William Shakespeare spoke of conscience as a “dangerous thing.” In his play “Richard III,” two murderers discussed the relationship of a troubled conscience as they contemplated lifting a few pieces of gold from the Duke of Gloucester’s purse. Speaking of the power of a wounded conscience one of them says, “I’ll not meddle with it. It is a dangerous thing—it makes a man a coward. A man cannot steal but it accuses him; he cannot swear but it checks him; he cannot lie with his neighbor’s wife but it detects him. It is a blushing shamefast spirit that mutinies in a man’s bosom; it fills one full of obstacles.”
Shakespeare was right. Some things never change. That truth was borne out when a prominent big-city hotel sent out 4,000 letters to guests who had recently registered at the hotel. It seems that the hotel had been doing some major renovations and the management wanted to apologize for all the mess and bother. The letter began, “We were privileged to have you as our recent guest…” There was one hitch in the scheme. The letter also went to local residents, some of whom had to drive long distances—say as long as a 15 to 30 minute trip to get to the hotel. By the time the dust had settled from the explosions the letter caused, more had been smitten than a troubled conscience.
Said the manager of the hotel, “There were quite a few broken homes, to judge from the calls coming in. One woman who said she had been planning to get married… called in to say her fiancé saw the letter and was calling off their marriage.” He also said that they had gotten a lot of letters from women who said they now knew where their husbands had been spending their long lunch hours. “Another woman,” said the manager of the hotel, “said she was 65 and this is the first time she had ever had any trouble with her marriage.”
Over 600 people complained to the hotel, so they sent out another letter, apologizing for the letter of apology about the inconvenience of the remodeling.
Question: When your conscience troubles you, what do you do? Is the real issue your conscience, or the problem to which it attests? When you are driving your car and a red light appears on your instrument panel, do you take out the bulb, or smash the red light with a hammer so it goes away? No, you find out what the problem is.
Many today quiet their consciences. Scores of people will tell you, “It’s OK; everybody does it.” Secular counselors will tell you to ignore your conscience. That was Freud’s way of dealing with a troubled conscience.
But when the issue is wrongdoing which the Bible calls sin, ignoring the voice of conscience doesn’t relieve you of the problem any more than ignoring the symptoms of cancer makes you healthy again. The issue of sin has to be dealt with, and, thank God, there is forgiveness with God and with each other. That’s all part of what God’s grace is about.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned,” says 1 John 1:9 and 10, “we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.”
The answer to the troubled conscience is to confess wrongdoing, asking forgiveness of God and those whom you have hurt, and then to forsake the wrong completely and entirely.
You can ignore your conscience, but you cannot ignore that reality that someday every one of us will stand before God. Having a conscience that is clear before God will be very important in that day. Don’t forget it.
Resource Reading: 2 Timothy 3
Text: The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 1 Timothy 1:5
GUIDELINES with Harold Sala – September 12, 2017