Monday, February 27, 2023

Anonymous Asks (238)

“Is asking ‘What would Jesus do?’ a good way to make decisions?”

An opinion columnist for The LA Times writes that Jesus would have gotten vaccinated against COVID-19. Elton John says Jesus would have supported same-sex marriage. Jacqui Lewis, a Protestant minister, says Jesus would support a woman’s right to abort her child: “I think Jesus would be like, ‘What are you doing? What are you doing in my name? Why are you oppressing the women in my name?’ ”

So what would Jesus really do?

An Awfully Subjective Question

The problem with asking a subjective question like “What would Jesus do?” is that in many cases we can’t possibly know, and projecting our own ideas on the Lord — putting words in God’s mouth, really — is awfully tempting when we want to grab the moral high ground from someone we disagree with. It’s the ultimate “appeal to authority” fallacy. It’s also morally hazardous, maybe even blasphemous, depending on what we attribute to him.

The scripture warns about projecting our views on God. The psalmist Asaph writes about wicked men and women who took the Lord’s silence on certain subjects as approval of their behavior. God responded through his prophet as follows:

“These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself.”

Projecting turned out to be a major mistake. Asaph adds:

“But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.”

Uh oh. So let’s be careful about voicing strong opinions about what Jesus would have done in this situation or that. The Lord’s responses to people, their needs and their questions frequently surprised and confounded both his detractors and his own disciples. I doubt we are more perceptive than the latter group in anticipating how our Lord may have dealt with issues he never confronted during his short visit to this planet, or about which scripture is silent.

What Did Jesus Do?

A better question might be “What did Jesus do?” At least it’s a question we can try to answer with historical evidence, assuming our circumstances are similar to his. There are things scripture indicates the Lord would never do, like praying repetitive, hypocritical prayers, or backing down in the face of injustice, or acting selfishly, or rejecting someone who approached him humbly, or being swayed by riches and fame. We could probably make quite a list.

Come to think of it, it’s actually easier for a finite human being with a sinful nature to imitate the Lord Jesus in what he didn’t do than in what he did. Many things Jesus did are simply not realistic possibilities for Christians today: most of us can’t heal the sick, drive out demons, tell the truth with the sort of authority that stops the mouths of those who disagree with us, or know with 100% certainty what is motivating others when they speak. Even some of the ways in which we might be capable of imitating the Lord may turn out not to be wise moves: making a whip of small cords and going after moneychangers comes to mind.

And it’s not enough just to do the same sort of things the Lord did; we also need to do them for the same reasons he did and in the same spirit. To eat with publicans and sinners without becoming their enabler. To correct wrong thinking without pride or self-aggrandizement. To serve others for the glory of God and not for a pat on the back. To know when to speak up and when to be silent.

To be in the world and not of it.

Photo: de:Benutzer:MarkusHagenlocher, CC BY-SA 3.0

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