Conscience is a feeling of obligation to do what one holds to be right and to avoid what is wrong. How do we know what is right and what is wrong? Is it something we are born with, something we learn, or both?
When children first start walking, they will get into everything. I have noticed how they will often start to touch something, then pause to look at a parent or caregiver to see if they should be touching it.
I have wondered where that seemingly in-born conscience-questioning comes from. Are we created with a God-given conscience, or at least an in-born questioning of right or wrong?
In Hebrew Scripture we read about individuals that knew right from wrong even before the Law was given.
Two examples are Noah and Abraham. Both have been described as persons that honored (feared) God and did what was right, before any written law. They have been called righteous because they did what was right without being told to do so.
It doesn’t work that way with children. If they are not taught right from wrong, they lose the seemingly in-born questioning of their actions, and become selfish, self-centered, and sometimes conscience-less. Once they reach that point, they no longer fear doing wrong, nor do they recognize what they may be doing is wrong.
When these children become adults, they may mistreat others, lie, cheat, steal, and harm society in numerous ways. When they find themselves in trouble with the authorities, they are often confused about why everyone is being “so mean” to them.
Building a nature of conscience-ness requires intentional effort. The first step is wanting to know right from wrong, followed by the desire to do what is right and avoid what is wrong. Our best source of this knowledge is the Holy Bible.
The essence of the Ten Commandments is that they teach us how to recognize right from wrong.
Love the One God, and don’t use the name of God recklessly. Give one day of the week back to God (known as Sabbath, or a day of rest and worship). Respect (honor) your parents. Don’t commit murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t lie. Don’t wish to have someone else’s wife (or partner). Don’t love anything that belongs to others.
Sounds simple right? Unfortunately, an increasingly large number of people break these rules daily.
When you have been working in the yard all day and get a blister on your hand, it is very painful. But, after that blister heals, the pain is gone, and it gets harder to get another blister in that same place.
Breaking God’s rules is a lot like that. Our conscience may bother us at first, but if we continue to break those laws, it doesn’t bother us as much after a while.
It is important to know the rules, and it is necessary to practice keeping those laws as a means of training a healthy conscience. The rewards are heavenly.
Blessings and Peace to you,
Rev. Dr. David Bridges is the pastor at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Grove. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.