“Grandpa Joe, what is a guilty conscience?”
“That’s an interesting question, Michael. Is there something bothering you right now that you want to talk about?”
“No . . . I mean, just the question. I tried to ask Dad, but he gave me this big talk about sin, the flesh and guilt, and a bunch of other stuff. I don’t know; it just seemed too complicated. Your answers are always simpler than his.”
Only a grandparent can tell you what this is like, but Joe Miller experienced an actual piece of heaven as his grandson turned to him for the wisdom needed to navigate life on earth. It is a privilege extended by our Heavenly Father to those who invest in the lives of their grandchildren—a kind of sneak peek on the real thing that serves as a final incentive to stay on course late in life.
Grandpa Joe cleared his throat while he regained his composure and answered, “Well, that is very kind of you to say, Michael. I’m sure your father’s answer was right, but let me see if I can help you understand it better.”
The smell of dinner cooking and a rumble in his stomach reminded him that he was indeed still mortal, and that gave him an idea. “Before we figure this out together, would you run out to the kitchen and find out what your grandmother is making for dinner?”
Michael started to jump up, but stopped and said, “Spaghetti. We’re having spaghetti tonight.”
“Well, that was quick. I hardly saw you move and you’re back already with the answer.”
“No, Grandpa Joe, I could smell it. There’s nothing I love more than when Grandma makes spaghetti. The smell fills the whole house.”
“So it does,” Grandpa Joe agreed. “So it does. You know, a guilty conscience does the same thing.”
“A guilty conscience smells like Grandma’s spaghetti?” Michael joked, and he and his grandfather burst out laughing.
“No. Ha! Not your grandma’s spaghetti! But I’m glad you have a sense of humor. What I meant was it stinks up the whole house. You see, sometimes we get pretty good at hiding our sins from everyone, even ourselves. If sin was something that had to be seen, then a lot of people would think they got away with most of their sins. Luckily for us, God put stink into sin, which is what we call guilt. He also put a nose on our hearts to pick up the stench of that sin and let us know it’s there, and…”
“Wait a second, Grandpa Joe. A nose on our hearts? I’ve never heard anything like that before.”
“Well, that is what we call the conscience. Without the conscience to sniff out the guilt in our lives, we’d go walking around stinking up the place.”
“I think I see what you’re saying. When we sin in secret we might think we got away with it, so God gave us guilt to make the sin stink up our house, and he gave us a conscience that can smell the guilty odor so we will do something to clean up the sin in our lives. Is that right?”
“Exactly! Except that I didn’t say anything about cleaning it up. You figured that out yourself. What good would it do us to know we smelled bad, but then do nothing about it? You are exactly right!”
“Is that why we all need Jesus, Grandpa Joe?”
As the light of Christ ignited in the heart of his grandson, the stench of the earth faded away and a heavenly atmosphere surrounded Joe Miller. He took a full breath of that air from heaven, savored it for a short moment, and then let it out, saying, “I was hoping you would ask me that question.”
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