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Conscience in biblical narratives

No secular book witnesses about the existence of conscience in man as clearly as does the Bible. Let us examine a few more-prominent examples of this. Focusing first on some negative examples, we see that unkind behavior evokes in man shame, fear, suffering, feelings of guilt and even acts of desperation. For example: Adam and Eve, having tasted the forbidden fruit, felt ashamed and attempted to hide from God (Gen. 3:7-10). Cain, killing his younger brother Abel out of envy, subsequently began to fear for his own life (Gen. 4:14). King Saul, persecuting innocent David, later wept in shame when he found out that instead of retaliation for evil, David spared his life. (1 Samuel ch. 26). Proud scribes and Pharisees bringing forward an adulteress to Christ, dispersed in shame when they saw their own sins written by Christ on the sand (John ch. 8). Merchants and money lenders scattered in shame out of the temple when Christ drove them out, saying that the temple of God was not to be turned into a market (John Ch.2).

Sometimes the pangs of conscience become so intolerable that man prefers to end his own life. We see the most vivid example of accusations of conscience in Judas Iscariot, the traitor, who hanged himself after betraying Christ to the high priests (Matt. 27:5). In general, all sinners, believers as well as unbelievers, feel responsibility for their behavior. Thus, in the prophetic words of Christ, sinners at the end of the world, seeing the approaching judgment of God, will plead for the earth to swallow them, and the mountains to cover them (Luke 23:30; Rev. 6:16).

It happens sometimes that a man in turmoil, caught in the swirl of strong passion or overwhelmed by fear, appears not to hear the voice of his conscience. But later, he feels the pangs of conscience doubly strong. When the brothers of Joseph came upon trouble, they remembered their sin of selling their younger brother into slavery and understood that they were now justly punished for their cruelty (Gen. 42:21). King David, delighting in the beauty of Bathsheba, understood his sin of adultery only after it was revealed to him by the prophet Nathan (2 Samuel 12:13). The impulsive Apostle Peter, under the pressure of fear, denounced Christ, but when he heard the cock crow, he remembered the prophesy of Christ and wept bitterly. The sensible thief, hanging on the cross next to Christ, understood only before his death that the suffering he experienced was a just reward for his crimes. (Luke 23:40). Zaccheas the publican, touched by the love of Christ, remembered the offenses he had perpetrated towards people in his greed and decided to rectify the wrong he had committed (Luke 19:8).

On the other hand, when man is aware of his innocence, his clear conscience strengthens his hope in God. For example, the righteous Job, while suffering, knew that the reason for this was not because of any sins he had committed, but that it was in God's plan, and he hoped for God's mercy (Job 27:6). Similarly, the righteous king Hezekiah, dying from an incurable disease, became well when he pleaded to God for healing in reward of his good deeds (2 Kings 20:3). The Apostle Paul, whose life was dedicated to God and the salvation of men, not only did not fear death but, on the contrary, wished to be relieved from his earthly body to be with Christ (Phil. 1:23).

For a sinner there is no greater relief and happiness than to receive forgiveness and peace of conscience. The Gospel is rich with examples of repentance. One sinful woman in the house of Matthew, upon receiving pardon for her transgressions, in gratitude washed the feet of Christ with her tears and wiped them with her hair (Luke 7:38). On the other hand, a disregard of conscience along with recurring sins, darkens the soul to such a degree that man can undergo, as Saint Paul forewarns, "shipwreck of his faith" so that he can irrevocably sink into evil (1 Tim. 1:19).

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