To many people conscience is almost all that they have by way of knowledge of God. This still small voice which makes them feel guilty and unhappy before, during, or after wrong-doing, is God speaking to them. It is this which, to some extent at least, controls their conduct.
Now no serious advocate of a real adult religion would deny the function of conscience, or deny that its voice may at least give some inkling of the moral order that lies behind the obvious world in which we live. Yet to make conscience into God is a highly dangerous thing to do. For one thing,…conscience is by no means an infallible guide; and for another, it is extremely likely that we shall ever be moved to worship, love, and serve a nagging inner voice that at worst spoils our pleasure and at best keeps us rather negatively on the path of virtue.
Conscience can be so easily perverted or morbidly developed in the sensitive person, and so easily ignored and silenced by the insensitive, that it makes a very unsatisfactory god.J. B. Phillips, Your God is Too Small, 15.
You know that inner voice that helps you determine right from wrong? It’s not God–it’s your conscience. And it can be wrong. Your conscience has in innate moral sense–which is why you’ll find universal morals in every culture. But it also gets trained by the moral conditioning of your upbringing. For example, there’s no bible verse about not chewing with your mouth open–but in America we teach children “the polite way to eat your food.” Other cultures have other ideas about what “polite” looks like to them.
So, this means that, on the one hand, our conscience may be overly sensitive–giving us a disproportionately high amount of guilty feelings about things that don’t matter. This can be crippling.
But on the other hand, our consciences may be completely ignored until our sense of right and wrong gets twisted. Phillips cites the Nazi propaganda machine–which perfected the perversion of conscience, turning it into “a fine art” until mass atrocities were committed.
So, hopefully we can easily see that since our conscience–as helpful as it is–is fallible, it’s a mistake to confuse it for God. He may work with your conscience–but most certainly is not your conscience.
A big part of growing up in the faith is learning to discern the difference between our conscience and the voice of God. How? By constantly recalibrating our conscience with the Word of God. We need to be made more sensitive in some categories, and less sensitive in others. The Word of God is the standard.
If you’re a sensitive person, and you struggle to forgive yourself after everyone else has forgiven you–you probably have an overactive conscience. Pastor/Theologian Francis Schaeffer referred to this type of conscience as a big dog with muddy feet that keeps jumping up on you. You must command him to “Sit! Stay!”
On the other hand, if things don’t bother you that bother most people–and which are clearly contrary to Scripture–your conscience may be “seared”–burned and ineffective. It needs to be healed.
In either case–distinguishing your inner compass from the God of the universe is a freeing thought. He’s not a nag–He’s the most beautiful, true, and good person–beyond imagination, yet intimately accessible through Jesus Christ. Taste and see, the Lord is good.