“O COWARD conscience, how dost thou afflict me!” Those famous words, uttered by King Richard III in Shakespeare’s play of the same name, describe the remorse that the human conscience can provoke. In real life the conscience has unsettled and altered the lives of many.
The conscience is God’s gift to all men. It may accuse or excuse us. When we listen to it, it may save us from making mistakes, rationalizing away serious wrongdoing. So instead of ignoring its proddings or resentfully railing against it as Shakespeare’s King Richard III did, we should cherish and safeguard our conscience.
When we feel genuine remorse for a wrong we have committed and we repent and ask God to forgive us, he willingly does so—even for serious sins. “A heart broken and crushed, O God, you will not reject,” says Psalm 51:17.
A guilty conscience can help us avoid undesirable actions. Just as physical pain alerts us to a potential health problem, the emotional pain associated with guilt alerts us to a moral or spiritual problem that needs our attention. Once we are aware of the weakness, we are more inclined to avoid hurting ourselves, our loved ones, or others again in the future.