Written Upon Our Hearts

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There is something called the Natural Law. It states that the moral standards that govern human behavior are objectively derived from the nature of human beings and the nature of the world. Christians understand this to be God’s law. We believe that God created all things in nature, including us, who he made ʺin his own image and likeness.ʺ We also believe, as Paul tells us, that God has written this law on the heart of every human being. ʺThey show that the demands of the law are written in their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even defend them on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge people’s hidden works through Christ Jesus.ʺ (Romans 2:15)

This echoes Jeremiah’s prophetic words, given to him by the Spirit, in his chapter 31. ʺI will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people. They will no longer teach their friends and relatives, ʺKnow the Lord!ʺ Everyone, from least to greatest, shall know me—oracle of the Lord—for I will forgive their iniquity and no longer remember their sin.ʺ

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Sin is always the product of a defiant rejection of the Natural Law, the law of God written on our hearts. The great irony is that, like all actions done in accord with the Natural Law have consequences, so do all those done in defiance of it. Every one of us knows this by experience. We all have a conscience and we have all experienced its recognition of consequences.

Conscience works within us both before and after our moral actions. Before, it warns us. It makes us uncomfortable with the struggle between what we know is right and what we know is wrong. The trick for all of us is to listen more carefully to our consciences at this time, and to develop the habits of choosing the good more and more often. The after effects of conscience are either a sense of peace, or comfort, in the realization of having done ʺthe right thing.ʺ Or, if we have defied the law written on our hearts, it nags at us, accuses us with a sense of painful guilt. In either case it is working on our behalf. If my conscience accuses me, I need to listen to that, to learn to see its wisdom, and to take the opportunity to go to God for his forgiveness, which Jeremiah clearly tells us will be freely given to us by God. In other words, our conscience, which is tune with the Natural Law, the Law of God, is there to warn us of the potential harm that is being done to our eternal souls. Just as pain, which is a function of the Natural law in the physical world, is a survival mechanism to make us aware of harm being done to our physical bodies.

God has given us a great gift in having written his law, the Natural Law, into our hearts. It is a life saving tool to be used in conjunction with his other awesome gift to us, our free will. It is up to us to grow in our awareness of what is right and wrong, through our studies of scripture, through our prayer lives, through our worship at church, through our listening to the wise and holy ones around us, and to teach it then to our children. We must give them the wisdom of our own experience. In truth, our conscience can be our best guide to humility and obedience. These two virtues are the remedies to the sins of pride and disobedience. Through the latter we lost Eden. Through the former, and through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the grace of the Holy Spirit, we find our way back into the Garden.

Lent is a perfect time to listen to our consciences. It is to heal our guilt that Jesus came into the world. He also came to teach us to listen to our consciences, to respond more regularly to the Law that he has written on our hearts. It is this Natural Law, the Law of God, that draws us into union with our Creator. It is the goodness that he made us in. To sully it is foolishness. To live it is eternal joy.

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.