Does God know what we think? And if so, does it matter to him what goes on in our minds? God supplied the Ten Commandments, which suggest that behaviors are more important than thoughts, but Jesus blatantly said otherwise, and the apostles emphasized his point. Our thoughts matter to God.
Our Thoughts Have Always Been Sinful
Genesis 3, the Fall of Adam and Eve into sin, centers on the thought-lives of two people. Eve did not merely eat from the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil; she was quietly tempted to spend her time near that forbidden tree when she could have — and should have — been anywhere else.
Adam was also drawn to the tree where she held out the fruit to him. They did not articulate their thoughts, temptations, concerns but kept them inside and these thoughts turned over and over until they became an action — receiving and eating the fruit; receiving and believing Satan’s deception; sinning for the first time against God.
Satan challenged God’s articulated word: “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in that day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). He was “crafty” (3:1), which is sometimes translated as “cunning” or “skillfully deceitful, characterized by crafty ingenuity.”
The Hebrew “arum” does not necessarily denote evil; cunning “is not itself bad, for the same term is translated ‘prudent’ in Proverbs 12:16. It is an ability to deal with people with subtlety, a quality that can be used for good or, in Satan’s case, evil.” His skill is to “get […] Eve to question God’s goodness.” Satan didn’t need to put fruit in Eve’s hands, he only needed to promote doubt in her mind.
“The Lord knows the thoughts of man, that they are but a breath.” (Psalm 94:11) This first rebellion confirmed that people would use their freedom to rebel against him, often on a whim, not thinking through their actions.
As people spread across the earth, hurting one another and rejecting God, they proved that “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). That’s why he sent the flood.
God’s Answer to Our Sinful Thoughts
Eve was not helpless to find refuge from temptation. Nor was Adam. Genesis 2:25 says they were “both naked and they felt no shame.” This means “they had nothing to hide physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually.”
Adam and Eve could have talked about their thoughts fearlessly and supported one another to make choices that glorified their Maker. Help was available.
God’s Word frequently exhorts his people to “call to him” (Jeremiah 33:3). Proverbs 28:26 says, “Those who trust themselves are fools, but those who walk in wisdom are kept safe.” Wisdom begins with the Lord.
He invites everyone to call on his name when faced with temptation and to refer to Scripture as a form of defense. When tempted, Jesus turned to the Old Testament in order to fend off Satan’s attacks.
But it always helps if one’s heart and mind are already steeped in a self-disciplined, Christ-centered way of thinking. Paul exhorts us to keep our minds on things above, and to concentrate on things that are true, holy, and loving (Colossians 3; Philippians 4).
Foolish Action or a Prudent Pause
Biblical wisdom tells the reader to always think before speaking or acting. “In everything the prudent acts with knowledge, but a fool flaunts his folly” (Proverbs 13:16). “The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his step” (Proverbs 14:15).
The New Testament warns too: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
Foolishness and wisdom are facets of thought life. They characterize and preface action, and their result is seen when someone does a foolish or wise thing.
In Deuteronomy 22, when Balaam’s donkey would not cooperate, the prophet beat him. “Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth, and it said to Balaam, ‘What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?’”
Balaam’s answer was that the donkey had made him a fool, but the donkey replied “‘Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?’” God then “opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with his sword drawn” (vv.28-31).
Balaam was not observing the evidence; he reacted angrily to inconvenience. God put good sense in the mouth of a donkey, oxymoronically demonstrating the foolishness of Balaam and the Lord’s comedic disdain for it.
Wisdom delights God. He was pleased by Solomon’s request for wisdom and gave him “a wise and discerning mind” because of Solomon’s selfless prayer (1 Kings 2:11,12). King Solomon used this wisdom for the good of his people.
Foolishness can also be redeemed through learning. During Christ’s three years of ministry, the disciples constantly doubted and questioned the evidence in front of them.
Jesus lovingly taught them who he was and why he had come. Their inner lives, characterized by evidence-based faith in the gospel and love of Christ, directed the apostles from here on in.
Thoughts as Sinful as Actions
The Ten Commandments explained the behaviors God expects from his people, but Jesus raised the stakes as we see in Matthew 5. The Old Testament says, “You shall not murder,” but Jesus said, “Everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement” (vv.21,22).
God forbids adultery, but Jesus said, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (v.28). God is so offended by the sins we merely think about that Jesus recommends “if your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away” (v.29).
Jesus taught his listeners to prepare their hearts against sin and about the true nature of love. “I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45).
Prevent sin by nurturing a prayer life, which seeks to do the will of the Father and to see others as the Father sees them: With love, respect, dignity, and forgiveness. Correct thinking leads to reasonableness and love.
As we know from the Bible, disobedient thought patterns will lead us into sin, but obedience leads to a right relationship with God, which is peace.
Nicky Gumble highlights the importance of our thoughts in “Eight Things that Really Matter to God.” He reminds readers we are exhorted to “constantly remember what God has done for you. The people of God were called to ‘Remember that you were slaves in Egypt.’”
We are also urged to remember the Exodus as foreshadowing our salvation through Christ. Taking communion is an act of remembrance: Christ says, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).
The Lord knows how fickle human memories are. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26).
Christians do not have to rely on their strength in any aspect of life, including the inner life: The Spirit will help us to remember.
Does it Matter to Us that He Knows What We Think?
We can try to hide our hearts by doing the correct things or avoiding wrong actions, but God knows our thoughts. Christian can safely invite the Father to view their minds and make corrections.
The Psalmist invites the Lord “search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!” (Psalm 139:23) But in the next verse, he also begs God to “lead me in the way everlasting.”
The benefit of being known is that God can do something with our sinful thoughts before we flesh them out with actions, which cause untold problems. Meanwhile, he is gracious and merciful to forgive. “If you should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3).
We gratefully recognize that God knows the secret sins of our hearts, but he loves us anyway. It matters to God what we think, and matters to us that we know he knows but saved us while we continued to sin, thereby showing his love for us (Romans 5:8).
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Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.