At the same lunch two days ago, my friend expressed regret at having led a somewhat tame 26 years of life. His friends regularly partied, drunk themselves silly, dated non-Christians, skipped Sunday service, and engaged in a series of other rather "un-Christian" conduct, all apparently without any adverse consequences. And there he was, apparently languishing in the pews of a highly conservative and traditional church. And single.
"Oh I can identify with that!", I say wryly. "I don’t think I’m a good person, but I’ve led a largely compliant life. Sometimes I look back and think it is a waste that I didn’t get a bit more wasted."
We go on to talk about conscience, and I suggest that there are two possible (extreme) outcomes if he decides to act against his somewhat fragile conscience, by doing something which he knows or thinks is wrong.
The first possibility is that he would not be able to handle the guilt of having acted against his conscience, and would sink in self-condemnation, despair and depression.
The other possibility is that he would numb his conscience. Having acted against his conscience once, he may lose his moral compass, and feel less inhibited about repeating the act or engaging in even more extreme conduct. Reversing that, especially when repeated acts become addictions, would be difficult.
Not very conventional "Christian" answers, I’m afraid. I should have expressed shock and horror that my friend even contemplated acting against his conscience (despite entertaining such evil thoughts myself from time to time).
But this is the reality of sin, is it not? We might overcome temptation to do wrong today, yet continue to long for the "what ifs" of having acted otherwise, and stumble the next day. The apostle Paul rightly summed it up when he said -
"I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing … what a wretched man am I!" (Romans 7 : 19, 24).
All we can do is humbly pray that we will not be tempted beyond what we can bear (1 Corinthians 10 : 13), and trust that if and when we stumble and fall, we fall into the arms of a loving and gracious God.