Taking a break from our normal posts, a reader asks:
Why do we ask Gods forgiveness of our thoughts? If we have thoughts of evil but do not act on them,have we sinned? Because Christ rejected the tempations from the devil,does that in its self mean that Christ had evil thoughts, and if he did were the thoughts sinfull, if he did not act on them? In other words how did Christ know that the things that the devil tried to tempt him with were sins?
Christ's entire message is about the cycle of thoughts, actions, and feelings. He taught that those abilities were given to us for a purpose. We are meant to use them to fulfill that purpose. Worthless thoughts are only dangerous because they lead to worthless actions seeking instant but worthless rewards. The three temptations of Christ (see my side essay) illustrate the three types of worthless rewards: physical gratification (the bread), the mental egotism (testing God), and the emotional insecurity (earthly status).
Christ said consistently that religious leaders are interested in loading us down with sin, forgiveness, and evil, most extensively in Mat 23. However, Christ's message was clearly not focused on sin. which he mentions relatively rarely and then in a very different way than religious leaders. The Greek word that Christ uses in the Gospels that is translated as "sin" means "mistake" or "error." The word translated as "forgive" means "to let go." The word translated as "evil" means "worthless" or "burdened." There are plenty of Greek words that carry a real sense of evil with malicious intent--most commonly kakos, kakia--but Christ seldom uses those words and only to characterize someone in a parables (an evil servant, for example).
While religions teach us about how evil we are, how we sin and need forgiveness and redemption, Christ said something very different. He said that we make mistakes, that we must let go of those mistakes and stop doing what is worthless.
A mother once told me that this analysis really help her in relationship with her son who was gay. Though a devout Christian, she knew her son wasn't evil and couldn't relate to him as though he was evil. However, she could see that he was making a mistake and doing something that was worthless.
In Christ's view, the three areas of human sensibility--thinking, acting, feeling--are linked in a process. This process can produce one of two things: a result that is worthless or a result that is beautiful (the meaning of the word usually translated as "good" in the Gospels). Thoughts alone (temptations) create nothing. Actions without thought (accidents) create nothing. Feelings (desires) alone create nothing. Only when they are combined do they create something that is beautiful or something that is worthless. When we stop thinking/doing/feeling worthless, useless things, our lives become more beautiful. As more of our lives become more beautiful, the world becomes more beautiful, and our spirits become more beautiful. This is our purpose.