Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Sins of the Mind

Anyone who says, "I've never done anything really wrong," should reread Jesus's words from Mt. 5:21-22, 27-28:

"You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.... You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (NIV).

While feeling the attractions of temptation isn't sinful in itself, we slip into sin the moment we stop to dwell on ideas about how much fun it would be to do something we know is wrong--even if we don't actually follow through physically. We don't even have to go as far as dreaming of personally committing sin; delighting in the idea of someone coming to harm by sheer chance is along the same lines as wishing we dared do the harm ourselves.

Sometimes we hear from secular psychologists that thinking ugly thoughts can't really do any harm, that it may even serve as a catharsis to keep us from actually turning violent. Probably most of the pious, self-righteous people who gave Jesus so much trouble thought along the same lines. The truth is that anger and lust, whether acted out or not, perpetuate themselves. Once we start resenting people and wishing something would happen to get them out of our lives permanently, our fantasies get uglier and uglier until we think nothing of delighting in the prospect of their early deaths. (I'm ashamed to admit I know this from personal experience.) If resentment-turned-hatred remains unchecked, it can easily progress to the point where it spills out, probably not in literal murder, but in hurtful words, backbiting gossip, even physical violence--sometimes directed at the actual subject of our anger, sometimes at innocent scapegoats.

Notice that I said, "probably not in literal murder." There are people who have let things go that far. Jesus's religious enemies did. They were so angry at this upstart preacher who told them they were no better than common sinners, that they wound up bullying the local governor into ordering His execution--and then they taunted Him as He hung on a cross gasping for breath.

If men who went out of their way to follow the letter of Old Testament Law could sink so low, who are we to say that our sinful thoughts don't really matter?

The sins of the hand are quickly condemned,
As they show for the world to see;
But the sins of the mind are a subtler kind,
And are found more abundantly.
You respectful souls who take pride in self,
Know the sins of the hand are fed
By the sins of the mind, as the fruit grows ripe--
So take heed of each thought in your head!

The sins of the eye draw shaking of heads
From the pious within the crowd;
But the sins of the heart are where eye-sins start,
Yet we think that the first are allowed.
But our Lord said all those who dream of sin
Are as guilty within God's sight
As the ones who then actually do the act--
So flee lust like a beast in the night!

The sins of the mind are the seeds that sire
Every sin that the world can see,
And the depths of the heart are where all wrongs start--
So keep all that's inside you free
From the things that lure you to outer sin,
And fill up all your heart and mind
With the Word of the Lord and the Spirit's grace:
Think on things of the purest kind!

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