“Great men are not always wise: neither do the aged understand judgment.” (Job 32:9)
There is much to be said for life experiences; and much has been said. For instance: “In youth we learn, in age we understand”; “By far, the best proof is experience”; “One must learn by doing the thing, for though you think you know it, you have no certainty until you try it.” It has been elevated to a status, however, far beyond its potential or capabilities. Like every other humanistic philosophy, it considers our own estimation of things to be equal with God’s. It has no more accurate claim on infallibility than anything else in life. As Mark Twain wrote:
We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it - and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again - and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore. ~ Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar, Following the Equator, 1897
The trouble is, we all tend to put our own slant on the experiences we have, generally based on previous ones, as Twain suggests. For that reason, it would be foolish to put our experiences on the same plane with truth. Based on this premise, I’d like to make two more observations about life experiences.
1. Experience is only helpful if we learn from it. As the cited verse in Job tells us, it’s possible to reach a ripe old age without the benefit of good judgment. Just because one has experienced life does not mean he or she has been paying attention. We all make mistakes, and will until we are delivered from these bodies of sin; but, as children of God, to make the same ones over and over may not indicate a weak believer (1Cor.8:11), but a carnal one (1Cor.3:1). As someone has said, there is only one thing worse than learning from experience, and that is not learning from experience.
2. Experience is not the same as qualification. Qualification for what? you ask. Many things, but especially those things that have to do with counseling or giving advice. Our experiences of suffering and trials may make us better comforters (2Cor.1:4); but beyond that, our bad experiences and encounters with the things of this world can only be a help to someone else if we have learned from them. And to assume that one can only learn about the wages of sin from someone who has paid them is to minimize the counsel of godly parents or other saints in the body of Christ. We’re all sinners, and the whole idea of being in the family of God is feeling comfortable with our brothers and sisters, whatever their experiences. As I look back on my own life, it wasn’t the people who knew life that helped me the most; it was the people who knew God.
You can learn from experience; but you might not. Or you can follow the perfect law of the Lord and be sure of the way to go (Psl.19). In the final analysis, a single truth is of much greater value than a thousand experiences.