I painted this 16” x 20” Acrylic two weeks ago, inspired by a similar Watercolor scene.  I like the sunrise and imagined it warm enough that the water had not yet frozen.  Otherwise, let’s say I took the ‘artistic liberty’ to have imagined such a thing possible.

I chose it to accompany our Thought—Scruples (conscience)—for this week.  It’s been said, “Red sky in the morning, sailor take warning.  Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.”  When reading the sky, a sailor may have to rely on conscience or scruples to determine if the risk to family, should something fatal happen during a storm at sea, is worth that risk.


IS IT POSSIBLE FOR two individuals to take opposite actions but each with a clear conscience?

Principles over Conscience / Scruples

I BELIEVE IT’S a common occurrence.  Evidence is as close as the evening news.  An ultimate consequence can be divisive even to the extreme of war.  Why?  Because normally conscience is not the main issue.  Before conscience or scruples come into play there is a defined set of ‘standards or principles’ each holds to be true for themselves and probably for everyone else as well.  From somewhere inside, each individual’s conscience is a voice shouting: “Follow and defend your standard or set of principles.” To follow is to have a ‘clear conscience’. To not follow is to suffer a ‘guilty conscience’. 

Conscience as our Guide?

SO, WHAT ARE we to do about conscience?  Marvin Gaye’s Detroit single released a 1961 says: “Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide”.  Is that good advice?  Probably. Since that’s exactly what most will do.  If I am a follower of Jesus, his teaching is the standard or set of principles my life seeks to follow.  The Apostle Paul expressed it this way…

Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.” Acts 23:1

Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with integrity and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace. 2 Corinthians 1:12  

Following an Accurate Compass

“Paul sees the ‘conscience’ like a sort of internal compass, telling each person what is right and wrong.  But human conscience like a compass, is a sensitive instrument, and it can easily malfunction.  It can get trapped in magnetic fields that pull it off course.  It can allow itself to be set in a particular pattern even though its inappropriate. It often can’t  tell the difference between social custom—‘the way things are done’ in this town, this country, this college, this family—and actual issues of right and wrong.

Paul knows that human consciences can get things wrong and can be re-set and re-educated.   But he also knows, from years of pastoral experience, that re-educating someone’s conscience takes time and patience.”[1] 

Congruence or Disparity

“Conscience is the endowment that senses our congruence or disparity with correct principles and lifts us toward them—when it’s in shape. Just as the education of nerve and sinew is vital to the excellent athlete and education of the mind is vital to the scholar, education of the conscience is vital to the truly proactive, highly effective person. Training and educating the conscience, however require even greater concentration more balanced discipline, more consistently honest living.  It requires regular feasting on inspiring literature, thinking noble thoughts and, above all, living in harmony with its still small voice.

Just as junk food and lack of exercise can ruin an athlete’s condition, those things that are obscene, crude, or pornographic can breed an inner darkness that numbs our higher sensibilities and substitutes the social conscience of “Will I be found out?” for the natural or divine conscience of “What is right and wrong?”[2]

Where the Choice Begins

The secret to living with a ‘good conscience’ starts with Jesus as the ‘standard and principles’:

Jesus said, “For a brief time still, the light is among you. Walk by the light you have so darkness doesn’t destroy you. If you walk in darkness, you don’t know where you’re going. As you have the light, believe in the light. Then the light will be within you and shining through your lives. You’ll be children of light.”  John 12:35, 36 Message

[Paul said,] Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:1 NIV

[1] Paul For Everyone 1 Corinthians, Page 102 ,   N.T. Wright

[2] The 7 habits of Highly Effective People, Page 305, Stephen R. Covey

2 thoughts on “Scruples

  1. I could “hear” your fondness for Covey in your remarks. He’s helped many, but your wisdom surpasses Covey. Use him to bolster your thoughts, but I trust your wisdom more.


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