It took 42 years, but a stolen Bible was finally returned to Holy Trinity Church in Hastings, England. The Bible’s arrival — from Germany — was expected.
A couple weeks earlier, Simon Scott, the church’s treasurer had received an anonymous letter explaining how and why a 200 year-old Bible had been stolen from the church in 1971.
In a letter reported in the Hastings Observer, the person writes:
“It may be astonishing to you to receive a letter from one whom you do not know. More than ever to receive a parcel which contains an old Bible. In 1971 I was just married and went with my wife to Hastings to upgrade our English knowledge for a better start in our occupations. The English lesson we had were in some rather old and dark rooms not made for lecturing. The lecturer himself seem to be very old and he had no teaching skills. He confused us totally.
So we were very disappointed as we paid a lot of money for the four week course. In this excited moment I made a big mistake. I saw some gorgeous Holy Bibles in a corner underneath a bench. It seemed they were no worth for the community or the church and I took one with me home. It was a compensation for the poor course. In my mind I wanted to read and study chapter by chapter to complete my English.
But in reality I did not. Back home I felt my action was not correct. Even more my wife was very angry and tried to persuade me to return the book. This Bible always brought me a guilty conscience. I was too cowardly to hand it over personally. Now I am retired and I make a final impulse to clear my conscience. I deeply regret what I did and can only hope this Bible finds its rightful home again.”
As we read this letter, we see the man kept this Bible for 40 years, it was never read, but as well never thrown out. It travelled with him from house to house and even country to country. But it weighed on his conscience and both he and his wife suffered pangs of guilt.
The Apostle Paul speaks to our conscience saying, “in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them” (Romans 2:15).
The word conscience refers to judgment which the mind passes on the morality or immorality of particular action. Our conscience analyzes every action and either approves or disapproves. Paul says it is evidence of the law which was not only written in stone, but also on a person’s heart.
Hardening of our heart
However, our heart can be hardened — causing us to lose this vital moral compass. The hardening can happen in a couple ways.
It can be caused by a one time dramatic event. The Apostle Paul describes those whose hearts were “seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron.” (1 Timothy 4:2 NASV). This speaks of a significant event (like the touch of a branding iron) that creates hardened scar tissue on the heart. It can be a one time act of sin or even an offence or hurt. If not dealt with immediately, scar tissue builds desensitizing our heart.
Or it can develop gradually as referred to in Mark 6:52, “for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened.”
The Greek word hardened (popote) used in Mark means to build up callouses. Callouses develop on our hands and feet over time from repeated wear and have the positive effect of dulling the pain and discomfort. However, it can have a negative effect in our heart, where repeated ignoring of our conscience similarly builds up calluses, dulling us to the feelings of guilt.
People described as psychopaths are extreme examples of people without a conscience.
It is equally obvious, the couple with the Bible hadn’t hardened their hearts, as 40 years later their conscience was still bothering them.
Good for them.