Conscience has sometimes been described as the voice of God in the soul of man. It is God’s ally. It checks the extremes of behaviour. A working conscience has saved many a red face.
But what happens when it has been disabled? What happens when its voice has been so effectively silenced that a person thinks they have done nothing wrong? Whether it be the paedophile who cannot see his guilt or the murderer, as occurred this week, who was so deaf to conscience that even at his appeal into the killing of his wife, he remained impassive.
When the tapes of his interview on the “Late Late Show” 3 weeks after he had brutally murdered her, were re-played he coolly appealed for help in tracing his wife’s killer. At the conclusion of his failed appeal there was no sign of remorse and no evidence of conscience whatsoever.
The main character in Walker Percy’s book, “Love in the Ruins” is called Tom. He has had an affair and attempted suicide when he meets his friend Max his psychiatrist who checks him out and finds that Tom feels no guilt for his behaviour. Even more puzzling for Max is Tom’s worry over the fact that he feels no guilt. “Why does that worry you?” “Because if I felt guilty I could get rid of it” is Tom’s reply which leaves Max floundering. “What I don’t see is that if there is no guilt after your affair, what is the problem?” “The problem is that if there is no guilt, contrition, and repentance, the sin cannot be forgiven”. “What does this mean, operationally speaking” the psychiatrist asks. “It means that you have no life in you”. “Life?” “Yes.” “I’m trying to see it.” “I know you are.”
Tom is saying that when the voice of conscience is gone and there is no guilt after sin, then nothing matters anymore. Nothing counts. Our actions don’t matter. There is nothing higher to live for. Life is emptied of meaning.
Tom had diagnosed himself correctly. He was in great danger. Like a ship without a rudder he had lost his way.
What Tom required is a conscience tutored by the word of God. A conscience purified, as the writer to the Hebrews puts it, from dead actions to serve the living God. Hebrews Chapter 9 verse 14. This comes from the work of the Holy Spirit to the person whose faith is in the power of the blood of Christ.
Tom, in the novel, saw his peril. We need, not just a good diagnosis, but to apply the remedy and turn to Christ.