About a year ago, I was experiencing some pain in my upper chest. I managed to go to sleep that night but woke up with the pain increasing and going across my chest and starting down my left arm. I knew that was not a good sign so awakened my wife and said I think maybe I need to go to the hospital ER and get checked out. So, at 5:30 a.m. I arrived at ER and, since I had typical symptoms of a heart attack, got lots of attention. I recall their commenting on my blood pressure being high for me and asking if I was feeling any stress. Well, let’s see, I didn’t sleep much. It is 5:30 in the morning, I think I’m probably having a heart attack, so, “Yes, I might be just a bit stressed!” Their EKG indicated nothing out of the ordinary was happening with my heart—PTL! . What they discovered that was causing my pain was “esophagitis,” an inflammation of the esophagus, that muscular tube that carries food from the mouth through the chest cavity to the stomach. The nerves from the upper esophagus lead across the upper chest to the shoulder and when there is pain from an inflamed esophagus can cause the same symptoms of a heart attack. They gave me a milky cocktail to drink and a prescription to take for a week, and the symptoms cleared up.
None of us enjoys pain whether it is from a sliver or a broken bone, esophagitis or a heart problem, but God made our bodies to feel pain for a very important reason. It tells us something is wrong that needs attention. It’s much like the warning lights on the dash of our vehicle. We can ignore them or try to cover them up so we don’t see them, but soon we pay for doing so. Pain is a God-given warning system to keep us from destroying our bodies. That’s why leprosy—or Hansen’s disease, as it is known today—is so devastating. Leprosy destroys one’s nerve endings and sense of touch. It robs its victims of the ability to feel pressure or pain and those afflicted with the disease literally wear off their own extremities, scratching deep gouges into their skin and destroying parts of their body because they cannot feel pain. They feel no pain even if they are burned or injured. Pain, while not enjoyable, is God’s way of protecting us physically.
God has also given us a warning system to protect us spiritually and morally. It is called our “conscience,” that “inner voice” that senses when we are headed the wrong way or have made a bad choice morally or spiritually (from God’s perspective—which is all that ultimately matters!). The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the believers in Rome, wrote: “For when the Gentiles, who do not have the law, do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them” (Ro. 2:14,15). The conscience gives a sense of well-being, peace, and satisfaction when we follow God’s plan, but a sense of shame, guilt, fear and anxiety when we don’t.
But, the conscience is not a foolproof warning system. It cannot be equated with the voice of God or His written Word, for it requires the right information to “program” it. If that information comes from the Word of God, we are safe, but if it comes from the world system which is opposed to God, our conscience becomes a faulty warning mechanism. The conscience can also be hardened by our continuing to ignore its warnings. We become calloused and can go against God’s directives (which are there for our good) without it bothering us. In fact we—individually, or as a culture—can get to the point where we “call evil good, and good evil, who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness” (Isa. 5:20). Hmmm? Does that sound a little familiar in our current culture? In Romans Paul describes the progression that leads to that point. He speaks of “men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness…For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools…Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to be dishonored among men. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator…For this reason, God gave them over to degrading passions…to do those things which are not proper” (Ro. 1:18-26). “God gave them over…”
What a tragic statement. But we can surely see that happening today in our society. And it begins by ignoring our conscience and by suppressing the truth. Pretty soon we not only are doing those things which are displeasing to God but we “also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (Ro. 1:32). If our conscience is going to function the way God designed it, we need to conform it to the truth of God’s Word, not to the lies of Satan which are promulgated in our society. When David said, “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against you” (Ps. 119:11), he was expressing his desire for a conscience based on the right information. When the conscience is properly programmed to biblical truth, it sends accurate, trustworthy warnings. We need to echo the words of Paul and do our part “to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men” (Acts 24:16). We do that by confessing sin to cleanse our conscience and by filling it with the truths of God’s Word, being “transformed by the renewing of your mind…” (Ro. 12:2).