In the book ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, something profound is said in Chapter 11 by Atticus, the father of the narrator of the story. The book is written from the perspective of Scout, a young girl who is 6 to 9 years old in the course of the book.
Atticus who is a lawyer has taken up a case to defend a black man who’s accused of raping a white girl. It’s a big deal in 1930s Alabama in a racially charged small town and the whole family suffers because of his decision. Scout and his brother Jem are constantly mocked in school, the neighbors call them names and the extended family is openly against it.
At a Christmas get together young Scout had to punch his cousin in the face for calling his father a nigger lawyer. It’s against the grain and a bad decision in the eyes of everyone.
Scout confronted his father and said, you must be wrong. When he asked why, she replied that everyone seemed to think it was wrong to defend a black man.
Atticus looked at his daughter and said, “𝑡ℎ𝑒𝑦’𝑟𝑒 𝑐𝑒𝑟𝑡𝑎𝑖𝑛𝑙𝑦 𝑒𝑛𝑡𝑖𝑡𝑙𝑒𝑑 𝑡𝑜 𝑡ℎ𝑖𝑛𝑘 𝑡ℎ𝑎𝑡, 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑡ℎ𝑒𝑦’𝑟𝑒 𝑒𝑛𝑡𝑖𝑡𝑙𝑒𝑑 𝑡𝑜 𝑓𝑢𝑙𝑙 𝑟𝑒𝑠𝑝𝑒𝑐𝑡 𝑓𝑜𝑟 𝑡ℎ𝑒𝑖𝑟 𝑜𝑝𝑖𝑛𝑖𝑜𝑛𝑠… 𝑏𝑢𝑡 𝑏𝑒𝑓𝑜𝑟𝑒 𝐼 𝑐𝑎𝑛 𝑙𝑖𝑣𝑒 𝑤𝑖𝑡ℎ 𝑜𝑡ℎ𝑒𝑟 𝑓𝑜𝑙𝑘𝑠 𝐼’𝑣𝑒 𝑔𝑜𝑡 𝑡𝑜 𝑙𝑖𝑣𝑒 𝑤𝑖𝑡ℎ 𝑚𝑦𝑠𝑒𝑙𝑓. 𝑇ℎ𝑒 𝑜𝑛𝑒 𝑡ℎ𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑡ℎ𝑎𝑡 𝑑𝑜𝑒𝑠𝑛’𝑡 𝑎𝑏𝑖𝑑𝑒 𝑏𝑦 𝑚𝑎𝑗𝑜𝑟𝑖𝑡𝑦 𝑟𝑢𝑙𝑒 𝑖𝑠 𝑎 𝑝𝑒𝑟𝑠𝑜𝑛’𝑠 𝑐𝑜𝑛𝑠𝑐𝑖𝑒𝑛𝑐𝑒.”
He described the case as something that goes to the essence of man’s conscience and that he couldn’t go to church and worship God if he didn’t try to help that (black) man.
The accusation was baseless, the evidence was scanty. The whole case was a façade but that didn’t stop the jury from returning with a guilty verdict.
As I kept reading through the book that quote kept ringing in my mind. You really have to live with yourself first and sometimes doing the right thing goes against what everyone thinks and knows. If the right thing is always popular, then it might not be right. To do the right thing means some form of suffering will come your way but it pays in the long run.
The worst kind of suffering is the one from within, when you’re conflicted, when you do what you believe to be wrong. It’s worse when it’s done perpetually.
Jordan Peterson has this rule in his book, Tell the truth, or at least don’t lie. The courage to speak the truth isn’t always present, and sometimes you simply don’t know the truth. In that case don’t lie. Don’t say anything that you know not to be true.
Basically, don’t lie to yourself.
But that doesn’t mean that our conscience is always right, what feeds your conscience determines the signals it sends to you but that’s an entirely different subject. What’s important is that there’s a bigger judge than your conscience.
Paul in 1 Corinthians 4: 3 – 5
3 𝐼 𝑐𝑎𝑟𝑒 𝑣𝑒𝑟𝑦 𝑙𝑖𝑡𝑡𝑙𝑒 𝑖𝑓 𝐼 𝑎𝑚 𝑗𝑢𝑑𝑔𝑒𝑑 𝑏𝑦 𝑦𝑜𝑢 𝑜𝑟 𝑏𝑦 𝑎𝑛𝑦 ℎ𝑢𝑚𝑎𝑛 𝑐𝑜𝑢𝑟𝑡; 𝑖𝑛𝑑𝑒𝑒𝑑, 𝐼 𝑑𝑜 𝑛𝑜𝑡 𝑒𝑣𝑒𝑛 𝑗𝑢𝑑𝑔𝑒 𝑚𝑦𝑠𝑒𝑙𝑓. 4 𝑀𝑦 𝑐𝑜𝑛𝑠𝑐𝑖𝑒𝑛𝑐𝑒 𝑖𝑠 𝑐𝑙𝑒𝑎𝑟, 𝑏𝑢𝑡 𝑡ℎ𝑎𝑡 𝑑𝑜𝑒𝑠 𝑛𝑜𝑡 𝑚𝑎𝑘𝑒 𝑚𝑒 𝑖𝑛𝑛𝑜𝑐𝑒𝑛𝑡. 𝐼𝑡 𝑖𝑠 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝐿𝑜𝑟𝑑 𝑤ℎ𝑜 𝑗𝑢𝑑𝑔𝑒𝑠 𝑚𝑒. 5 𝑇ℎ𝑒𝑟𝑒𝑓𝑜𝑟𝑒 𝑗𝑢𝑑𝑔𝑒 𝑛𝑜𝑡ℎ𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑏𝑒𝑓𝑜𝑟𝑒 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑎𝑝𝑝𝑜𝑖𝑛𝑡𝑒𝑑 𝑡𝑖𝑚𝑒; 𝑤𝑎𝑖𝑡 𝑢𝑛𝑡𝑖𝑙 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝐿𝑜𝑟𝑑 𝑐𝑜𝑚𝑒𝑠. 𝐻𝑒 𝑤𝑖𝑙𝑙 𝑏𝑟𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑡𝑜 𝑙𝑖𝑔ℎ𝑡 𝑤ℎ𝑎𝑡 𝑖𝑠 ℎ𝑖𝑑𝑑𝑒𝑛 𝑖𝑛 𝑑𝑎𝑟𝑘𝑛𝑒𝑠𝑠 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑤𝑖𝑙𝑙 𝑒𝑥𝑝𝑜𝑠𝑒 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑚𝑜𝑡𝑖𝑣𝑒𝑠 𝑜𝑓 𝑡ℎ𝑒 ℎ𝑒𝑎𝑟𝑡. 𝐴𝑡 𝑡ℎ𝑎𝑡 𝑡𝑖𝑚𝑒 𝑒𝑎𝑐ℎ 𝑤𝑖𝑙𝑙 𝑟𝑒𝑐𝑒𝑖𝑣𝑒 𝑡ℎ𝑒𝑖𝑟 𝑝𝑟𝑎𝑖𝑠𝑒 𝑓𝑟𝑜𝑚 𝐺𝑜𝑑.
Paul is confident in his conscience but he knows it’s not what will justify him in the end. The ultimate standard of judgement is beyond any human, it is with the Lord himself.