What do we make of our experiences?

I suspect if we were to share stories about what I have witnessed, the details might differ from your experiences, however common traits would emerge. Here’s a few examples of what I have seen.

  • As a lady walked toward a spiritist center, a seasoned missionary asked her, “Why are you attending tonight?” She said, “The last time my husband was unemployed I went to the spiritist center. The next day he got a job. I am going, so that my husband will get a job.”
  • An atheist, living with the view that his life existed on the edge of oblivion, described treasuring each moment. He concluded that living with this heightened intensity provided a superior life to what theism offered.
  • Standing on my front doorstep, the truck driver admitted that he did not go to church. However, he quickly followed this up by claiming that he felt his relationship with God was good because life was going well and he was a basically good guy.
  • Feeling like she was at the end of her rope, she decided to attend a faith-based meeting that began with worship. Because she found hope and encouragement, she concluded everything about this group aligned with God’s will.

Although these stories differ, they share a common characteristic. In each case, people navigated life by believing their experiences revealed truth. In other words, if something seemed to work, it must be good and true. Perhaps one expression of this impulse is captured in those old lyrics, “It can’t be wrong when it feels so right.”

What do we make of our experiences? If something works, do we regard it as true?

Hmm.  Because of what I read in scripture, I have concluded that our experiences do not provide us with reliable compasses. Consider for instance Jesus’ statement how God expresses his love toward all people. “He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:43).

Should the unrighteous conclude that because the sun rises on them and they enjoy rain that their ways are right? Does experiencing blessings mean that the universe approves?

Scripture puts it even more bluntly in Deuteronomy 13:1-13. God warned Israel against embracing ideas just because they worked. If an idea contravened God’s word by calling God’s people to chart another path, it was to be rejected regardless of its success.

In fact, God announced that sometimes he would allow what was false to succeed in order to “know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him” (Deuteronomy 13:3,4).

In general terms, our experiences can often be helpful. Touch a hot stove; it burns. Learn the lesson to not touch it again. However, scripture reveals that our experiences are not the gold standard for truth. If we want a reliable source for navigating life, we need to digest and then live out God’s word.

“Your word is a lamp to walk by,

and a light to illumine my path” (Psalm 119:106).

Share your thoughts: