Bonhoeffer On Conscience

Conscience is the awareness of oneself. It is our gaze turned inward for examination. Conscience forms the moral component of the inner life that deals with decisions of good and evil and the aftermath of those decisions. The conscience borrows from all other parts of the heart: the mind to assess, the emotions for guilt or satisfaction, and the desires to encourage good. Though it borrows from these parts, it is beyond all parts.
Conscience is central to understanding who we are and who we need to be. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, “Conscience comes from a depth which lies beyond a man’s own will and his own reason and makes itself heard as the call of human existence to unify himself.”
Conscience does not merely judge our actions; it judges our being. It is concerned with action, but also with the condition of our heart. This is why Bonhoeffer calls any rebellion against our conscience an act of spiritual suicide. To go against conscience is to go against ourselves.
This creates a problem because we are divided. Our knowledge of right and wrong does not mean we will live right. Ultimately, the conscience must find its justification of the self in Christ and not in self.
I think Bonhoeffer’s analysis is fascinating on this subject. One of the great frustrations of Ethics is that it is an incomplete book (written shortly before his death and unfinished). I wish he had written more on the topic. Yet, in a few pages, he says more than many say in complete books.


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