A Seared Conscience

Recently, thousands of people in Pasir Gudang, Malaysia, were poisoned. All 111 schools in that area were also closed. The cause was the dumping of toxic chemicals into River Kim Kim by a used tyre processing company. These chemicals pose serious health hazards including causing cancer and damaging red blood cells and the liver. Such a criminal act is not only alarming because of the health hazards it results in people who drink from this river. What is also troubling is that these criminals who threw these toxic chemicals into the river, despite knowing that these chemicals kill, could continue to do so. For most of us, we would not do so even if no one were looking because our conscience would restrain us. What made them perform such a calloused and cruel act?

Paul diagnoses their problem as people “whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron” (1 Tim 4:2) which resulted in an insensitive conscience. This conscience was seared or made insensitive when they persisted in doing wrong despite knowing clearly that it was wrong. In other words, when a person stubbornly refuses to repent of a sin, their conscience becomes insensitive. The consequence is frightening: such people would not hesitate to kill thousands to gain some profit, as in the case of Pasir Gudang poisoning.

Repentance thus holds the antidote to a seared conscience that is insensitive to good and evil. What is repentance? Simply put, repentance refers to a heart that recognises you have sinned against God and is willing to turn away from sin and turn to God. David asked God to “create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psa 51:10). It is “a broken and contrite heart” (Psa 51:17a) and such a heart “you, God, will not despise” (Psa 51:17b). A truly repentant heart is created when the sinner is willing to turn away from sin. It also requires God to create it. Hence, you must sincerely and humbly ask God to give you a repentant heart because if God does not work in you, true repentance is not possible. True repentance recognises sin for what is it: an abomination to a holy God: “against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psa 51:4). Repentance recognises that we are wholly unworthy and sinful: “surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psa 51:5). Only with such a repentant heart are we in a position to ask for forgiveness: “my sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit [repentant heart] . . . [which] you, God will not despise [God is ready to forgive you your sins]” (Psa 51:17b).

When you sin against God, as soon as you can, repent and confess your sins. It could be a three seconds prayer. Before you sleep, examine your thoughts, speech, and what you did in the day to see if you might have sinned in any way. Ask the Spirit of God to examine you (Psa 139:23-24):

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Just as you do not leave smelly garbage overnight, do not leave behind unconfessed sins. If you do not quickly repent of and confess your sins, you may forget or may even not feel the need to do so. This sin could then take root in your life and wreck spiritual havoc by searing your conscience. Thus, before you sleep for the night, as best as you could, empty your spiritual garbage. Then just as God will prosper “Zion, to build up the walls of Jerusalem” (Psa 51:18), God will prosper the lives of His children, you and me.