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Christian Biblical Studies
All quotations are from the New International Version, UK edition
‘. . . holding on to faith and a good conscience.’
1 Timothy 1: 19
It’s a funny thing, this voice in your head which reproves you for doing wrong. But, hang on a minute – it was me who said it. So who is this person rebuking me? You mean there’s more than one – of me?
That’s what psychoanalysis will tell you. Your primitive self is the real one, and the only one. Get over it. The part of you that doesn’t like what you just said – well, that’s some evolutionary adaptation to correct your behaviour in the wider interests of the human species. It’s a redundant response, like an appendix of the mind. But, surely, isn’t the implication that a utilitarian process like evolution could masquerade as a moral faculty a little absurd?
‘The requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.’ (Romans 2: 15)
Conscience. Or, as the Greek of this text defines it, co-perception. A remarkable thing, this: the ability to be aware of one’s own persona, as though standing apart from you and looking on, evaluating your behaviour, a spectator of yourself.
So, who do you think you are? Or, more to the point, who would you prefer to be? Certainly not the one who gets shouted at by the voice in your head when you misbehave. But perhaps, you say, if I could get rid of the conscience thing, I could be whomever I wish to be. Free. Throw off the puritanical self-limiting shackles. Everyone’s doing it. So it’s a good thing, yes?
Hmm . . .
‘I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.’ (Romans 7: 25)
An advisor to our moral side, the conscience was designed by God as an integral component of our human constitution. It is capable of being fine tuned, one way or the other, to condemn or to condone one’s deportment. But it’s hard to completely ignore it. Those who succeed in doing so probably cease to be desirable members of an ethical society. Such a gross renunciation of one’s inner gauge of morality would degrade the human condition to the level of the animals, which have no self-awareness and entertain no concept of right versus wrong.
Each of us is a two-self person. You should decide which one you ought to be. You probably wouldn’t want your alter ego to resemble that unpleasant chap advancing towards you in a back alley at midnight. And although the comparison is not usually so stark, in your better moments you probably become aware that your other self needs improving. This vague sense of being unsettled is the result of the human race being in a sinful state and out of favour with God.
An unbelieving world has little use for guilty consciences and moral barometers. Evolutionary psychology has repudiated the virtue of virtue, and the sinfulness of sin. Nonetheless, the contrary impulses operating in each one of us are neatly explained by the Apostle Paul (Romans 7: 15, 17):
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. . . . As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.
Coping with such a daily struggle is emotionally draining, and can render you timid and perpetually despondent, especially if you have a tender conscience. Indeed, the Apostle Paul himself cries out (v. 24):
Of course, none of this will mean anything to you if you have no faith in God. But if you do, you can take courage from the knowledge that your inward conflict, your consciousness of sin, is a conduit for the workings of the holy spirit in its mercy and forgiveness. ‘For the LORD is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.’ (Psalm 34: 18). And the Most High, our Maker, declares (Isaiah 57: 15-19):
‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. I will not accuse for ever, nor will I always be angry, for then the spirit of man would grow faint before me – the breath of man that I have created. . . . I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will guide him and restore comfort to him, creating praise on the lips of the mourners in Israel. Peace, peace, to those far and near,’ says the LORD. ‘And I will heal them.’
This proclamation is echoed in the preaching of the Saviour, when He said (Matthew 11: 28):
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Copyright January 2013 ukbiblestudents.co.uk
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