One of the things that becomes clear while seriously reading Proverbs is the Bible is a lot more focused on getting people to perform and make progress than many Christians are comfortable with. God is all-powerful and we are dependent creatures, so how can anything we do, or learn to do, matter?
For a while, some Evangelicals marketed the slogan “What would Jesus do?” as a diagnostic question for evaluating one’s behavior. It had problems as a form of ethical guidance, but it also, I think, got at the ultimate significance of human action.
For years, Dave Ramsey has been introducing financial advice on his radio show to callers with the statement, “This is what I would do if I woke up in your shoes.” I suppose it should sound strange since I don’t think anyone normally sleeps in their shoes, but it doesn’t. It takes the saying “walk in someone else’s shoes” and reverses the impact and points to making a change.
He reverses the impact of the saying because it is used commonly to encourage understanding of a person who is less fortunate. That's good, but sometimes it's also necessary for a less fortunate person to take action to become less unfortunate to the extent that is possible. Ramsey listens to the callers’ problems, then imagines how he would act, if he were the caller, to improve his financial situation.
By referring to waking up in the caller’s place, he introduces the opportunity to change. However the caller may have contributed to his problems, either actively or passively, tomorrow is a new day. You can’t change the past that led to the present, but you don’t have to continue acting the same way as you did. Even if you can’t solve your problems, you can at least deal with those problems better. You don’t have to live the same way. You can wake up and act according to what Dave Ramsey would do.
The late science fiction author Gene Wolfe, in his tetralogy Book of the Long Sun, wrote of a world in which “gods” (actually AI programs) could possess people for a time. When a “god” left the person to return to the Mainframe, that person found himself changed. He had the same thoughts and appetites but he or she was more likely to resist the ones that were damaging and choose to act on the ones that were noble. The same person in the same situation started making different choices.
Which leads me to wonder if we should take one question we often ask and exchange it for another. Instead of asking “How is God going to save me from my circumstances?” maybe it would be more productive to ask, “What would God do in my circumstances?” What would happen if God woke up in your shoes and restricted himself to using your resources and powers (no turning stone to bread, water to wine, or lead to gold).
This question would not only be helpful to situations that beset you despite you best efforts, but to circumstances that are created mostly by your worst efforts—or by a history of not expending any effort. "When a man's folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the LORD" (Proverbs 19:3 ESV). Why rage? Instead ask “What would God do?”
As I mentioned above, it used to be popular to ask, “What would Jesus do?” While the gospels are central to understanding God, Jesus was not just God incarnate, but had a specific mission and role in history. Since you have to strip all those particulars away in your mind to devise an answer, why not just ask what God would do?
Because, as a human being, you have been answering that question every day since you began your existence.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Genesis 1:26 ESV).
We are created in the image of God, so we can’t help but make a representation of Him with every action we take and every decision we make. By forgetting this, we increase the chances that we answer the question wrongly. God wants us to stop damaging his reputation and start repairing it.
How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?
If you turn at my reproof,
behold, I will pour out my spirit to you;
I will make my words known to you (Proverbs 1:22–23 ESV).
God created us to rule over our portion of the world and undo or limit evil on his behalf. That includes our own.