TONY ELDER: God encourages us to listen to our conscience when choosing right from wrong

Do any of you remember Larry Mondello, a friend of Theodore "Beaver" Cleaver on the old TV show, "Leave It to Beaver"? Larry was a pudgy, red-headed, freckle-faced boy who didn't seem to possess much willpower when it came to resisting doing something wrong or foolish.In one episode I viewed recently on a channel that specializes in such classic shows, Beaver and Larry found a wallet in the gutter next to the road. It contained a significant amount of money, but no identification for the owner.

Larry immediately spoke excitedly about the two boys splitting the cash between them. But Beaver said that he was going to turn it in at the police station, reminding his friend that it was the right thing to do. Larry agreed, but then made a rather cute and interesting comment. As I recall it was something like, "Wouldn't it be great if we had just come to earth from the planet Mars and didn't know that it was the right thing to do?"

In other words, if that was the case they could keep the money, not know it was wrong, and not feel bad about it. I guess that was a youngster's way of recognizing how a guilty conscience works and of wishing that sometimes it wasn't so effective.

Maybe there have been times when we've thought it would be nice to be able to plead ignorance as to what was right or wrong in a given situation, or when we've wished that our consciences weren't quite so sensitive. If only we could take that action or indulge in that momentary pleasure without feeling guilty about it afterwards.

Sometimes the Larry Mondello within us needs to be reminded of the value of knowing right from wrong and the important role our conscience plays in keeping us on the right track.

In the first chapter of Romans, the Bible gives us a picture of those who "suppress the truth in unrighteousness" and who do "not like to retain God in their knowledge" (1:18-32). These are people who ignore God's standards of right and wrong, and who have refused to listen to their conscience to the point that they've rendered it ineffective.

They travel so far in their moral downward spiral that God gives them up to their "uncleanness", to "the lusts of their hearts", and to a "debased mind." They become filled with all kinds of unrighteousness as they plunge toward spiritual and eternal death.

In another place, the Bible declares that in the last times there will be those who depart from the faith, "having their own conscience seared with a hot iron" (I Timothy 4:1-2) -- in other words, a conscience that has become hardened, tough, and unfeeling.

A sensitive conscience is not something to lament, but rather something for which to be thankful. It can protect us and keep us from the painful consequences of foolish choices in life, if we'll just listen to it.

Unfortunately we live in a day when what is right and wrong is not as clearly taught or recognized. Many are suppressing the truth and hardening their consciences. In one sense, we find ourselves living among those Martians who don't know the right thing to do.

But let's not be one of them. Along with listening to God's Word and the Holy Spirit, let's cultivate the moral protection God has built within us of a conscience. Be thankful for that inner voice and pay attention to its guidance.

The Rev. Tony W. Elder is pastor of Wesley Community Fellowship Church. He can be reached at 770-483-3405 or by email at RevTElder@aol.com.