By Dr. Harold Sala
When Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law…their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them. Romans 2:14-15
Question: Do we interpret the Bible in terms of our culture today? Or should our culture be interpreted in terms of what the Bible says? The answer, of course, is dependent upon your view of final authority. Is it man or God? Is man the measure of all things, or is God the ultimate reality?
This explains part of the revived interest in the first book of the Bible, the book of Genesis, written by Moses about 3400 years ago. But much of the current interest in the book is based upon an individual’s interpretation of the events, usually relating our human failures and dysfunction to the characters who had the same problems as we, long ago. What is missing, however, in much of the Genesis discussion is the undergirding of what the book really says about man’s failure—something which we usually prefer not to acknowledge.
Did these individuals who slept with each other’s wives and murdered and plundered do so without a knowledge of right and wrong? Were they laws unto themselves, or did they have moral choices which were clearly marked by a sense of shame and conviction or a sense of rightness?
Let’s go back to the book itself, and for the next three minutes, do something which a lot of people prefer not to do: think. Do you remember when our first fathers chose their will over God’s will? They ate of the forbidden fruit in the Garden and then hid themselves from God. Why? In shame they saw their own nakedness and knew they had done wrong. God had to ask Adam, “Why are you hiding, Adam?” Both knew why.
Then remember when Cain killed his brother Abel? When God asked, “Where is your brother Abel?” Cain shot back, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” His reply alone indicated a sense of wrongdoing! And where did this sense of guilt come from? The only answer is that God gave mankind a conscience, a sense of right and wrong that was a moral compass.
Obviously, when Adam and Eve left the Garden they didn’t carry a Bible with them under their arm; but in creation they had been touched by the finger of the Almighty and this resulted in a law of conscience whose powerful voice could not easily be stilled. Take time to read the second chapter of Romans, where Paul talks about this powerful voice of conscience which became a universal law for men, accusing and excusing one another.
Though no historical documents prove what theologians teach, it is commonly believed that following creation God gave mankind a clear understanding of what He expected of all men everywhere. Written laws? Eventually. But before that, He gave man a clear understanding of what He expected.
A final thought, reflected in the book of Genesis as well as the morning’s newspaper: Conscience is only as good as the knowledge that programs its voice. The book of Genesis says that conscience can be silenced by lust and desire. So is it today. Paul spoke of false teachers whose consciences were dead. He wrote, “These teachers will tell lies with straight faces and do it so often that their consciences won’t even bother them” (1 Timothy 4:2, Living Bible). When you do something which you believe is wrong often enough, you will eventually justify your wrong doing and do it without the slightest prick of conscience.
A British pastor once told me of a man who came to him and said, “Pastor, you just don’t have it any more. When I first heard you preach, I trembled with fear, but now you speak and it doesn’t bother me in the least.” The difference: a seared conscience which no longer speaks. Enough said.
Resource reading: Romans 2.