For the past few days I’ve been posting on the conscience. I’ve said it’s our moral sense, like a compass that guides you in matters of right and wrong. It comes from God, endorsed in a sense to teach you good and evil when you have no other guides like the Old Testament Law or the teachings of Jesus to tell you what to do. To be a Christian is to live by the conscience, being sure to run to the church rather than away from it when you run afoul of it.
But all along I’ve hinted at a problem. It’s rather significant, actually, and it’s one of the reasons people get uncomfortable talking about the conscience at all.
Your conscience isn’t always right.
In fact, not only is it wrong sometimes, you have the power to make it worse! It’s an instrument you get to tune, and often you’re tuning it when you don’t realize it. Rather than consciously deciding “I’m going to change how I feel about this,” we keep pursuing situations that happen to either dull or intensify the senses.
Usually the conscience doesn’t go down without a fight, but the circumstances in which you grew up can go a long way to start you off on the wrong foot. This is one of the reasons childhood education is so important—and not just instruction, but modeling. The example you set and reinforce is a powerful thing.
(Are we feeling comfortable yet?)
But despite all the risks, the power to tune the conscience is actually good news. Because if all we had to go on was the mistakes of our parents, and all we could do is perpetuate what we began with, we would have no way to make progress. We would be stuck!
And being stuck might be worse than you think, because let’s face it: the Bible doesn’t always tell you what to do. Because God’s Word is not exhaustive, it becomes that much more important to have a conscience you can rely on to help you navigate all the rest.
Now it’s no mystery how a person dulls his conscience. Much like the other senses, overexposure tends to quiet the signals. You eat enough sweets, you lose touch with just how much sugar is in your food. You stay at the rock concert long enough and you can’t hear your friends on the ride home. So also the more you expose yourself to moral wrongs, the less wrong they often seem over time.
This is a state the Bible calls a “seared” conscience. It’s not good.
If you find yourself here, there’s always hope. But it will probably take a while. And in the meantime you will have to rely on your other faculties more, trusting that the Bible is right even if it doesn’t feel right, or trusting that the logic is sound even if what you want to do feels good.
But the most important thing is to get yourself out of that environment, to starve yourself of that particular sin so that the conscience has a chance to bounce back—empowered by the Spirit, through prayer.
Next time I want to talk about some other words the Bible associates with the conscience, which you may not be familiar with. But they have primarily to do with the oversensitive conscience.
In the meantime I want to make sure you don’t miss this point: your conscience isn’t always right. It needs to be tuned, and your tuner is the Bible. If your conscience doesn’t condemn you, that’s only good news if it’s been properly calibrated. Having a seared conscience may feel at times like having a clear conscience, but they are worlds apart. You must turn to prayer and meditation on Scripture in the community of the Spirit to help you see the difference.
If your conscience does condemn you—or perhaps more often someone else—it’s also critically important to make sure that judgment has been tuned to the Word of God. Moral outrage is a powerful thing, and we live in a time when it’s easy to assemble a mob. But just because your conscience is screaming doesn’t necessarily mean you should, too. It has to be properly calibrated first.
More on this next time.