One of Martin Luther’s most well-known quotes comes from when he was asked to retract his statements (which, at the time, were considered heretical and wrong). Standing before the authorities of his day, Luther said “…my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience.”
Each day we make decisions based on conscience. We decide what is right and wrong based on conscience. And yet, we do not all agree on the definition of “good” and “bad”. So then, is there no such thing as universal conscience? How do we make sense of all the bad in the world?
Perhaps its wishful thinking, but I’d like to think we all do have an inner conscience. What we consciously and unconsciously do is let our conscience die (or at least become suppressed). This death of conscience coming from our rejection of the Greatest Commandment (love God, love others) and focusing on only ourselves and our individual desires.
Individual conscience is then like a tender flower. We must nurture it and keep it alive and well. For the Christ-follower, this means seeking God in prayer, listening to the Holy Spirit daily, and reading and mediating on Scripture. As we care for our conscience it grows healthily and blooms brilliantly. When we neglect it, it withers. Indeed, this is what Luther means by saying his “conscience is captive to the Word of God”.
As part of the garden of humanity, our conscience does not thrive on its own. It must be nurtured in community. Together we cross-pollinate and grow. This is what had snarled the conscience of the authorities in Luther’s day. They had neglected the fostering of community. Concepts were dictated top-down and not shared one-to-another. This ignored their common humanity and shut out conscience.
When conscience is alive and well, eternal truth becomes clear. So we must strive for a healthy conscience, for both us and the entire world.