“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience,” once wrote Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the philosopher and Jesuit priest who trained as a paleontologist and geologist.
While experience is something, as one sage expressed it, that we sometimes wish happened to someone else, it is a necessary part of life. Experience teaches us and provides personal knowledge that helps us acquire skills. Gain insight. Develop maturity. And grow in wisdom.
Of course, as C. S. Lewis observed experience can be “the most brutal of teachers.” Yet, even difficult experiences can help us and strengthen us. It is often said that “we learn from failure, not from success.” Or as Oprah Winfrey quipped, “turn your wounds into wisdom.” Even challenging experiences have the potential to mold us into better people so we can help others. Aldous Huxley was right when he wrote, “Experience is not what happens to you; it is what you do with what happens to you.”
However, it not necessary that we personally experience everything in life. Especially things that are hurtful, harmful and dangerous to ourselves and others. We can learn from “synthetic experience.” In other words from the past experiences of others.
The Old Testament character, Laban, the father-in-law of Jacob said to his son-in-law who was ready to leave in his household and homeland, “Please stay, if I have found favor in your eyes, for I have learned by experience that the Lord has blessed me for your sake” (Gen 30:27). Laban learned about God’s goodness, blessings and favor as he observed it in the life of Jacob and how it impacted him as well.
This week finds Norma Jean and me at the annual Florida College Lectures which begins tonight. The theme is “Inquire of Past Generations: Lessons From Church History.” In perusing in advance the lecture book, it is going to an opportunity to learn spiritual lessons from past reformers and restorers. It promises to be a rich, rewarding and insightful week.
As Florida College President H. E. “Buddy” Payne observed, “The sum of the events that transpired to create our present situation is older than any one of us.” Indeed the wise man in Ecclesiastes correctly observed that generations come and go and “what has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done (again).”
The theme text of the Lectures is based on Job 8:8-10. “Please inquire of past generations, And consider the things searched out by their fathers.
For we are only of yesterday and know nothing, because our days on earth are as a shadow. “Will they not teach you and tell you, And bring forth words from their minds?”
Buddy advised, “The wise person investigates the past to glean the gems that others found previously and to avoid the folly that others may have committed.” Or as the ancient Roman poet Virgil wrote, “Believe one who has tried it.”
Experience. It’s helpful. Needful. Practical. And productive. But as Sir Isaac Newton counseled we can see “further than others” by “standing on the shoulders of giants.”
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman