I don’t hate everything automated. Some technological shortcuts are wonderful.

Take, for instance, “unknown caller.” When that helpful warning pops up on my cell phone, I’ll often—okay, usually—text back with one of my phone’s suggested responses. “I’m on my way” is one of my favorites. “Almost there” works pretty well too.

If the intrusive call is coming from a cell phone in Hoboken, the hapless caller is flummoxed. If it’s a call center in Karachi, however, I’ll typically get a text informing me that I’ve bounced my canned message off a landline. It also tells me I can voice-message the other party for a fee. The text helpfully includes unknown caller’s number.

That’s when I block the number. For free.

Occasionally I want to interact with the poor soul on the other end of the signal. Depends on my mood. Listen, I realize that the caller is probably making very little money while trying to make a great deal of money for someone who is exploiting him or her. So I’m not mean. It’s just that I’ll answer the phone in Turkish. I have yet to run into a Turkish telemarketer, which is good, because my Turkish isn’t. Maybe I should learn a more obscure language. Navajo proved inscrutable to the Japanese. That might work.

But technology absolutely bleeds the life from some things. There’s one particular “advance” I hold in rare contempt. It’s under the “tool” heading in the dropdown menu of my laptop, which admittedly is a technology I love (the laptop, not the tool). This tool is known by the diabolically candid label “predictive writing.”

Rather than actually improving my life, this purported enhancement is nothing less than a skid-greased descent into a dystopic inertia of our own unmaking. Predictive writing is a clarion warning that we’re not racing into Armageddon; we’re sliding aimlessly, thoughtlessly, obliviously in its approximate direction. And we’ll have a bot to record it all.

Predictive writing, in case you haven’t yet encountered this fiendish concept, is simply a soulless algorithm’s attempt to guess what your next words might be as you type a sentence. Imagine how an actual flesh-and-blood writer feels about this. Does anyone think Hemingway wrote predictively? Dostoevsky? Twain? Eliot? (George or T.S., either one. You’re human; you can choose your preference.)

I realize that predictive and predictable are not precisely synonymous. I also note that inspired stands in direct opposition to predictive. Other words counter it as well: creative, artistic, interesting, and readable being among them. Seriously, having a piece of technology “assist” you by making your writing more predictive is a bit like asking Silicon Valley to make your writing ordinary. Literally, a machine will now finish your sentences for you! Does this brazen cyborgian attempt at a symbiotic relationship come with a marriage certificate?

The absence of predictive writing in the Bible is one of the things that implicitly asserts its unique origins. It’s a collection of books written by more than thirty-five authors over a span of well over a thousand years. The style of these books varies dramatically, yet as a whole, the book has a cohesion that we humans, creative as we are, could not possibly have faked. And while some of its wisdom—for instance, the Proverbs—might be a bit predictable, the bulk of it is thoroughly unpredictable and jarringly non-predictive. Its stories startle us, and yet we recognize and identify with the very human characteristics of its flawed heroes.

Except for its central hero. That guy was totally counterintuitive and totally unpredictable, even though he was eminently reliable. The real Jesus is a hero we could not invent.

When Peter confessed that Jesus was “the Messiah, the Son of the living God,”1 Christ enthusiastically affirmed him in this. Just a short while later, Peter dared to correct Jesus when he predicted his own death. Jesus countered Peter with these words: “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”2

Uh, Jesus, you just called Peter “Satan.” Isn’t that just a bit over-the-top? Especially after you just praised him for his earlier comment about you being the Messiah and all.

Jesus was teaching Peter about the upside-down Kingdom that supersedes all kingdoms. He was showing us something about his Father’s kingdom. This is not a kingdom of our own imagining. The road to get there is far too counterintuitive.

Among the many things that set this Book apart are the messianic predictions in Scripture—and remember, predictions are not to be confused with the predictive.

Let’s look at just two of those prediction sections: Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53. No algorithm could conceive this storyline. No novelist could weave together so many details into these magnificent predictions over this kind of timeline.

When Jesus was nailed to a cross (the all-time counterintuitive victory), he quoted the opening line from Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” This is key. Psalm 22 describes exactly what was happening to Jesus at the time of his death. It provides a visceral description of a crucifixion and even includes a reference to gambling for his clothes.3–4

Yet Psalm 22 was written by David hundreds of years before the Persians had invented crucifixion. How could David know about this? And even if he did, why would he ever put it in a song that accurately describes a man not yet born? Why would he say this about the man who would be the Messiah? This is not predictive writing. This is an Unknown Caller letting us know something.

Isaiah 53 sheds more light on this. “He was pierced for our rebellion,”5 says the prophet six hundred years before Messiah arrived. “He was whipped so we could be healed.”6 “The Lord laid on him the sins of us all.”7 And perhaps most counterintuitively, “He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.”8

The clincher that makes Jesus’s kingdom so counterintuitive comes when the arrested Christ tells Pilate, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.”9

Jesus was teaching us a radically new way and doing it in the most counterintuitive way possible. He did it by going quietly to his own execution.

Curiously, Jesus didn’t bother to leave us any writings of his own. That’s another counterintuitive development, since he knew the law thoroughly. And as a rabbi, he was highly literate. Suffice it to say, Jesus didn’t need to write his autobiography. After all, he was the Word. But that’s another blog post.

Despite all the unpredictability, God’s story ends with a happily ever after—at least for those who believe in his Son Jesus. The oppressors are annihilated, evil is eradicated, the persecuted are rescued, and the Lamb reigns forever with truth and justice. But the winding road to get there, well, that’s all pretty counterintuitive. It’s certainly not predictive. Thankfully, the story doesn’t come from an Unknown Caller either.

—Tim Gustafson

1. Matthew 16:16 nlt
2. Matthew 16:21–23
3. Psalm 22:14–17
4. Psalm 22:18
5. Isaiah 53:5
6. Ibid.
7. Isaiah 53:6
8. Isaiah 53:7
9. John 18:36

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