Hear the Voice From Within
“People of the nations that do not have [God’s] law do by nature the things of the law.”—ROMANS 2:14.
1, 2. (a) How have many acted out of interest in others? (b) What Scriptural examples illustrate interest in others?
A 20-YEAR-OLD man on the subway platform had a seizure and fell onto the tracks. Seeing this, a bystander let go of his daughters and jumped down. He pulled the epileptic man into a trench between the tracks, shielding him from the train screeching to a stop overhead. Some would call the rescuer a hero, but he said: “You should do the right thing. I did it out of kindness. Not for recognition or glory.”
2 You may know someone who took a risk to help others. Many did so during World War II, hiding strangers. Recall, too, the experience of the apostle Paul and 275 others shipwrecked at Malta, near Sicily. Local people came to the aid of those strangers, showing “extraordinary human kindness.” (Acts 27:27–28:2) Or what of the Israelite girl who, while maybe not risking her life, showed kind concern for the welfare of one of her Syrian captors? (2 Kings 5:1-4) And think of Jesus’ well-known parable of the neighborly Samaritan. A priest and a Levite ignored a half-dead fellow Jew, yet a Samaritan went out of his way to help him. This parable has struck a responsive chord in people of many cultures over the centuries.—Luke 10:29-37.
3, 4. How does the prevalence of altruistic feelings relate to the theory of evolution?
3 True, we are living in “critical times hard to deal with”; many individuals are “fierce” and “without love of goodness.” (2 Timothy 3:1-3) Still, have we not observed acts of benevolence, perhaps benefiting from such? The tendency to help others, even at personal cost, is so common that some term it “humanness.”
4 Such willingness to help even if at personal cost is seen in all races and cultures, and it argues against the claim that man evolved by the law of the jungle, “the survival of the fittest.” Francis S. Collins, a geneticist who led the U.S. government’s effort to decipher the human genome (DNA), said: “Selfless altruism presents a major challenge for the evolutionist. . . . It cannot be accounted for by the drive of individual selfish genes to perpetuate themselves.” He also said: “Some people sacrificially give of themselves to those who are outside their group and with whom they have absolutely nothing in common. . . . That doesn’t seem like it can be explained by a Darwinian model.”
“The Voice of Conscience”
5. What has often been observed in people?
5 Dr. Collins points to one aspect of our altruism: “The voice of conscience calling us to help others even if nothing is received in return.”* His mentioning “conscience” may call to mind a fact that the apostle Paul stressed: “Whenever people of the nations that do not have law do by nature the things of the law, these people, although not having law, are a law to themselves. They are the very ones who demonstrate the matter of the law to be written in their hearts, while their conscience is bearing witness with them and, between their own thoughts, they are being accused or even excused.”—Romans 2:14, 15.
6. Why are all people accountable to the Creator?
6 In his letter to the Romans, Paul showed that humans are accountable to God because His existence and qualities are evident from what is seen. That has been so “from the world’s creation onward.” (Romans 1:18-20; Psalm 19:1-4) Admittedly, many ignore their Creator and pursue a debauched course. Yet, God’s will is that humans acknowledge his righteousness and repent of bad practices. (Romans 1:22–2:6) The Jews had an undeniable reason for doing so—they were given God’s Law through Moses. But even peoples who did not have “the sacred pronouncements of God” should have recognized that God existed.—Romans 2:8-13; 3:2.
7, 8. How common is the sense of fairness, and to what does this point?
7 A strong reason why all should acknowledge God and act accordingly is their inner sense of right and wrong. Our sense of fairness is an indication of our having a conscience. Picture this: Some young children are waiting in line to use a swing. Then one child goes to the front, ignoring those waiting. Many respond, ‘That’s not fair!’ Now ask yourself, ‘How is it that even many children spontaneously show that they have a sense of fairness?’ Their doing that reflects their inner moral sense. Paul wrote: “Whenever people of the nations that do not have law do by nature the things of the law.” He did not say, “If ever,” as if it were something that rarely occurred. He said “whenever,” or “when,” suggesting what frequently occurs. That is, people “do by nature the things of the law,” meaning that they are moved by their inner moral sense to act in harmony with what we read in God’s written law.
8 This moral inclination has surfaced in many lands. A Cambridge professor noted that the standards of Babylonians, Egyptians, and Greeks as well as of Australian Aborigines and Native Americans included “denunciations of oppression, murder, treachery and falsehood, the same injunctions of kindness to the aged, the young, and the weak.” And Dr. Collins wrote: “The concept of right and wrong appears to be universal among all members of the human species.” Does that not remind you of Romans 2:14?
Your Conscience—How Does It Work?
9. What is the conscience, and how can it help you before you act?
9 The Bible shows that the conscience is an inner capacity to look at and evaluate your actions. It is as if a voice within you comments on whether a course is right or not. Paul mentioned this voice within him: “My conscience bears witness with me in holy spirit.” (Romans 9:1) For example, this voice may speak beforehand as you consider whether to do something that has moral implications. Your conscience may help you to assess a future act and suggest how you would feel if you performed it.
10. Conscience often comes into play in what way?
10 More commonly, your conscience comes into play after you do something. When he was a fugitive from King Saul, David was in a position to do something disrespectful toward God’s anointed king, and he did. Afterward, “David’s heart kept striking him.” (1 Samuel 24:1-5; Psalm 32:3, 5) The word “conscience” is not used in that account; yet that is what David felt—the reaction of his conscience. All of us have similarly felt pangs of conscience. We did something, and then we were troubled, disturbed about how we acted. Some people who did not pay their taxes were so tormented by their conscience that they later paid their debt. Others have been moved to confess their sin of adultery to their mate. (Hebrews 13:4) Yet, when one acts in accord with the conscience, a sense of satisfaction and peace can result.
11. Why might it be dangerous just to ‘let your conscience be your guide’? Illustrate.
11 So can we just ‘let our conscience be our guide’? Well, it is good to listen to our conscience, but its message may seriously mislead us. Yes, the voice of “the man we are inside” may fail us. (2 Corinthians 4:16) Consider an example. The Bible tells of Stephen, a devout follower of Christ “full of graciousness and power.” Some Jews threw Stephen outside Jerusalem and stoned him to death. Saul (who later became the apostle Paul) stood nearby and “was approving of the murder of” Stephen. It seems that those Jews were so convinced that they acted properly that their conscience did not trouble them. That must have been the case with Saul too, for thereafter he was “still breathing threat and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” Clearly, his conscience was not then speaking with an accurate voice.—Acts 6:8; 7:57–8:1; 9:1.
12. What is one way our conscience may have been influenced?
12 What could have affected Saul’s conscience? One thing may have been his close contact with others. Many of us have spoken on the telephone with a man whose voice sounds very similar to that of his father. To an extent, the timbre of the son’s voice may have been inherited, but he may also have been influenced by his father’s speech patterns. Similarly, Saul may have been affected by close contact with Jews who hated Jesus and opposed his teachings. (John 11:47-50; 18:14; Acts 5:27, 28, 33) Yes, Saul’s associates may have influenced the voice he heard from within, his conscience.
13. How might one’s environment affect the conscience?
13 The conscience can also be shaped by the general culture or environment in which one lives, just as one’s environment may lead someone to speak with an accent or in a dialect. (Matthew 26:73) That must have happened with the ancient Assyrians. They were known for militarism, and their carved reliefs depict them torturing captives. (Nahum 2:11, 12; 3:1) The Ninevites of Jonah’s day are described as not knowing “the difference between their right hand and their left.” That is, they did not have a correct standard for judging what was proper or improper from God’s standpoint. Imagine how that environment could have affected the conscience of someone growing up in Nineveh! (Jonah 3:4, 5; 4:11) In like manner today, a person’s conscience can be affected by the attitude of those around him.
Improving the Voice Within
14. How does our conscience reflect what Genesis 1:27 says?
14 Jehovah provided Adam and Eve with the gift of conscience, and we inherited our conscience from them. Genesis 1:27 tells us that humans are made in God’s image. That does not mean in God’s physical form, for he is a spirit and we are of flesh. We are in God’s image in that we have within us his qualities, including a moral sense with a functioning conscience. This reality provides a clue to one way that we can strengthen our conscience, making it more reliable. That is, learn more about the Creator, and draw closer to him.
15. What is one way in which we can benefit from coming to know our Father?
15 The Bible shows that in a sense Jehovah is a Father to all of us. (Isaiah 64:8) Faithful Christians, whether their hope is to be in heaven or to live in an earthly paradise, may address God as Father. (Matthew 6:9) We should desire to draw ever closer to our Father and thus absorb his views and standards. (James 4:8) Many have no interest in doing so. They are like the Jews to whom Jesus said: “You have neither heard his voice at any time nor seen his figure; and you do not have his word remaining in you.” (John 5:37, 38) We have not heard the actual voice of God, yet we can have his word in us and thus come to be like him and feel as he does.
16. The account of Joseph illustrates what about training and responding to our conscience?
16 The account about Joseph in Potiphar’s house shows that. Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph. Though he lived at a time when no Bible book had yet been written and the Ten Commandments had not been given, Joseph reacted by saying: “How could I commit this great badness and actually sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9) He was not responding that way simply to please his family; they lived far away. He principally wanted to please God. Joseph knew God’s standard for marriage—one man for one woman, the two being “one flesh.” And he had likely heard of how Abimelech felt on learning that Rebekah was married—that to take her would be wrong, bringing guilt on his people. And, yes, Jehovah blessed the outcome in that case, showing his view of adultery. Joseph’s knowing all of that likely reinforced the proddings of his inherited conscience, moving him to reject sexual immorality.—Genesis 2:24; 12:17-19; 20:1-18; 26:7-14.
17. When it comes to being like our Father, why are we in a better situation than was Joseph?
17 Of course, we are in a better situation now. We have the entire Bible from which to learn our Father’s thinking and feelings, including what he approves of and what he forbids. The more we are immersed in the Scriptures, the closer we can draw to God and be like him. As we do that, the urgings of our conscience will likely come ever closer to our Father’s thinking. They will be more and more in harmony with his will.—Ephesians 5:1-5.
18. Despite possible past influences, what can we do to improve the reliability of our conscience?
18 What about the environmental molding of our conscience? We may have been influenced by the thinking and actions of our relatives and the general environment in which we grew up. Thus, the message from our conscience may have been muffled or distorted. It spoke with the “accent” of others around us. Granted, we cannot change our past; however, we can be resolved to choose associates and an environment that will affect our conscience in a good way. A key step is regularly being with devoted Christians who have long tried to be like their Father. Congregation meetings, including association before and after them, provide excellent opportunities for that. We can note the Bible-based thinking and reactions of fellow Christians, including their readiness to listen as their conscience echoes God’s outlook and ways. Over time, this can help us to harmonize our own conscience with Bible principles, bringing us closer to God’s image. When we attune our inner voice to our Father’s principles and yield to the good influence of fellow Christians, our conscience will be more reliable and we will be more inclined to listen to what it says.—Isaiah 30:21.
19. What aspects of conscience yet merit attention?
19 Still, some struggle to respond to their conscience day by day. The next article will consider some situations that Christians have faced. By examining such situations, we may see more clearly the role of the conscience, why consciences may differ, and how we can increasingly respond to its voice.—Hebrews 6:11, 12.
Similarly, Owen Gingerich, research professor of astronomy at Harvard University, wrote: “Altruism may well pose a question without . . . a scientific answer derived from observation of the animal kingdom. It just might be that the more convincing answer lies in another arena and has to do with those God-given qualities of humanness which include conscience.”
What Did You Learn?
• Why is it that a sense of right and wrong, or conscience, has been found in all cultures?
• Why do we need to be cautious about simply letting our conscience be our guide?
• What are some ways in which we can improve the voice we hear from within?
[Pictures on page 23]
David had pangs of conscience . . .
but that was not true of Saul of Tarsus
[Picture on page 24]
We can train our conscience