We may never know much about the thorn Paul wrote of or even what it might have been. There has been much speculation by biblical scholars as to what it was or might have been. I do not suggest that today’s blog topic was it but I do believe it could very well be mine and yours as we work at living a Holy Life. Never had thought about this even though I often have used the word conscience many times and have even used it as an analogy suggesting that what we referred to as conscience, was for the Christian, possibly the Spirit speaking to us. A new book, which I acquired on the suggestion of a friend in the faith has led me to today’s blog subject. The book written by Calvin J Roetzel, now in its sixth printing is titled “The Letters of Paul”. Less than twenty pages in and Wham! A few words written by the author and I am encouraged to do some internet surfing and of course spend some time with Merriam Webster. It seems from times gone by and up to this very moment there has always been this thing called conscience, depicted in the secular world as that little man on our shoulder, sometimes even as a little devil, or a kinder picture being that of a cricket, “Jiminy Cricket” to be exact. In his book Mr Roetzel suggests that for Paul there were “things of the conscience” that were there in times of his following Christ. At this point I guess we should ask, just what is this “conscience thing”? We found and favor this definition.
“The conscience is defined as that part of the human psyche that induces mental anguish and feelings of guilt when we violate it and feelings of pleasure and well-being when our actions, thoughts and words are in conformity to our value systems. The Greek word translated “conscience” in all New Testament references is suneidēsis, meaning “moral awareness” or “moral consciousness.” The conscience reacts when one’s actions, thoughts, and words conform to, or are contrary to, a standard of right and wrong.” (gotquestions.org)
May I suggest some areas that interest me in relation to what things that might drive this “conscience thing”. One being Cultural Awareness.
-the inner sense of what is right or wrong in one’s conduct or motives, impelling one toward right action: to follow the dictates of conscience.
-the complex of ethical and moral principles that controls or inhibits the actions or thoughts of an individual.
It is suggested that this cultural framework, is a term used in social science to describe traditions, value systems, myths and symbols that are common in a given society. A given society may have multiple cultural frameworks. I found it interesting that in some of my reading it was noted that the Hebrew saw himself as a member of a covenant community, not as an individual, and that community being one related to God and his laws. That is to say that a Hebrew was confident in his relationship to God as long as the Hebrew nation as a whole was in good fellowship with him. That being the Hebrew way of looking at conscience, let’s look at the Christian side of this “conscience thing”. Now I could stumble around for a couple of hundred words or so but I believe that which is written in an article in gotquestions.org is a much better and clearer way.
“The New Testament concept of conscience is more individual in nature and involves three major truths. First, conscience is a God-given capacity for human beings to exercise self-evaluation. Paul refers several times to his own conscience being “good” or “clear” (Acts 23:1; 24:16; 1 Corinthians 4:4). Paul examined his own words and deeds and found them to be in accordance with his morals and value system, which were, of course, based on God’s standards. His conscience verified the integrity of his heart.
Second, the New Testament portrays the conscience as a witness to something. Paul says the Gentiles have consciences that bear witness to the presence of the law of God written on their hearts, even though they did not have the Mosaic Law (Romans 2:14-15). He also appeals to his own conscience as a witness that he speaks the truth (Romans 9:1) and that he has conducted himself in holiness and sincerity in his dealings with men (2 Corinthians 1:12). He also says that his conscience tells him his actions are apparent to both God and the witness of other men’s consciences (2 Corinthians 5:11).”
Here lies a fault of today’s society. We tend to not acknowledge those values we disagree with and they receive little or no consideration as to how we interact with others. With all the issues facing the Christian community these days, that is a rather narrow view. We tend to simplify this “conscience thing” by bypassing the obvious question, “what forces shape our values and guides our consciences?” Are we influenced by a conscience guided by Godly thoughts or are we influenced by the culture of the day? First I guess it would be best to understand this “state of consciousness”. My trusty dictionary says it is “the quality or state of being aware especially of something within oneself.” This fits perfectly one of the defining characteristics of Paul. Paul was very much aware of what was his inner-self so to speak or more plainly from a Christian viewpoint, the leading of the Holy Spirit with-in himself.
We need to ask ourselves what is it that feeds our conscience? Is it the word of God and the desire to follow the example of Christ and submit to the will of the father in our lives? Are we obedient to God’s law as given by him in the Ten Commandments.
“Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. You, through Your commandments, make me wiser than my enemies; for they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep Your precepts” (Psalm 119:97-100, NKJV)
Is it really that simple? What about the pressures of the day? Would it not be reasonable to expect that if we accepted the cultural permissiveness of this day and even worse embraced them, our attempts to live a Holy Life might be compromised? If what we feed our conscience is made of the current cultural permissiveness, could that be a problem for the Christian person? If we look at our conscience as a way to evaluate our actions, then would it not be reasonable to believe that it could be a thorn in our side? I know I have once again left you with more questions than answers. I do find it comforting that beyond the words there was a person who was just like us. We all struggle every day to live a Holy Life and it is remarkable that Paul sought to be “of good conscience” as a servant of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
How about you? Are you of good Conscience? There is that old adage “you are what you eat” implying that what we take in can effect our bodily health. It is stated in such a way that it is not condemning but does put the responsibility on the person to whom it is directed. Could we say that our conscience is an old adage that calls our attention and responsibility to carefully consider what motivates our actions and speech? If you have read this far, I thank you for staying in the pew and allowing me to ponder openly with you.
God is Great! I would pray that all of us would welcome the Holy Spirit into our lives, even when God uses it to through our conscience to give us direction to continue in “the way.”