A couple of days ago I received an Ice Bucket Challenge on Facebook. I was delighted—and have decided not to do it. Here’s why.
I had actually started to work out how I could perform the challenge in my allotted 24-hour period (if this blog has completely lost you, the Ice Bucket Challenge is where a friend nominates you, you give a donation of £3 or more to a particular charity, film yourself tipping a bucket of icy water over your head within a day of receiving your nomination, and then challenge some friends to do likewise). Then a Christian who is wiser and more thoughtful than me encouraged me to just check that I was thinking Christian-ly about it. To be honest, I hadn’t thought much at all. But the Bible tells me to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10 v 5). Every thought—even thoughts about ice buckets and giving to charity.
So I thought about it. And as I did so, I ended up deciding not to be part of it. Why? Well, here’s where I’m at. First and foremost, this is not an issue of Christian obedience. I’ve watched (and laughed at) Christians far more godly than me doing the Challenge, and I’m not saying they were disobeying Christ. If ever there were an issue where the Bible does not speak specifically, tipping ice-cold water over your own head would be it.
But I am saying that my best attempt at thinking with Christian wisdom is suggesting to my conscience that I shouldn’t do it. Here are my five reasons:
1. We’re told to give in secret, rather than telling everyone else about it (Matthew 6 v 1-3). I’m not sure how I can do this if I’m sharing the fact of my giving with everyone on Facebook. The whole premise is: Look, I’m giving, and you should too. The Bible says: Look, Christ gave so much to you, who will you give to?
2. We’re told to give sacrificially (2 Corinthians 8 v 1-4). My giving should if you like “hurt” my ability to buy things for myself, rather than merely my ability to stay dry. The whole set-up encourages us to give little, and then feel good about ourselves. Plus, the deal is that if you duck the challenge, you give $100, whereas if you do it, you give $10. So in fact, I’m being encouraged do something sacrificial so that I don’t have to give as much money.
3. We’re told to give cheerfully and freely (2 Corinthians 9 v 8). This is the opposite of giving fearfully or under compulsion. And I know that I would be doing the Challenge at least partly because I want to be liked by others, I don’t want to look dull to others, and I want to be a part of it all. In other words, my motivations would actually be fear-of-man driven.
4. We’re told to give wisely, considering the impact our giving will have (that’s implicit, I think, in 2 Corinthians 9 v 12-13). ALSA, the main charity that the Ice Bucket Challenge benefits, is doing lots of wonderful things to help those with motor neurone disease and to seek ways to combat it. BUT part of their research is embryonic stem cell research , involving the making and destruction of embryos. Since the Christian position is that an embryo is a tiny person—a living baby—this means that ALSA is involved in ending life. I’m not sure how any Christian can give to a charity who they know might use their money to end life. Of course, I could do the Ice Bucket Challenge and give my money to a different charity, and many are—but I wonder if a lot of Christians are giving their money with no thought as to how it will be used.
5. We’re told to give in a way that is Christlike (2 Corinthians 8 v 9). Our giving is to be inspired by, and based on the pattern of, the way Jesus gave to us in giving up heaven, coming to earth, and dying on a criminal’s cross in material poverty and spiritual agony, rejected by all, in order to give us the riches of heaven. My giving should reflect his. The Ice Bucket Challenge doesn’t, I don’t think; it’s a popular, easy thing to do which makes me part of the in-crowd and allows me to feel great without any cost (other than the cost of a bucket – ours got lost when we moved house).
So, thanks so much to the guy who challenged me. It was lovely to be thought of (though I’m not sure I liked the way you smiled as you nominated me!) And I’m not for a moment saying that you, or all the other Christian friends I’ve seen taking on the Challenge, are wrong or being disobedient. We’re free to douse our heads with ice-cold water, and we’re free not to.
What we want to do with that freedom is to make sure we’re honouring Jesus wisely in every thought and deed. That’s what matters—to make our thoughts subject to our King. I know that when it comes to the Ice Bucket Challenge, I wouldn’t have done that if another Christian hadn’t encouraged me to. So hopefully this blog will encourage you to do that with your thoughts, whether you end up getting ice-cold or staying bone-dry. And hopefully it will encourage you to keep giving Christian-ly, or begin doing so, whatever that looks like for you.
Of course, we’ll never know if this blog has that effect, because Point One above means that you won’t be telling me via Facebook…
This blog has been amended to correct the name of the charity from ALS (which is what motor neurone disease is known as in the US) to ALSA (which is the charity).