According to some people, the most important question you can
ever ask is: what would Jesus do in this situation?
This is presented as the definitive means of determining the
ethical choice, and the most reliable way to establish God's
will for your life. Whole books have been written,
presenting this question as one which will transform your
life. You can get badges and wrist bands that say "WWJD?"
While I am not completely against asking this question - there
are many worse ways of seeking guidance, and sometimes it may
well be the best - I am very concerned that a simplistic
reliance on this one question may end up causing more harm than
What would Jesus do? There are a number of problems
with this question.
It ignores the possibility that there is no no
answer. Maybe Jesus would not be in this
Would Jesus admit to defrauding the tax man? The
question is absurd: Jesus would not have committed the fraud
in the first place.
It ignores the possibility of choice.
Perhaps there is
more than one right course of action. Many choices
are morally neutral - which flavour jam should I
buy? Even with more significant questions, there
may not be one right choice. Which job offer
should I accept? Which person should I
marry? Perhaps God will be happy with any of
them. And when I pray for God's blessing on
someone, there is an infinite number of good things to ask
for. Perhaps a few are more important than the
others, but they are all good.
It is inherently judgmental. It
implicitly judges anyone (a) who fails to
ask the question, or (b) who gets a different
answer. If you fail to ask the question, you are
clearly not in the same spiritual league as me.
And if you ask it and get a different answer to me...
well! Does this mean you are not really following
Jesus at all?
It places the emphasis in the realm of the intellect, not
the spirit. Don't get me wrong - I believe the
intellect is vitally important for all Christians.
But I don't believe it is the only means through which God
communicates with His children.
It implies that Jesus is not here, not
present. What would Jesus do -
presumably, what would he do if He were here? But
He is here! What does He want to do here
and now? What does He want to do in and through
It ignores the fact that Jesus was a real
person. Perhaps Jesus didn't like lettuce; perhaps
He has a particular fondness for figs. I'm really
glad that none of these personal details are recorded in the
gospels, or today we would have whole denominations based on
which type of fig Jesus preferred. If Jesus walked
into a restaurant, what meal would He choose? I
guess it would be His favourite. So why not do the
same and choose your favourite food?
It reduces Jesus to an abstract ethical
principle. Okay, maybe this is not an automatic
effect of the question - but it certainly appears to be one of
the main effects of asking this question
repeatedly. If you are chatting to Jesus as you go
through the day, when faced with a difficult choice, you would
not stop and ask yourself: now, what would Jesus do in this
situation? It would be more like: okay, what's
your response to this one? It is
difficult to ask this question and take the whole person into
account - not just His moral judgement, but also His winsome
personality, generosity, warmth, wit and
creativity. What would Jesus do?
Almost certainly, something that surprised me.
It assumes the only factor which should determine our
behaviour is ethical. It only makes sense to ask
this question if I am faced with an ethical
choice. When Peter needed some money, Jesus told
him to go fishing. Christian biographies are full
of such unusual but effective guidance, but it is hard to see
how such guidance can be seen as the answer to the question:
what would Jesus do?
It fails to recognise Jesus' unique role and calling in
God's purposes. What would Jesus do?
Well - what did Jesus do? He gave up a good job, and
set His face
towards Jerusalem to be crucified there. You can
choose to take that as a piece of personal guidance, but God
might have other ideas for me.
It fails to recognise that I am not Jesus.
Faced with a small crowd around Him, what would Jesus
do? Clearly, He would preach the Kingdom to them,
heal their diseases, and cast out any demons.
Perhaps pick a fight with any religious people
around. This is not the way I spend my
time. Am I wrong?
Possibly. But I'm sure our Father doesn't want
all His children exercising a peripatetic (walking
around!) prophetic and preaching ministry.
In conclusion, this question points us towards a completely impractical
way of living - not because following Jesus is impractical, but
because God calls me to exercise my ministry where I
am, He does not call me to duplicate Jesus' ministry.
So is this one question is not the whole answer, what are the
alternatives? There are many. If you
insist on an abstract intellectual question, there are several
you might try:
'How can God be glorified in this situation?' or
'How can God's Kingdom be advanced?'
For myself, I perfer a more personal approach.
Something more like "Dear Father, please show me what to do now"
or "Dear Father, please show me how to glorify You in this
situation" or "Dear Father, please show me which of all the
valid and good options before me is the one you would like me to
take here and now.", or even, more simply, "Dear Father, please
show me how to love you more."
But it is probably helpful to remember that all this is, or can
be, no more than shutting the stable door after the horse has
bolted. Prayer for guidance, judgement and
discernment is needed before the decision is placed in front of
us. We need to spend time getting to know Jesus in
the calm and the quiet, so that when the storm hits, we
know He is there with us in the boat. When
the crisis hits, we don't always have time for measured