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Worthless Experience

Posted by Remy on April 1, 2009

As children of the enlightenment we have swallowed empiricism and pushed it into all corners. The idea that knowledge arises from experience, that our epistemology is rationally based, leads to some pretty insipid ideas. One of the more dangerous is the view that experiencing a sin gives us knowledge unattainable anywhere else.

For example, let’s say someone falls into the sin of drug abuse. He repents, cleans himself up, and goes on to become a drug counsellor. Another man feels called to drug counsellor as well, he spends time studying the issue, speaking with addicts, counselling addicts, and is every bit as qualified as the once addicted drug counsellor. In this scenario we tend to think that the one who has experienced drug-addiction is better equipped to counsel. We are wrong to think this and it is a problem for several reasons.

The primary reason is that this disqualifies Christ Jesus as a model. No doubt the first objection to this is “Jesus isn’t fair”. Of course this could be stated in every situation where Jesus is presented as our model. If Jesus is our model and the experience of a sin gives knowledge that cannot be gotten any other way then we are put in the absurd position of admitting that Christ is inadequate. 

Let’s demonstrate the problem this way. Say we’re choosing a brain surgeon to remove a tumor. There are two doctors at the top of the field. One doctor is a perfect ten for ten in successfully removing the tumor and the other doctor is 8 of 10, with two dying on the operation table. All other things being equal who do we want doing our surgery? The one who knows what it’s like to have a patient die on the table, right? Because he is better equipped from his experience to avoid future mistakes. Of course not. We want the doc with the perfect record.

Now, this isn’t a perfect example of course because death in a difficult and risky surgery isn’t a sin, but it does show how experience itself isn’t a benefit. The other damaging aspect is in thinking that holiness isn’t as potent in accruing knowledge as sin. Let’s consider another example to help us see the harm in sin and the benefit of righteousness.

Let’s say there are two sons, one son curses his father and leaves, but the other son remains faithful in his love for his father. A few years go by and the wicked son returns, apologizes, and lives again in faithful love. Whose love is stronger? Whose is deeper? Obviously, it is the son who remains, who labored with his father in love and any talk about the other son knowing what it means to be without a father, who has experienced the hatred it takes to curse your father is beside the point. While it may be a benefit to the sinful son, his experience has nothing to add to the faithful son. 

If I were to bring up other sins that this point grows stronger. Do we need our children to experience fornication or homosexuality before they can really understand the benefit of sexual purity? Do they need to experience sin so they are better equipped to resist it in the future? Unfortunately, many Christians have indeed thought this and they encourage their children to “sow their wild oats” and as a result throw their children to the lions. It is a form of modern day Molech worship, passing them through the fire.

We could think of a marriage the same way, is a marriage strengthened by adultery so long as repentance follows? This is a “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” strategy and it isn’t the counsel of Scripture.

This is not to say that we cannot learn from sin. Or that someone who falls prey to a certain sin cannot be a good counsellor, but that all things being equal holiness matters more and sin is harmful and holds no knowledge in itself. God teaches us in all things, even our mistakes and we can count those things a blessing, but how much better to learn from holiness?

7 Responses to “Worthless Experience”

  1. joshgibbs said

    It’s a good point you make. The removal of Jesus as a model to follow is a remarkable problem for us. We believe that Jesus lived a hard life so that we wouldn’t have to. As regards dying and poverty and chastity, we say, “Yeah, but that was Jesus.” Then comes the reply and we say, “Yeah, but that was John the Baptist.”

    In truth, no model will do.

  2. Bekah said

    Definitely holiness is better. Sometimes my measly mind thinks though that perchance Christians don’t wittingly “throw their children to Molech,” as they do unwittingly believe that their children have been given faith to stand firm in holiness without falling. Keeping one’s child holy requires setting up safe boundaries, and being able to meet one’s child’s needs, both in spiritual and in practical (not that these are necessarily separate) learning styles. Some do learn best by falling on their faces, or into sin and then repentance. Others have the faith to abide in holy living. Perhaps it’s not so much a question of who is more qualified and why, but of who God loves and why. Or maybe it’s not a question of qualification at all, but of God’s mysterious journey for each of us. We are all called to holiness, but not always by the same journey, as we each battle the flesh. Since we all sin, we could say that all our earthly experience is worthless, as none of us are holy but by God’s grace. Taken to the extreme, well, why are we here? (I play to the absurd)

    On another note, your example of the sons reminds me of the Prodigal Son. Which one was the holier one there? Who valued his father the most? Or should we even judge that? That, after all, was a heart matter, and not a picture of Christ’s love for His father. But then, couldn’t we all be heart matters? Just random thoughts…

  3. Remy said

    Out of the insufficiencies of our imagination we tend to do a lot of our learning from sins, but this does not make sin a fine method for learning. I don’t think we can say that we learn best by falling into sin, though, sadly, it may be they only way a person learns.

    But this is not to say that the best way to learn is to keep them from sin or from the opportunity to sin. For one, it’s impossible, for two that is not our job as parents, our job is to teach them holiness.

    As for the parable, I think both sons were in sin. The sin of the son who remained was not as egregious perhaps, but his response to his father was incorrect.

  4. Josh said

    “…or from the opportunity to sin.” I don’t know about this. We ask God to “lead us not into temptation,” — we don’t ask Him to lead us into temptation and then deliver us. If our right hand causes us to sin, we’re not told to, “Confess it, get forgiven, learn how to deal with the power of your right hand. Your right hand is a gift from God.”

  5. Remy said

    Temptation is different from Opportunity.

  6. Josh said

    Like, for the purposes of this conversation?

  7. Remy said

    An opportunity to sin comes with being alive. As in, you cannot have hands without also having the opportunity to sin with hands. As parents we cannot coddle our children or shelter our children entirely from sin. It is not our goal and even if it were I’m not sure we’d be best served by it.

    As for temptation, I pray everyday to be lead not into it and to be delivered from the evil one.

    I’d like to take more time on this issue in the future but the core of what I want to say is that we ought not live in fear of sin. Holiness is far more potent.

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