Thought for the Month
Man's conscience is the lamp of the Eternal, flashing into his inmost soul" (Prov.20.27 Moffatt)
A dictionary definition of conscience may be "the moral sense which determines the difference between right and wrong". Put like that, it could be no more than the net effect of the individual's education and experience. These incite a course of action from an inward realization that it is right or inducing guilt because it is wrong. In either case it is a personal matter with no sense of feeling accountable to an external authority. Only when there is a conviction of one's own relation to the whole creation and one's own position in the Divine creative plan, does conscience become a matter between one's self and God. Even that does not completely fulfil the nature and purpose of conscience. The wise man in Proverbs brings us up against the fact that it is the means whereby God probes into the innermost recesses of our hearts and minds. It shows us up for what we really are, not to condemn but to help, to lead us away from the things that are wrong to the way of things that are right. The New English Bible does not use the word 'conscience' but translates "the Lord shines into a man's very soul, searching out his inmost being." The very first story in the Bible presents us with a man and woman smitten by conscience, realizing that they had severed the link which before had united them with God. Adam and Eve heard the voice of the Lord as He walked in the Garden in the evening, and they were afraid and hid themselves, afraid of the searching light which already was flashing into their inmost souls. Many a good person has experienced that searching light since then ‑ Abraham when he faced the consequences of his denial of Sarai, blind Samson as he turned the heavy treadmill at Gaza and David while he listened to the stern denunciation of Nathan over the matter of Bathsheba. But it has always been a purifying light that dispels darkness, heals corruption and illumines the way from death to life. When Adam was created he possessed enduring, undying life, in perfect union with God but when he sinned he lost that life and became subject to death like all other terrestrial creatures. Nevertheless a little of the Divine gift remained in him and that life was conscience. That little is in all his descendants and therein resides the lifeline that will at the end enable every man who so wills to recover full unity with God. This unity is inherent in the word itself. The basic Greek word that gives us 'conscience' in the New Testament has as its underlying source the idea of a knowledge shared with another, a participation of two minds, as though each is privy to the thoughts of the other. The Father Himself is privy to our thoughts and cognizant of our actions. The voice of conscience is that which conveys to us the knowledge of His approval or disapproval, of His guidance away from the things that are wrong and towards those that are right.
(adapted from BSM 1977)