What is conscience? “The sense of consciousness of the moral goodness or blameworthiness of one’s own conduct, intentions, or character, together with a feeling of obligation to do right or be good.” (Miriam Webster Dictionary, © 2013).
It is sense of knowing right from wrong, given by God to help people behave as they should. While conscience can be modified by cultural influences, it is remarkably consistent around the world and throughout history. Murder, stealing, lying, and cheating are considered wrong is just about every society. The Apostle Paul alludes to this in Romans 2:14-15a:
When Gentiles, who do not possess the [Jewish] law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness. (NRSV)
In 2 Corinthians 1:12, Paul mentions that it is by God’s grace that we have the strength to follow our consciences and so what is right:
Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God. We have done so, not according to worldly wisdom, but according to God’s grace. (NIV)
In the above verse, “worldly wisdom” refers to the lies of this world that lead us astray. As I mentioned above, our consciences can become corrupted by worldly influences, as we read in Titus 1:15-16a where Paul wrote about some people this happened to:
Their very minds and consciences are corrupted. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their actions. (NRSV)
A good conscience is not enough, because it can get corrupted. We all need God’s grace on an ongoing basis, along with constant exposure to biblical teachings in worship or in a Bible study. Otherwise, all that we are taking in are the ungodly things portrayed in the media: sex, violence, murder, cruelty, self-centeredness, etc. Eventually we become so saturated with this steady flow of garbage that our consciences become numb.
Not sure about this? Think, then, about the three boys in Oklahoma recently, who were “bored” and so decided to kill someone at random. They killed a baseball player from Australia just for something to do. Think about the two 16 year olds in Spokane, Washington, who randomly killed an elderly World War II veteran for no apparent reason. Where were their consciences? Did they ever go to Sunday school or church and learn about morals? How were they raised by their parents to know right from wrong?
Think about all of the other crimes committed these days, and how they reflect a lack of conscience on the part of the perpetrators. Some crimes are done for personal gain, such as scams, identity theft and robbery. Others are done just to be cruel and for no other apparent reason: computer viruses, hacking, and cyber bullying. Just recently we had two significant acts of treason in which two different individuals leaked classified information.
Gangs and gang-related violence has become a serious problem, especially in many large cities. Look at the killings in Chicago. These gang members have no respect for human life, and obviously no conscience. Sadly, innocent people get caught in the cross-fire and die (including little children).
As I mentioned in earlier posts, we can continue to exclude God from our lives and our society and face the consequences. Or parents can train their children in faith, morals, and ethical behavior (including by example), and send them to Sunday school so they can learn about God. We’ve got to reverse these trends, but we can do so only with God’s help. Watching our country descend into lawlessness is not a pretty picture.