Rethinking God’s Prophets (part 2) – Brad Jersak
In part 1 of this series, I compared the Bible to a prophet. Like John the Baptist, the Bible is NOT the Light of the World but is a WITNESS to Christ, the final Word of God. Today, we will consider the human conscience as a God-given inner prophet.
The conscience, Nathan & the prodigal sons
A conscience trained by grace is a blessed prophet, forever calling us to the Jesus Way into the Father’s house. The role of a healthy conscience is to discern right from wrong from the Holy Spirit (not independently, as Adam and Eve dared by eating from that tree). And what constitutes right or wrong? According to the Bible, the ‘right’ path is the Jesus Way of love and ‘wrong’ path is whatever lures us from that Way.
Both sons in the parable of the prodigals had lost their way, one to party town and the other to religious striving. Both found themselves enslaved. It happens to the best of us. Remember David? He took Bath-sheba, another man’s wife, impregnated her and then kept digging the hole deeper until he arrange for Uriah’s death. And what did God do? He sent the prophet Nathan to expose his sin and invite him to repent. Something about that encounter connected the external prophet (Nathan) with a reawakening of David’s inner prophet (his conscience). You can see that prophet hard at work within David through his confession in Psalm 51.
But here is the strange part. You would think a strong conscience is more strict and severe. But in 1 Corinthians 8:10-13 and in Romans 14, the one with the weak conscience actually seems to be stricter on themselves, more easily offended and less free to enjoy God’s good world.
Someone with a strong conscience seems to have more freedom without stumbling. So free, in fact, that they are even free to abstain for the sake of someone who, in their weakness, might be offended. In this case, the strong conscience and strong faith seem connected.
The Conscience as a God-given prophet
Now imagine the conscience as a God-given prophet who lives in every human being. At its best, the conscience serves as a constant friendly guide on the Jesus Way, always pointing us to Light, Life and Love, forever beckoning us to the feast at that Father’s house. It’s being a good prophet then.
But even the conscience can become a prodigal. On one hand, the conscience can become ‘seared’ (1 Timothy 4:2) like the younger son, who was eventually able to ignore it altogether. In the case of a sociopath, somehow that inner prophet seems to have been killed! Beware of ignoring God’s inner prophet. I’ve got myself in a world of trouble by shunning its advice.
On the other hand, the conscience can also elevate itself as judge and accuser, just like the older brother. It can speak condemning and belittling words to us when we stumble. It’s as if the conscience on overdrive resigns as God’s prophet of grace and chooses to channel the Accuser’s voice instead.
Has your conscience ever been so seared that you wind up slaving with the ‘pigs’ (choose your vice)? Or has your conscience become so legalistic that it is weak or condemning? Well, the good news is that both sons were welcomed home: one by a moment of clarity (the Holy Spirit) and the other through the pleading of the Father. As usual, the second invitation is a tougher sell.
Still, maybe we could agree to this: the conscience is a gift when it serves at the throne of grace and brings a prophetic invitation home to the Father’s love. If it sneaks out of the room or crawls up onto the judgment seat, it needs a loving reminder to find its proper place in God’s service, testifying like all good prophets of the good news of Jesus’ radical forgiveness and unfailing love.