Summary: Man hardens his conscience and works against God and man. This post says how God works through man’s dead conscience and brings him back to repentance.
Every person has a moral compass of right and wrong within, acting as a guide to one’s behavior. This is mysterious and often abused part of the inner life of every human being. Some people think of this part of the human as something to suppress, to trick, or to ignore. Well, I am talking about man’s conscience.
What is the conscience? It is the soul’s automatic warning system, hard-wired into every soul by God. Your conscience is switched on all the time, actively assessing the rightness or wrongness of what we are considering or experiencing.
Someone compared the conscience to a sundial, which is able to give fairly good time by day when the sun is shining on it, but is incapacitated at night. In the same way, the conscience is designed by God to function in the light of God. But subtract that light, and the conscience is left in the dark, completely dysfunctional.
Conscience directs us, Isaiah 30:21 Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”
Conscience convicts us. 2 Samuel 24:10 David was conscience-stricken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the LORD, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, LORD, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.”
As we open to Genesis 42, we meet the brothers of Joseph, who long ago put the sundial of their soul in the dark. Decades have passed since their jealous hatred of Joseph had boiled over and in a moment of incredible wickedness, they stripped him of his coat, put him in an empty well, and sold him as a slave to a group of passing merchants. Years turned to decades since that lie they told their father to cover their foul deed about how a wild animal attacked and killed Joseph.
As far as we know, these brothers never repented of the terrible evil they had done. They just did what we tend to do pretend like nothing has happened, suppress all thought of past actions, press through the guilt, and live a lie as if nothing has happened.
Now, what does God do when we harden our conscience until it goes silent? How does God penetrate the hardened heart?
Maybe someone has hurt you very badly and they are walking as if you have done them some wrong. Or could it be that you yourself have a skeleton in some inner closet that you have taken pains to keep locked away, a dark deed, unrepented sin that you work diligently to contain and conceal? How does God work with the human conscience has been deadened?
I want to point out three tools God uses when we mute our conscience to bring our calloused conscience to life again. And it is my prayer that God will use His word to bring us back to repentance and to lead us back to Himself with a clear conscience.
We have seen how God, in His wisdom and power, had positioned Joseph as the Prime Minister of Egypt, assigned with organization and oversight of the distribution of grain. As we come to Genesis 42, the world was experiencing a famine. But as Chapter 42 opens, we are back in Canaan with Jacob and his sons, and their provisions are thinning out. When Jacob learned that there was grain for sale in Egypt, he said to his sons, ‘I have heard that there is grain for sale in Egypt. Go and buy grain for us, that we may live and not die.’
There it is, the first and perhaps most common tool God uses to stir a deadened conscience: He makes us needy. He makes us empty. He sends barrenness into our lives at some point. Have you ever been there? That’s how He awakens our conscience. He deprives us of something. He subtracts from our lives that which we are depending on for need or comfort. He visits upon us a grinding need, the effect of which is to stir a sense of spiritual lack.
Psalm 106:13 But they soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his counsel. Israel forgot the works that God had done for their good. They forgot the Red Sea miracle and forged ahead with their desires and plans rather than waiting on the Lord. They pushed God’s will away and wanted their own way. Psalm 106:15 So he gave them what they asked for, but sent a wasting disease upon them. One of the things that the Lord will do to get our attention and awaken a dead conscience is to make life unsatisfying.