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How does God regard psychopaths and sociopaths, etc, since they are apparently without conscience? Can they be judged alongside people with a normal conscience?
Thank you for your question about how God regards psychopaths and sociopaths. Does he judge them in the same way as those whose consciences are functioning normally, or in a different way?
The point at which this answer must start and end are with Abraham’s words: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:25). God is the Judge, we are not. In the end, even when we struggle to understand, we must trust that he is a God who judges justly and rightly in all his ways: Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne. (Psalm 89:14).
To answer your question more fully, I will start by laying a foundation of what the Bible says about judgement and conscience, and then think about the special case of those who appear not to have a conscience.
The Bible is clear that everyone will be judged according to what they have done (Romans 2:6). The problem for the whole human race is that no one does right all the time and so we all face God’s right condemnation for our sins (Romans 3:9-20). The only way to be saved is by having our sins forgiven by Jesus: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
Not everyone has heard of the God of the Bible, or his laws. But the Apostle Paul writes that even for those who have not heard about God, they are without excuse, because the truth about God is plainly seen in the world (Romans 1:19-20). So even those who have not heard the law of God are condemned because it is clear from creation that God is their maker.
Paul also writes of people that they show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus (Romans 2:15-16)
This verses are saying that even those who haven’t received God’s law have a conscience written on their hearts. They sometimes act in accordance with that conscience, and sometimes don’t, but the Bible assumes that every person has this conscience, so that God can justly judge all men and women.
So that brings us to your question: what of those who are psychopaths or sociopaths, who don’t appear to have a conscience? Are they also without excuse? Or does their lack of conscience mean that they will not face God’s judgement?
Experts disagree as to the exact difference between psychopaths and sociopaths. Some use those terms interchangeably, and others point to distinctions between them. For the purpose of this answer, I’m going to use them interchangeably. Psychopaths are capable of committing all sorts of acts that are clearly labelled in the Bible as sin (see Romans 1:28-32 for an example list). It is clear that whether or not psychopaths have a conscience, what they are doing is still sin. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. (Romans 14:23)
So a psychopath is still committing sinful acts. But does their lack of a conscience excuse them from God’s judgement? We must ask why they would not have a conscience. When the Bible talks about our consciences, it is clear that every one of us has a conscience that we can violate (1 Corinthians 8:10), or sear (1 Timothy 4:2), or defile (Titus 1:15). We can do this to our conscience by ignoring what it tells us, hardening our hearts. Every one of us has done it to some degree – this is the reality of being sinners in a fallen world.
It is compatible with Biblical teaching to say that some people have done this to such an extent that they have almost no conscience left. They might have done this in a variety of ways. It could be done through deliberate choices, or through their responses to the sins of others. The tragic reality of life in a fallen world is that for some people, they will harden their hearts in response to the abusive circumstances in which they have grown up. For others, their consciences will have been destroyed through committing particularly heinous sins. The Bible suggests, therefore, that those who do not have a conscience are still morally accountable because they destroyed their conscience themselves.
However, God is merciful. He is able to save to the uttermost anyone who calls on the name of Jesus.
Any sinner, psychopath or not, is described as being dead in sin, unable to raise himself to life. Jesus gives new life to the broken sinner, and is able to restore the consciences of all who trust in him. No one is beyond the reach of God’s grace. It may not be an example of a psychopath coming to faith, but the account in Mark 5:1-20 is a clear demonstration that even someone who was written off by his neighbours as beyond help could be rescued and restored to a right mind by God. It is worth adding a caveat that those in church leadership would still need wisdom when interacting with those who profess to have been former-psychopaths saved by grace. The church can appear to be an easy target for predators and, while extending grace to all, church leaders would be wise to bear this in mind.
So, in summary, how does God regard those who appear not to have a conscience? The Bible points to the fact that those who do not have consciences do not have them because they have hardened and violated their consciences by their own actions. This should be a warning to each one of us not to violate our own conscience!
Ultimately, we must ask the same question as Abraham: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just? (Genesis 18:25)
Here are some more Bible verses for your further consideration:
- Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne. (Psalm 89:14)
- For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13)
- But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour (Titus 3:4-6).
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All Scripture references are taken from the English Standard Version of the Holy Bible.
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