Is your conscience in good repair?

So the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth’s city did as Jezebel directed in the letters she had written to them. 1 Kings 21:11

“A sleeping pill will never take the place of a clear conscience”. I like that, don’t you? Perhaps even better: “There is no pillow so soft as a clear conscience”.

Conscience… Is there any part of us more important?

Before answering that question, perhaps we ought to be clear what the conscience actually is. One dictionary defines it as “a person’s moral sense of right and wrong… acting as a guide to one’s behaviour”.

I reckon that’s pretty good. My conscience is somewhere there within me, flashing a warning light when I am tempted to do something shameful or wrong. I simply can’t imagine being without it.

Not, of course, that conscience can’t be disobeyed or ignored. Of course it can. We can find all sorts of reasons for smothering that inner voice. And, of course, our consciences can be corrupted – we may truly believe that a wrong we are about to commit is not in fact wrong at all. But that will usually be because we have absorbed thoughts and ideas which have, little by little, poisoned our sense of right and wrong. The person who commits mass murder in the name of God is an obvious example.

We have a responsibility to keep our consciences in good working order, if I can put it that way. Saying, later, “I’m sorry, but my conscience misled me” is no excuse – any more than the driver whose brakes fail, causing a fatal accident, can excuse himself by saying that the car hadn’t been serviced for five years. Well, why hadn’t it?

I wonder: how were the consciences of the “elders and nobles” in 1 Kings 21:11 when they agreed to kowtow to Queen Jezebel?

They have just received a letter from her, in which she tells them to convene a kangaroo court and use it to get a man called Naboth killed. They are to persuade some men (would it be unchristian to call them human vermin?) to testify that he had “cursed both God and the King.”

Naboth, in fact, had done nothing wrong. Jezebel’s husband, King Ahab, fancied a vineyard which belonged to his family and – fair enough – made a good offer to buy it from him. But Naboth, entirely within his rights, said no.

And that should have been the end of the matter. But Jezebel finds her husband curled up in a foetal position on his bed and sulking like a monstrous child, and so takes matters into her own hands. The only problem is that she can’t get rid of Naboth without help: and this is where the nobles and elders of Naboth’s city come in…

I wonder what the meeting was like when they agreed to “do as Jezebel directed”? Did they meekly fall in line without a murmur? Was there a long, heated debate? Did just one person, perhaps, stand up and say “No! This is wrong! And I will have no part in it!” – only to be outvoted by the others?

We aren’t told. It’s easy to condemn them – but obviously they were afraid, and no doubt with good reason: Jezebel was not a woman to mess with. Perhaps there were a few mutterings about “only obeying orders”, or “what choice do we have?”, or “well, after all, the queen’s the queen…” You can’t help feeling a bit sorry for them. But that doesn’t alter the fact: a terrible thing was done as a result.

And what about after the deed? How did they answer their wives when they got home and were asked “What have you been doing today, dear?” “Oh, we just stoned that chap Naboth to death – you know, the one who cursed God and the King… What’s for supper?”

I wonder: how soft were their pillows that night?

Perhaps we have never been in a situation remotely like those elders and nobles. In which case, lucky us! – there are plenty of our fellow Christians around the world who are under daily pressure – at risk of imprisonment, torture and even death – to silence their consciences at the behest of power gone corrupt.

But I imagine most of us still know the niggling discomfort of a conscience not letting us rest. What then should we do? The good news is that our hearts can be “sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience” (Hebrews 10:22). The blood of Jesus can do it!

But… there is a cost; and there is a challenge. The cost? That we come clean and humbly confess our wrongdoing. And the challenge? That we say “Never, never again!” – and really mean it. May God help us!

Lord God, the blood of Jesus was shed to wash away my sin and to give me the wonderful joy of a pure conscience. Please help me, by your Holy Spirit, to keep it pure day by day. Amen.

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