It’s been a rough couple of weeks. People are unhappy, and other people are unhappy that so many people are unhappy. Most of this unhappiness plays itself out on social media which is why a lot of folks I know are avoiding the internet until things calm down a little. If you watch the news, however, you know that the internet is not the only battleground. Unhappiness, fear, anger, name calling, violence, and hatred have spilled out into the streets and onto the sidewalks of America. We are a nation divided, hurting, and demanding to be heard. We scream and rant a lot. We listen little.
In the midst of the whirlwind that has been the fall of 2016, I’ve been reading and studying with my students. My Worldview class is in the midst of a comparative religion study. This week the topic of discussion was Confucianism. This is especially interesting because we recently finished reading The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis and are currently working through Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. “What do Lewis, Huxley and Confucianism have in common?” you ask. Just this: The Tao, The Way. All three consider the idea of a code of ethics, a morality that binds us together, that defines us as human beings, and makes our world work.
“Do not do to others what you would not wish others to do to you.” This is probably the most famous saying of Confucius, at least in the West. I remember the first time I read it. The author was trying to prove that the teachings of Jesus are nothing very special, that Jesus was, in fact, plagiarizing Confucius when he said in Matthew 7:12, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” At the time my reaction was defensive. I had lots of arguments against this accusation: historical, geographic, cultural, and religious. Until this week, though, I’d never taken the time to lay the two statements out next to each other and really compare them. It was in doing this that I became convicted about my own practice of Christianity–just one of the unexpected benefits of comparative religion studies.
Look at the saying of Confucius. At first glance it seems to be saying the same thing as the words of Jesus that we call “The Golden Rule.” The closer I looked, though, the more I realized that this is not true at all. The saying of Confucius is in the negative. It is passive. It is full of law and very little grace. Let me explain. Because I am a rule follower by nature, the saying of Confucius is pretty easy for me to keep. I don’t want people to steal from me, so I don’t steal from them. I wasn’t going to do that anyway. It’s against the rules. It is possible to follow this axiom by inaction, by a legalistic following of the rules. Of course I do not do this perfectly. I do plenty of things I do not want others to do to me, but on the whole I’m pretty careful about keeping the rules, and most of the ones I break don’t show that much. I can follow this rule and look pretty good to the outside world.
As I considered the words of Jesus, however, I began to feel extremely uncomfortable. Jesus said, “DO unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Obeying this directive is going to require ACTION. I must DO. What do I wish others would do for me today? Do I need a word of encouragement, a pat on the back, a smile? Do I really need a cup of coffee? Do my floors need to be vacuumed or do I wish I had dinner all ready in a crockpot? Do I need a quiet evening by the fire or time to really dig into my Bible? What if I began everyday by asking myself what I really wish someone would do for me today, then thought and prayed through all of my friends and family and did my best to do that thing for someone else? This is love. This is hard. This is losing my life. I think this is what Jesus meant, and it is NOT the way I live. I’d really like to change that.
Think about what the world would be like if we all followed the saying of Confucius. It would be pretty great. Facebook would be a whole lot more pleasant, that’s for sure! We would not do things to others that we don’t want done to us. If we stopped and asked ourselves before every action or word whether this was something we would want another to do or say to us, we would be a better people and the world would be a better place–no more road rage escalating into accidents, no more riots, no more racism or sexism. It would be a peaceful, orderly, law-abiding world.
But what if we all did what Jesus told us? What if we were constantly mindful about acting toward others in the way we wanted them to act toward us? What if we lived, not hoping that others would be kind to us, but in such a way that our main concern was to do kind things for others? What if we were constantly aware of what was going on in the lives of the folks around us and made it our joy and purpose to meet those needs as led by the Holy Spirit? The focus would be off of ourselves. We wouldn’t find ourselves so often frustrated and angry. We would be filled with joy, love, and gratitude. We would be living out real, true, godly love–and that, my friends, would be heaven.
I realize that this isn’t possible on earth, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try. As C.S. Lewis points out in Mere Christianity, “When He said, ‘Be perfect,’ he meant it. He meant we must go in for the full treatment. It is hard; but the sort of compromise we are all hankering after is harder–in fact impossible.” I don’t want to compromise any more. I don’t want to be part of the problem. I’d love to be used by God as a part of the solution. Who’s with me? Help us, Lord Jesus!