One of my favorite songs as a late teen had a lyric that said: “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” I wondered in preparation of this post, how exactly did he know it was bad? What authority helped him arrive at the nature of the act? This ultimately got me thinking about the power of conscience.
What’s interesting is I didn’t hear about the importance of conscience until I started becoming Catholic. My first introduction with the term had to be some years ago on the Bible Answer Man broadcast. Hank Hanegraaff mentioned the famous quote by Martin Luther, ” I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.”
Funny how most Catholics will agree with that one statement from Martin Luther, which testifies to the importance of the power of conscience I believe.
Then, the obsession with “conscience” kicked up a notch when things started to get political. That’s when this word became a household term for many I think. A few short years ago, many were confronted with the problem of being complicit with grave sins while fearing a violation of conscience. Most famously, I can think of the Christian baker in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission where legal arguments were made that this was a matter of religious liberty, but at its core a matter of conscience.
After hearing the word “conscience” tossed around a lot surrounding this case and similar ones, I vaguely understood the basic premise of the argument. I thought it was great how someone could believe something as truthful internally and be guided by it on a daily basis.
As time went on, I started RCIA and morality became an important segway into the topic of conscience.
I discovered that conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person is obliged to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right (CCC, 1778, 1796).
That’s not an excuse for us to do anything we believe is good, but what’s truly just that corresponds to the wisdom by God (CCC, 1783).
Man didn’t discover this transcendent law but is compelled to pursue after what’s already endowed within (CCC, 1776).
As a result, the moral conscience compels the individual to perform good and stray away from as much evil as possible (CCC, 1777).
Consequently, we must ensure we have a well-informed conscience by the Word of God, the Magisterium of the Church, and the Holy Spirit to name a few (CCC, 1785).
Normally when discussing conscience, the go-to verses in the Scriptures are Peter and the apostles obeying God rather than man-made laws in the early church against the Jews (Acts 5:29) or in the Book of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego wanted to die by fiery furnace than bow to an idol at the order of King Nebuchadnezzar. However, I’d like to showcase another example from the Book of Exodus, chapter 2. Here, we discover a powerful example of everyday people comforting their conscience to the high transcendent law.
The Egyptian midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, were told to murder the Hebrew boys but keep the girls alive. However, because the midwives knew God, they didn’t comply with Pharoah’s order and let the boys live. Strange how midwives, who are in charge of protecting life, violated a request that could’ve cost them their jobs or their lives. Their oath was to defend life, but their leader ordered them to murder it. Instead, the women chose to obey the commandment of loving neighbor by not committing murder. This act shows the importance of conscience. If the women didn’t have a well-informed conscience guided by God’s wisdom, then a grave sin would’ve been committed. Therefore conscience aids our lives by helping us make judgments that are truly right and just. We need that.
Yes, we must echo the same words as the apostles when we’re ordered to go contrary to truth. Obeying God is the greater law we must follow even when society or leaders in power suggest otherwise. We must take upon ourselves the lifelong mission of forming our conscience with the instructional guidance of the divine law of God as our source of true liberation from evil.
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