Between the radiant white of a clear conscience and the coal black of a conscience sullied by iniquity lie many shades of gray – where most of us live… Not perfect but not beyond redemption.” – Sherry L. Hoppe
Pangs of conscience. Yikes, there’s a quagmire waiting to be stepped in. The popular meaning of this everyday expression is: “A feeling of shame, guilt, or embarrassment, resulting from behavior which one regrets.” I’ll buy that. I’ve been “panged” a time or 2000 in my lifetime. How about you? Have you ever suffered the pangs of conscience? Experienced the pounding of a tell-tale heart? Hmmm?
Fundamentally, the conscience is a small subtle voice within the human spirit that helps us to distinguish between good and evil, or right and wrong. This inner witness is not under our control, but operates autonomously and without restrictions. Try as we might, we cannot persuade ourselves that life is hunky-dory when our conscience tells us otherwise. Make no mistake, we can fight our conscience tooth and toenail, but why should we? When we learn to recognize and yield to the pangs of conscience, we seldom regret our behavior.
The voice of conscience is so delicate that it is easy to stifle it; but it is also so clear that it is impossible to mistake it.” – Madame de Stael
Here’s a true story. It happened one day as I was having lunch. Cloé (not her real name) approached my table and tried to smile, but I wasn’t convinced. “You look upset,” I said. She blew a puff of air from the corner of her mouth clearing a few unruly hairs from her eye and then she said with a sigh, “Is it that obvious?” To me it was. I’ve been coming to this Gulf Coast eatery for years. I’ve spent many an hour writing outside on the “tiki” deck overlooking the water. Cloé has been my server on countless occasions. We’ve had more than a few casual conversations, and you might say that I have gotten to know a bit about her. Today, she just was not her usual self.
It turned out that Cloé had argued with her spouse the night before. I thought to myself, “nothing unusual there,” anyone who has been married more than a week has most likely gone down that road. “It was over nothing,” she said, “but…my words, my tone…I just burst out with some hurtful things and my conscience is really bothering me.”
My response? I asked her what her conscience was saying. She laughed and said, “Tell him I’m sorry.” Grinning, I inquired as to what she planned to do with that advice. She lowered her voice and said, “I’m gonna listen to my heart.” Cloé had a troubled conscience. Her tell-tale heart kept pounding out a reminder that she was wrong.
Ever heard the term moral compass? Opinions vary on precisely what the expression really means, but here’s my favorite definition: an inner guidance system which distinguishes what is right from what is wrong. Just like the needle of a tangible compass, it functions as a director for morally appropriate behavior. Our conscience (the voice of a human spirit) will normally speak to us based upon the “direction” our moral compass is pointing.
From a purely secular perspective, the human conscience is believed to be an innate self-reflective process leading to social and moral evaluations which help us to sense right and wrong. That’s a mouthful. As with just about everything that has to do with “defining” human existence, the origin, nature, and purpose of the conscience has occasioned great philosophical debate through much of our history here on spaceship earth. That being said, every human – from the pious to the heathen – possesses the inner voice of conscience.
For science, the end of the evolutionary struggle is simply represented by ‘survival.’ As for the means to that end, apparently anything goes. Darwinism leaves humanity without a moral compass.” – Bruce Lipton
I have often reflected upon the glaring absence of elementary core values that should be guiding us as a society. There was a time when people were routinely schooled in moral philosophy as part of the basic educational process. It was understood that in order to create a healthy functional social order, some common morality was necessary. When we do not have a clear sense of where to anchor our identities or how to govern our actions, we can easily become morally adrift in a morass of ever increasing amorality and relativism (a view that ethical truths depend on the individuals and groups holding them). Thanks in part to a liberal education establishment, a predominantly godless scientific community, and an agenda driven propaganda machine…err…, I mean…news media, the “sheepeople” learn all about how things are, but seldom hear how they truly ought to be.
In this the supposed era of evolutionary “enlightenment”, new age wisdom denigrates most feelings of personal guilt as nearly always undesirable or wounding – especially if they are rooted in the oppressive doctrines of one’s religious faith. Contemporary culture often maintains that an active conscience is more of a defect then an asset. If we let our conscience “beat us up” our self-esteem will suffer. Sometimes this is true, but unfortunately, it is also used as an excuse for numerous therapies, and even alcohol, drugs or extreme entertainment in an effort to thwart the directions of the moral compass and to mute the inner voice of our conscience.
Humanity is lost because people have abandoned using their conscience as their compass.” – Suzy Kassem
No secular text book witnesses to the existence of a human conscience as does the Bible. The Newer Testament writer Paul in a letter to Roman Christians actually criticizes those who have knowledge of the universal Law of God but willfully violate it. In an attempt to explain how the Divine moral code works in mankind, this special messenger points to agnostics saying,
14-15 “When the Gentiles (heathen), who have no knowledge of the Law (of God), act in accordance with it (God’s Laws) by the light of nature, they show that they have a law (written) in themselves, for they demonstrate the effect of a law operating in their own hearts. Their own consciences (the voice of the human spirit) endorses the existence of such a law, for there is something which condemns or commends their actions.” (Romans 2:14-15 – PHILLIPS)
Paul believed that every human being is furnished with a copy of the Creator’s “Law” encoded in the very fabric of their being. In essence, we are all born with a basic facility to comprehend right and wrong which then continues to develop over our lifetime as we are exposed to spiritual and moral training. Thus the inner voice of conscience can help us to judge our own thoughts and deeds, but it is limited to the highest standard of right and wrong that we recognize. Like a computer, our conscience is only as good as the programs loaded into its memory. Trained correctly, our moral compass will harmonize with the “Law of God” that is written in our heart (encoded in our spiritual DNA) and that inner voice will function as a reliable, albeit not infallible, guide. Otherwise, without proper moral and spiritual training, as they say in computer jargon, “put garbage in – get garbage out.”
I believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ. I think that’s a good way to calibrate your moral compass.” – Margo MacDonald
Sometimes people will suppress or ignore the voice of conscience by playing the blame game to sidestep accountability or to excuse reprehensible behaviors. And of course, the largely godless psychological community has conveniently re-branded “sin” with clinical terms like condition, disorder or disease. This attempt to placate the conscience by treating the symptoms instead of the root cause (sin) is sheer folly. The Newer Testament writer Paul once shared this insightful wisdom in a letter to his good friend Titus,
15 “Everything is wholesome to those who are themselves wholesome. But nothing is wholesome to those who themselves are unwholesome and who have no faith in God their very minds and consciences are diseased. 16They profess to know God, but their actual behavior denies their profession, for they are obviously vile and rebellious and when it comes to doing any real good they are palpable frauds.” (Titus 1:15-16 – PHILLIPS)
As you can see, it is possible for people to become so corrupted that their conscience finally falls silent. Without a functioning inner moral compass they are left to navigate blindly the treacherous waters of life. Paul called these people out for what they had become – diseased in mind and conscience. You claim to know God he said, but your actual behavior exposes your assertion as nothing but a lie. Vile and rebellious is how he dismisses them. In another letter addressed to his friend and colleague Timothy, Paul said,
1-2 “God’s Spirit specifically tells us that in later days there will be men who abandon the true faith and allow themselves to be spiritually seduced by teachings of the evil one, teachings given by men who are lying hypocrites, whose consciences are as dead as seared flesh.” (1 Timothy 4:1-2 – PHILLIPS)
The warning is clear – erroneous “spiritual instruction,“ and the depraved influences of relaxed social mores can overtake your mind and degrade your moral compass. That is why, as a Christian, my standard of absolute truth is always the ancient scriptural texts found in the Bible. I have learned that a regular diet of these time worn “Truths” will strengthen a weak conscience and help contain an overactive one. Again, turning to the pen of the Newer Testament writer Paul,
18-20 “Timothy my son, I give you the following charge. (And may I say, before I give it to you, that it is in full accord with those prophecies made at your ordination which sent you out to battle for the right armed only with your faith and a clear conscience. Some, alas, have laid these simple weapons (faith and a clear conscience) contemptuously aside and, as far as their faith is concerned have run their ships on the rocks…” (1 Timothy 1:18-20)
How do we end up shipwrecked? It happens when we lay aside our faith in the Almighty and disregard the voice of our human spirit (conscience). It takes faith and a clear conscience to walk confidently in this world. Every day, I look for ways to strengthen my sense of right and wrong so that I can enjoy the freedom and blessings of a clear conscience before God and man.
I really love the redemptive message of the Liberator Jesus. He visited earth to seek out, forgive and salvage a lost, blinded and desperate human race. He did not come to start a religion, but rather to launch a spiritual revolution. If the same Divine Spirit that was alive in Jesus is truly living in those who have been called and chosen (Romans 8:9-11), that Divine Spirit will also speak to our human spirit (conscience) and guide us into all that is true. And when this life is over, He will be there to guide us home. Ponder that. Oh, and in the meantime, listen to your conscience, okay?
Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD., is a noted author, broadcaster, a popular Bible teacher and a rabbid Coastal Junkie®
For additional information write to: Coastal Life Ministries, P.O. Box 1283, New Port Richey, Florida 34656