ONE of the simplest rules of Christianity, so valuable it has come to be known as the Golden Rule, is stated this way in the Gospel of Matthew: ``All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." The popular version of this has become, ``Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This rule underlies the ethics of Christianity. To treat others with the respect we'd like to receive, to show others the kindness we'd like to have shown to us, to be just as honest with others as we want others to be with us: how many quarrels, lawsuits, crimes, divorces, wars could be prevented if this rule were obeyed!
The trouble comes when we try to ``do unto others" what we think is good for them. Tensions between different nations and cultures have often sprung from attempts by one group of people to impose its solutions on another group's problems. This kind of misguided charity may also happen on an individual level, straining friendships and family relations. Before our attempts to help another lead to such conflicts we may well want to examine our motives and see if they are tinged with self-interest or self-ri ghteousness. Are we trying to shape another's future in the direction we would like to see it go? Then we're not really obeying the Golden Rule!
Aware of the tendency of personal prejudices to distort human perception and misguide our best intentions, Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, writes in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: ``The heavenly law is broken by trespassing upon man's individual right to self-government." And she goes on to say, ``In mental practice you must not forget that erring human opinions, conflicting selfish motives, and ignorant attempts to do good may render you incapable of kno wing or judging accurately the need of your fellow-men." Is the solution, then, to refrain from offering help in order to avoid interfering in other people's business? No! Christ Jesus clearly taught and lived a great generosity of spirit that reaches out to the world with hope and healing. But there is an enormous difference between this Christly love that stands ready to help as God directs and the self-assertion that marches in with its own agenda and takes over.
Being a human do-gooder--always on hand with a solution whether it's asked for or not!--isn't necessarily equivalent to being a good Christian. Christian love is based solidly on the recognition that Christ is man's Saviour, and none of us can effectively usurp that role. The help we offer another is most effective when we first understand the unity between God and man that Christ Jesus taught. Jesus never tried to rearrange people's lives according to his preconceptions, but prayed always to do the will
of the Father.
It can be humbling to discover that using our influence to orchestrate a solution to someone else's problems is not what's needed. Sometimes we can bring the most good to a difficult situation by turning to God in prayer. This prayer isn't a request that God intervene according to our preferred solution, however. Rather, it is a willingness to trust the solution to divine wisdom. Such prayer is free of egotism, respecting the value and dignity of all as equals in the sight of God.
Prayer like this doesn't require years of religious training but rises spontaneously from a loving heart. It acknowledges God as ever-present good, and man as the child of His care. It purifies our motives and guides our actions, informing us when to be silent and when to offer help. When our outreach to others is undergirded by this kind of prayer, the Golden Rule occupies its rightful place as our ethical guide to salvation.