The sin troubled conscience
For most of us who grew up in the 60’s we probably all have heard the statement let your conscience lead you, a statement made famous by Walt Disney, by one of his animated characters Jimminy Cricket. A healthy conscience certainly is useful to lead the way, but not because a cartoon figure tells us, but because God has installed a working conscience in all of us at creation. While the fall of Adam affected every human faculty, including the conscience, it still remains functional and continues to be the means to guide our behaviour. Insofar as a conscience does not define standards, the Bible does. Nevertheless the conscience aligns itself to personal values the individual may follow. God alone can set morality. Yet man’s rebellion against the moral norms has led to a cultural shift from emotional inhibitions to a society that feeds on emotions and feelings, which have left behind a divinely prescribed value system to a frame of reference largely based on relativity “where feeling good about it” has become the criteria for determining personal standards and values. The shift has been dramatic and has been the cause for social alienation, numerous divorces, and perverted lifestyles. The concepts of responsibility and accountability have suffered greatly due to man’s insistence to dismantle the foundation of God’s moral laws and replace it with his own. It is no gross exaggeration to say that those who have made choices that run contrary to the laws of God have reaped disastrous consequences. David is a prime example of this. He let his lust trump his otherwise imperial behaviour and, while his life lay in ruins, his defiled conscience condemned him for his evil. Yet David’s moral compass was pointed in the right direction since he underwent a great deal of guilt and emotional pangs. So it did exactly what it was designed to do! Under the present circumstances, when someone becomes a Christian it commonly involves a retraining of a poorly conditioned conscience since knowing who Jesus is has radical implications on our heathen value system. However, this was not the case with David. He knew both God and His law. He had broken His law and had felt the effects of his sin. Notice the effects of his conscience in Psalms 51: 8, 10, 11, 12. The trouble today with many is that they ignore their conscience which may lead to a hardening. This explains how sociopaths and psychopaths who exhibit anti-social behaviour can commit such heinous crimes and feel no remorse whatsoever toward God and society. These individuals have ignored the prodding of their consciences for so long that it no longer is being heard or felt by them. Yet just because guilt is not acknowledged does not mean that guilt does not exist. The measure of guilt is never measured by the corresponding feeling that normally should accompany it. In the book of Jeremiah the prophet had seen the infidelity of God’s people and concluded that they refuse to be ashamed. (Jer. 3:3) It seems guilt no longer was pressing on their collective conscience as a nation. Continue to ignore your conscience long enough and those alarms bells may cease altogether, and may be no more useful to you than if you were to remove the connectors to your censors on your vehicle. It is a dangerous position to be in when you no longer feel remorse over personal sin. While personal guilt can be defined as that which a person incurs when a law is violated, conscience is the instrument that God has installed in man to sound the alert whenever a violation occurs. Our conscience acts like a transmitter of right and wrong to the rest of our being. Guilt was real enough for David as it was sufficient to bring emotional trauma into his life. Though David had remained silent to his evil for a year, under Nathan’s counsel, he sought to deal with his sin and accompanying guilt. Thus David did the right thing for he attributed his offences as directly affecting his relationship to God and repented.
Repentance is our only proper response
David speaks in unmistakeable terms about his personal sorrow and desire for restoration. He calls on God to cleanse me vv 7, to hide your face from my sins and blot out my transgressions vv.9, to create in me a pure heart and to renew a steadfast spirit within me vv.10, to not cast me from your presence vv.11, and restore to me the joy of your salvation vv12. This was no tentative, meager, half-hearted attempt at confession. Instead his inner self was left devastated. David stood fully convicted. So aghast was his soul, that he feared that God Himself would depart from him vv.11. This was a proper response in every way. Who would admit to such devastation in our day? Today’s confession of sin sometimes sounds more like what happens in school when we make mistakes on our school reports and become upset with ourselves for having made wrong choices. To the contrary, real repentance proceeds from a broken and contrite heart and takes into account that all sin is against a Holy God, and that His law has been violated and that we are at odds with Him until such time that we have admitted and repented of our sins and have been restored into His good grace once more. Anything less than that is not acceptable before God.
Yet today we live in a culture that teaches us that guilt feelings are inherently destructive because they undermine a persons self-esteem. Increasingly society is not wanting to tell people that their behaviour is wrong because they might be made to feel guilty. There is nothing more paralyzing to the human psyche than unresolved guilt; yet our culture placates people into thinking that the problem lies outside of themselves and that they are not at fault. In man’s attempt to deal with guilt, man seeks to to liberate himself of God and His Ways, for man chooses not to recognize personal sin and accountability. It should not surprise us that we aggravate the situation further when we seek our own autonomy. It should be noted that autonomy from God is really the essence of sin. To seek freedom from God means we are left to choose our own means to settle our guilty consciences. Nowadays sinful issues are often referred to as addictions and diseases and behavioral problems are seen as an over-sensitive ego, poor socialization, failure to live up to one’s potential, poor surroundings but hardly ever identified as sin. And herein is the problem: leave God out of the treatment and restoration process and what will result from this are all kinds of faulty impressions and ideas to fix man’s problems. The cure for David’s sin does not lie outside of himself, but well within reach, as he does not require a sex therapist, but rather needs to repent and return to God. David understands his fallen nature and knows that the remedy is found in God alone. David can bear the guilt no more and calls on God to remove his sin.
Mercy the cure for a troubled conscience
Divine mercy is always the first respondent on the scene of a troubled conscience when true repentance has been demonstrated. Mercy relieves the grieving soul from distress, and prevents further aggravation and pain. God’s mercy attends to David’s self-inflicted wounds. Actually, mercy had already begun its work at restoring David’s troubled soul well before his initial cry for help. Nathan the prophet was sent for the express purpose to confront David over his predicament. In Ro.2:4 it says Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? There is a wealth of mercy at our disposal in Christ. Charles Spurgeon makes this observation, “Time was when a man would have to work for years to earn enough money to buy a Bible. There were times when he could not have earned one even with the toil. Now the Word of God lies upon your table and you have a copy of it in almost every room of your house. Is not this a boon from God? This is the land of the open Bible, and the land of the preached Word of God. In this proves the richness of God’s goodness. Do you despise the wealth of mercy?…Is this a small thing?” The kindness and mercy of God is not a small thing as illustrated in David’s restoration to grace. And to think that David had for seventeen years enjoyed an unbroken time of prosperity and peace. His main threat to his kingdom was not the enemy outside of his kingdom, but within himself. He had built concubines in direct violation to the law of Moses and had fed his own sensual indulgence. One afternoon he rose from his afternoon sleep to view Bathsheba from his perch from within his palace, took her for himself, another man’s wife, then to cover up his sin, had her husband killed by ordering his commander to put him on the front lines of battle. He succeeded but in a moment after years of religious ardor, his life fell into disarray. Now less we think that God’s forgiveness and restoring grace makes everything well again, understand that mercy does not skip pass sin’s consequences as though evil deeds have no residual effects. There are moral lessons to learn here. In the aftermath of David’s sin, Bathsheba’s child from this illicit affair became sick and died. Two years later David’s son Amnon violated his sister wherein he was killed for it by another brother, Absalom. In part Psalm 41 and 55 speaks of David’s pain during this episode and the accompanying distress brought on from Absalom who sought to unseat his father as king. These things were the natural outgrowth of David’s sin. Mercy removes the blot but does not necessarily make everything new again. Though mercy is much needed, all that we tarnish in life is not instantly changed to gold.
David speaks in positive terms above his restoration, in Ps.51:12 joy and a willing spirit, in vv.14 that my tongue will sing of God’s righteousness, and in vv.15 to declare His praise. In verse one there are three different terms for mercy. The first one typifies the kind mercy that a creature has for its young when it moans over it. The second, is unfailing love and liberally applied, and the third usage expresses a deep and tender compassion. Jay Steman comments, “God is not a penny pincher. He does not dole out bits of mercy, drop by drop. No. He pours it out. His are abundant mercies. When God forgives, He forgives beyond our utmost imaginings.”
Psalm 51 is a good reminder what can be done for a wounded conscience. Hopefully, we will also see the need to do as David had done and look to God for relief and restoration, especially in our worst moments.