Bob Cornner

Bob Cornner
Visting St. Andrew's Torrance

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


Christian Conscience: The Intelligence of the Victim

What is the difference between a Christian conscience and a non-Christian conscience? Our collect for this Sunday gives us a way of looking at this question.

We will pray:

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The human conscience is formed or informed as part of the socialization process in which we are all raised from birth to death. Our collect asks God to "purify our conscience" and then describes how that purification takes place. How does God's daily visitation purify our conscience and how do we know when God is knocking on our door? 

Since the season of Advent is both a preparation for the birth of Jesus and for his coming at some future moment in time, the collect compares our personal and corporate conscience to a mansion under construction in which God will live, but which seems not to be ready yet. 

Does it sound like God is coming to inspect his future home each day? Some may feel that way and may be anxious about such inspections. But perhaps the purification process that God's visitations create are of a much deeper sort? Perhaps God's visits don't look like God knocking on our doors with an inspector's clipboard containing the blueprints for the mansion he expects us to build at all? 

Suppose instead that God's daily visitations are seen in the news each day which report, like our Prayers of the People, the needs and joys of the world? Suppose it is our awareness of the suffering of others that is the purifying action of God's daily visitation in the garb of our daily lives and the daily lives of others? 

How might our conscience be cleansed of all of those things which blind us to the needs and joys of others by such daily epiphanies of God in the needs of others?

James Alison has described this purification process as developing the "intelligence of the victim." He is not speaking of our intellectual potential for knowing facts, concepts, and the like, but about knowing the pains and joys of others that you can humbly seek to offer help or rejoice with them.

Such a purification process is what building a mansion for God is all about. To know people's needs and their suffering in a way that allows us to feel moved to help is to know God in a way that welcomes God into our world and into our hearts without reservation. From the Christ Child to the Cosmic Christ, the creation is a work in progress. It is becoming a welcoming place for the least among us and for the greatest among us as the least become our daily visit from God.

A Christian conscience is different from a non-Christian conscience as a result of this process because we identify those who are suffering with Jesus. Our conscience as Christians sees God in the least among us and we often say that how we treat the least is how we are treating Jesus. 

A non-Christian conscience differs in how it experiences God's daily visitation, but if their response to God, as God is present in the least among us, results in compassionate response, they too have a conscience which is being purified and is informed by the intelligence of the victim.  It is then by the fruit of that knowledge that the world is changed. 

Can a non-Christian receive the intelligence of the victim? Of course! No matter who you are or what you believe God surrounds us and visits us each day to help us create a space of grace and hope and love that our collect calls a mansion.

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