Sunday 21 April 2013

Do To Others

A few years back UK TV station Channel 4 ran a poll looking for a new set of ten commandments*. Top of the list they came up with was "Treat others as you would have them treat you".

This is, of course, familiar, not from the old ten commandments, but from Jesus' 'Golden Rule', expressed in the NIV translation as "In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you" (another translation, the NASB, has almost the same words as C4 came up with: "In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you").

Some sort of principle of 'reciprocity' is common to many belief systems, religious and otherwise, but Jesus' version is actually rather odd, when you think about it. Consider three different variations of 'reciprocity':

 "In everything, do to others what they have previously done to you."
 "In everything, do to others what you expect they would do to you."
"In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you."

The latter, Jesus' version, isn't really reciprocal at all: you're not called to treat others as they actually do treat you, but as you would want them to. The first two could be termed 'enlightened human nature' - really just a development of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" - but the Golden Rule is different.

The challenge of Jesus' version is that it shows grace:  you treat everyone well, not just those whom you feel deserve it, nor just those you feel can reciprocate. The call is to love the haters, be kind to the unkind, and to help people who would happily leave you helpless. The good Samaritan springs to mind.

There is an issue of boundaries when it comes to applying this. Does it mean battered wives should love their husbands, and abused children their abusive parent? Possibly so, although this may be only a long term aspiration for many. But the point of grace is not about being 'nice', nor about pretending things haven't happened.

Grace is active. If my head got so messed up that I was abusing others, would I really just want to be left to get on with it? To repeat the abuse, again and again? Surely not! Surely the gracious thing to do is to stop the behaviour, to get help for abuser and abused, to protect both. Some relationships are simply toxic and separation is best for all; others maybe just need time, space and commitment. There may be few hard and fast rules, but abuse should be challenged, confronted and, if necessary, physically prevented - whether by separation or confinement of the abuser. Consider what you "would have them do to you": in that circumstance and for all involved.

The most immediate application of the Golden Rule for most of us, though, is how we treat people who we don't like, and who don't like us. If we see someone in need, do we first weigh up their race and their creed and how those groupings have treated people like us, or do we simply see someone who needs our help and treat them as we would want to be treated ourselves?

* Channel 4's top ten 'new commandments' were as follows:-
  1. Treat others as you would have them treat you.
  2. Take responsibility for your actions
  3. Do not kill.
  4. Be honest.
  5. Do not steal.
  6. Protect and nurture children.
  7. Protect the environment.
  8. Look after the vulnerable.
  9. Never be violent.
  10. Protect your family.