The Conscience in Us All

When Nwoye, Okonkwo’s son, realizes that someone has been killed in Things Fall Apart, Achebe describes his reaction this way, “…something seemed to give way inside him, like the snapping of a tightened bow. He did not cry. He just hung limp. He had the same kind of feeling not long ago…They were returning home…when they heard the voice of an infant crying in the thick forest.… Nwoye had heard that twins were put in earthenware pots and thrown away in the forest.…a vague chill had descended on him and his head seemed to swell….”

Why would Nwoye possibly have had this reaction? If tribal tradition had stated this for all of Nwoye’s life, and if he had no opportunity to learn anything different, why would he feel this way about these types of deaths. What’s the big deal about the babies being left in the forest to die?

What Achebe describes so well is what all humans possess: conscience. We know right from wrong. Especially at an early age, we experience the fundamental truth that somewhere a morality exists. As we grow older, we can suppress that truth, but Achebe has thrust it in front of us here for all to see. 

But where does this come from? Why would Nwoye feel this way? He feels this way because God created humankind in His image. Paul describes this truth in Romans when he says that even people who do not know God or His laws have a conscience that bears witness to the truth. Nwoye’s conscience was bearing witness to him about the truth that rose above tribal tradition. 

I don’t know if Nwoye will suppress this truth, fight against it, or embrace it. I do know that he does not experience these things in a vacuum. People from all over the world join him in their knowledge of the inhumanity of killing innocents. And we turn our heads and keep walking. 

The humanists would have us think that morality is based upon majority rules, but morality abides in our hearts, placed there by a loving God. We can choose to ignore that if we wish, but that doesn’t make it go away.


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