Suppressing Your Conscience


I’ve been reading a novel called ‘Warbreaker’ by Brandon Sanderson. It contains an interesting dialogue on morality I thought I would share:

“trousers are NOT modest”
“Don’t show knees,” he said.
“Doesn’t matter”
Denth Shrugged. “Just giving my opinion”
Vivenna looked away, then signed quietly. “I appreciate the advice Denth. Really. I just . . . I’m confused by a lot of things in my life lately”
“World’s a confusing place,” Denth said. “That’s what makes if fun.”
“The men we are working with,” Vivenna said. “They lead the Idrians in the city but exploit them at the same time. Lemex stole from my father but still worked for the interests of my country. And here I am, wearing an over-priced dress and sipping expensive juice while my sister is being abused by an awful dictator and while this wonderful, terrible city prepares to launch a war on my homeland”
Denth leaned back on his chair, looking out over the short railing toward the street, watching the crowd with their colours both beautiful and terrible. “The motivations of men. They never make sense. And they always make sense.”
“Right now, YOU don’t make sense”
Denth smiled. “What I’m trying to say is that you don’t understand a man until you understand what makes him do what he does. Every-man is a hero in his own story, Princess. Murders don’t believe they are to blame for what they do. Thieves, they think they deserve the money they take. Dictators, they believe they have the right – for the safety of their people and the good of the nation – to do whatever they wish.”
He stared off, shaking his head. “I think even Vasher see’s himself as a hero. The truth is, most people who do what you’d call ‘wrong’ do it for what they call ‘right’ reasons. Only mercenaries make any sense. We do what we’re paid to do. That’s it. Perhaps that’s why people look down on us. We’re the only ones who don’t pretend to have higher motives.”

I found this dialogue very revealing. And I think it’s true. We do seem to do things that we think are ‘right’ most of the time, rather than things we think are ‘wrong’, or at least we won’t allow ourselves to think of them as ‘wrong’. We only have to look at different cultures to see that this is true. One culture believes it is perfectly normal for a man to have more than one wife, AND more than one concubine. Today that would be outrageous! I even feel myself getting angry as I write about it. But, I do not believe that anyone in those cultures believed they were doing anything wrong. In fact, if my limited research is reliable, if you were rich in ancient times the more wives you had the better, as you could finically support them. It might have even be thought selfish, if you were rich, not to have many wives because you were able to support more. I think our welfare state might have, and I’m thankful that it has, blinded us to the reasons behind marriage in other cultures, I.e security and provision rather than our own preoccupy with love and affection.

Consider Solomon, he was the richest king of Isreal and he had 300 wives, and 300 concubines!!! My stomach churns at the thought of that! I mean, how could each wife and concubine get the love and affection that everyone needs from their spouse? BUT, we might be looking at this again from a modern Western point of view, perhaps. If the wives and concubines were primarily concerned with provision, then perhaps it was seen as good that Solomon took so many, because he could indeed look after them.

But, the question then remains, who is right? Who has the right view of marriage? Of course I believe in one wife only, because of the tremendous amount of emotional strife that can be caused by polygamous marriage. But perhaps in earlier days that was a burden they couldn’t afford to erase? I really don’t know, this is all pure conjecture.

Evidently, there does seem to be a element of truth from the dialogue above. Many do things that are wrong, because they think they are ‘right’. I’m sure I do too.

Nevertheless, although I believe that there is some innocent obliviousness in regard to moral culture, as discussed above, there is a point where that just doesn’t cut it. This moves into the arena of ‘self-justification’ which counteracts a sense of ‘ought not’. I personally believe this us just as prevalent. When I was younger I got into the wrong crowd at University. Some of my friends used to steal from the supermarkets, because they lived in squats and didn’t have much money. But, really they had enough money to live, just not enough to live in the way they wished: I.e to drink, smoke … Etc. I was part of the ‘rave’ scene which was full of hippies and chavs. I always found the hippy/chav mixture odd, but also so Intriguing. Being a part of the hippy scene, I often came across this excuse: ‘I wouldn’t steal from small businesses, but Tesco (insert other brand name) is a evil monopoly, and they will still get all the profit they need, regardless of whether I steal from them or not.’ I’m ashamed to say that I joined my friends a few times. At this point in my life I was not following my Christian faith, obviously. But I always knew what I was doing was wrong, I was just provided with a convenient excuse to do what I wanted. I believe that my friends at the time felt the same, but perhaps to a lesser extent than myself. We gave ourselves excuses and a justification to do what was easier rather than what was right. I believe if you continue to justify yourself, you can end up believing it, because you have suppressed your moral conscience to the point where it no longer guides you.

I personally believe that the distinction between unconscious moral lapse (perhaps cultural) and subconscious moral lapse (suppressed conscience) is significant. Romans 2:16 says: on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. I believe the intentions of our hearts will be laid bare, and personal justification, and moral suppression will be brought to light.

Am I judging other people when I write this? I don’t believe I am, for I judge myself in the same way. I fail the same moral tests!

I think many in our culture, in fact all of us, minimise our own moral accountability because we justify ourselves for some ‘good’ reason or other. I often find my friends think the Bible has a ‘negative view of human nature’. And it does, that is true. Might the Bible not be getting under the skin, however, to where men’s secrets are laid bare, and the thoughts and intentions if the heart are revealed? I personally think so, but I do understand that for many it is a hard pill to swallow.

  1. #1 by Pete on February 20, 2012 - 1:09 pm

    “I personally believe that the distinction between unconscious moral lapse (perhaps cultural) and subconscious moral lapse (suppressed conscience) is significant.”

    This is a good thought. Have you ever looked at the sacrifices in Leviticus that deal with the difference between deliberate and unintentional transgressions of God’s law? Might have some relevance to this argument…

    • #2 by emmausattwilight on February 20, 2012 - 1:37 pm


      Yes, I have thought about it, but I haven’t actually looked it up. I’m also aware that in the NT it says that Jesus covered the sins that the law was powerless to – I.e. Deliberate sins. My friend was talking to me about it at church yesterday – he didn’t give me a verse tho. Would you know the reference at all?

      Also, the idea that the law couldn’t take away deliberate sins – and comparing with David is very interesting because he sinned deliberately and knowing – and was forgiven ‘not by sacrifices, but by a god through a contrite heart’ (paraphrase Psalm 51.) Amazing.

  2. #3 by Daniel on March 12, 2012 - 11:05 pm

    Very relevant post. Consider how many ‘secular religions’ there are these days. If immoral people want to do something wrong they develop a faux moral framework to justify their behaviour and ease their conscience.

    • #4 by emmausattwilight on March 13, 2012 - 9:48 am

      Yes, I think we all do that. Often I get an uneasy feeling if I know something I’m doing isn’t quite right. I used to just ignore it and it would slowly fade. Now I tend to grapple with it for a while, consult others (Christians), and come to a conclusion that eases my conscience. Much better I think!

  3. #5 by Jacqui Jarvis on March 30, 2012 - 11:59 am

    This is hugely helpful to get perspective and context. We must’t lose sight of these in our search for truth and expression of grace to others. Good stuff!

  4. #6 by Edward Rhodes on May 8, 2012 - 11:56 am

    Hello. I have been looking for the verse about Jesus dying for the sins that the law was powerless to save us from. I believe that it is Acts 13:38-39 (at least that’s the verse which I wrote on the back of my hand in preparation for leaving this reply).

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