When your alarm goes off

I grew up hearing about NORAD, the early warning system built across arctic Canada to alert the Strategic Air Command to inbound bombers or ballistic missiles. The North Atlantic has an underwater SOSUS network that stretches from Scotland to Iceland to Greenland to monitor submarine traffic. Our houses have smoke alarms to protect us while we sleep.

God has given at least some of us a sixth sense, a shuddering biological alarm within the ear that warns us against arachnids too close for comfort. This irritating, involuntary twitching has kept me safe from black widow spiders many times.

God has also installed in us a spiritual alarm called the conscience. The English word comes from a combination of two Latin words: con (alongside, with) and science (knowledge). The Greek word syneidesis is similar: syn (together with) and eidesis (thinking). It refers to that second part of the mind that watches the moral decisions we make and passes judgment on them.

Paul describes people whose consciences "are corrupted" and "have been seared as with a hot iron" (Titus 1:15; 1 Tim. 4:2). By persistent effort, they have managed to turn off the spiritual alarm and embrace what they should push away.

If we can disconnect our smoke alarms, we risk the tragic results. We can ignore the shuddering in our ear and suffer a painful bite. We can disregard the warnings of the conscience only at our own spiritual peril.

—Steve Singleton