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What would Jesus do? That’s pretty hard to say, but it doesn’t prevent people from speculating about it.

The what-would-Jesus-do fad seems to have faded somewhat, but only after raking in multi-million dollar sales in WWJD bracelets, necklaces, lunch boxes, posters, Bibles, cross-stitching, cigarette lighters, refrigerator magnets, mood rings, and bumper stickers (I’m guessing he wouldn’t jump a left turn).

Just proves the old adage, invented here on the spot for this single occasion: There is nothing so spiritual that it cannot be used to turn a fast buck.

I don’t mean to sound too cynical; I strive only for an appropriate cynicism. Trying to figure out how faith directs, informs, guides and governs living is a good spiritual exercise for anybody who claims to follow Jesus. But I never thought WWJD-obsessing was of much benefit.

Better to turn to Martin Luther. He offered some pretty stern guidelines, as I recall. Urging believers to private confession (see his Large Catechism ) he suggested any number of things one might confess on any given day of any given week in any given year. But what if you really could not think of anything particular to confess? Well, he directed, “Examine yourself in light of the Ten Commandments.” Do that and he was fairly certain anyone reasonably conscious could come up with a list.

But confession and absolution are after the fact. Asking WWJD comes before the fact. Confronted with a choice of actions”one good, the other not”WWJD presumes we may confront the choices before us and unerringly make the right choice every time. That works.

Naturally, though, it tends to work best when the choices are clearly good vs. evil. Much of life, unfortunately, seems to fall somewhere in between, and certainty lessens. I think it’s even worse: We more frequently face choices that are good vs. good.

Do we ditch the kids and go to that chick flick the wife wants to see? Maybe instead we hang out at home with the kids. They need us around less and less, granted, but it could happen they might need us the very night we’re out. But then, my wife and I need our time, too. Oh, the quandary! What would Jesus do? (This assumes I am unable to convince her to stay home with me and the kids watching Star Trek reruns.)

As the complexities of existence become ever more burdensome, so do the questions, or we end up talking nonsense, like the anti-SUV gyrations put on by the Evangelical Environmental Network a few years back. It was good for a web page that hasn’t been up-dated since at least 2006. And it was good for press releases; there were lots of press releases.

Their particular ire was drawn to Sport Utility Vehicles for both their high popularity and poor gas mileage. The very question implies Jesus wouldn’t drive one, and neither should you. The network asked “all Christians to make a commitment to ‘walk the walk and drive the talk’” when it came to choosing moral transportation options. There was even a pledge which, in part, committed the signatory to discuss “with others the moral concerns” of their automotive choices. I understood this to mean I should hector my neighbor about his Hummer.

As to the specifics of what Jesus would drive, one wag suggested Jesus wouldn’t drive anything. But the guy was pretty sure the Apostles drove a Honda because the on the day of Pentecost scripture records they were all gathered together in one Accord.

Of greater interest to Christians isn’t the “What would Jesus do?” question. It is the “What has Jesus done?” question that should hold a Christian’s attention.

Martin Luther, once more: He reportedly said, “Sin boldly; trust God more boldly still.” What he meant is all life is permeated with sin. No one escapes this world untainted. Driving an SUV won’t make you one bit more or less holy. While sticking to a high mpg vehicle may sensibly help your pocketbook, it says absolutely nothing at all about your salvation. We are left with choices, based on our own reason. Yet even our best decisions are never so pure, never so clear, and never so guiltless as to be pure, clear, or innocent.

We live ambiguous lives. Our choices really are mostly good vs. good. What Dr. Luther was saying was: Live your life, live it boldly, make your best choices in faith, and trust God for redemption.

This, in my better moments, is what I believe Jesus has done. There is a confidence, then, in Christian living. Yet it is a confidence born not of my choices, but in Christ’s life given in surrender to the cross, and raised on the third day. It’s what Jesus did, and what I cannot. But it doesn’t fit on a bracelet.

Russell E. Saltzman is dean of the Great Plains Mission District of the North American Lutheran Church , an online homilist for the Christian Leadership Center at the University of Mary, and author of The Pastor’s Page and Other Small Essays . His previous On the Square articles can be found here .


What Would Jesus Drive

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