What would Jesus do (or not do)?

Back when I was in college, I overheard a classmate talking about how she wanted to buy her boyfriend a cross—as in the kind you wear around your neck—but her boyfriend was very particular about his crosses and would only wear one made of wood, and wooden crosses were hard to come by these days. When he looked at crosses made of gold or silver or other precious materials, he insisted, “God wouldn’t wear something like that.”

To which I responded, even though it was none of my business, “Why would God be wearing a cross necklace in the first place?”

For sure, I have nothing against wearing cross necklaces. If you want to wear a cross as a symbol of your faith or as a reminder of what Jesus did for you, I think that’s a beautiful thing. I also think it doesn’t matter what material it’s made out of, but if wood seems like the best material for you, a wooden cross is what you should wear because it’s your cross. I just don’t think it works to invoke the argument of what God would do in this situation because regardless of whether or not God is a jewelry sort of guy—and He may be, for all I know (or She may be, for all I know)—I’m thinking a cross may not be on His list of preferred ornaments. I mean, what would be the point? You wear a cross because you worship Christ (or, alternatively, are Madonna). God is God and doesn’t worship anybody—not even Himself because, well, He’s God. It’s just not necessary.

I think that the question “What Would Jesus Do?” is very useful for Christians in a lot of instances—maybe even most instances—but as in the story of the Elusive Wooden Cross, it is not always relevant. Jesus came to earth with a pretty specific mission—atone for the sins of the world, die and raise himself from the dead—and I imagine the nature of that mission informed most of his choices. That Jesus would be kind and merciful to others is a no-brainer. What specifically Jesus would do to bring peace to the world and counter evil is a question that Jesus has already answered; in point of fact, he’s already done it. What all Jesus would do if he were, say, me is a question that has no answer because Jesus is not me, and I am not him; our missions in life are different. I’m not capable of atoning for the sins of mankind, nor of raising myself from the dead. By the same token, Jesus couldn’t have given birth to four children without performing a miracle that probably none of us is comfortable imagining. But do you get what I’m saying? It doesn’t matter. It’s a ridiculous proposition, Jesus giving birth. We don’t need to think about it.

A few months ago there was a comment on some blog in the Bloggernacle somewhere (I don’t remember—it could have been here, for all I know, but my point is that I don’t) about how it seemed really unlikely that Jesus would take a job as a weapons manufacturer. I will grant you that it does seem unlikely, and yet I’m having a hard time picturing Jesus taking a job anywhere. Would Jesus work at Wal-Mart? Would Jesus be an attorney? Would Jesus open his own small business? If so, what sort of benefits would he offer his employees? How much would he pay them? When Jesus was actually here on earth, near as I can tell, he didn’t have a profession or a permanent home. He traveled around the country preaching the gospel and relying on the hospitality of others. Would Jesus buy a house? If so, how many square feet would he need? Well, I guess it depends on whether or not he’s going to have a family. Wait—is he going to have a family? How many kids is he planning on having? Will they be going to public school, or private? Or will they be homeschooled? Wait—homeschooled by whom? By Jesus or his wife? Would Jesus get married? Would his wife work outside the home? We have absolutely no way of knowing the answers to these questions. Some of them are relatively inconsequential, sure, but some of them do have moral implications, and they are issues we have to resolve in our own lives without specific lessons from Jesus’s life to guide us.

Some thornier questions to grapple with: Would Jesus join the military? Would he become a police officer? I don’t know about the rest of you, but I don’t really see Jesus carrying a gun and shooting people or threatening to shoot people. And yet there are perfectly decent and moral citizens who do exactly this sort of thing in order to protect society from criminals and other aggressors. What would Jesus do to defend innocent people from other people’s acts of evil? Do we as humans not have a moral obligation to fight evil in our own spheres? But we can’t do it the same way Jesus did because a) we’re not divine and b) …well, now that I think on it, (a) pretty much covers it.

Several years ago I was in a Relief Society class where the teacher had some sisters role-playing a scenario between a mother and a daughter, where the daughter had overslept and the frustrated mother was trying to get her out of bed and the two just blew up at each other and had a big fight. Then the teacher had the women role-play the scenario where each participant “responded with love.” Predictably, that one went a lot more pleasantly, but being the sort of person I am, I turned to my neighbor and muttered, “Now let’s see it again where only ONE of them responds with love.” Needless to say, that scenario was not modeled for us.

What does this have to do with Jesus? Well…Jesus said love everyone. But as my firstborn child so eloquently put it when she was but six years old, “That’s impossible! You’re not supposed to love bad guys!” Well, technically, yes, you are—but what does that mean, exactly? How does one “love” someone who is destructive, who is hell-bent on doing evil? You can pray for patience, understanding, the ability to forgive, etc., but what exactly do you DO with this person? How would Jesus deal with a child molester? Would Jesus sentence someone to life in prison without possibility of parole? God wants his people to be one, but how do we go about becoming one with people who a) aren’t remotely interested in becoming one with us and b) subscribe to values that are diametrically opposed to our own? It takes two to tango, and it takes two to become one. One of these days Jesus will come with healing in his wings and separate the wheat from the tares and whatnot, but in the meantime, what are we supposed to do? What exactly are we supposed to do?


  1. If you read the NT between the lines, you see the white dress shirt in sacrament meeting fetish everywhere. He was unpopular because of His strict adherence to dress codes. I am glad we now know what He would have worn.

  2. Paul, everyone knows that Jesus dressed like IBM executives would have dressed at that time if there had been an IBM at that time.

  3. By the way, given what former President Bush is saying about e.g. torture and waterboarding in connection with the release of his memoirs, there’s a plausible argument that the motto “What Would Jack Bauer Do” (WWJBD?) took precedence over the cliched “What Would Jesus Do?” (WWJD?) during the Bush Administration — an ironic thought given the Fundamentalist Christian leanings of President Bush and many whom he appointed as his advisors, consultants, administrators and lawyers.

  4. You heathens. I love you.

  5. Did you tell your firstborn that Jesus loved Pharisees (the bad guys), but still called them generation of vipers?

  6. I’m pretty sure Jesus would have gone into teaching. The bigger question is this: would he have joined the Union?

  7. PS–I HAVE heard someone use both Joseph Smith and Jesus to back up their homeschooling.

    PPS–I STILL can’t get over the fact that WWJD caught on. Such a lame acronym.

  8. esodhiambo,

    I think Jesus would have been union rep. Just look at how he tells his apostles that they would be taken care of and protected.

  9. What we are first “supposed” to do, I think, is discover what love really is . . . and what it is not. It is not becoming one with destructiveness.

    “God wants his people to be one, but how do we go about becoming one with people . . .”

    People don’t become one with each other, they become one with God. Yes, even in marriage. I posted on this a while back, but the essence is that you can’t have love without boundaries. Conditions are different than boundaries.

    And I would wager that Jesus won’t be separating the wheat from the tares when He comes, but that they will be separating themselves. Because someone who isn’t like Jesus won’t be as comfortable in His presence as they would be alone.

  10. Well, they’d be burned like the chaff.

  11. esodhiambo, What about WWBJD?

  12. Of course Jesus would have homeschooled…as would have 99.99 percent of the population before modern history. Of course he NEVER used a cell phone, always wore sandals (even in church and without socks)…so if you are going for the life style take the whole bundle.

  13. I don’t think Jesus would work at Wal-Mart because that would mean that from 9-5 (or depending on his shift maybe 12-8 or 4-12) he would be prevented from performing his earthly Ministry.

  14. Mark Brown says:

    When I was scoutmaster I always asked myself WWBGD.

  15. Aaron, what is WWBJD? Did you mean WWJBD?

  16. Well, there are two possible interpretations:

    What would Billy Joel do? or What would Baby Jesus do?

  17. I like this post. Quite a bit.

    Sort Of A Shameless Plug, But It Really Relates: There’s a great play Anna Lewis wrote as a BYU student for her creative thesis called “WWJD.” It’s online here: http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/ETD/image/etd2433.pdf. It deals with the complicatedness of asking “WWJD?”, the nature of God and the question of evil, and it’s also hilarious and features Jesus skateboarding and playing an electric guitar (although, unfortunately, never both at the same time). I’m co-producing and -directing it as a play in Provo next April, and adapting it as a feature film I’ll be shooting next May.

  18. Jesus wouldn’t have burned the oatmeal this morning.

    I want to be more like Jesus.

  19. Margaret Young says:

    Jesus would not micro-manage. I find that one of my biggest temptations. Teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves.
    Jesus would smile–a lot. But not in those kitschy, creepy ways we see in some LDS art. A full smile and a rich laugh. Such expressions of joy and even amusement are also part of the ministry.

  20. The query “What would Jesus do?” is code for “There are no hard ethical or moral questions.”. Which is a silly assertion.

  21. I guess I should probably wait to baptize my kids until they turn 30.

  22. Jesus would love this post.

    And his comments would be insightful and kind. I’m quite sure he would never get banned for being a troll. Except at nothingwavering.

    Thanks Rebecca.

  23. iguacufalls says:

    @ Aaron B #20 – Actually I think that WWJD is code for “Before I take this action or make this decision, how can I raise myself to a higher level and do something more than my ‘natural man’ would do?” It’s about pausing before acting and, more importantly, pausing before reacting. While we don’t specifically know how Jesus would act in a specific instance, it’s always worth thinking about how we should act if we were a better person than we presently are.

    While I’m not a fan of the WWJD bracelet/bumper sticker/billboard fad (only because people do it, but then forget the purpose), I do think that it’s always worth remembering what actions can be taken that are on a higher plane than we normally live.

  24. Yes, just how to answer the question “What would Jesus do in this *specific* situation”? Answer: I don’t think we know. Thanks for that, Rebecca J. I loved this post.

    At most, we can say that Jesus would generally act with love and forgiveness (because that’s what he did when he was here). But even then, that answer is not satisfactory to the “micro” questions. Being merciful works for an all-loving God trying to save souls, but it doesn’t provide a lot of detailed guidance for parenting a 4-year-old. Just sayin’.

  25. Can spirits laugh? Just thought I’d ask. Oh yeah and did Jesus give his non-believer brothers buckteeth? Even for just a minute? You know, just to scare ’em?

  26. I don’t have much to add, but I really enjoyed this post. It was a great read for my Wednesday.

    I’ve often thought that the WWJD question just doesn’t work in many circumstances… and this expounds on why!

  27. Steve Evans says:

    Margaret (#19), Umberto Eco would have something to say on the laughter topic.

    I like to think of Jesus as an Ice Dancer, dressed in an all-white jumpsuit, and doing an interpretive dance of my life.

  28. Latter-day Guy says:

    Love this post!

    Two tiny points:

    PPS–I STILL can’t get over the fact that WWJD caught on. Such a lame acronym.

    It isn’t an acronym.

    There’s a great play Anna Lewis wrote as a BYU student for her creative thesis called “WWJD.”

    Thank you for posting that link, Davey! I’m only a couple pages in and it’s already freaking funny.

  29. iguacufalls (#23),

    Fair enough. I actually meant to say “is OFTEN code for …”. I don’t mean to dismiss all invocations of WWJD. Just the ones that annoy me.

  30. Eric Russell says:

    I like to picture Jesus in a tuxedo T-Shirt because it says like I want to be formal, but I’m here to party too.

  31. I’m cool with anyone believing anything they want about Jesus, as long as we can agree that LDS art portrays his ethnicity accurately.

  32. Steve Evans says:

    Eric, we are of one mind.

  33. O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, blog good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the blogger bloggeth.

  34. I think we can all agree that if Jesus were here he would speak in 17th Century English.

  35. Hans, word.

  36. Yea, verily!

  37. Flip flop mama says:

    All I thought about while reading this post was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and how the “cup of life” was plain and Jesus wouldn’t have had a jewel-encrusted cup as the Holy Grail. I guess I should go back and re-read it.

  38. I’m here to party

    That is why Jesus wore a mullet.

  39. Regarding your last question in the article, I have two words:
    Blood Atonement.

  40. Google Instant gives us the answer: Jesus would microwave a burrito.

  41. Davey, thanks for the link. I really enjoyed reading the play. Thought provoking…

  42. Steve (#32),

    . . . Or as Austen has Mr. Collins say of himself and Charlotte (nee Lucas), “We have but one mind.”

  43. Elouise, don’t throw Austen in my face. The only Austen I revere is Col. Steve Austin, Astronaut.

  44. I am not sure you can put WWJD into every decision. If faced between the choice of Walmart and Whole Foods for a weeks worth of chow for 13 guys WWJD? What if the apostle carrying the purse said he thought saving 40% would keep them going another week or 2 until they found some more contributors?

  45. 43. I’m grateful that someone around here has sense.

  46. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 43 Who doesn’t?

  47. WVS, $6M is still a lot of money, even today.

  48. I liked this post. I’ve often thought similar things. I don’t think we are meant to be Jesus. I don’t think we ever really change *who* we are. If we really are eternal, without beginning and without end, then I think the purpose of this life is to improve upon the me that I already am. I think Jesus is a great role model, but I think the more appropriate question when confronted with a decision is What Would the Best Version of Me Do? WWBVMD.

  49. (31) not to be nit-picky . . . alright, thats exactly what I’m being . . . but I think most of the art nails his ethnicity, I think your issue is how they portray his race.

  50. So, cutting to the quick, we have MD (WWBVMD) or JD (WWJD). Both distasteful in my opinion. I guess you could have MDJD. A sort of twilight zone of decision theory.

  51. Hmmm… I see two ways to look at your questions.

    1. To raise the inadequacies and misdirection of the principle striving to live a Christ-like life in all times and places.

    2. Or to raise the inadequacies of misdirection of the manner after “the world” (boo!), ie. we, live.

    I think option 2 makes more sense for me. I would guess which one your lean toward (as it’s certainly not an all or nothing choice, but a continuum) has more to do with how much disconnect you’re willing to tolerate in your own life and actions?

    In any case, if there’s any ideal for me to place my hope, its in option 1, not in the alternative of a thought question along the lines of “if we are supposed to do what Jesus would do I guess that means no babies or car washing for me”.

  52. oops… las sentence should say if there’s any ideal for me to place my hope, its in option 2… (ie I like the idea of striving to be as christ like as possible, but obviously not over obsessing about every potential gap or disconnect that could be raised.

  53. Mommie Dearest says:

    Threadjackers. I was looking forward to seeing our collective wisdom on the REAL topic, which is, basically, how do you love a jerk?

    Here’s a refresher course from the OP: (forgive my lack of formatting skillz)

    “As my firstborn child so eloquently put it, “That’s impossible! You’re not supposed to love bad guys!” Well, technically, yes, you are—but what does that mean, exactly? How does one “love” someone who is destructive, who is hell-bent on doing evil? You can pray for patience, understanding, the ability to forgive, etc., but what exactly do you DO with this person? How would Jesus deal with a child molester? Would Jesus sentence someone to life in prison without possibility of parole?…
    “God wants his people to be one, but how do we go about becoming one with people who a) aren’t remotely interested in becoming one with us and b) subscribe to values that are diametrically opposed to our own?…
    “What are we supposed to do? What exactly are we supposed to do?” (End OP quote)

    Some of us need specifics. Here are some specific questions that come to mind:

    How do you love your 14-year-old who hates you and everything you stand for, but wants you to buy them an iPod?
    How do you love your rabidly anti-mormon neighbor?
    How do you love your MIL who told your husband that you are a gold-digger?

    y’know, stuff like that.

  54. Huh, somehow I read “threadjackers” as “threadjerkers.” Thought that was very apropos until I re-read it.

  55. Luckily for you people, I have already composed a bumper sticker that addresses this very issue. http://www.zazzle.com/in_many_contexts_what_would_jesus_do_is_not_bumper_sticker-128912001567604920

  56. #39

    WWPRD – what would Porter Rockwell do?

  57. Paul (56) == Awesome

  58. He would open a church as an emergency shelter in a natural disaster, and not turn anyone away because they didn’t believe in Him.

  59. Mommie Dearest says:

    Adrienne, I already killed the thread. You can’t make it any deader.

  60. When asked I often want to answer, “Jesus never would have gotten himself into that mess in first place.”

    Also, I like the point of the post that we all have different mortal missions, and our outward behaviors will likely be different than Jesus’. So the question should be changed to, “What would Jesus feel?”, because I wholeheartedly believe that YES, Jesus does love bad guys. That was the whole point of his ministry, I believe. To help us feel love toward those who mistreat us. It just confuses the question when we try to figure out what he was outwardly DO in each circumstance with each person who is unloving toward us. That is something that will work itself out if we put our effort into accepting His gifts of repentance and forgiveness. Of course it’s so easy to write, but don’t worry, my life and relationships do not reflect that ease. But it really does help me to believe that YES, Jesus loved bad guys and because he did, so can I. To me, it’s about focusing on how I feel and not getting caught up so much in behaviors.

  61. Here’s comedian Bill Hicks on whether Jesus would wear a cross (NSFW): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PxsGyljd6B0

  62. Jesus did have a home…in Capernaum. On one occaision the throng was so big that blessing seekers lowered someone through a hole in the roof.

    But your point is well taken. It doesn’t appear that Jesus stayed there often.

  63. I should ad: Jesus increased in wisdom, stature and in favor with God and man. I think he made a fine carpenter and would have made a fine policeman, military man or greeter at Wal-Mart. He led Israel into battle many times during his pre-mortal period and I am sure he was helpful around the house as a child.

    True–he is divine and we are limited. But I think that all of us (Wal-Mart Greeters, attorneys, whatever) should try to do those things the way Jesus would.

  64. Latter-day Guy says:

    And yet, Crick, you still leave unanswered the profounder question: WWJD (for a Klondike Bar)?