Pol Pot’s death was lamented when he died—not because he was loved by fellow Cambodians. To the contrary, his death was a disappointment to many because like Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, he died without being held accountable for the millions of men and women he slaughtered without cause. He died at the age of 73, forlorn, bedridden, lonely and defiant. Yes, proudly defiant. In November 1997, he broke an 18-year silence and did an interview that was carried by the Far Eastern Economic Review. In the interview, he turned to the reporter and said, “…look at me, am I a savage person?” The man who gave the world the killing fields and sent between 1.6 and 2 million people to their deaths still thought of himself as a good man.
Yes, he admitted to having made some “mistakes” as he described them. But he justified them saying, “My conscience is clear.” In the late 1970s this man orchestrated a murderous campaign to eradicate ethnic minorities along with educated men and women (identified by speaking a second language or wearing glasses, no less), religious men and women and, of course, anyone who opposed his hell-bent schemes.
“My conscience is clear,” he said. When his body was cremated in the jungles, burned beneath a pile of rubbish and old tires, it was questionable that there was a conscience for the flames to engulf.
Is it possible that a man could send so many thousands of innocent individuals to their deaths and do so without even a twinge of conscience? Strange as it may seem to you, the answer is yes. Conscience is an interesting phenomenon, and it isn’t psychology alone which gives us insights to this part of your psyche, which can’t be x-rayed or dissected by a doctor. It is also history and the Bible. Some 24 times the Bible speaks of the human conscience and its power. When a woman was seized in the act of adultery and taken before Jesus, He stooped down and began to write on the ground. John tells us that those who were there, turned and left, convicted by their consciences.
In the book of Romans Paul makes a strong case that those who never heard of the law, nonetheless, are guided by their conscience—a sense of moral right and wrong—which makes women and children safe.
But how explain a Pol Pot or an Adolph Hitler? Writing to Timothy, Paul said that continued wrongdoing—whether it is by a teenager or a philandering husband—will stifle the voice of conscience. He described it as having been “seared with a hot iron” (1 Timothy 4:2). Eventually, the voice of conscience is silenced and an individual can do anything without conscience raising its voice.
A study of the individuals whose moral depravity seemed to know no bounds, indicates that the person who continually violates his conscience eventually destroys it, and that only the renewal of the Holy Spirit and a clear understanding of right and wrong and what God expects can restore it. But God can do just that.
I am thinking of the woman who came forward to talk with me following a service in Kiev, Ukraine shortly after the fall of Communism. With tears in her eyes, she said, “Under Communism we did many things that were evil and wrong, but we didn’t know it. Now that we have heard the Gospel, we know what we did was wrong.”
In the city of Phnom Penh, in Cambodia, lies a horrific pile of human skulls, a small reminder of the vast number whose lives were taken by the madness of Pol Pot, yet—and you may not like this—the same kind of thing is done when you repeatedly do what you know is wrong. This explains the person who justifies petty theft, along with the wife who leaves her husband and children for another man. More on this important topic on our next Guidelines’ commentary.
Resource Reading: Romans 2
Text: Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. – 1 Timothy 4:2
GUIDELINES with Harold Sala – August 21, 2017