The word conscience is Latin for co-knowledge, but the question is: knowledge along with whom? God? But God is consistent and consciences vary, So, is it simply a knowing alongside oneself? What does the Bible have to say about it?
- Conscience is a human reality
According to Paul, conscience is a normal human faculty. ‘[E]ven though [the entire non-Jewish majority] do not have the law [of Moses] … [t]hey show that the work of the law is written on their hearts.’ And how is this manifested? ‘[T]heir conscience … bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them’ (Romans 2:14-15).
- Conscience has a moral function
Since ‘[n]ot all possess this knowledge’ that ‘an idol has no real existence’, Paul tells his converts from paganism: ‘… some …eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled’ ((1 Corinthians 8:4,7). So he advises them to ‘eat whatever is sold in the market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof’, so just eat it as God’s gift of food.
- Conscience can become flawed
Paul tells his young colleague Timothy not to be surprised when later ‘some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teaching of demons’ which will come ‘through the insincerity of [deceitful teachers who are] liars whose consciences are seared’ yet who impose seemingly moral restrictions such as celibacy and dietary discipline. The antidotes to this are ‘the word of God, and prayer’ (1 Timothy 4:1-4).
Crayfish have an amazing system built into their heads. Their statolith is a spherical organ lined on the inside with fine sensory hairs. The crayfish swallows a small grain of rock, which passes into the statolith. As gravity pulls down on the rock a nerve senses which side of the statolith the rock is touching and the crayfish knows which way is up.
Scientists put some crayfish into a water tank that was lined with iron filings. The crayfish ate some of these that lodged in their statolith. When a magnet was attached to the side of the tank, the crayfish turned on their sides. And when the magnet was put on top of the pool they all turned over and swam on their backs all day.
The scientists even put in some normal crayfish with rocks in their heads that swam right side up. But the crayfish whose statolith contained iron filings trusted their guidance system more then their eyes and so stayed wrong side up.
- Conscience can be restored, instructed and trained
‘[L]et us draw near [to God] … with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience’ – ‘by the blood of Jesus’ (Hebrews 10:22).
And ‘[b]aptism … now saves you … as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ’ (1 Peter 3:21).