WWJD—and the missing piece
Although the concept of imitating God in our daily lives has been around for centuries in the form of the imitatio dei, “What Would Jesus Do” began as an idea in a book from 1897 by Charles Sheldon called In His Steps. As a four-letter concept, it experienced a renaissance of sorts at various times throughout the twentieth century, and even now there are untold numbers of ways to sport WWJD with jewelry, buttons, books covers and even movies.
I like the idea of thinking through critical actions by posing that question. But I think there is a piece missing in the equation. Imagine for just a moment if Jesus, in the flesh once again and very much present in our twenty-first century world, were here to talk over some of the pressing questions of our time. Of course, this is what we’re supposed to be doing in prayer and meditation when we ask the WWJD question. But this time, Jesus is physically present and can answer out loud, as it were.
The missing piece is exposed when we’re forced to realize that much of the silent conversations we’ve been having around the WWJD questions—assuming we ask the question before we commit ourselves to action—have been rather one-sided. That’s because I think we unfortunately project our own way of thinking onto our conversation ‘partner’ and the result is hardly any different than if we came to the question with an answer already in our pockets.
To fill in that missing piece, we have to return to imagining Jesus here with us right now, grappling with the same issues we do. In a context and with issues simply not found in Scripture, or in Bible times, so to speak. The principles behind the issues are the same, though, so that’s where he’d start. He wouldn’t respond with a ready answer, perhaps, but Jesus would know where to begin working his way through the issues at hand, sorting through his priority list of principles, and then begin applying them in a way that is both right and just.
I think that’s how Jesus would do it. He’d have a process of thinking through it, one focused on identifying what’s at stake, what biblical principles might be involved, and then which of the principles should be given priority if any two or more them are odds. Just about any course of action has some measure of good in it, some reason to argue in favor of doing it, but some actions are better than others, and we ought to realize to make a moral and ethical choice is sometimes choosing between two otherwise good things.
The real key here is to read the Bible looking for the principles that Jesus favored, searching for his list of priorities. When faced with two actions that both plausibly have ‘biblical support’ it’s best to look at how Jesus went about deciding what to do. Jesus can become our model in making decisions when we seek to follow his method.
So here’s a proposal: instead of asking what Jesus would do, begin by thinking how Jesus would discover what to do. That’s the best education anyway, not just knowing the what, but knowing the how, the process necessary to get the whats and the whys and so on, of any given situation, especially those we haven’t faced before.
How would Jesus think…? I like that better than What would Jesus do. But don’t rush out and make any buttons with HWJT on them, okay?
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