WWJD Series: Jesus, Thoughtcrime and Eternal Anguish
There are those who leave Christianity, or refuse to join it, yet still have nothing bad to say about Jesus. Christianity, yes, but not Jesus. For me, though, once I stopped believing that Jesus was fully God and fully human, I had a hard time seeing anything good in his teachings.
The Old Testament is filled with contradictory laws and arbitrarily delivered punishments, but there was reason for hope. Some Judaic sects, like the first century Pharisees, used oral traditions to interpret, supplement and reconcile the written scripture so that it was possible to follow “God’s will”. Also, while the “punishments” were arbitrary to the point of sheer randomness, there was no reason to believe they continued after death.
Then Jesus came along, and made everything worse.
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. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell…. 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. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell…. Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King…. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also…. You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven…. Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
– Mt. 5: 21-22, 27-29, 33-35, 37-39, 43-44, 48
No longer are we only responsible for what we can control- our actions. Suddenly, our very thoughts and feelings condemn us. And to what do they condemn us? The fire of hell, to which a life of self-mutilation is preferrable. Worse, Jesus teaches that our words can come from the evil one. “The devil made me do it” is given the legitimacy of Jesus’ support as a reasonable fear. But Jesus doesn’t stop there. No, making thoughts and feelings we can not control into crimes deserving eternal torment and then suggesting that the devil can control our thoughts and words is not nearly enough. It’s hardly worse than Yaweh hardening the Pharoah’s heart and then punishing him for his hard heart.
Jesus goes further to tell us not to resist evil people when they strike at us, but to love and pray for them. Don’t stand up and fight for justice. Don’t rebel against oppressive authority. Don’t resist your abusive spouse. Instead, lovingly go further than they would have otherwise forced you to, and speak on their behalf to the God who either can not or will not grant you justice. Don’t resist. Don’t get angry. Don’t even think angry thoughts. You don’t want to go to hell, do you? Maybe it will be better after you die.
But maybe not. The infamous Sermon on the Mount is barely one third over yet, and Jesus has a small command yet to slip in, barely worth mentioning. Simply, “Be perfect”. Not just perfect, but perfect as God is perfect.
“Act righteously” is difficult enough, what with the swarming mass of contradicting and unreasonable laws, our thoughts and feelings being given the same weight as our actions, and standing against evil suddenly becoming evil in itself. Now Jesus is telling us, off-handedly, that we are held not to a human standard, but a godly one. We are to know and follow God’s will as sure as God Himself, no matter how poor a job God does in communicating His thoughts and will. We are to think as God thinks, feel as God feels, and resist evil as little as a God to whom no evil can be done. The measure to which we fall short from this standard is the measure to which we deserve unending torment, and therefore force God’s hand in punishing Jesus for our sake.
That’s right, punish Jesus for our sake. By some coincidence, just as the standards for righteousness become impossibly high and the punishment for failing to meet these standards unimaginably dire, we’re made an offer by the one person who can make it all go away. Never mind that the offer is being made by the only one to insist there was a problem in the first place. We’re offered a free pass, with no way to know whether or not we really have it, leaving us open to manipulation from anyone who can promise us certainty of our salvation. And as we’ve proved time and time again, that’s something we’re willing to commit almost any atrocity for.