The tongue may be a restless evil, but the premeditations of the mind are animated by the tongue, and rooted in the heart. “You’ll go to hell for what your dirty mind is thinking,” sings Thom Yorke at the climax of the Radiohead song Nude. Atheist Christopher Hitchens comments on heaven and omniscience in The Portable Atheist: “There are, after all, atheists who say they wish the fable were true but are unable to suspend the requisite disbelief, or who have relinquished belief only with regret. To this I reply: who wishes that there was a permanent, unalterable celestial despotism that subjected us to continual surveillance and could convict us of thought-crime, and who regarded us as its private property even after we died?” Perhaps from reading two very different quotes, we can draw two conclusions:
1. Our minds are inclined towards thinking things shameful enough to send us to hell if our minds were readable.
2. God reads minds.
Our conclusion is that God could send us to hell for what our minds are thinking.
Let apply Hitchens statement strictly to the realm of Christianity for a moment, and note what the Bible says about our minds.
First and foremost, let’s start with this truism: God is God. Since God is God, there are certain attributes he must possess in order to truly be God. He must certainly be all-powerful, as well as all-knowing. To be more powerful than God, or to know more than God, would destroy who he is. So if God is both omnipotent and omniscient, then he is capable of knowing our thoughts. In Psalm 139:2 David writes “You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar;” In Isaiah 66:18 God says that he knows the thoughts of the people; Jesus talks about anger and lust in Matthew 5 as being things that stem from the heart—which must also include that they run through the mind.
This is a depressing predicament: God knows the evil thoughts in my mind. If heaven is a place for perfection, then I certainly wouldn’t be allowed in. The deepest roots of my hatred and the thickest chains of my lust are not hidden from God’s sight. It’s hard to imagine something more embarrassing and unpleasant. Boiling this information down to its most practical form, what do I take away from this? Is God a celestial big brother who is eager to smack us around for our shameful thoughts?
The practical information is this: you aren’t what you need to be if you’re searching for righteousness. Let’s dispel the legalistic, fundamentalist bad taste that we get in our mouths when we think of “righteous people”; we’re not talking about “overly-religious,” judgmental people. When I refer to righteousness, I’m referring to your ticket into the unfathomable pleasures of spending an eternity with a God that fulfills every need above and beyond what you’re capable of imagining. Perfection has always been the requirement. So when we thinking about thought crimes, we need to get a firm grasp on what the Bible is and isn’t saying.
The Bible is not saying this: Your thoughts are impure, therefore try harder so that you will inherit the Kingdom of God.
The Bible says this: On your own, you are not fit to inherit the Kingdom of God. You aren’t even in the family.
Make no mistake: it is impossible to inherit what God has for you if you aren’t in his family. You cannot “try harder” by thinking the right things or doing the right things. You don’t belong.
This is where the gospel comes in:
Ephesians 1:5 “He predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” Adoption comes through Jesus Christ. Not through trying harder to have perfect thoughts.
Does this mean that my thoughts are no longer important? No, what you think is very important, because it reveals much about your heart. I am reminded every day of the weight of my evil thoughts. I may no mistake in calling them evil, because that’s what they are. The Biblical command is this: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2) In other words, do not become miserable like this world by indulging yourself in frivolous pursuits that only further pain and emptiness. Instead, starting with your mind, become transformed; know who God is so that you can know his will, and trade what is miserable, painful, and empty for what is good, acceptable, and perfect. Notice the latter three attributes: what is good, what is acceptable, and what is perfect. All of these attributes are attributes of God. Those who seek God will find him, and those that find him will increasingly see the value of being like him. Christ is God in human form; be like him. As you become more like your Christ, you will notice your thought-life change.
The problem is not that God can think of our thoughts, the problem is that our thoughts do not think about God. Trying harder will never be enough. The key is transformation through Christ, so that my thoughts aim for the superior pleasure of godliness. What you and I need is not to train the muscle of the old mind, but to receive renewal for a new mind.