In other Christian sects people like to ask “What Would Jesus Do?” as a caution to try to be perfectly Christlike in our behavior. In Primary we have a song “If the Savior Stood Beside Me” that has the same intention:
If the Savior stood beside me, would I do the things I do?
Would I think of His commandments, and try harder to be true?
Would I follow His example? Would I live more righteously
if I could see the Savior standing nigh, watching over me?
If the Savior stood beside me, would I say the things I say?
Would my words be true and kind if He was never far away?
Would I try to share the gospel? Would I speak more rev’rently
if I could see the Savior standing nigh, watching over me?
He is always near me, though I do not see Him there,
And because He loves me dearly, I am in His watchful care.
So I’ll be the kind of person that I know I’d like to be
if I could see the Savior standing nigh, watching over me.
The song is not terribly judgmental and guilt-inducing, and yet, the way I’ve heard most of my fellow members use this phrase, it usually is. For just a couple quick examples:
- A bishop asked “How would Jesus dress?” when the boys had the sleeves of their white shirts rolled up to pass the sacrament. I’m going to guess he would dress in a home spun robe. The question just didn’t make a lot of sense in a modern cultural context.
- In a BYU class, the syllabus said we had an “in class homework assignment.” As a result, class members were using their notes to complete it. The professor chastised class members for cheating, and rather than take responsibility for what was a simple miscommunication (on his part, natch), he told the class members to do “what the true gospel of Jesus Christ teaches.” Uhm . . . not chastise people for your own stupid mistakes?
Do people really know what Jesus would be like?
- The church lady? In most of the cases where people use this phrase, they seem to be mistaking Jesus for the judgmental persnickety Church Lady played so well by Dana Carvey.
- An authoritative teacher? It’s great to look up to a teacher or a leader, but that doesn’t mean we are perfect in following his teachings either. He was patient with those he taught. He didn’t expect perfection. Even Peter denied him thrice, and while he was disappointed, he still loved him.
- A pal? In the book The Gospel According to Biff, Childhood Pal of Christ, the story of the gospels is told from the perspective of an actual contemporary of Jesus who is more or less like most of our regular buddies would behave. It’s kind of like asking “What Would Jesus Do?” then plopping him down in the middle of one of the Hangover movies.
- A hero? He’s a hero in that he fulfilled the atonement, although even in that act, he very humanly was reluctant. So being like Jesus should mean it’s okay to have to work up our courage.
- An example? As an example, Jesus sometimes lost his temper. He was also frequently hanging out with sinners, harlots, and *gasp* tax collectors. He was a revolutionary. Yet nobody is asking “What Would Che Guevara Do?”
A few years ago, I answered a kokology quiz about a walk through the woods. In the walk, I had to say who I was walking with, and in my quiz it was Jesus. The answer was a little surprising (my husband said he was walking with me) because the person I was walking with (according to the quiz) is the person who is most important in my life. The way I imagine Jesus is as a very relatable person, someone who would like me for who I am while also wanting me to be my best self. The version of Jesus I hear about from other people simply isn’t the same one I imagine. Jesus would not care about modesty (except he might be skeptical of lavish spending). He wouldn’t care what others thought of him (he has a distaste for hypocrisy). And he wouldn’t use shame to motivate people (it’s beneath him).
So what about your mental version of Jesus? Is he the same or different from the one others seem to envision? Is this question useful or shaming? Should we just ignore it when people ask this question? What would Jesus do? 😉
I’ve always regarded it as question we can ask ourselves, as an aid in assessing our own behaviour, were we so inclined. Definitely not a stick for beating other people. Ouch!
The problem with the “What Would Jesus Do?” question is that it has been overused as a trump card to argue almost anything and it is often refuted or dismissed as trite by the closed minded intent on their position regardless of strong evidence to the contrary.
Scholars have constructed various portraits of the historical Jesus, which often depict him as having one or more of the following roles: the leader of an apocalyptic movement, Messiah, a charismatic healer, a sage and philosopher, or a social reformer who preached of the “Kingdom of God” as a means for personal and egalitarian social transformation…Commentaries often discuss the teachings of Jesus in terms of his “words and works”. The words include a number of sermons, as well as parables…The works include the miracles and other acts…Many of the miracles in the gospels teach the importance of faith. Wikipedia
While it is easy to find sincere devotion to Christ almost anywhere in the church it is also almost impossible to find anyone in the church who comes close to this description, the last one was probably Joseph. In fact the brethren, TBMs, the so called “faithful” and the orthodox come very close to the antithesis of this description. Clearly the Christ role and it’s content have been corrupted, distorted and twisted in the minds of members to fit the practice of the church rather than the other way around because their leaders can’t be wrong except when they are which doesn’t really matter because they get the important stuff right except when they don’t…repeat.
hawk, what’s cool (and troubling for some) is the way the gospel writers demonstrate this very exercise. Matthew’s Jesus is VERY Jewish, for example. Mark’s (the earliest account) Jesus is rougher around the edges. Of course this also reflects their own writing style/abilities and life experiences. So it is with us. Depeche Mode was on to something.
You are always so analytical and scientific. Try answering from your heart from time to time.
Jesus acted different than a church member “should” act, in the sense that He was rebelling against current ecclesiastical authority. Of course, our leaders are not asking us to be rebelious when they tell us “to be like Jesus.” Really, it means to ask ourselves what our personal divine mission is, what is “our Father’s business,” and whether we are willing to go through with it, just like Jesus had to ask Himself if He really could go through with it and drink the bitter cup.
I have to put in a plug for my favorite film: The Last Temptation of Christ, which is all about Nikos Kazantzakis contemplating whether He could really “be like Jesus.” Jesus, in the film is not the real Jesus. It is Kazantzakis pondering whether he could do it too, resist the temptation of the easy life of family and old age, and sacrifice it all for his great mission on the cross. Watching the film, for me, is an excellent spiritual excercise of trying to understand what it really means to “be like Jesus,” to be able to drink the bitter cup, to be able, like Peter and all the apostles later did, follow the path of the Christian to it’s ultimate end: martyrdom.
Hawk, can I just say I love your captions with the pictures?!!!
You seem to be my new fan! Any other tips you’d like to share?
Were I beside the Savior I’d be uncharacteristically speechless
If the Saviour stood beside me it would be a great opportunity to ask why he rarely answered my prayers, and what his views were on, the issues of the day in the church to see if my views are in tune with him.
To me, Christ seemed to focus primarily, and sometimes forcefully, on getting to the ROOT of the gospel and on dismantling all of the silly things that people seem to want to put AROUND the core – and which become more important than the core in many instances.
It was prevalent in Christ’s time. It is prevalent in our time. Joseph Smith tried to do the same thing – wrestling with people, smoking a cigar as he rode down the street, drinking a glass of wine with a member to “cheer their spirits”, etc. He knew what was important, and specifically tried to do things that showed what wasn’t important. Christ did the same thing, and the ruling hierarchy at the time was so dismayed by it that they ended up killing him.
So, I picture Christ as the ultimate non-comformist to “add-ons” and the ultimate conformist to what is truly essential to mortality.
We all have a picture of Jesus that conforms to fit our sense of His message. Whether it is being judgemental of the Church today or the Jews in Jesus’ time or what transpired after His death.
Mostly people are trying to do the right thing and those that see Jesus as the Messiah are probably also trying their best.
It is “…of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days,” we have to be wary of.
Measured against what Jesus is trying to teach us.
Mike S – I agree that the one thing Jesus consistently addressed was hypocrisy, including substituting the letter of the law with the spirit of the law. Ironically, a lot of what I hear when people say “What would you do if Jesus were here?” is reinforcement of hedges about the law rather than the heart of the gospel message. To me, this is what is meant by shooting beyond the mark. The mark is the gospel that changes your heart and your changed heart then changes your actions. Beyond the mark is just approximating changed actions without actually changing your heart.
I would run, just like my Uncle did.
Uncle G. was in the USMC in the Solomon Islands in WWII and survived some of the worst combat horrors imaginable. Nothing could rattle him. He lived a block from one of the old pioneer temples and worked there as the janitor. A couple years after the war a severe blizzard struck and the temple president called him on the phone to tell him to go close a window he had left open in the west tower. By that time it was snowing so hard that G. couldn’t drive or even walk there without using a rope and going slowly from tree to tree along the street.
When he got to the temple and unlocked the door and was climbing the tower stairs he heard footsteps; when it was impossible for anyone to be in there. And he reports that he somehow recoginzed them. He ran out of there in an absolute panic and straight into a tree and was knocked unconscious for several hours.
G woke up around dawn and went back into the temple. He found the window closed, a patch of snow on the floor a few inches deep proving the window had been open. Some of the snow had melted and ran down the floor to near the splicing of an electric wire which would have caused a fire if there had been even a little bit more snow. In the snow were a few bare human foot prints, about size 9, and little pyramids of snow in the middle of each foot print as if outlining piercings in the feet.
A memorable family folk tale that sent me to shivering every time I heard Uncle G tell it many years ago. We used to fear our Gods; now we have turned them into nannies.
Sorry these are tangents to your main point:
First, I *love* _The Gospel According to Biff_! I thought it lagged a little in the middle, but it was mostly a very entertaining book.
Second, I think it’s fascinating that you describe “If the Savior stood beside me” as being “not terribly judgmental and guilt-inducing.” To me, it comes across as nothing *but* a steaming pile of guilt. I should imagine Jesus beside me judging everything I do. Maybe I’m just a more guilt-prone person. 🙂
Mike: “We used to fear our Gods; now we have turned them into nannies.” Funny you should make that analogy, because in The Sound of Music when Leisel objects that she doesn’t need a nanny, Maria says, “We’ll just be good friends, then.” I tend to think of Jesus this way, as a good friend, someone whose example is uniformly positive, even patient, but who likes me for me as well.
Interesting comments. I feel that how we respond to the question posed, says more about our state of spirituality than what we might think. To me, the Savior always did the right thing with supreme control of His emotions.
If a situation needed mercy, He was merciful (woman taken in sin–where was the man?) If it needed drastic attention He gave it (money changers).
I do not see any need to attach shaming or guilt to the question, if we truly want to know what the Savior would do in a certain situation. We will all make mistakes, but, aren’t we supposed to learn correct principles and govern ourselves?? When we realize our mistakes, we can then acknowledge them, repent, fix them as we can and seek forgiveness and move on. (We also have to forgive ourselves.).
I feel that trying to act like the Savior would, is a learning curve of sorts. If we honestly try to be like Him, we will become more and more like Him. Now, I have, indeed used the “Money-changers” response in a sarcastic way when asked by someone this very question. I do understand that there is hypocrisy, shaming and that some people use this question in a controlling way.
However, I think we should pause when asked this question and be very honest and sincere about it whether the person posing it meant it that way or not. There’s no need to stoop to their level. So, sometimes, I remind myself that the quick retort of sarcasm is probably not the best way to respond, but it has taken me 51 years to learn this lesson so I feel to exercise as much charity towards those I think are handling “it” wrong; whatever the “it” may be.