In my childhood, I remember times when children misbehaved in school and my teachers would talk about our consciences. They told us that when someone did something that made them feel bad, those feelings came from an inner voice, called a conscience. They would explain that consciences taught us right from wrong. If what we did was right, then we would feel good, but if what we did was wrong, then we would feel bad. The teachers told us to listen. Those childhood teachings represented something real. The scriptures call it “the light of Christ”, or “the Spirit of Christ”. This is a universal gift to all mankind.
Moroni 7:16 says, “For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil.” While people called it “conscience” instead of the light of Christ, everyone knew we all had one. Everyone understood that your conscience gave you feelings of guilt or shame for doing wrong, and feelings of happiness for doing right. The need to follow your conscience used to be common knowledge. The Book of Mormon shows the powerful influence of the light of Christ. In the Book of Mormon, King Lamoni’s culture believed that whatever they did was right. Of Lamoni, we read:
“Now this was the tradition of Lamoni, which he had received from his father, that there was a Great Spirit. Notwithstanding they believed in a Great Spirit, they supposed that whatsoever they did was right; nevertheless, Lamoni began to fear exceedingly, with fear lest he had done wrong in slaying his servants.” (Alma 18:5)
Despite what Lamoni had been taught, something from within told him that when he slew his servants he had done the wrong thing. He felt guilty about it. He felt something so fundamental that it was able to pierce his heart despite a lifetime of being taught the contrary. And it was good that he felt that guilt. Everyone wants to enjoy good feelings. Everyone wants to be happy and to have joy. But there has been a dangerous and growing deception. Years ago, people were taught to give heed to their conscience. Years ago, the understood solution to guilt was to repent and to seek forgiveness. That is the great offer of Christ’s redemption from sin.
Today, the common and dangerous teaching is that bad feelings themselves are bad. Common knowledge teaches us not to repent, but to rid ourselves of guilt; we must repress those bad feelings and embrace whatever we do as right. If our conscience can’t tell us we did wrong, then it can’t guide us. What good is a compass that always says you are headed in the right direction? Essentially, we are taught to silence our conscience. Yet, bad feelings, inspired by the light of Christ, are a precious gift from God. The scriptures warn of those in the latter days who will have their “conscience seared with a hot iron” (1 Tim 4:2). Learning to silence our conscience will not solve our guilt. Think of Lamoni. He had been taught that whatever a king did was right, but all that teaching couldn’t really make him feel right about killing the servants whose flocks were scattered. Only through repentance and forgiveness, only through Christ’s atonement, did Lamoni find peace.
Correction can be a gift. Which of us can’t think back to some point in our lives when someone gave us needed correction, or a time when our conscience retrieved us from a wrong course? How much harder would our lives have been without that? I know that I am grateful for the unpleasant feelings in my life that turned me away from disaster. I think of it as an ounce of unpleasant prevention, rather than a pound of lasting sorrow. Without the bad feelings of sorrow and guilt inspiring us to repent, we would not have this story in the New Testament:
“37 And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, 38 And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment… 48 And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven.” (Luke 7: 37-38; 48)
Without such feelings to correct us, how many of us would repent and seek forgiveness from Christ ourselves? Now, of course, many struggle with guilt not inspired by the light of Christ. We need to learn to discern the light of Christ from other influences. The adversary can inspire unnecessary guilt. Unlike what modern philosophy tells us, we need not quiet our consciences. Instead, let the guidance found in the scriptures and in the teachings of the prophets, help us to discern what is from Christ. The feelings inspired by the light of Christ are gifts from God to his children. We must listen to them. They direct us to the true road to peace – the road of repentance, and forgiveness through Christ, the Lord. And they can prevent an eternity of lasting sorrow. Co-author: John Robertson
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