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The Life Changing Power of God's Word (Part 5)

Aligned with True Moral North, God's Word can CORRECT your conscience so it functions as an accurate moral compass for your life (Part 2).

 

Photo by bpcraddock on Pixabay

 

They call it spatial disorientation, “the inability of a person to determine his true body position, motion, and altitude relative to the earth or his surroundings.”[1] A phenomenon common to pilots and scuba divers, spatial disorientation happens when normal sensory clues from the eyes, ears, muscles, and skin cause a person to misinterpret his location, speed, and direction in relationship to his environment. The results can be disastrous.


On July 16th, 1999, John F Kennedy Junior and his wife and sister-in-Law took off from the NYC area airport enroute to Martha’s Vineyard for a wedding. He left a little later than expected, taking off just as the sun was setting. Although he had logged more than 50 hours of nighttime flying, flying at night over the ocean required being able to fly with instruments only – something JFK Jr. was not yet certified to do.


And just before reaching Martha’s Vineyard, the National Transportation Safety Board reported that JFK succumbed to spatial disorientation. Without a horizon and with no lights over the waters of the Atlantic, he became disoriented. Experts write that it is a terrifying thing to read instruments that are telling you something different than your body is feeling. Your body feels like it is going one direction and your mind yells at you to yank the yoke of the plane to compensate – BUT THE KEY IS TO LOOK AT YOUR GAUGES – and they might be telling you that your plane is straight and level even if it feels like it is careening one direction or another. Or they might be telling you that your plane is nose-diving, even though it feels like it’s straight and level.


The NTSB declared that at some point JFK Junior took his eyes off the gauges. He began flying in a direction that felt true to him – but unknowingly, he was nosediving – and he flew straight into the ocean. Chances are they never knew that they were in trouble. It felt right – right up to the point of impact.[2]


Because of conflicting sensory signals and no clear objective reference for evaluating them, it is not uncommon for someone experiencing spatial disorientation to feel he is right side up when in fact he is upside down, or to feel he is ascending when he is actually descending, or to feel he is spinning when in reality he is flying straight. What he sees and feels contradict factual reality. Unless he can assess his sensory input by the objective and true standards of his instruments, any corrective decision he makes based on what “feels right” will only worsen the situation.

“The only measures that can prevent spatial disorientation are thorough training and instrumentation.”[3]

To overcome spatial disorientation, a person needs to trust his instruments more than his senses, then give time for his senses to reorient to reality. This assumes of course that all his instruments are properly calibrated and functioning correctly according to approved standards (see my post, “You Are What You Think – Part 2). Unreliable instruments can be as deadly as spatial disorientation, but accurately calibrated instruments provide an objective “true north” by which sensory information can be evaluated and one’s true orientation to reality can be determined.

Image of flight instruments from Wikimedia Commons


Though not considered spatial disorientation in the technical sense, it is not uncommon for someone hiking in the wilderness to become disoriented, especially when hiking off trail. With no familiar landmarks in sight, without an understanding of the lay of the land, and with no compass or topographic map, people get lost every year. Though not as immediately deadly as flying into the ocean or running out of oxygen when scuba diving, getting lost in the back country can cause panic, great emotional stress, and mental trauma. If one is not found or trained in survival, getting lost can even be fatal.


Just like a pilot needs to rely on his instruments rather than his senses, one hiking in the wilderness must also rely on his compass and topographic map. This is not to say that senses are never trustworthy, only to say that if one’s senses contradict the objective “truth” of an accurate compass and map, then he should at the very least question his subjective feelings and consider if he is disoriented in relationship to true north and key landmarks identified on the topographical map. It could be that he has misinterpreted the compass or map, or that his senses have not yet recognized his geographic location in relationship to the compass and map. Either way, it is wise to stop and reflect on his situation until his senses align with the objective truth of these accurate tools.


In my previous post, I covered the basic concepts and skills of orienteering using a compass and topographic map. I then delineated a handful of metaphorical comparisons between orienteering and corresponding referents in the Christian life. To understand this post requires that you grasp the foundations I laid in that post; so, if you have not yet done so, I strongly suggest that you read that post before completing this one.


Based on five metaphorical analogies I have drawn from orienteering; I see four critical points of comparison between a compass and the conscience as a moral compass. In my previous post, I covered the first two of these comparisons:

  1. Like a compass, your conscience has a “magnetic” capacity to point to a general standard of right and wrong and to inform you where you stand in relation to that standard.

  2. Like a compass, your conscience is not an infallible guide because of your “geographic” location.

In this post, I will cover two additional important comparisons between a compass and your conscience:


3. Like a compass, your conscience can be damaged and may not work correctly.


Not only does geographic location shift the accuracy of a compass in relationship to true north, but a compass itself can also sustain damage. For example, air bubbles getting into the compass housing, or magnetic interference around power lines or large metal objects such as a bridge, can compromise the accuracy of a compass. In fact, a compass can become demagnetized or even reverse polarity if stored near a magnetic source such as an audio speaker or a cell phone, thus leaving the compass utterly useless.


Image is from https://www.complicitclergy.com/2018/12/21/the-churchs-broken-moral-compass/

In the same way one’s moral compass is not only influenced by societal drift from magnetic moral north, but one’s conscience can also be damaged and not function accurately, or not at all. The Bible describes various conditions of conscience, ranging from a healthy functioning conscience to various states of damage and dysfunction of conscience.


A healthy functioning conscience is described in the Bible as

  • A good conscience (Acts 23:1; 1 Timothy 1:5, 19; Hebrews 13:18; 1 Peter 3:16, 21)

  • A blameless conscience (Acts 24:16)

  • A clear conscience (1 Timothy 3:9; 2 Timothy 1:3)

  • A perfect/cleansed conscience (Hebrews 9:9, 14, 10:22)

An unhealthy dysfunctional conscience is described in the Bible as

  • A weak conscience (1 Corinthians 8:7-12; described as “weak in faith” in Romans 14:1-23).

  • A wounded conscience (1 Corinthians 8:12)

  • A seared conscience (1 Timothy 4:2)

  • A defiled conscience (Titus 1:15)

  • An evil conscience (Hebrews 12:22)

The above unhealthy descriptions of the conscience reveal a moral compass that is damaged and not functioning as it should. Someone with a damaged conscience should definitely NOT heed the advice sung by Jiminy Cricket to Pinocchio, “Always let your conscience be your guide!” in the Disney animated film Pinocchio.[4] A faulty conscience can lead you astray, either into sin or into legalism.


Years ago, I really struggled with a weak and overly sensitive conscience. I felt guilty for all manner of things that were not sinful, such as not stopping to pick up road debris that I had swerved to miss or not taking the time to pick up garbage encountered while on a walk. Certainly, being environmentally responsible is important, but I now also realize that it isn’t my sole duty to deal with everyone else’s garbage, and I don’t need to feel guilty should I choose other priorities over picking up garbage. Further, in my desire to please God, I had obligated myself to various self-imposed duties such as keeping a rigid devotional schedule, memorizing five verses every week, fasting multiple times a week, and sharing my faith with a set number of people each month. If I failed to keep these commitments, my conscience accused me, and I struggled with intense feelings of self-condemnation and despair. Though my intentions were good, I committed myself to unreasonable standards that I was unable to sustain. I still practice all these spiritual disciplines in a more reasonable and enriching way, but my motivation for doing so has radically changed.


The story of my journey to freedom will have to be postponed for another time, but I will share one piece of advice that I found extremely helpful. Amidst my constant struggles with self-condemnation as a young adult, I went for counsel to Pastor Cliff Stalwick, then the President of Living Faith Bible College where I was attending at the time, but now a trusted mentor and friend for over 40 years. During our session, he taught me that the conscience is like the skin. If it is healthy, it can distinguish all sorts of textures, temperatures, and levels of pressure. It knows what is safe and what is dangerous. However, like skin, the conscience, can also become calloused or bruised. A calloused conscience has been hardened (seared) and no longer feels guilt where it should, but a bruised conscience can be overly sensitive to what is wrongly perceived as sin, and shout in pain like a bruise when brushed against by something normally safe.


The key to correcting both conditions is to keep the conscience calibrated to God’s Word. This prevents the conscience from becoming hardened and calloused on one hand or being overly sensitive and legalistic on the other hand. Much like a pilot needs to trust his accurately calibrated instruments over his senses or a hiker needs to trust the declination settings of his map over the compass’s natural draw to magnetic north, one with a damaged or faulty conscience needs to be grounded in the Topographic Moral Map of God’s Word and calibrate his compass accordingly. As you prayerfully surrender to the Lord, the Holy Spirit will do a work in your heart, (re)tenderizing your conscience to sin or strengthening it to not feel false guilt. Regardless, the Holy Spirit will use the Word of God to CORRECT your misunderstandings about right and wrong.


This brings me to my final comparison.


4. Like a compass needs to be aligned to true north using the declination settings on a topographical map, your conscience must be aligned to True Moral North by (re)calibrating it with the Topographic Moral Map of God’s Word.


Just like a compass can be calibrated to true north by adjusting its declination scale in accordance with the declination diagram on a topographic map, in the same way the conscience can be calibrated to True Moral North by coming into alignment with God’s Word. This brings us to our theme verse for the past several posts.


2 Timothy 3:16–17 (NET)

16 Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,

17 that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work.

Illustration by Jim Lamb, taken from Discussion Manual for Student Discipleship, written by Dawson McAllister and Dan Webster, pg. 71.


In addition to teaching and reproof (covered in previous blogs), God’s Word is profitable for CORRECTION. The Greek word used here for “correction” (epanorthōsis) comes from the adjective orthos meaning "straight, upright, erect" and the verb orthoō, meaning “to straighten, to align, to make right or true, to correct.” This is a root from which we get numerous English words:

  • Orthodontics – straight teeth

  • Orthotics – devices to help straighten bones and posture

  • Orthopedic – a term describing a doctor who works to straighten bone deformities in children

  • Orthodoxy – right worship (correct doctrine)

  • Orthopraxy – right practice, right action (both ethical and liturgical)

While the purpose of “reproof” is reprimanding us when we stray from the path of righteousness, the aim of “correction” is restoring us back to the path of righteousness. Reproof shows where we have gone the wrong way. Correction points us in the right way, rectifying our wrongs and straightening our thinking and behavior. This includes correcting our conscience so that it aligns with True Moral North.


It is difficult to separate the interaction between the conscience and the mind since "The conscience is your consciousness of what you believe is right and wrong."[5] The Bible regularly connects the conscience with knowledge, thinking, and the mind (1 Corinthians 8:6-13; Romans 2:14-16, 14:5, 14; Titus 1:15). Limited knowledge or incorrect knowledge impedes the accurate functioning of the conscience.


To calibrate the conscience often involves correcting wrong thinking and beliefs about particular actions or attitudes so that the conscience is programmed with accurate information, lest your mind attempt to justify your wrong behavior or condemn your right behavior. As discussed in numerous previous blogs, this requires renewing your mind with God’s Word. As your conscience and thinking are calibrated to God’s Word, they will be useful guides in providing accurate direction for your life. “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2 NASB). In this way the Bible will transform you from the inside out, correcting your thinking, your moral standards, your conscience, and your behavior.


Frequently, when my wife and I disciplined our children, reproving them for wrongful behavior, we used standard questions.[6] To get a child to take ownership for his/her actions, one of our important questions was “What did you do?” Often our child’s first response was justification or blame, “She hit me first” or “He took my toy,” or similar attempt to project fault onto a sibling or another child. Our reply, “I’m not asking what was done to you, I’m asking, ‘What did you do?’" or "Did you _______?” Finally, the child would admit, “I hit her” or “I pushed him” or “I threw a rock and broke a window” or “I pooped outside” (all true stories) or whatever the action was. Our follow up question was often, “What have we taught you about _______?” or “What is the rule about _______ " (e.g., throwing rocks around buildings)? If we hadn’t instructed on that particular behavior, this was now the time to do so.


If we had instructed them on that behavior, then we often used a question like, “In light of the rule, was what you did, the right thing to do?” or “Was hitting your sister the right way to respond?” The purpose of this type of question was to get the child to pass moral judgement on the action. Sometimes, this would launch another round of excuses or blame, or give opportunity for instruction on right and wrong, before repeating the question, “Was what you did right?” Once the child saw and acknowledged that his/her action was wrong, we might discuss the impact of his behavior on others or the consequences for his behavior, or other relevant topics. Often, we tried to include corrective questions like, “What can you do now to make this right with your brother/sister?” or “How shall we handle the broken window?” or “What would be a better way to handle this situation next time?” These last questions were designed to get our children to think of the right ways to take responsibility for reconciliation or reparation and to consider better ways to respond in the future.


Background photo is by Ben White on Unsplash


This is what the Bible does time and again. It CORRECTS us! It causes us to examine our actions, our thoughts, and our motives. It teaches us right and wrong, rebukes us when we stray from True Moral North, and then it shows us a better way. As a result, we take ownership for our thinking and behavior, come to see where we have fallen short, confess our sins, and take steps forward in a new direction as guided by the Scriptures. In effect, the Scriptures function together with the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives to parent us and to tutor us in righteousness.


To illustrate the corrective value of God’s Word, I will briefly look at one of the many themes covered by Jesus in His well-known Sermon on the Mount. Throughout this sermon, Jesus corrected misunderstandings about Old Testament commandments and some of the traditional religious teaching His listeners had received, giving them a True North perspective to guide their lives. In doing so, His goal was to correct their thinking and thereby correct their behavior. In my example, we will look at Jesus teaching on murder.


Matthew 5:21–22 (ESV)

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’

22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.


Jesus explains that God’s purpose behind the commandment regarding murder was not simple to keep us from taking another’s life, but to deal with the heart sin of anger and any expression of anger that inflicts emotional harm on others (Compare Paul’s “Be angry and do not sin” in Ephesians 4:26). Unchecked anger leads to murder, but even these “lesser sins” of verbal abuse also make us guilty before God and deserving of judgment. We should not let pride over not having killed someone blind us to the seeds of murder that lurk inside each of our hearts and are expressed in other ways that damage our brothers and sisters.


Immediately following, Jesus then prioritizes relational reconciliation over personal worship (Matthew 5:23-24). To worship God without regard for how we treat others is tainted worship and misses an important connection between the two greatest commands to “love God” and “love our neighbor” (Matthew 22:37-40). It is not God’s intention that we bless Him out of one side of our mouths and then curse our fellow man who is made in His image out of the other side of our mouths (James 3:8-12). The Bible teaches, “the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20-21). True and unhindered worship of God corresponds with doing our part to live in reconciled, loving, and peaceful relationships with our fellowman (Romans 12;18).


Closing and Looking Forward


One of the primary roles that the Bible plays in our lives is that of CORRECTION. It corrects our thinking, our attitudes, and our behavior. Moreover, God’s Word serves as a Topographical Moral Map correcting the moral compass of conscience so that it more closely aligns with True Moral North and can more accurately guide our lives.


Having now examined how God’s Word is beneficial for teaching, reproof, and correction, in my next post we will look at the role of God’s Word for “training in righteousness.” See you then!



REFERENCES

[2] I borrowed this version of the account from a sermon by my brother, Pastor Kevin Reich, called “Spiritual Orientation – Getting Your Bearings.” He preached this message at Relevant Life Church in Salem, Oregon, on March 28, 2021.

[4] I grew up on early Disney animation and the content of these films influenced my life. Thumper’s words to Bambi, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all” and the words by the blue fairy and Jiminy Cricket about honesty and conscience left an imprint in my life. Sadly, Disney has since drifted far from the moral moorings and family values of yesteryear and today is promoting all forms of leftist wokism, inserting LGBTQI+ characters in many of their animated films.


[5] Andrew David Naselli and James Dale Crowley, Conscience: What It Is, How to Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2016), 41.

[6] Whenever possible, Lynn or I would meet privately with the offending child(ren) in a bedroom or bathroom to remove distraction or embarrassment that comes when in front of the other children. Each situation for discipline was different due to a wide range of situational factors, and we didn’t always do everything right. However, according to the best of our understanding, we tried to discipline in love, tried to use discipline times for instruction, and tried to have a punishment that was appropriate to the wrong done – loss of privilege, time out, spanking within set parameters, or a consequence particular to the misbehavior. We also tried to include steps forward for reconciliation or restitution.

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2 komentáře


sharon
12. 4. 2022

Paul you did it again! I can't imagine how I've gone 50 years as a Christian and yet can't recall hearing this kind of teaching about the conscience being calibrated by the Holy Spirit and the Word, except indirectly. It was also really interesting to see all the different descriptions of the conscience in Scripture--something I'd never noticed. It all makes perfect sense. I want to use it in my new believers class if you don't mind? I also had to smile at your description of the discipline practices you used as you raised your family. It took me right back to similar times with ours. Speaking of which, I continue to pray for your family and Lynn's health in…

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Kevin Reich
Kevin Reich
10. 4. 2022

This has been a excellent series of teachings!

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