If you go to Starbucks, you have choices there. If you go to Subway, you have more choices. Going to Starbucks and Subway are also choices. We live in a world of continuous choices. We have choices. We get to make choices.
South Wenatchee, the poorer area of the city where I again live in the States, is a series of choices. That some people live there in conditions significantly worse than those in the rest of the city is a direct result of choices certain people made.
We understand that we can choose to go to Starbucks or not, that we can choose what to order if we do go, and that we can choose whether to apply to work at Starbucks or Wal-Mart or E.F. Hutton. We comprehend that we can choose to watch the six o’clock news or a rerun of Seinfeld.
But do we understand that the world is as we have made it because we have made choices? Christians talk about “The Fall,” which was the choice Adam and Eve made to disobey God and eat fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They made that choice and the results of their choice shaped their world…and our world. That’s what Christians believe about original sin.
We make choices every day to shape our world. Discipleship is seeking to make the choices that follow in Jesus’ path. “What Would Jesus Do?” This was a popular campaign and people made t-shirts and wristbands and keychains. But “What Would Jesus Drive?” many people mocked. Many Christians mocked. They thought it was stupid. What would Jesus drive? Does that seem ridiculous to you? What you drive is a choice you make that shapes your world and reflects how you do or don’t follow Jesus. “But we can’t know what Jesus would drive! They didn’t have cars.” No, but Jesus made his values pretty clear.
Whom would Jesus enslave? Whom would Jesus oppress? Whom would Jesus make work in a sweatshop twelve hours a day so He could wear the right brand of T-shirt?
Here is a dynamic tension I live with all the time: life is insanely complicated, but nowhere in Scripture does God give us permission to be lazy. The world of the first century was almost incomprehensibly simple compared with our world. Not that life was easy by any means, but life had fewer choices. You could make more choices in a grocery store today than they made in a year.
I look at our complex lives and I understand why we don’t work harder to make good choices. The Gap doesn’t want to tell me who made my khakis. They simply want me to see them on sale where I can save two dollars and follow my “bargain reflex” to buy them. Where were they made? Who made them? In what working conditions did they make them?
What does this have to do with my discipleship to Jesus? I am shaping my world with these choices. I am using my dollars to vote for or against sweatshops and slave labor. No, I’m not exaggerating or overdramatizing. We look for any excuse not to have to know, because if we really knew, we would possibly—possibly—feel too badly about ourselves (our actions) to continue making these same choices. I hope.
We allow ignorance to screen us from our true choices and the results of those choices. We do this because we are lazy and busy and juggling a million things and because our brothers and sisters are not reminding us of how they are affected by our choices. They aren’t reminding us because they can’t. They don’t have that choice. They don’t have that freedom. We have the choice to pay attention or not; they don’t have the choice to tell us.
I recommend an older documentary called Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices. Later in the documentary, there is an interview with two people in Hong Kong who work in a factory that provides Wal-Mart with something small and cheap that they sell to us. They don’t say, “Well, it’s better than nothing; at least we have jobs.” Americans want to create the false choice that either these people work in sweatshops and receive slave wages or they don’t work and starve. If this is the choice, if these are the only two alternatives, then we do the poor workers a favor by buying the trinkets and keeping the demand for their exploitation high.
But this is not the single choice; these are not the sole alternatives. We shape the world the way it is. We turn a blind eye to their working conditions, we do nothing to pressure our government to influence their government to improve these conditions, we do nothing to pressure corporations to demand that these conditions change… Why not? What would it cost us? We would have to spend time and energy to make choices that currently we make automatically. We would have to work diligently to research the conditions under which our clothes and toys are manufactured, our coffee and chocolate are grown and picked and packaged and shipped. We might have to spend more, if our efforts succeeded and companies improved conditions and passed the expenses on to us.
That sounds like a lot of work for choices that I’ve made instantly for years. My struggle is that Scripture doesn’t say, “If it’s too much trouble working for justice, then don’t sweat it.” Scripture says we are responsible for our choices and that those choices reflect our hearts.
Here is the tension: I could go insane. No, the Bible does not condone laziness, but I could obsess over these choices and go crazy trying to make the right ones. The dynamic tension is: God wants me to be responsible with my choices but God does not want me to become a legalist or a lunatic. How hard do I work for justice? How much effort is reasonable for me to make to decide which chocolate or sandal or car to buy? Weigh those questions on this scale: Who is my neighbor? What did Jesus say to do for my neighbor? What is my neighbor suffering? And how would I want my neighbor to act, if I were the one working in that factory in Hong Kong? When Jesus said, “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” I think he meant for us to measure our choices by that standard. How would I want someone to treat me, were I in their shoes in that sweatshop and they in mine?