All In the Head?

So, I’m having a bit of writer’s block on the novel, so I guess another day or two will pass before the next installment(s), though I think I’ll be picking up steam on that project again soon. In the meantime, I’ll go and get spiritual instead today, since Miz Pink seems to have dropped off the radar again temporarily (I blame the dang kid that insists on being changed and breastfed regularly…two activities that I’m sure make typing pretty near impossible).

So, what I want to talk about is the whole idea of sinful thoughts being as bad as sinful actions. A popular belief among many conservative, Bible-belting-you-over-the-head types.

A belief which, I have to say, is a total load of horsecrap.

Jesus talks about this notion a bit, supposedly, as chronicled in the Gospel of Matthew, and here’s one snippet:

Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh o­n a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. (Matthew chapter 5, verses 27 & 28)

Now, by way of an aside, there’s an interesting discussion about what adultery really means, right here, but you can look at that later. It doesn’t have any bearing on my arguments here. Also, before I start making my arguments, I’ll remind those of you who are still confusing me with a theologian that I’m neither a linguist nor biblical scholar, so take my ravings here with an appropriate dosage of salt.

I don’t think that Jesus’ argument was really that thinking about sex outside of marriage, for example, or thinking about killing (which he mentions right before the adultery thing), for instance, are as sinful as actually doing the acts.

First, Jesus talks about the heart, not the mind. That is, we’re talking about true feelings. Intense motions. Intentions. Not mere passing thoughts. Fact is, as humans, it’s pretty much impossible to never look at someone with sexual desire. Flat out impossible. The issue is more this: Did you think about sinful activity with a real fervor and serious consideration about doing it?

If so, there is where your sin may lie.

But more to the point, perhaps, let’s look at the context in which Jesus is speaking. This was the ancient world. People didn’t typically live in cities, and cities of the time were still much smaller affairs than what we have today. Therefore, to look at, say, a woman with serious lust was a problem in part because this is a woman you have access to.

If I look lustfully upon a woman on the commuter train of a major city, chances are I won’t really have a chance to act on my desires. I don’t know where she works. I don’t know where she lives. The most pressing danger of “sinful” fantasies is that you might actually act out the sin. In the ancient world, looking at some dude’s wife with lust meant you might have a very real chance, regardless of which woman in town you chose, of knowing how to find her and giving yourself an opportunity.

So, the mere thinking of a thing isn’t sinful.

Because, let’s face it, if that were the case, good intentions would be enough to save us in the eyes of God. Because if thoughts are as good as actions, then wanting to do something good is just as powerful as actually taking action, right?

Of course not. We are supposed to take positive actions, not simply intend or wish them.

Finally, another nail in the coffin of the notion of sinful thoughts being as bad as sinful actions: Jesus thought sinful things.

Oh, don’t get ready to stone my ass, now. Satan tempted Jesus. Jesus led a sinless life, despite knowing the power and allure of sin. Jesus couldn’t possibly have gone his whole life without considering the possibility and implications and consequences of doing a sinful act. He had to be capable to considering the possibility of sin, or he couldn’t be tempted. He had to know what it felt like to desire things that were wrong, or he couldn’t have understood his human side. Plus, if he was incapable of even considering sin, then what was the big deal about his sinless life? If it was some cakewalk for him, then the whole exercise meant nothing.

Just because you think a thing doesn’t make it so.

Nor does it define your true intentions.

19 thoughts on “All In the Head?

  1. Inda Pink

    YOU wanna do the breastfeeding and changing Deke? I’m startin’ to get a bit tired of it so I can certainly hop a flight over and drop Mini Pink Model 3 off with you for a few days…

    I will be back soon I think

  2. Big Man

    I gotta disagree with you.

    Jesus said it’s not what goes into a man’s mouth that defiles him, but what comes out of it.

    I think that relates to the whole sinful thoughts situation as well. I forget what book its in, but the Bible gives a whole explanation of how sin first starts with desire, then lust, then finally action. It’s obvious that all sin starts in our mind, and our mind is the breeding ground for all evil.

    Emotions and thoughts drive human beings, and the two most important commandments, at least according to Jesus, deal with emotions and thoughts as much as they deal with actions.

    Ultimately, their is no hierarchy of sin. All sins are equal in God’s eyes since the stem from disobedience to his word. So, lusting after a woman is just as big a sin as committing adultery, in God’s eyes. That doesn’t mean that if you lust, you should just go ahead and fornicate because that is compounding your error. I don’t think you have to have any real intentions, I think just a passing fancy is enough.

    The thing is, it’s nothing to kill yourself about. As sinful creatures, filled with crazy lusts, it’s expected that we are going to have these feelings for some time. Hopefully they come, we repent, and we move on. As you noted, the problems begin to snowball when we dwell on these feelings because then we start committing more and more sins.

  3. TitforTat

    Ultimately, their is no hierarchy of sin. All sins are equal in God’s eyes since the stem from disobedience to his word. So, lusting after a woman is just as big a sin as committing adultery, in God’s eyes.(Big Man)

    And herein lies the nuttyness of some peoples faith. Hold down a small child and fornicate with him or her and your God thinks this is equal to lusting a woman in your mind. WOW, and you actually believe this stuff. :(

  4. societyvs

    But Big man are you not just saying the same thing as Deacon – even in your disagreeance with him?

    You start with a quote about ‘actions’ and not ‘thoughts’ – “it’s not what goes into a man’s mouth that defiles him, but what comes out of it”. This is basically about what one says compared to what one thinks of saying – thus guarding their tongue.

    “the Bible gives a whole explanation of how sin first starts with desire, then lust, then finally action” (Big Man)

    But if it’s a 3 step process – then when does it become sin…upon desire/thought? I am not sure this was Jesus’ intention concerning his teaching on lust/adultery. WE actually lust after our wives – that makes sex that much more enjoyable. Sometimes we see this in another – but if we circumvent our thoughts and let them go (not build on them any further) then I cannot see the actual ‘sin’…unless God created us with this sinful reproductive habit which is intent only on destroying us?

    “So, lusting after a woman is just as big a sin as committing adultery, in God’s eyes” (Big Man)

    How do you figure? If I think of killing someone yet stop myself – is that the same as that person being dead? How can one’s lust be attributed to sleeping with someone’s wife? Their not even close to equal – any honest person has to admit the flaw in this type of thinking. If this is so, then when I think I want to help all the poor people in my neighborhood with homes, gifts, and showers of acceptance and yet do nothing – then am I also made ‘better’ by that? Are my neigbors made better by that? It’s pure fantasy.

    I agree we need to deal with these wayward thoughts in our minds and not develop them into ‘action plans’…but the sin is really when we get pur ‘hands dirty’ with the plans we develop in our minds. To just deal with and not do something – to be cautious about our behavior – is the teaching of Jesus as far as I can tell. Kind of like, why play near fire when you know the pain associated with being burnt? So we should take all pre-cautions to avoid being ‘burnt’.

    Still, I have to say – the sin happens when relationships are ruined by the action.

  5. Deacon Blue

    Big Man and I probably aren’t as far apart as he might think, based on my quick skim…but I’ll come back later for a closer look and more thorough response. I don’t deny that we have sinful natures, by any means, and that therein lies the core of our problematic relationship with God. I just don’t think that Jesus’ point was to make us feel guilty for our thoughts as much as it was to warn us, as I think SocietyVs was saying (again, I’m in skim mode thanks to a crisis today), that there is a path and a process that leads to sin, and it starts with the heart and/or the mind.

  6. Deacon Blue

    So, having read more thoroughly everything (since I have a few more minutes than I expected), I think my comment can pretty much stand. At least it’s close enough that clarification of it is probably just a recipe for more confusion.

    Tit for Tat, I understand your point about some sins being worse than others.

    But here’s the deal.

    Some sins are more heinous in terms of their effects and outcomes and such. Those are things that people should receive, under MAN’S laws, harsher consequences for. But the thing about sin and God is that ALL sin separates us from God, which is why repentance (real regret for not connecting with God and following his will better) is necessary to bring us into his graces. Because without that, we cannot connect with Him. If we cannot connect with Him, how are we going to be part of the next steps in eternity moving forward with Him?

    That’s what it really means in terms of God not having some “sin-o-meter.” Punishments aren’t doled out by Him based on the nature of the sin because the punishment is that in allowing ourselves to remain separated from Him, we CHOOSE (if we do so) to be someplace other than “Heaven.” I believe we will have ample opportunities (and I’ve argued before my reasons for believing so) even after death to repent…and I believe many souls will refuse to.

    But because the sin is the separator, and repentance is the cure (essentially), there is no higher standard to attain forgiveness based on the specific sin(s). What is required is HONEST repentance. Not fear of punishment or weasel intentions, but an honest desire to put things right with God and with the other souls with whom you will be sharing eternity.

  7. Chris

    Jesus answered, `Thou wouldst have no authority against me, if it were not having been given thee from above; because of this, he who is delivering me up to thee hath greater sin.’

    hmmm. I don’t think its a hairsplitting issue.

    Plus, when Nathan busts David out for nailing Bathsheba and killing her old man. He calls David’s sin “Great”. This would imply some sin is not…great, that is.

    A good analogy would be “the closer you get to a bright light (God), the more difficult it is in the brilliance to distinguish the subtleties so apparent when your eyes were adjusted to the gloom” Which is not my idea, by the way. I can’t remember who to give credit to…

  8. LightWorker

    An interesting discussion. Sinful thoughts vs. sinful actions. A hierarchy of sins, crimes, and evil. I have a lot I could say, but that would only muddle the discussion.

    Let me begin by saying: The soul has a sole purpose, and that is to evolve. The soul evolves when we evolve. For us to evolve, we must become total love, and experience it. That experience can only come through us. That makes us pretty special. Evolution can only take place here in the world of relativity. That makes our world a pretty special place, and those that live here, pretty special people.

    To repeat: The soul has a sole purpose–that we know ourself as total love, and experience it. That purpose is key to an understanding of what is sin and what is not.

    As long as we dwell in love, we’re in love. When we’re not in love, we’re out of love. And when we’re out of love, we’re in sin. A sin is often thought of as a transgression. The origin and etymology of transgress is the following:

    [Middle English transgressen, from Old French transgresser, from Latin trānsgredī, trānsgress-, to step across : trāns-, trans- + gradī, to go.]

    A transgression, then, is a “stepping across,” a very accurate description of sin. We sin when we “step across” the boundaries of Love and into any other state. It can be a benign state, or not so benign. It doesn’t matter, it’s still sin.

    Either we’re sinless (in the “consciousness of love),” or we’re sinners (outside the consciousness of love).

    “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God [Love];”

    Big sin, little sin, sinful actions, sinful thoughts–they all occur outside of love–that is, when we’re out of love. When we’re out of love, we have to get it back, recoup it so to speak, or we’ll remain out of love indefinitely, rather than in love.

    A little scriptural support is always in order. The support comes from a very well-known New Testament passage, one that is oft-repeated, if not always well understood. The words are attributed to Paul, and is one the most important statements of his writings, as it tells us how to advance the soul. Paul writes:

    1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
    2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing.
    3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing.
    4 Love suffereth long, and is kind; Love envieth not; Love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
    5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
    6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
    7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
    8 Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
    9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
    10 But when that which is perfect is come [Love], then that which is in part shall be done away.

    Any act, even those that call for our greatest sacrifice–the giving of all our earthly goods, and our earthly life–if done out side of love, is useless (“profiteth [us] nothing”). Sure the poor will be served, but the soul is still bereft of what it needs–love and the experience of it.

    Therefore, to be patient, to be kind, to envy not, to be unselfish, to keep one’s temper, to abase oneself, and to do it outside of love, is to cheat the soul. Love should be the impetus behind every act. If love is not the impetus, it “profieth [us] nothing.” And, it doesn’t matter if the act is benign or charitable. It doesn’t matter if it was done at great risk to our person, or caused us great pain to carry out.

    When I hear atheists, and non-belivers say, I follow the Golden Rule–I’m kind, I’m unselfish, I keep my temper, and so on–I know that, if those efforts aren’t founded in love, they’re largely fruitless. If they’re not in love when they do these things, they’re leaving out the most important part. If they’re not in love when they do things, these things “profiteth [them] nothing.” And this is true for believers and non-believers alike.

    Without love, we’re nothing. It’s that simple.

  9. Deacon Blue

    True enough. If more of us really, truly embraced the concept of “love,” that would knock an awful lot of sinful actions out of our daily behavior.

  10. Big Man

    Tit for Tat

    Sin is disobedience to God’s word. That’s it. Anytime you disobey, you sin. Since God has made it clear that no matter what sin you commit, you are eligible for forgiveness, why does there need to be a hierarchy of sin?

    Manking created a hierarchy of sin based on our human thoughts about the consequences of actions. God allowed this to stand in Mosaic law because thay was easier for people to understand. He pointed out certain sins as being particularly dangerous because he understood the impact they would have on human society. However, it’s obvious if you care to look at the issue closely, that all sin comes from a single source and that is disobedience to the commandments of God.

    Mankind has used the idea of a sin hierarchy to justify discrimination and abuse. That’s why conservatives jump all over the issues of abortions and gay marriage, but don’t call for laws outlawing fornication, or divorce or even lying. They use the argument that gay marriage and abortion are worse in God’s eyes, but that’s based on personal feelings, not any mandate from heaven.

    I am leery of sin hierarchies because mankind has used them as tools to push their own agendas and my understanding of the scripture shows that in only a few instances has God expressed the feeling that a particular sin is specially egregious. And typically it’s not because of the actual act, but because of the mindset behind the act.


    It’s cool if we disagree, it had to happen sometime. I think that in God’s eyes, thoughts are just as egregious as actions. We serve God in our thoughts and actions and it would make since that our sins come in the same form. I think God cares about our intentions, as Light Worker seemed to be saying, and I think that shows he puts a priority on our thoughts. But, since we have the ability to be forgiven when we repent, I don’t worry about it too much either way. Just try to control both avenues.

  11. TitforTat

    True enough. If more of us really, truly embraced the concept of “love,” that would knock an awful lot of sinful actions out of our daily behavior.(Deacon)

    “Love is not a feeling, but an action”

  12. Deacon Blue

    Yeah, Big Man, it’s good to have those periodic reminders that you and I aren’t permanently joined at the cranium.

    We do of course agree 100% on the cure for all this: Jesus.


  13. TitforTat

    Big Man

    Then I guess obedience is both a feeling and an action. Thats probably why Jesus had to sacrifice himself physically because the thought wouldnt have been enough.

  14. societyvs

    “Faith without works is dead. If a man say he has faith, but has no works, what has he” (Big Man)

    A liar…well hypocrite is a biblical favorite term.

    See James is really pointing out the problem with faith – which most church theologies miss the point on (but you haven’t). James would say to any of us – show me you faith BY (proof) your works. Without actions to back up the good things we believe – we are sounding good…looking bad.

    As for thoughts being ‘sin’ – I would have to say what proof do you have for such an idea? I think the intent starts within us – the idea for the ‘sin’ – but ‘sin’ is an action – a ‘stepping over’ (transgression) as Light worker pointed out. Is a thought an action? Do we ruin some relationship with just the thought?

    If we think a thought is a sin then I am not sure what to think anymore. Maybe I should become even more literal and pluck my eyes out as Jesus suggests – just to deal with such a horrible problem…just so I couldnt see tv, movies, magazines, media, etc and not be ‘tempted’ to think. You follow this line of reasoning on thinking being a sin and eventually you will stop thinking so much or not enter some convo’s to protect yourself – and in essence – limit your life’s experiences…that’s everybody’s call I guess.

  15. Big Man


    I referenced the scripture that links to my thoughts stance. I’ll have to get the exact notation and put it up here.

    That said, God demands that we think AND do the right thing. If you do what’s “right” but your thoughts are wrong, you are doing nothing. The Bible is clear on this. So, if you’re sinning in your mind, it doesn’t matter what your actions are because God judges the heart.

    I don’t see why you would have to stop thinking to follow this advice. There are plenty of things to think about that won’t cause you to sin. Seems like you’re going overboard.

  16. TitforTat

    If you do what’s “right” but your thoughts are wrong, you are doing nothing.(Big Man)

    Really? Ok, you fall down, I think youre a complete moron but help you up anyway, does that mean my “action” means nothing?

  17. Deacon Blue

    I suspect that Big Man’s point is more about whether your intentions have true value, and therefore whether they matter where it counts.

    For example, if I pick up a fallen person simply because someone ordered me to, and didn’t actually have any plans to do so, then the act may mean something on a very marginal level, but it doesn’t really mean much, does it?

    If someone falls and I rush to pick them up because I’m concerned for their well-being, that is something truly meaningful.

    If I put myself in harm’s way to pick that person up because he or she is in imminent danger, it’s even more meaningful.

    Your example doesn’t really fit in with the faith/works dynamic because how you feel about Big Man, and whether he fell because he was foolish, doesn’t matter so much as the fact that you were willing and able to help him. Thinking him a moron may dull the compassion of your act, but it doesn’t negate your act.

    The idea of wrong thoughts isn’t whether your thoughts are perfect, but whether they properly align with your actions, as opposed to being contrary to them.


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