Courage and a Peaceable Conscience for Christmas

We cling to the delusion that peace within can come separately from a resolution to our sin and its consequences.

By Jennifer Hartline Published on December 3, 2016

We all want peace, right? If only the jolly old man in the red suit could stuff it into our stockings.

We want peace out there, among people and among nations. Mostly I think we long for peace within. After all, strife without is merely the result of strife within. We long for a mind and a heart at peace with ourselves.

Nobody can peaceably exist with a mind and heart in conflict with each other. The conflict only ends when the sin is confronted, admitted and repented.

The trouble for too many of us is that we cling to the delusion that peace within can come separately from a resolution to our sin and its consequences. We accept the lie that there is no such thing as sin in the first place, so there can’t be any inner, moral consequences to suffer.

But somewhere deep within, we know it’s a crock. And because we know it’s a crock, we are at war with ourselves. The law written on our hearts will not leave us alone. Nobody can peaceably exist with a mind and heart in conflict with each other. The conflict only ends when the sin is confronted, admitted and repented.

What We Can’t Not Know

J. Budziszewski describes this brilliantly in his book, What We Can’t Not Know. It is the avenging conscience. When we do wrong, even if we feel no remorse, there is still an “objective need for confession, atonement, reconciliation, and justification.” The avenging mode of conscience works like this: instead of admitting what we have done, confessing and seeking atonement; instead of trying to make right what was put wrong and get ourselves back on track, “We flee not from wrong, but from thinking about it. We compulsively confess every detail of our story, except the moral. We punish ourselves again and again, offering every sacrifice except the one demanded. We simulate the restoration of broken intimacy, by seeking companions as guilty as ourselves. And we seek not to become just, but to justify ourselves.”

He goes on to explain that ironically, the guilty often repeat the same wrong in an effort to dull the ache and avoid confronting the wrong. This is particularly so when it comes to abortion, which he calls “both the chief means by which our own society is losing moral sanity and the greatest symptom of its loss.” Shame over the deed causes many women to repeat the deed. One woman he writes about said of her second abortion, “I wanted to be able to hate myself more for what I did to the first baby.” 

The Avenging Conscience

Which brings us to the recent story out of France, in which the government there is attempting to ban a video featuring happy children with Down syndrome. This cheerful and hopeful video, filled with the beautiful faces of special-needs children, is meant to encourage parents facing a Down syndrome diagnosis for their child, and to dispel the horrible myth that nothing but doom and gloom awaits them when their baby is born.

There is a remedy, and there is a real hope of peace, both within and without. And ironically, that remedy, that hope, comes to us as a baby.

But the French State Counsel has decreed that smiling Down syndrome children will “disturb the conscience of women who had lawfully made different personal life choices.” Seeing a happy young person with Downs might so upset a woman who’d aborted her own baby that the video must never be seen.

We must not provoke the avenging conscience. Except, of course, the effort to prevent any such provocation by banning happy children only proves that the avenging conscience doesn’t wait to be provoked.

For the record, the reality of remorse, guilt, grief, and the merciless avenging conscience is precisely why the Pro-Life movement hates abortion not only because it kills a child, but because it wounds the hearts and souls of women, and leaves them battling with the avenging conscience. Women deserve better than to be beaten and tortured by something claiming to be “justice” for them.

There is no peace in abortion, and there never will be. Whatever tricks we might play in public to delude ourselves into thinking it’s a moral and loving “choice,” that place deep within us where the moral law is written indelibly on our hearts will always know the truth, and will never leave us alone. 

The Real Hope of Peace Comes as a Baby

There is a remedy, and there is a real hope of peace, both within and without. And ironically, that remedy, that hope, comes to us as a baby.

The very same finger that has etched His law into the heart of every human person now reaches up to curl around your finger, and mine, in the soft, chubby hand of a baby.

One day the Son of Man will come again as King and Judge, but for now, He comes to us as a helpless infant, begging for our love. He comes not to frighten us, or scold us, or humiliate us. On the contrary, He has humiliated Himself instead because He longs to show us the depth of His love for us. 

What our world desperately needs is to be flooded with courage, that we might face ourselves honestly, and courage to trust in the love and mercy of that baby in Mary’s arms. Jesus brings with Him the peace we crave. He breaks the cycle of guilt and repeated wrongdoing with His atoning blood. Only He can silence the avenging conscience forever with His mercy and redemption.

Santa cannot wrap these gifts and leave them under our Christmas tree. But the Child we await this Advent will bring us peace if we grab that little finger.

St. Nicholas, pray for us.

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