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Conscience, I was always taught, was the aboriginal voice of God in us – or as a preacher I once heard call it – ‘God’s homing beacon’. The same preacher once made a powerful sermon for the school assembly when he said that inside all of us there were two wolves fighting – a black one, full of envy, spite, malice and bad feelings – and a white one, full of compassion, love, helpfulness and good feelings. One of the boys asked which wolf won, and he said: “it depends which one you feed”. So it does. There are, of course, those who seem to have no consciences, or at least no functional one, and we call them psychopaths. But most of us have one, and those two wolves fight each other for its possession.

If we feed it the word of God, and if we try to do the word of God and to live by it, then we deny the black wolf its diet; but it takes only a moment, and no effort for us at all, to feed the black wolf. How easily bad thoughts come to us, how easy it is to pass on gossip and rumour, and to act on it; did x say y about Z, well then, since it fits with the view I already had on Z, let me hurry to pass it on – after all there’s no smoke without fire and all that. If, having done that, I feel uneasy, then I’ve been feeding that black wolf, and the odd thing about it is how fast it grows – much faster I sometimes feel than the white wolf.

None of this is an argument for salvation by works, but it’s a reminder that if our faith is real, it will feed that white wolf and starve the black one. Faith in the Lord is not a passive, intellectual exercise, it’s not like proving an equation of a piece of logical exposition – although, arguably, all of those things should be a part of it. If we have faith and there is no evidence of it in our life, then what use it is and how can folk know it is real – or even there? We can say it is – aye, well, as Hotspur said when Glendower said he could call spirits from the vasty deep – ‘but will they come when you call?’

It is not an accident that we refer to the still, small voice of God, or that saints and mystics seek the desert places with their silence and lack of distractions. If we know Christ and let him into our hearts, he changes everything. Those hoping for a quick fix sometimes get it, and sometimes it even lasts, but in the end it comes down to those two wolves – and which one we feed. On that we have a choice, and with the help of the Lord, we feed the white one and help starve the black; but the black is always ready to leap out – and our conscience is a good guide to when that happens.