Letting Our Conscience Be Our Guide

Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur.  For a while he stayed in Gerar, and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.”  Then Abimelek king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her.
But God came to Abimelek in a dream one night and said to him, “You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.”
Now Abimelek had not gone near her, so he said, “Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation?  Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister,’ and didn’t she also say, ‘He is my brother’?  I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.”
Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me.  That is why I did not let you touch her.  Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live.  But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all who belong to you will die.”
Early the next morning Abimelek summoned all his officials, and when he told them all that had happened, they were very much afraid.  Then Abimelek called Abraham in and said, “What have you done to us?  How have I wronged you that you have brought such great guilt upon me and my kingdom?  You have done things to me that should never be done.”  And Abimelek asked Abraham, “What was your reason for doing this?”
Abraham replied, “I said to myself, ‘There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’  Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife.  And when God had me wander from my father’s household, I said to her, ‘This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, “He is my brother.”’”
Then Abimelek brought sheep and cattle and male and female slaves and gave them to Abraham, and he returned Sarah his wife to him.  And Abimelek said, “My land is before you; live wherever you like.”
To Sarah he said, “I am giving your brother a thousand shekels of silver.  This is to cover the offense against you before all who are with you; you are completely vindicated.”
Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelek, his wife and his female slaves so they could have children again, for the Lord had kept all the women in Abimelek’s household from conceiving because of Abraham’s wife Sarah.

  • Genesis 20:1-18

“The truth is: It is impossible physiologically for any of us to speak without using our brain; and we are tripartite in our makeup, such a unity of mind, body, and soul that we cannot speak without the force of our psyche’s (or the inner self’s) influence.
“One of the most beneficial instructions I ever received in a writing class was from a professor who understood the interplay between one’s writing and the mind’s replay of words.  ‘Let you conscience be your guide.  If there’s a word that troubles you, if there’s a phrase that bothers you every time you read it – edit, delete, change, check the spelling.  Let your conscience be your guide.’
“What a strange approach! – attend not to the Chicago Manual of Style, not to Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style (although I’m sure he wouldn’t have denied their importance), but first and foremost, to one’s inner sense of right and wrong word choice.
“This instruction has been invaluable to me; and I find my inner voice unerringly accurate if I will but listen to it.  In fact, I’ve added a moral dimension to my professor’s advice.  The more truthful I become internally, the more truthful my word choice, my idea expression, my content, my writer’s voice, my style!  I’m much more careful to draw on valid expert opinion, to give credit for quotes and receive permissions, to not misconstrue or manipulate other’s ideas to undergird my own and to not represent Scripture out of context.  One’s inner morality imposes strict integrity on the writing process.”

  • Karen Burton Mains, You Are What You Say

In the book, the author talks about what you should not say more than what you should say, but “saying” and “writing” are very similar.  We should watch what we write also.

In fact, I much prefer writing.  I am an introvert, and I flubber things up when I speak in front of a group of people.  God may have “cured” me of my glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, long ago, but I would love to blame my lack of comfort speaking to a large crowd for the “open mouth – insert foot” moments in my life.

My last employer got my attention saying that if I said something wrong in the classroom and someone heard the wrong thing – not hearing the correction of that wrong thing – I could easily have led someone into a dangerous situation that could get people killed.

But I also seemed to have two personalities in my psyche: the teacher mode, where I was calm and precise, and the father/husband mode, where I got emotional, irritated, and occasionally haphazard.  It irritated that my family often totally ignored me while total strangers clung to every word that I said.  Yet, when I flipped the switch at home, I could calmly teach the boys something that they needed to know (driving skills, use of hand tools, etc.).

The entire book by Ms. Mains is about using our words for good instead of bad, whether spoken or written.  And in some cases, it is not what we say, but how we say it.

To tie in the Scripture, Abraham moves to Gerar and says that Sarah is his sister, afraid that these pagans will kill him and take Sarah for themselves.  Abraham is not totally telling a lie in that Sarah is his half-sister.  King Abimelek (or Abimelech in some texts) takes Sarah as part of his harem.  Abimelek is told in a dream what is really going on, confronts Abraham, and then to make things right for having stolen Abraham’s wife, gives Abraham gifts and best wishes as he politely asks him to leave town.

This is a very bizarre story in Scripture, but the only chapter that is totally devoted to Isaac, Genesis 26, six chapters later, is a repeat performance of this bizarre story, with a few details changed, again with King Abimelek and now Isaac and Rebekah.  Rev. John MacArthur, in his commentary, states that Abimelek must be a dynasty type name, not the same king many years later.  It could be like King Louis, king of France, changing the number each generation.

“Louis the Sixteenth was the King of France in 1789
He was worse than Louis the Fifteenth
He was worse than Louis the Fourteenth
He was worse than Louis the Thirteenth
He was the worst since Louis the First
King Louis was living like a king, but the people were living rotten
So the people, they started an uprising which they called the French Revolution,
And of course you remember their battle cry, which will never be forgotten…”

  • Allan Sherman, the introduction (to the tune to the French anthem, sort of, La Marseillaise) to You Went the Wrong Way, Old King Louie (to the tune of You Came the Long Way from St. Louis)

Enough of “Old King Louie,” but Abraham knew Abimelek was a pagan and would not live by the same moral standards as did Abraham.  But wait!  Abimelek had a conscience.

Buried down deep inside, very deep for some of us sadly, there is a conscience.  God breathed the breath of life into Adam and Eve.  We are made in God’s image.  Other animals may have endearing instincts that we might anthropomorphize, but we are the part of Creation that has a soul.

Abimelek knew it was against the rules to sleep with another man’s wife.  But wait, again!  Whose rules?!  The Ten Commandments are not given to Moses until Exodus 20, fifty chapters after this story (the rest of Genesis and then to Exodus 20).  Back to the conscience of that last paragraph.  It is why Paul says in Romans 1:20 that we have no excuse.

Do we have an excuse for bad style, poor spelling, misusing homonyms including some that really are not homonyms but are often interchanged (like then and than) …?

There are mistakes and then there are sins.  Sometimes, we are in a hurry to press the “publish” button.  And please, do not say that I am the only one?!?!

But the reason why I love writing compared to speaking is that when I speak, the words are out there, and you cannot grab them and shove them back into your mouth.

But when writing, I can do any of the suggestions that Ms. Mains’ professor suggested.  I can edit to the point of rewriting.  I can delete the bad word, misused word, or even the entire article without ever publishing it, with 2-3 in the Trash Can.  I can change the entire timbre of the article.  I can remember a few articles that I was about to publish, a couple already published but scheduled in a few days.  In each case, I got a horrible night’s sleep thinking about what everyone or even one person my think of the article.  And before I did anything beyond brushing my teeth, I changed the focus, the moral lesson, and the theme of the article.  I realized my own sin in how I was thinking about a situation or a person.  I had to confess and repent before rewriting, all before the usual mad dash run to the bathroom.  Of course, the professor’s suggestion to check spelling is automatically done these days, but did the computer get it right?

I am not singling out people who misssspell words.  And I have no idea why I love missssspelling the word misspell.  I am just thinking about the book that I just read.  She touches on so many evils that emerge from the tongue – cursing and lies just for starters.

Even David Robertson, the Wee Flea, who says that he never publishes something until he has confirmation from multiple sources, has had to retract something – on rare occasion, but it happens.  I love a tweet, that I cannot find to quote exactly, but Beth Moore was being cruelly chided over something in one of her books by a Twitter tweet, and she responded with something like “Yeah, sometimes I disagree with what she said too.”  Sometimes, we grow as a Christian; other times, we realize that we were simply wrong.  And there are probably other reasons we might wish to later retract something that we said or maybe clarify it to avoid someone misreading it.

But Ms. Mains goes on to write about therapy for such wrong-doings, and then a couple of chapters on what we really should be talking about.  I will touch on one of those in a couple of days.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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