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"Flee! All has been discovered!"

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, loved practical jokes. As a joke, he once sent a telegram to each of 12 friends. All were men of great virtue and respected in society. The telegram simply read, “Flee! All has been discovered.” To his shock, within 24 hours, the story goes, all 12 had left the country!

There may be some exaggeration in the story, but the point is that many people have dark secrets that haunt their consciences. There is nothing more painful than a guilty conscience, and no pillow as soft as a clear conscience.

A guilty conscience can haunt you

It was the Greek philosopher Sophocles who remarked, “There is no witness so terrible, no accuser so powerful, as the conscience which dwells within us.” A guilty conscience can make your life miserable. Your conscience may not always keep you from doing wrong, but it sure will keep you from enjoying it. It will keep you awake at night and distract you during your waking hours.

Time alone won’t heal a guilty conscience

Most wounds heal with time, but not so a guilty conscience. I was interrupted one day in my previous church by a prominent and highly respected businessman. I had never met him before; however, he knew I was a pastor and said he was desperate to talk. As we sat in my office, for more than an hour he poured out about an event that had haunted his conscience for the past 25 years, an event that not even his wife knew about.

While in college he got his girlfriend pregnant. He didn’t want to get married so he pressured her to get an abortion. Between sobs he told how he offered to pay for the abortion and actually drove her to get it done, and how that one act has tormented his conscience for the past 25 years.

If your conscience is struggling over the way you mistreated another person in the past, let me assure you the God will forgive you if you ask him to, and surprisingly, most people will also accept your apology and forgive you.

A tender conscience is precious and should be nurtured

Let me encourage you to listen to your conscience, and intentionally attempt to nurture a clear conscience. There are a number of ways to do this. They may include not letting friends talk you into doing something that your conscience is telling you is wrong, avoiding exposure to what your conscience is telling you is evil, addressing and confessing past indiscretions, and making amends with a person you have intentionally or unintentionally hurt.

A clear conscience is priceless

There’s nothing more liberating than a clear conscience, to live without fear of having some embarrassing and carefully hidden secret discovered, no fear of a phone call to your wife, or a letter from the IRS, or bumping into someone you’ve cheated out of money, to know that you have sought to make amends with all those you have hurt. Or as the Bible puts it, “So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.” (Acts 24:16)


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