Embracing Human Conscience

Conscience is important, everyone agrees, but we’re not sure about how important. Those sticky internal motivations are confusing and put us in an epistemological tailspin. If this was an episode of Star Trek, would both be part of the Federation but grumbling about their internal motivations from different sides of the room.

Modernists downplay the internal. Seeking to elevate rationality and reason, they would totally fall in line with the Vulcans. The internal doesn’t matter; what matters is the mind; what matters is how we figure things out: the conscience is subjective and therefore untrustworthy. The objective is only that which we can reason and verify.

Postmodernists, not minding rationality but saying that it is all a matter of perspective, seem to be more like the Klingons (Romulans would’ve been better but they’re not Federation). Klingons have a complex system which makes sense to them but not much to anyone else; and they don’t mind that. Postmoderns, like Klingons, see the internal as personally important but don’t see how your internal is important to them. Rationality is great as long as you acknowledge that all you’re reasoning with is from a specific point of view resulting in no objective truth. The internal is subjective and we can only trust that; we can’t trust anything outside of that.

They both are speaking their own language but they’re both downplaying the importance of the internal. The Vulcans suppress the internal; the Klingons say only their internal is important. Both treat the internal as a non-objective reality.

Vulcan and Klingon Christians don’t help things. Vulcan Christians take the internal and categorize it all under Jeremiah 17:9: “The Heart is desperately wicked!” and thus everything inside is totally subjective and untrustworthy. Klingon Christians point out that no one can know the mind of God1 ; that each one stands before their master2 ; therefore judge not so you are not judged3 .

But Scripture, taking the entirety of a human person as important, speaks otherwise. For example, the context of Jer 17:9 is that we can’t figure out the heart of a deceitful person followed by verse 10 that God can figure it out. The context of Rom 11:31 is that although God’s knowledge is deep because Paul had just spilled ink in Romans 9-11 describing its depths. Romans 14:4 is in the context of the importance of the conscience as an objective reality which is a basis of future judgment and Matthew 7:7 is in the context of the internal judger being used as a prosecution witness.

Scripture consistently bears this theme. The eyes of the first people are opened and they know good and evil (inside) because they committed it. God tells Cain to control his rising anger so that sin doesn’t overpower Him and result in wickedness4. This coincides with Christ’s words that it is not merely what comes in that defiles a man, but what comes out5.

Vulcan Christians might pipe up and say “And that’s why the internal is untrustworthy!” but Scripture would deny that claim. It is because the person knowingly acts on the internal that they find their harshest condemnation. Paul would point out that people internally know God (Rom 1:19) but they refuse to honor Him as God or give thanks (Rom 1:21) as they profess to be wise and cast their minds to its darkest recesses (Rom 1:22-23).

Likewise, the people who act according to their conscience on the side of God find that they’re doing the same thing (Rom 2:1) because they’re being stubborn in their refusal to repent (Rom 2:5). Paul would go so far to say that Gentiles, who keep the law without ever having had the written law, are proving that they have God’s law written on their hearts (Rom 2:15) and their conscience bearing witness while their thoughts accuse or defend them on the day of God’s judgment (Rom 2:16).

The internal accuses of sin6 and thus one shouldn’t act without the conscience approving7 and yet one should realize that God can judge people in the present by attacking the internal. So He gives people over to the lusts of their hearts to impurity (Rom 1:24) or their consciences wind up seared (1 Tim 5:1-3—not in the sense of branded, but more in the sense of calloused like burnt scar tissue) it is God effectively saying “Have it your way.” From then on, the silence of God should be both deafening and frightening (Heb 12:8).

Yes, the internal isn’t a perfect guide on its own—for that matter, neither is reason or Law. Paul would state that before the revelation of the risen Christ, he had a clear conscience in respect to his own religiosity (Acts 26:9) and yet, after being illuminated by God his conscience remained clear in his new decision(Acts 23:1) but pricked in regard to his previous decisions (1 Tim 1:13) who acted in ignorance and unbelief. The writer to the Hebrews would state that the blood of Christ (Heb 10:2-10) must purify the conscience (Heb 9:14) which is evil (Heb 10:22).

This conscience, once properly oriented with the objective reality of the crucified Christ, goes from a unit that can be suppressed, broken or scarred, to a unit that works in conjunction with the Spirit of God (Rom 9:1) and effectively part of revealed faith8 which resonates in the consciences of other people9. This internal is so important that it should string together a Christian’s actions in everything they do so that there is a grave concern for not offending the consciences10 and minds of others11.

So in the end, it is not a matter of being a proper Vulcan (figuring out which internal processes are allowable as part of the reasoning process12) or being a proper Klingon (taking the internal and saying that there’s a part of it that is possibly objective but we don’t quite know which it is). We’re to be humans who come to terms with being fully human; and that means embracing that God has given us both our minds and our inward approval mechanisms. Conscience is exceedingly important; in the end, it stands against us in court.

1 Rom 11:31
2 Rom 14:4
3 Mat 7:7
4 Gen 4
5 Matt 15:11; Mk 7:20
6 Gen 42:21; 2Sa 24:10; Mt 27:3; Ac 2:37
7 Job 27:6; Ac 24:16; Ro 9:1; 14:22
8 1Ti 1:19; 3:9
9 2Co 4:2; 5:11
10 Ro 14:21; 1Co 10:28-32
11 1 Pet 3:15
12 Modernists sometimes want an objective proof of the conscience. Maybe showing which principles of Conscience prove its God Given nature—sort of like proving the speed of light. I would suggest that although the internal is an objective reality, that it is a transcendent reality that functions but we can’t go around properly proving until a person is presented as conscience-less. It would be like trying to prove the existence of other minds.

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3 replies on “Embracing Human Conscience”

You see, and here I was thinking “I hope Jeremy doesn’t read this because he might be the only one who calls me on the Federation bit.”

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