What Is Your Conscience?

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10


They called him, “The Gentleman Bandit.” Few robbers were ever more kind to their victims. He would rob people, then mail the pictures of children and grandchildren back to their home addresses. After pulling a gun and informing the victim that it was a robbery, on several occasions his heart would be touched by their stories of hardship if they lost their money, and he would put his gun in his pocket and walk away. On one occasion a man was so frightened that he sustained a heart attack, and the kind bandit called for an ambulance. He went so far as to sympathetically call the homes of victims, to see if they had recovered from the fright of being robbed.


When he finally gave himself up, police learned that he was almost 50 years of age, attended church regularly, had no police records, not even a traffic ticket on his record. They also learned that the gun he was using wouldn’t even fire. The hammer on it had long since frozen from disuse.


Lon Perry, the man whom I have been describing, had been a computer programmer, and with downsizing lost his job. Behind on his payments, he was about to lose his home. Pressed by mounting bills, he considered suicide and finally decided upon a course of action which appeared to be totally inconsistent with his entire lifestyle and background. He began a life of crime.


And how was he finally apprehended? By a security guard as he robbed a bank? By someone who made a flying tackle as he turned to leave? No–Perry’s crimes would probably have gone undetected–even his wife didn’t know–apart from a conscience that wouldn’t stop bothering him.


You see, it all came to a boil when Michael David Harvey was arrested the day after Perry’s last robbery, and charged with the crimes committed by “the Gentleman Bandit.” Perry couldn’t stand the thought of an innocent man going to jail for what he had done, so he called the police and told them they had the wrong man. “Sure, just like that?” Right! That’s exactly what he did. And after he talked things over with his minister, he gave himself up.


Long ago Shakespeare described conscience as “a horrible thing” because “it beggars the man who keeps it.” Conscience–a very powerful force in the lives of some.


The question, of course, is what caused a man who had been married for years to the same woman, who had been a churchgoing father of two, and had been a rather law-abiding citizen, to go wrong? Yes, it can be explained that he went through a mid-life crisis and snapped under the pressure. The sad thing to me is that his conscience was powerful enough to destroy him, but not strong enough to keep him from a life of crime.


What is conscience? You cannot program it like a computer. Neither can you X-ray it, or define its specific gravity, but anyone who has a knowledge of right and wrong has felt its stinging bite and heard its still but powerful voice. Some think of it as “the voice of God within you, telling you to do right.” Others, however, point out that when some do certain things with a clear conscience, others do exactly the opposite as a matter of conscience as well.


Your conscience is only as valid as is the truth which has been absorbed by your mind. If the input is valid, the voice of conscience is valid. That’s why a knowledge of God’s Word, the Bible, is so important. Obviously, Lon Perry, the “Gentleman Bandit,” knew right from wrong but violated the voice of conscience, a mistake that will keep him in prison for many years.


Before you condemn the “Gentleman Bandit” too severely, take inventory of how you have responded to your conscience even this very week. It may well be that another bandit is on the loose.


Resource reading: 1 Corinthians 6:1-20