should muster to the Palestinians. And that means seeking for an end of violence as soon as possible. But I want to say, that’s not a one-sided equation because you are looking at the embedding of Hamas there in the Palestinian population. Now, I know there are many, many innocent victims. You look at the children, you look at the women, you look at the families, and you just have to wonder, in a broken world, how can any of this continue? But you also look at the fact that Israel, for its own self-existence, is undertaking this action against Hamas. And Hamas has deliberately strategically embedded itself in a civilian population in order to bring about as much civilian loss of life and suffering as possible.

And by the way, that is an official tenet of Hamas. Hamas has actually officially said that the use of the suffering of the Palestinian people furthers its cause. I find that absolutely reprehensible. It leads me to have even deeper concern care for and I hope compassion for the Palestinian people. But, you know, as I conclude here, I want to say I think at times Christian sympathy means we have to put ourselves in the position of another. And if I were in the position of being a Palestinian, seeing my people suffer so greatly, seeing Palestinian men, women, and children suffer so greatly, I would want that suffering to end as soon as possible and I would want righteousness to prevail. And I need to say to my Palestinian brother in Christ here, that is my prayer too.

Sometimes in a situation like this, quite honestly, we just have to pray as Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” I want to thank this listener for listening, and also for the respect in sending this question. You made some very hard statements. I hope I have responded to them truthfully. I hope I’ve responded to them rightly.

Part V

Is Hospice Care Passive Euthanasia? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Next, as Christians, sometimes we just have to deal with matters of life and death, and the scripture makes that so abundantly clear. Esther wrote in and she refers to The Briefing on March the 18th, and she says, “I was wondering if you consider hospice care to be passive euthanasia? My understanding of hospice care is that it is palliative care only to keep the patient comfortable and out of pain as much as possible, but not doing things to treat their illness.” Well, this is a really smart question and this is where we need some real care in thinking these things through. And sometimes it requires more honesty than we often get in some medical situations.

And so, I am going to argue, It’s a very smart question, I’m going to argue that hospice care is not always passive euthanasia. Euthanasia means bringing about death. So one of the things that is supposed to mark hospice care, now I say supposed to at least as classically defined, hospice care is for those who are dying. In other words, they’re in an active process of dying. Euthanasia refers to someone before an active process of dying. In that time before the active process of dying, active euthanasia means just bringing the life to an end by some action. Passive euthanasia means someone who is not at the point of dying, someone who is not in the process of dying, who nonetheless says, “I’m going to just stop medical treatments.” Or when you have say, medical practitioners who say, “Let’s just cut off nutrition,” and that’s why there’s such deep Christian concern about that. But in the period of active dying, well, euthanasia is now off the table.

Now there are still moral considerations. And this woman very kindly referred to the passing of both of her parents under hospice care. And frankly, I think hospice care has to be carefully defined because it’s not always the same thing, not always the same approach or policies place to place, but at least in classic form, hospice care is to be invoked and to apply only when active dying has started. And here’s something that is also true of the Christian worldview. We are not obligated morally according to the Christian worldview, to try to forestall the active process of dying indefinitely. So we’re the people who understand that death is one of the realities that God tells us we are to face honestly.

And no one should consider any of these decisions easy when it comes to matters of life and death, especially with the death of a loved one. But this is a good question, and I think it’s just key to make that distinction between when someone is in the process of active dying and before that, euthanasia applies to any intervention, active or passive, before that phase. In that phase, euthanasia is really not the moral question. There are other moral questions. And by the way, I want to say to this listener, the way you have described the situation of your parents is one familiar, I think to many, many Christians, and it looks like you handled it absolutely faithfully.

Part VI

How Can God Be Omnipresent If He Cannot Be in the Presence of Sin? — Dr. Mohler Responds to a Letter from a 14-year-old Listener of The Briefing

Another interesting question asked by a 14-year-old boy in Georgia, and he says, “My question to you is how can God be omnipresent when the Bible says he cannot be near sin?” He goes on to say, “We live in a sinful, broken world and all are in need of a Savior, but if we are all sinners, how can He be near to us on earth?”

Well, another smart question, and I’m not certain, I’ve been trying to think of what particular biblical text Carson may be thinking about here, but Carson, let me just step back for a moment and say what we affirm with the omnipresence of God is that he is in all places all the time. He is everywhere all the time, 24/7 you might say in our temporal terms, but he is eternally present in all reality, period. Now, that most importantly means that there’s no place where God is not. But when you talk about sin, you’re talking about a moral category. And again, I’m not sure what particular biblical text you might thinking about here, but it is true that God’s character is infinitely distant from sin. It is true that God does not know sin as we know sin. Obviously, he knows all things in terms of knowing about them, but he is morally separated from sin in his absolute holiness to the extent that the Bible even says he does not know sin as we know sin.

So I want to say also to this young man, look, we are sinners. All human beings are sinners. So if God could not be close to us in our sin, God would be close to no human being. And I think that’s one of the reasons why it’s so precious that we’re told that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. In other words, this is the great truth of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, which is at the very center. He is God with us, Immanuel. So Carson, I think is a really good question, and I’d be very interested in what Bible verse in particular you might have in mind. But just in general terms, we’re not talking here about a spatial reality, but a moral reality in terms of God’s infinite distance from sin.

Part VII

What are Your Thoughts on the ‘Religion’ of Trump or Biden? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Okay. We’re going to have to bring today’s episode to a close, but just one more question, and this is another one that comes with a certain edge to it, and I appreciate it. This listener writes in and says, “You mentioned that Joe Biden tries to appear as a very religious, although he is not. What are your thoughts on Trump?” Well, I got a lot of thoughts here. I simply say that I think both candidates seek to manipulate religion each in his own way. The distinction here is that throughout his life, Donald Trump has never particularly claimed a very deep religious commitment. Now, I realize all of a sudden he’s showing up on television, even selling a Bible. But let’s just get to the bottom line here.

Politicians do with religion, what politicians do with religion. I think the distinction I’m trying to make is that no one with a straight face is arguing that there’s any long-standing deep theological commitment that is represented by Donald Trump. I think that’s not a part of his long-standing brand. But when it comes to Joe Biden, I’m frustrated by the fact that mainstream media and others continue to just refer to him like he’s some faithful Catholic when he is actually living and acting in contradiction to Catholic teaching. But if we’re going to talk about politicians and the misuse of religion, and I’m saying all politicians misuse their religious identification or Christian claims, I’m simply going to say that more often than not, what you have in the collision of a politician and religion is something that turns out to be, at least to some extent, a wreck.

Alright, so as we close, I’m going to let you in on something. When you go to the website at and you post a question, you will see there’s now the option of asking the question or posing it in audio or video terms. And we need to bank some of those in order to be able to use them in future programs. So let me just invite you to do that. We’re glad to get your questions, however you want to send them. 

I’m happy to tell you that Southern Seminary’s next preview day is coming up and it’s coming up fast. It’s coming on Friday, April the 12th.

At our secular age, we see an increasing need for those who are called to ministry, and we see the need for them to be trained with the highest level of biblical and theological education for a lifetime of faithful service and faithful conviction. That’s why Southern Seminary is committed to providing rigorous theological education that you and the church can trust. That preview day, April the 12th, you’ll tour our beautiful campus, meet our world-class faculty, and learn how God is using Southern Seminary to train faithful ministers of the gospel. Listeners to The Briefing, now get this, can register for free at by using the code, now you’ve already figured this out, TheBriefing. I look forward to seeing you there.

Once again, as always, thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website at You can find me on Twitter by going to For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to 

I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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