Everyone has a conscience. Our conscience is a God-given awareness of what is right and what is wrong. In Romans 2:14-15, Paul said that the Gentiles already knew they were sinners because of the unwritten law that was written in their hearts. For believers today, a nudge from the Holy Spirit is what tells us when we have sinned, even when no one else saw it.
Most of us experience a guilty conscience when we’ve done something wrong. It’s that nagging voice in our heads saying we should have or shouldn’t have done something. We may feel like we need to rationalize or justify our behavior, even when we haven’t been asked to … yet. We might get defensive if anyone talks about it, but when we think back on how we acted, or what we did in the middle of the situation, we dislike ourselves. We blame ourselves before anyone else even finds out. There’s a feeling of guilt we just can’t shake.
But there are criminals who have a deadened conscience. Such a conscience just doesn’t work properly. It’s as if “spiritual scar tissue” has dulled the sense of right and wrong. 1 Timothy 4:2 described it this way. “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron.”
In other words, just as the hide of an animal scarred with a branding iron becomes numb to further pain, so the heart of an individual with a seared conscience is desensitized to morality and a sense of right or wrong. The first time I commit a particular sin, my conscience bothers me. In His grace, the Holy Spirit is convicting me of that lapse. But the more I commit a particular sin, the less it bothers me and the more I can tune out God’s input. Eventually I stop feeling any remorse at all about it.
Criminals’ consciences becomes desensitized over time through repetition of their crimes. Depending on their crimes, we may refer to people with such seared consciences as psychopaths or sociopaths, when combined with other key traits. These are the most dangerous of all antisocial personality disorders, because of the way such people can completely dissociate emotionally from their actions, regardless of how terrible those actions may be. We will find examples of such people in the Bible.
Continue to Chapter 9