The Academy of TV, Arts & Sciences honored eight “TV shows with a conscience” at its annual TV Academy Honors Ceremony a few months ago. One winner was a CSI Crime Scene Investigation episode about prejudice. Among the others was a documentary about Alzheimers, and one about Assisted Suicide. There was a special award for an episode of Glee that the cast performed in wheelchairs out of sympathy for a disabled member of the Glee club. Actually, the actor is not really disabled – he’s just acting disabled – a fact that has provoked many disabled actors to protest! The show has regularly been engulfed in controversy due to risque story lines and most recently a photo-shoot in GQ, in which the female actresses posed provocatively in school uniforms.

TV with a conscience
So that’s TV with a conscience! It’s thought-provoking and provocative TV. It’s TV that challenges the usual norms. And, to the extent that it reminds us of the oft-forgotten difficulties and dilemmas that people face, and makes us more thoughtful and sympathetic, it is good. But its “conscience” seems to have no reference to divine moral standards, it is dependent on electronic visual images for its long-term maintenance, and its effects are limited to the one issue of life being addressed. This is quite different to and far short of the world-changing good conscience of the Apostle Paul or of Martin Luther.

The greatest friend – or enemy
Conscience is the inner voice in every person that tells us that we ought to do God’s will. If we do, it will comfort and encourage us, regardless of painful external circumstances. If we don’t, it will accuse and pain us, regardless of external comfort. That’s why Richard Sibbes said that “conscience is either the greatest friend or the greatest enemy in the world.” As such, it has been given various names over the years: God’s spokesman, God’s deputy, God’s watchman, God’s sergeant, God’s preacher, God’s whisper.

And even the unconverted recognize the existence and benefits of conscience. The late Christopher Reeve (of Superman fame) said: “I think we all have a little voice inside us that will guide us. It may be God, I don’t know. But I think that if we shut out all the noise and clutter from our lives and listen to that voice, it will tell us the right thing to do.”

Always striving
In Acts chapter 24, Paul was in a dire situation. He had been arrested in Jerusalem, and sent to Caeserea to protect him from would-be assassins. There he was called before Felix, the Roman governor of Judea, then residing in Ceaserea. A skillful and powerful advocate, Tertullus, was the prosecuting attorney. He accused Paul of three things: (i) you are a political rebel, (ii) a Nazarene sect leader, and (iii) a Temple defiler. Paul denied charges (i) and (iii).  And though he admitted charge (ii), he denies any sense of guilt being associated with the admission.  He denied two charges with a good conscience and he admitted one charge with a good conscience. In other words, however many people, courts, Kings and Ceasar’s accused him of wrong, his conscience comforted him.

This was because he was always striving to to have a conscience without offense toward God and man (Acts 24:16). This good conscience, this clear conscience, was the great power behind Paul’s life. It changed Paul’s world, and through him changed the whole world. In the next few days we’ll look at four characteristics of a world-transforming conscience.