Check your Attitude Indicator

By Jeff Laird

The "conscience" is nothing more or less than a person's ability to compare experiences, feelings, and actions to their beliefs. The conscience is the moral equivalent to one's physical sense of balance. When a person is leaning over, or turned upside down, or spinning, their inner ear sends signals telling them this is the case. The conscience works in the same way, from a moral perspective: it compares situations to a person's moral opinions and sounds a warning when there's a contradiction.

The problem with this is that a person's conscience is not always reliable. Just as a person's sense of balance can be impacted by their environment, so too can a person's conscience. Someone who has just gotten off of a roller coaster might be dizzy: his inner ear is telling him he's moving, when he's not. The world around him has not changed. He has a perception problem! Over time, that can be corrected. The conscience, also, can send moral signals that don't necessarily line up with moral reality.

This is where resources such as the written Scriptures, the community of believers, and so forth, come into play. A person who feels dizzy can grab onto a solid object, like a tree or a wall, so they don't fall. They can take the hand of a friend. It sometimes happens that they don't even know they're off-balance until a friend catches them! When someone grabs for that wall, or tree, or hand, they're admitting that their sense of balance is flawed, and they need to rely on something else, until that sense of balance is corrected. In the same way, we can (should) use the communications God has given us to "correct" our conscience.

Another real-world example of this principle is an instrument on which pilots depend: the "attitude indicator." This is a gauge in an airplane cockpit telling the pilot whether the plane is tilted up or down, left or right, and so forth. This is crucial, because the pilot's own sense of balance and gravity is not reliable when throwing a plane around the sky. In a storm, fog, or hard maneuvering, the pilot can easily lose track of direction. Not having an attitude indicator — or failing to read the one you do have — can lead to disaster.

In that sense, the Bible is our moral "attitude indicator." Despite what we may feel, or think, or remember, it's an objective way to compare those perceptions to reality. Without it, we may be fine when the skies are clear. But when trouble comes our way, relying on nothing but our own feelings can cause a crash — morally, as well as in an airplane. The conscience is important, but not perfect.

This explains why various cultures throughout history have sometimes embraced grossly immoral behaviors. Without a working "attitude indicator," they're at the mercy of their own feelings. By and large, those work fine — but not always. And, those moral opinions can be affected by the environment, just as one's balance can be affected by the environment.

The conscience is important, to be sure — but it cannot be treated as reliable in and of itself. It's important to have an objective way to check that sense against reality. Pilots have attitude indicators. Dizzy people have walls and trees. Humanity, from a moral standpoint, has the objective message of God. This particularly includes the written Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16), but also involves the body of believers (Proverbs 27:17; Galatians 6:2), and the signs God places in nature (Psalm 19:1) and human experience (Romans 1:20).

So, with all due respect to Disney's Jiminy Cricket, his advice to "always let your conscience be your guide" is incomplete. A more accurate Christian approach would be to "always let your conscience be guided." Regardless of culture, opinion, or feelings, we can and should refer to His Word as a means to calibrate our conscience.

Image Credit: Derin; "attitude"; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | Sin-Evil

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Published on 10-4-16