Description: How God speaks through our conscience
WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?
God’s Voice in our Conscience
by Ernest O’Neill
We’re talking on this program each day about the meaning of life. We are talking about how we believe life was
meant to work and how you and I were meant to operate. That is to say, how did the Supreme Being who made us
intend us to live? We have, of course, been going back to as detailed a source of information as to His
explanation as we can find. We seem to find it most clearly expressed in the words of the man we know as Jesus
of Nazareth, that unique man who lived in the first century of our era, and gave every reason for us to
believe that He is more than a human being.
He not only said that He would destroy death, but He did destroy it. You remember that He lived for more than
a month after He was actually killed in an execution outside Jerusalem. We have been studying what His
explanation of what His Father said was the reason for our existence, and how we could fulfill that reason or
that purpose. What we have shared is that our Creator made us, so that you could enjoy His friendship. That is
why He made you and me.
You’re not made primarily to eke out a living here on earth somehow or other. You’re not made primarily to
work on a computer, or to brush floors, or to primarily be a nurse or a doctor. You’re made primarily to
become the kind of person that will be at home with the Person who made you for the rest of your existence. In
other words, He made you to enjoy His friendship, to enjoy His love. That’s why He made you with the same
capabilities as Himself.
What we have been talking about is the three levels of life that He gave us in our own personalities. You do
exist on three different levels. I mean you exist on a physical level; your body is physical. He gave you a
body. Secondly, you exist on a psychological level or soul, which is your mind and emotions and will. Then the
deepest level of all is your spirit. That’s, of course, the heart of His own life. The heart of His life is
His Spirit. The Spirit of God is the very essence of God.
The spirit of a man is the very essence of a man. It’s you. It is what you are when you’re alone, when you’re
not being motivated or pressured from outside. What you are is your spirit. Your spirit is the part of you
that is able to commune with God. That is why, of course, so much of our argument about philosophy and
theology and psychology is pretty pointless. It all takes place in the intellectual realm, or the mind, and
the mind is not the part of us that communicates with God.
The mind is the part of us that is conscious of ourselves. The mind is able to reflect on ourselves, on what
we think and what we feel. The mind itself is not able to get in touch with God. It is your spirit that does
that. If you say, “Well, how does it do that?” Your spirit’s really you, so it’s what you really want. Strong
desire for God is the first step in beginning to come into communion with Him.
The second step is, of course, the giving of some attention to another function of your spirit, and we began
to talk about that last time. That is the function of your spirit known as your conscience. Your conscience is
the part of you that urges you to live up to the best that you know. It is not necessarily the set of
standards that you have. Those are often influenced by your education and by your family and by your
It is not necessarily the ethical ideals that you have. Your conscience is, strictly speaking, stripped down
to its bare necessity, that part of you that urges you to live up to the best that you know. It’s actually
part of God’s own mind that He has put into you, however dead your spirit might be. And you might say “Aw,
don’t talk to me about spirit. I’ve no idea what you’re talking about. I don’t have a spirit.” Most of us feel
that way because our spirits long ago have gone to sleep and we exist only on a psychological level or a
But actually your spirit is still inside you, even though it’s half asleep and half dead. As far as your
Creator is concerned, the part of your spirit that is still alive is your conscience, that part of you that
urges you to live up to the best that you know. Actually, the truth is that you’ll get far better, far further
in trying to get close to God by actually respecting your conscience and by responding to your conscience,
than by all the other religious practices you might indulge in.
That is because your conscience is part of God’s life within you. It is a direct hotline that He has to you.
It is His own desires for you. Now you may say, “Aw, now you’re back to this business of being a
goodie-goodie.” No, I am not talking about morals, nor about what we discuss, as humans, as morals, or even
ethics or crime. I am talking about the urges deep within you that you have at times, feelings of “I ought”
that you have.
Perhaps you feel, “I ought to go and visit my mother.” Now that isn’t really a crime or not a crime. It’s not
necessarily moral or immoral. It’s not actually ethical or unethical. Often nobody will know if you’ve done it
or not, except your mother. But, if you will respond to those secret urges within you, you’re actually
responding to the movement of God’s life inside of you.
Many of them, of course, are absolutely foolish things that nobody else knows about. I’m not talking about
silly, psychologically imbalanced things like “I mustn’t walk on the cracks in the pavement or the sidewalk”.
But I’m talking about feelings that you have at times that I shouldn’t do that, or I should do that. Sometimes
it’s maybe a sense that, “Oh, I shouldn’t speak to that person that way” or “I shouldn’t talk as loudly as I
do” or “I shouldn’t boast at that moment. I shouldn’t be facetious at that moment.”
It’s things inside that you sense are things you should do or shouldn’t do. Often they’re absolutely apart
from what religious people think are right or wrong and they’re usually quite separate from what your
colleagues at business or at work or your fellow students think are right or wrong. They consist of God’s
secret, personal guidance to you. If you and I would begin to respond to our conscience, we would often sense
our spirits (of which our consciences are a part); our spirits would begin to get stronger. We would start to
sense more of the invisible, uncreated life of God that is operating all the time in the universe.
Your conscience often is the best sign that God has put inside you. It’s the clearest evidence that He has of
His existence. When you respond to your conscience, you’re often making some of the best steps towards Him
that you could.
Part of the problem that some of us get into is that we begin to substitute other people’s standards of
behavior for our own conscience. Of course, it works, you know, two ways. Sometimes it works in what we regard
as the conventional way. As young people we came from our homes with all kinds of ideas of what were right and
wrong. Then, as we come to the big, bad city and all that kind of thing, then we substitute other people’s
easier standards or morality for the morality that we had.
Now, I know that that works and that’s wrong. But I’m not talking particularly about that. Often it happens
the other way. Often we live our lives under the pressure of external standards that other people impose upon
us. We think, “Oh, these are religious, or goodie-goodie standards, or these are moral standards, or these are
philosophical standards. Or, these are psychological standards.” We think we should abide by those and often
we think we should run our lives by those. In fact, we end up losing our own selves.
We can’t find ourselves any longer. We cease to live by our own conscience. We cease to respond to our own
conscience, so our spirit’s more and more dead. We actually find we are losing ourselves. That’s perhaps a
little of what Wordsworth, you remember, meant when he said “Heaven lies about us in our infancy; shades of
the prison house begin to close around the growing boy. At length the man perceives it die away and fade into
the light of coming day.”
Many of us have lost ourselves, because we haven’t actually listened to our conscience. Let’s talk just a
little more about that function of our spirit tomorrow.