God's Public Relations Problem
Merriam Webster defines the conscience as the sense or consciousness of the moral goodness or blameworthiness of one's own conduct, intentions, or character together with a feeling of obligation to do right or be good. Cartoons define it as a little angel that sits on your shoulder and appeals to you to make the right choice. I bring this up because I think it’s very universal. Theistic and atheistic people both have experience with that internal warning system that also pushes us towards doing what we know is the right thing. Some people think that our consciences have a divine fingerprint i.e. they were given to us from God to help guide us. I tend to agree with that in general, but I fully understand that our consciences are also skewed by cultural, familial, historical, and other factors.
I still think that God speaks to us, and in more ways than just through our conscience. It would be nice if a booming, majestic voice rang out from the clouds every time we asked God for help or for some advice. That doesn’t seem to be the way things work though. I think there’s a good reason but fully understanding it is a little above my pay grade. Whatever the reason, most people understand that when God does interact with us His voice comes quietly, and, similar to our consciences, it’s both in our hearts and in our heads.
What does it mean, though, when that still small voice in your heart turns against you? It’s no longer simply warning you against things you know are wrong or answering prayers you’ve been praying. It’s whispering to you that you’re worthless and that your future will be filled with this same crushing loneliness that you’re experiencing right now. Is that still the voice of God? In essence, this is God’s PR problem. He does speak to us, but His isn’t the only voice that we hear. The worst part of it is that many people mistakenly think those other voices are His and believe them.
I’ve shared in other places that at the lowest point in my struggle with depression my mind would spiral out of control with self-critical and condemning thoughts even keeping sleep away at night. A crucial skill for me to learn was how to filter those thoughts and call the false ones false. That wasn’t an easy task, though, for at least a couple of reasons. First off, the thoughts would come to me in a similar quiet and heartfelt way that I was used to hearing the voice of God. This made me feel like those thoughts actually were from God and gave them this crushing heaviness of divine disappointment (side note: I think this is part of the reason people don’t seek God in their lives. They mistakenly think that that disappointed voice in the back of our heads is God’s, and if we go to Him we’ll have to live under its tyranny). Second, many of my thoughts were very believable. The negative forecast for my life felt much truer to me than the opposite. There also was some powerful evidence to support these thoughts which they seemed to have no problem quoting.
Oh did you ask why I think you suck? Well, of course, there's the laziness, social awkwardness, lack of job prospects, and general unimpressiveness... did you need more reasons? - My Thoughts
In John's gospel, Jesus paints a beautiful picture of himself as the shepherd and his followers as the sheep. He says “When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.” Of course I think that’s true, but that doesn’t necessarily make it immediate. Sometimes we need to learn the voice of the good shepherd, the voice in our hearts that we should follow. The most powerful lesson for me in this regard was understanding that God can separate my worth from my actions. Like a good parent, He’s able to talk to me about things that need to change in my life while still maintaining my status as a beloved and valuable child. I learned that there’s a difference between “you’re being lazy” and “you are lazy.” You might be able to quote something about how our actions create our identities, but that second statement has a permanence to it that isn’t true. God has labels for us, but they’re different, much better ones.
In the end, the skill of challenging our internal voices is very important. We also need to recognize that not everything that seems like it is from God is actually so. It’s not that God doesn’t really care about what’s happening. It’s that He doesn’t deal with us in the way that many of us feel like. If you struggle with a false perception that God is constantly disappointed and hard to please, I recommend also reading this article by a famous Christian author named A.W. Tozer. It’s probably my favorite one on the subject.
Some of us are religiously jumpy and self-conscious because we know that God sees our every thought and is acquainted with all our ways. We need not be. God is the sum of all patience and the essence of kindly good will. We please Him most, not by frantically trying to make ourselves good, but by throwing ourselves into His arms with all our imperfections, and believing that He understands everything and loves us still. -A. W. Tozer