Blessed with a Clear Conscience
The finger of conscience points only in one direction and that is inward. Conscience is the ultimate judge of what a person accepts, believes or Conscience serves as a screening device, which sorts out as to what is acceptable and to what is His or her entire well-being depends on how well his or her conscience functions. The Talmud says, “The best preacher is the heart (conscience); the best teacher is time; the best book is the world; the best friend is God” (Do. 110). Benjamin Franklin said, “A quiet conscience sleeps in thunder, but rest and guilt live far asunder” (Do. 68).
The word for conscience is “suneidesis” and it is a Greek term that is similar to the Hebrew idea of the mental functions of the heart. A Greek by the name of Menander (325 B.C.), thought of conscience as a god within man directing him in his affairs. This little god helped man of being aware of who he was and what he was capable of doing. Conscience was the Socratic’s ideas of “know yourself.” That self-knowledge was an implant of the Creators (the US) to guide man in his choices. Successful choices brought contentment to a man’s inside and bad decisions caused pain. The Greek or Hellenistic influence dates back to 500 B.C., but it does not get into the Christian world until the Apostle Paul. The Gospels do not use the word “suneidesis.” Even Luke, the Gentile and personal physician to Paul, did not mention the word. Paul ministered to Greeks and where the word “conscience” was well understood. The Greeks did not have the impact on the Hebrews, as one may assume. What conscience did for the Greeks, the heart did to Adam after he sat his foot in the world and when he disobeyed the Creator. He was told what would happen when he stepped outside his human perimeter. Adam and Eve instantly awakened when they had disobeyed God. The awakening to right and wrong was in them at birth. As long as they did not make bad decisions, they were unaware of guilt. Their mistake told them instantly that they were naked before God and they instantly knew that they were gods, unto themselves. Centuries later and long before the Greeks saw a god in their conscience, a man by the name of Asaph, during the time of King David, wrote, “I told you, ‘You are gods; the children of the Most High.'” Jesus reasserted the same idea that men were gods, to themselves. Like Adam and Eve, men decide their own destiny. Conscience is that god within man that keeps bugging him when he makes bad decisions. Man is not programmed like a robot, but man is an independent rational being endowed with the ability to choose between right and wrong; only God keeps records with man’s conscience collecting data. The only way to circumvent the condemnation of oneself is through Christ Jesus.
Conscience, to Jesus, was similar to the heart. Conscience is the heart that allows good or bad, clean or unclean things to enter. Conscience can become hardened and dull, and unable to let in help, truth, or light. Jesus was grieved with the hardened hearts that did not want a human being to heal on the Sabbath. Jesus just had fed five thousand people; his disciples were in a boat crossing the Lake in a storm. Jesus walked on the water to join his disciples and He calmed the storm. And what response did Jesus get from his students? They did not understand Jesus’ purpose of the feeding of the five thousand because their hearts were hardened. Jesus spent three years with his disciples. When Jesus rejoined the two men from Emmaus as the Risen Jesus, their dull hearts kept them from understanding His Mission. The human heart gets attached to things, which appeal to human senses, but they are not of any worth in a person’s ultimate destiny. The human heart trusts earthly treasures when life is at an edge and when life crumbles. Jesus was aware of the troubling hearts of his disciples. He appealed to them to put their trust in God and in Him as their providers. To do so, they had to remove everything from their hearts and leave it empty and pure for God to fill it. The Spirit of the Lord cannot function in a clattered heart. The Gentile Apostle, Paul, combined the heart and the conscience for his Roman Christians. The Gentiles that had no law had right and wrong written on their hearts with conscience as a witness for or against them. The Apostle was well qualified to deal with the dilemma conscience faces. To the Roman Christians, Paul wrote, “Blessed (makarios) is he who does not judge himself over what he accepts or does” (Romans 14:22). The term in question is “dokimazei” from “dokimazo,” ultimately from “dokeo”. Conscience is a word that branches out into a wide range of meanings such as: thinking, forming opinions, making judgments, creating laws and regulations, respecting and honoring others, and even glorifying God. In particular, for our interest we are dealing with the individual, who has to make a critical choice that affects his conscience. To be a “makarios” one has to have a conscience that approves of what one has adopted as one’s standard of living right.
We all have to live with our conscience – even more so than with our marriage partners. We may divorce or break up a marriage, but we cannot separate ourselves from our conscience. At times, conscience appears dormant. We sail along without any signals from within us. Then something happens, and conscience begins to bombard us with accusations of having mismanaged our lives or having treated others unfairly. Actions and deeds that seemed harmless begin to stare us in the face and make us feel guilty and unfit as human beings. When that happens, there just is no cure. We enter a state of depression that plagues us until we settle our accounts with our own conscience. I have had several battles with my conscience. My first one occurred at the age of twelve. It was on a Sunday afternoon and I went swimming with some friends. I slipped into a deep water hole and began to drown. It was, while I was drowning, that my conscience became like a movie screen and flashed before me all my mistakes and foolish pranks. Particularly, swimming on Sundays was sinful for my folks and I was being punished for disobeying them. Fortunately, some merciful person touched the drowning lad with a stick and pulled me to safety. But after that experience, conscience was more awake and there was no more swimming on Sundays. The strange thing was that this encounter with conscience was being interpreted as a sign from the Lord that required some changes in my lifestyle. My parents made numerous attempts to have me converted from some sin I had never committed. Even preachers were engaged to help me end my wayward ways and become a member of a particular church. At that time, the worst I had ever done was go dancing on occasions. To my folks, dancing was regarded as sinful. It led to drinking, sex and death. John, the Baptist, had lost his head during a dance and my parents did not want that to happen to their boy. Their reasoning may not have been rational, but every time I went dancing, my conscience made me feel out of place and downright sinful.
It was equally strange, that I felt guilty over what my parents regarded as sinful. Yet, at that time in my life, I had severe differences with my father. Some of the arguments were not at all dignified or rational. Three times, I ran away from home and ultimately went to Canada, reconciled, of course. Strangely enough, I did not feel guilty during these ill encounters with my father. Several years later, I did experience massive guilt feelings. There definitely was something amiss with my conscience. It was responding to action my folks considered bad, but not to my behavior, which was indeed wrong. I did not “honor my father” and that was the greater sin. It was later, in life, that I realized that my conscience was susceptive to training. Conscience started out as a blank page and it required careful and deliberate imprints and directions before it could function on its own. My conscience was most certainly influenced by cultures, beliefs, and mores. Some of these were not necessarily good or right. Some even were harmful. Conscience played havoc with me when I met with an accident in a lumber camp. I was engulfed in a flame of fire and I cried out in German, “I am lost!” Only I knew what I meant. Once again a movie was turned on and I was reminded that I had not converted to my parents religion. I had my chances and that I blew them all. The feeling that I was losing my salvation was beyond being frightening and devastating. When I became conscious, I was grateful for a second chance to live, so that I could make up for my negligence of joining a Church. And I firmly believe that this conviction gave me the energy to live. There was no other reason why I had not died in the fire when ninety-nine point nine percent do. Again, these scenes from the past were pictures that had not received approval by those whose religious persuasions were that of my parents. In the eyes of others, their son was as decent as they come. And when I began to analyze my own behavior patterns of the past, I could find nothing deserving of any punishment. In brief, my conscience was not telling me the truth.
I did recover slowly and I began to make changes and adjustments to a completely different lifestyle. Religion began to play a major part in my decisions. However, conscience was not satisfied. When I chose the path of becoming a minister, I found some peace and contentment, and a way of forgetting that I had a conscience. Studies and more studies kept my mind preoccupied and conscience was put to sleep. Then, one day a religious revival came to town and the entire school became involved in the evangelist’s activities. Low and behold, conscience raised its ugly head again. It said, “Why do you pretend. You don’t have it.” What was I to have? Well, it was what surrounded me. All I heard in those days was what those people believed. One of the major emphases was on the Holy Spirit telling these people what to do. Every day, in chapel some one had some revelation from the Spirit. One time, I tried my hand, but conscience struck me down. A loud voice within me shouted, “Nobody told you anything! Why are you lying?” Never again have I dared and presumed that I had some special message from above. I learned that conscience is the lamp in my life, and when I let it go out, I travel in darkness.