Discovering the Joy of a Clear Conscience, Christopher Ash, Part 2
At a mission conference I attended in January this year I noticed there was a bit of discussion around the idea of whether ‘Western’ society has moved from a guilt/innocence to a pain/pleasure worldview. There is much to make me want to agree with this idea, particularly in thinking about what it is that motivates people. However, while superficially it looks as though we have moved to a pain/pleasure worldview I think it is not quite so great a paradigm shift from guilt/conscience. In part, it has been Ash’s book that has convinced me of this, but also that conscience, a concern for whether our behaviour is ‘right’, is still very much a part of our contemporary culture (just see the Cohen brothers’ latest film, Hail, Caesar! and you’ll see what I mean!).
In the second part of the book Ash looks at conscience as symptom, specifically looking at the guilty conscience and the awakened conscience. This is probably the hardest part of the book to read. This is where we explore how ‘moral self-awareness touches our affections’. The very real (even physical) pain of a guilty conscience thus shows that there is continuity between the two worldviews of guilt/innocence and pain/pleasure. And so we must feel-
The crushing weight of past wrongs that sits, as an unexpressed sob, heavy in our chests. The shadow that we are dimply aware of during the day, but are surrounded by in the darkness of night. The silent suffering that mocks our attempts at intimacy, leaving us feeling bitter and alone.
Ash guides us by the hand in this section; as a pastor, he is honest and loving towards his reader, and he lets us know that he is just like us. He begins with an eye-opening examination of Joseph’s brothers’ guilty consciences from Genesis. Ash’s knowledge of and love for God’s Word is evident in his treatment of this narrative. He goes on to look at other examples of a guilty conscience (most notably King David). He outlines nine characteristics of a guilty conscience, and it is worth thinking (and praying!) through the questions that he asks at the end of the chapter in regards to these characteristics.
In the following chapter Ash looks at the awakened conscience as symptom. I am currently in the tenth month of broken sleep (actually that figure is much higher as I had dreadful insomnia for most of my pre gnancy). Most days I feel as if I haven’t fully awakened. Things happen. I am as much an agent as I am acted upon. I manage to inhabit a social and physical space. But I don’t feel as if cognitively or emotionally I’m fully engaged with what is happening. However, every now and then the baby manages to sleep through the night, and the next day is an entire revelation to me. The world seems completely changed. However, it’s not that the world is different it is just that I am awake to understand it.
Ash wants us to think about what it means for us to feel guilty, what it means for us to have an awakened conscience. He looks at how an awakened conscience is, importantly, a sign of hope. For it is a sign that the Spirit of God is at work within us, bringing us to understand the gospel.
This section of the book left me emotionally drained for days afterward. However, read in context, it became a form of catharsis: bringing me to repentance and spiritual restitution. For while it dredged up memories of my past of which I am ashamed, in the end it was a reminder of the times in my life which drew me closer to God, and of my journey to faith in Jesus Christ.
If it weren’t for my conscience I would only have an intellectual understanding of the Gospel. I would see the need for Jesus’ death and resurrection for all of humanity, but I would not feel my need.
My guilty conscience convicts me of my need for a saviour. I need to wake up.
“This is why it is said: ‘Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’” (Ephesians 5:14)
Writer | Sian Lim Sian loves Jesus, her family and books. She loves teaching and studying English literature and sharing Jesus with people. Sian enjoys good coffee, photography and going to the beach. She is always ready to discuss a great book or two. Sian loves being a mum but at the moment she would really like some more sleep.