Do Machines Go To Heaven?
Free Will and the Eucharist
I received a wonderful letter in response to “Abandon the Deus Ex Machina”:
Is it the work of the "Deus ex Machina" that gives God joy? The "machine" stays in "its" box and can do nothing else. But the Freedom to Choose makes humanity's choice to follow God's wishes, the true test of our faith. A robin will always grow to be a robin. A child can grow to be anything they choose to be, within the moral culture they choose to follow.
I see the diversity of moral cultures available in this world, as the confusion of evil. In the broadest of points, moral cultures of neighborhoods to cities, to regions of one's country can make behavioral/moral choices more difficult. With no spiritual moral code to guide one's development, being a "good" gang member could be just as rewarding to an individual, as being a lawyer, or plumber.
God's gift of choice removes the "Machinae" from our being a soulless entity. We have the choice to be His.
There’s indeed something wonderful going on here; why does God like anything we wretched sinners do at all? He’s omnipotent; he can make anything he desires. Yet, there are clearly some of our works He is pleased with. Let’s go straight to the source and summit of our faith: the liturgy of the Eucharist, and for the sake of completeness, look at it both in the East and West:
Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life. R: Blessed be God forever. By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity. Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the wine we offer you: fruit of the vine and work of human hands it will become our spiritual drink. R: Blessed be God forever. With humble spirit and contrite heart may we be accepted by you, O Lord, and may our sacrifice in your sight this day be pleasing to you, Lord God. Wash me, O Lord, from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. Pray brethren that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty father…
(From the Ordinary Form of the Roman Mass)
The gifts we offer “will become” for us the bread of life. We do not make them into the bread of life. We do not even profess to know how they become the bread of life. Yet the freewill gift is still a necessary component; a host.
It is fitting and right to sing to You, to bless You, to praise You, to give thanks to You, to worship You in every place of Your dominion; for You are God, beyond description, beyond understanding, invisible, incomprehensible, always existing, always the same, You and Your Only‑Begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit. Out of nothing, You brought us into being, and when we had fallen, raised us up again; and You have left nothing undone until You brought us to Heaven and graciously gave us Your future Kingdom. For all these things, we thank You and Your Only‑Begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit: for all these blessings, known and unknown, manifest and hidden, that were lavished upon us. We thank You also for this Liturgy which You are pleased to accept from our hands, though there stand before You thousands of archangels and myriads of angels, Cherubim and Seraphim, six‑winged, many‑eyed, soaring on their pinions, singing, proclaiming, shouting the hymn of victory and saying: Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of Sabaoth, Heaven and earth are filled with Your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.
(The Anaphora from the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom)
I particularly love the passage from the Divine Liturgy because it invokes the entire cosmic picture - angels and all, and how in this cosmic beauty, God was not satisfied with completely subservient angels, but rather, is overjoyed by the free-will return of one sinner.
I say to you, that even so there shall be joy in heaven upon one sinner that doth penance, more than upon ninety-nine just who need not penance.
(Luke 15:7, DRA)
The liturgy is a formalized and systematized craft utilizing tools (cups, church buildings) and materials (wine, bread) that is indeed a fitting offering to God. There are many moving parts. Ergo, the Liturgy of the Eucharist is a Machina Ex Deo - and probably the best one. What makes it so? What is it about this transaction, no, covenant?
Firstly, Man freely offers himself in devotion. His attitudes then cause him to affect certain things around him (to say certain prayers, and to assume certain postures). This happens not only at the liturgy, but beforehand in the baking of the bread, the fermenting of the wine, and the construction of the building. Up to this point, it seems like God could be pleased with either the actions done rotely or the attitudes - but then something awesome happens.
God condescends to make himself present in the gifts.
This is not a sort of transactional, mechanistic thing that happens. We cannot force God to do this; we cannot take the divine and conjure God like some voodoo doll. We can only submit ourselves and pray that He make Himself present. We do not have mastery here.
God’s presence in the gifts is not caused. At best we can say we prepare a dwelling place for God. If God’s condescension were transactional and mechanistic, then our prayer and liturgy would be mechanistic; but rather it is mystical. The objective is not to coax or even force God to come down but for us simultaneously to come into communion with him.
The implication this has for our laboring, then, is that it pleases God insofar as it is a natural consequence of a correctly-ordered mindset. The fruits are in and of themselves not pleasing to God; it is the choice that we have made to align ourselves with Him in our labor that makes our sacrifice so particularly pleasing to God and a sacrifice at all.
While the angels do have free will, their proclivity towards righteousness makes their just deeds of a different and angelic quality different than that of Man. If we are coerced into righteousness, the moral value of our actions is diminished than if we were fully free to choose.
Is this to say that we need to maximize individual choice? Not necessarily. If limiting our choices steers us into right relationship and orientation which otherwise would not have occurred, the constraint is righteous; and once this relationship is established these limitations of choice may be weaned. This is akin to training wheels on a bicycle, or all the of the sacraments (especially confession) - God doesn’t wish to just throw us to the wolves.
Yet He is pleased when we unite our will to His creative Logos. Continuing creation is a natural consequence of a right relationship with Him.
If our relationship with God is found in our attitudes which are made manifest by the work we do, we can’t outsource our salvation to machines. Theosis can’t be mass-produced by ever more efficient and autonomous equipment. Our salvation is not in idly consuming ready-made products but in actively choosing in each moment to partake in the divine energies.
Does this mean we need to smash machines in a sort of ‘make-work’ fashion? No. Producing tools that alter the world is an innate extension of our call to subdue the earth, and if it were truly something we were not supposed to do, I suspect Christ, or any of the prophets would have said something about it. The question isn’t between tools or no-tools, but right and wrong tools.
Especially for those of us who have the talent of design, this creation of machines is the outlet for our relationship with God; it is the way in which we express our love for Him. Yet, we should not anticipate that our salvation should come from these machines themselves. Our salvation is from the LORD and no machine will be the ultimate thing that props us up to him.
Us designers can aspire, though, to build Machinae Ex Deo like the liturgy that inspire us to closer communion with Him. Machines that respect our free will yet entreat us into communion. Machines that leave room for the mystical and divine.