On Sept.26 , in Delta B.C., 15 year old Laura Szendrei died after being severely beaten by a baseball bat. Laura’s family and friends were further shocked and traumatized to discover vulgar messages and imagery posted on her Facebook commending her murderer and trivializing her death. With respect to those who would do such things, someone asked, “Don’t they have a conscience?”
The answer is “yes”. They do have a conscience; everyone does, but what kind?
I define conscience as, “a God given, in-built sense of right and wrong, which either condones or condemns our thoughts, motives and actions.”
The word conscience is used 31 times in the New Testament and indicates that consciences may be weak or strong (1 Cor. 8:7 – 12), good or evil (Acts 23:1 & Hebrews 10:22), pure or defiled (1 Timothy 3:9 & Acts 24:16) and seared or purged (1 Timothy 4:2, Hebrews 10:22). Generally speaking however, consciences can be categorized as either sensitive or hardened.
Ted Bundy had a hardened conscience. He could abuse, mutilate and murder his victims with personal impunity. He had, through repeated evil thoughts and actions, so seared his conscience that he experienced no feeling for those he harmed. Those who posted hurtful comments on Laura’s blog are also well on their way in the development of a callous and hardened conscience.
The fact that a conscience can be defiled is rather bad news. It would tend to leave us thinking that we move through life developing harder and harder consciences as we go. But the good news is, that what can be de-sensitized can also be re-sensitized. Hebrews chapter 3 warns readers not to harden their hearts as the children of Israel did in Moses’ day. Twice in verses 7 and 15, the key to keeping our consciences soft and pliable is found in the words, “…if you will hear His voice…” Our conscience has limitations. It tells us that we should do what is right, but it will not always tell us what it is right. We are taught this by the voice of God – the teachings of the Bible.
“Conscience,” said a native Canadian, “is a three-cornered thing in my heart that stands still when I am good, but when I am bad, it turns around and the corners hurt a lot. If I keep on doing wrong, the corners wear off and it does not hurt anymore, but I stay bad.” He realized that the temporary pain caused by the “corners” of a sensitive conscience, pales in comparison to the harm done by a seared, insensitive one.
“I always try to maintain a good conscience before God and everyone else” (Acts 24:16).
— Pastor Ross Helgeton is senior pastor at Erskine Evangelical Free Church