WWJD is the wrong question

When I was a kid I was given a WWJD bracelet. In case you missed this trend, WWJD stood for "What Would Jesus Do?" It was a way to get people to stop and think about what is the action we ought to do - that is what would Jesus do - in a situation. For me it functioned more as a fashion accessory than a Jesus reminder. 

After I wrote this post, I came across  writings from another author . I guess I a not original. 

After I wrote this post, I came across writings from another author. I guess I a not original. 

As I have gotten older it is much harder for me to answer the question WWJD. Frankly I have little idea what Jesus would do in many current situations. Maybe I am the only one, but I have a difficult time imagine what Jesus did much less what he would do. I know how Jesus would respond to the question, "Who is my neighbor?" but only because I have read the story of the Good Samaritan. I am not sure that I would have guessed that if Jesus was asked that question he would have responded by making up a story. 

This leads to the overall problem with WWJD: it leads on to believe that Christianity is primarily a religion of doing things when in fact it is not. Christianity is a religion that is not about doing but about being. And this is where I turn to the desert monastics to help make the point. 

In the introduction of James O. Hannay's book "Wisdom of the Desert", he has this to say about what the desert monastics thought about Christianity's relationship with doing good for others.  

"The hermits were called selfish because they aimed at being good and not being useful. The charge derives its real force from the fact that philanthropy, that is, usefulness to humanity, is our chief conception of what religion is. We appeal to the fact that Christ went about doing good, and we hold that true imitation of Him consists in doing as He did rather than in being as He was. The hermits thought differently. Philanthropy was, in their view, an incidental result, as it were, a by-product of the religious spirit."

WWJD puts philanthropy front and center to the Christian life, but the desert monastics saw philanthropy as a by-product! That is when we try to answer WWJD we are always going to miss the mark. We have no idea what Jesus would do. However, if we stopped trying to guess what Christ would do and spend our energies being as Christ was then we gain a clarity of how to act in the world.

Jesus prayed in the garden to not die. He would not have chosen to die via the cross. Rather, he stepped away from what to do and sought from God how to be. When he was grounded on how to be, what to do was clear. It was not easy, but it was clear.