Thursday, July 17, 2014

Conscience--Clear or Seared?

Having observed news reporters over the years—that they can exaggerate and sensationalize their reports—has made me very cynical about believing them. I have seen individuals and groups villainized when the real situation is much less devious—usually just imperfect nature coupled with poor judgment.

My mention of a particular incident below is not the focus of the article. It is merely fodder for a much broader point—that none of us are immune from making wrong choices. Some give up and give in easier than others. Ultimately we are all responsible for safeguarding our own minds and hearts. Constant determination is needed.

Breaking in the news in the past week was a story about a female “escort” (prostitute) that killed a Google executive by way of a lethal injection of heroin. Her actions, recorded by security video, appeared deliberate and without any sense of compassion—if you believe the news reports. (The executive, a married man with family, was obviously no angel himself.) While this incident seems horrendous on its own rights, it was something this woman wrote that really caught my attention. Although guilty of using illegal drugs, involved in illegal activity (prostitution) and unethical conduct (amidst a long list of other things), she said that her conscience was clear. (The report wasn’t clear if she wrote this before or after killing the Google exec.)

Seared: That account reminded me of what happens when a person burns their skin so that the nerves in the area are completely desensitized, incapable of the feeling. Although such a person might openly and readily admit that they can’t feel, it is never something that they would boast about. Because of the danger of inadvertently injuring the burned area, most are extra careful about having the burned area come in contact with objects they cannot feel.

Seared flesh well illustrates what the Bible refers to as a seared conscience. When a conscience is that badly damaged, it can no longer warn a person who is about to do something wrong or is actively engaging in something that would endanger their relationship with God. In the book of Romans, chapter 2 verse 15, we read that people’s consciences can either accuse them or, if damaged, even excuse them, freeing the person from feelings of guilt. How does this searing damage take place? Turning to Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he explains that promoting or accepting lies is one thing that damages the conscience. It can be so severe that the conscience is spoken of as being burned with a branding iron.

Indeed, from the way the news source tells the story, it appears this is what happened to the woman. But she is not alone. There are others, both men and women, whose whole heart has become so hardened through the lies their lives are wrapped in, that nothing phases them. (I do not intend to over simplify this. Obviously many intertwined psychological and social influences cause people to become hardened and uncaring. I am focusing on one main reason the scriptures give to explain how a conscience becomes seared.)

Is there any hope for such people? Can they re-sensitize their consciences to become functional enough to warn them of dangerous conduct that would threaten their relationship with God? Thankfully the answer is yes. The Bible itself contains examples of such people.

Repairing the Damage: Let’s hit on some highlights on how this repair can take place. First, the person has to become aware of their “spiritual need.” I’ve seen this realization in people when they hit “rock bottom” in their lives. They realize what a mess they have made. Next, they make efforts to fill that need by learning what God wants of them. Once they gain not only a knowledge but an appreciation, they determine to correct the things that are misaligned with God’s standards. When this is done, truly repentant ones may begin to experience certain “seasons of refreshing” from God that will encourage them to continue moving forward. All the while, each step of the way, each effort they make, is slowly repairing their damaged conscience.

But this effort cannot be for mere selfish benefit. The whole reason for repairing the conscience is related to repairing our relationship with God. So the next step, as mentioned in Acts 2:38, is a lifelong dedication to God through water baptism. (If you were baptized as a child, that is not the baptism that Jesus or his early followers promoted.)

Repaired Conscience At Last? By this time the conscience has definitely become active and useful again. However, the story still doesn’t end there. All of us are still imperfect. We all struggle with wrong and weak tendencies—everyday. So the “trick” to maintaining a strong healthy conscience, if you want to call it a trick, is to daily keep our focus on maintaining, strengthening, and deepening our love for God and neighbor. Two vitally invigorating ways we can do that is first by daily reading the Bible and second, by surrounding ourselves with others that are determined to do what is right.

So seared flesh is both bad and dangerous. But even worse is a conscience that is so seared that even illegal activity is excused in a person’s mind. Repairing and revitalizing a seared conscience is possible for those that want it bad enough.


I apologize for two things: First that this article was so long. Second that this article wasn’t long enough. On the one hand, I try to keep my articles as short as possible. Why? Because reading long articles really frustrates me, especially when I sense the writer is not getting to the point and just beating around the bush with filler material. So I try not to put my readers through that excruciating pain. On the other hand, I feel my reasoning and proofs here need to be considerably expanded. From your (the reader’s) perspective, if you were to charge me for making unsubstantiated generalizations, I’d completely understand. My only defense is that I was trying to balance article length and substance. I welcome you to challenge me and ask questions. (Please be kind, though. My chemo treatments have admittedly taken their toll on my brain. My original main goal in starting this blog was to keep my mind active and provide an outlet for creative expression. I never expected to get the readership that I have.)

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