Thought and Deed

  • Question from FC, Japan

    I have been reading your website with huge interest, and it occurs to me that I would like to know why exactly the “thought is as bad as the deed”?
    Surely wanting to stab my boss in the throat with my ball-point pen can hardly be considered the same as actually doing it!

    “I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” – Jesus, quoted in Matthew 5 v28.

    Jesus frequently condemned religious hypocrisy, a fact that makes him more endearing to non-religious people. He refers to the Pharisees, the Jewish ultra-religious leaders of his day, as ‘white-washed tombs’ – pretty to look at, but filled with death (Matthew 23 v27). He instructs his disciples to pray out of public view and in secret (Matthew 6 vs5-8).

    The main concern behind all this is that Jesus wants his followers to concentrate on their relationship with God, rather than their standing in society. Similarly, God is not fooled. No matter how pious you appear, God knows the truth about what you really think, do and feel. The real danger with such hypocrisy is that it leads to smug self-satisfaction, arrogance, prescriptive legalism and judgemental attitudes.

    That is why the ‘thought is as bad as the deed’. Actions originate out of thoughts, so the first step on the road to violence is the thought or fantasy of ‘stabbing someone in the throat’. The point is that stabbing is not really Jesus’ way. It does not sit well with the command to “love your enemies [or boss!] and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5 v44). Similarly, lustful thoughts lead to adultery as is shown in the well-known, tragic story of David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel chapters 11 and 12).

    Internal purity is the essential ingredient in external righteousness. Christians are equipped for this through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but that does not mean we never think violent thoughts. If, however, we find that our ‘thought-life’ differs drastically from the face we show the world, we should remember that Jesus has little time, and no good words, for hypocrites.

    I hope that answer was useful, FC. Thanks for contributing to freelance theology. If you would like to comment or pose your own question, please use the ’email me’ button.

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