How often most of us have heard others say, “Experience is the best teacher.” But is it? Experience is certainly one way to learn, and for many it is a sure teacher. This is because experience is often painful, and we generally do not want to repeat what is painful. However, some people never seem to learn! They continue to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. You probably know someone like that.
What about you? Do you learn from experience, or are you someone who “never seems to learn”? Whether you are or you aren’t, the question remains: Is experience the best teacher? Or is there a better way? If so, what is it?
There are many ways to get burned in this life. You can get burned by a bad investment, a bad relationship, or a bad move. Some children literally get burned when playing with matches, often after they were told not to. How many teens or young adults learn the very painful lesson that drinking and driving is a bad combination? Or that drugs and cigarettes lead to long-lasting bondage in the form of painful addictions and health problems? We all get burned at one time or another, but is there a way to limit our pains? Thankfully there is!
Belief in God is not as popular as it once was. Darwinian evolution has replaced Him in the minds of many, and if there is no God, every man is left to himself to determine right from wrong. Decisions bring consequences that are either positive or negative. What many fail to realize is the relationship between their decisions and unseen moral laws. As Moses instructed, “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19).
If God is falling in popularity, even more so is the book that He inspired. While the Bible is still seen by many to contain good advice and comfort in times of trouble, it no longer carries with it the same aura of authority it once did. And the Ten Commandments it contains are often considered the Ten Suggestions. But that attitude, sadly, is why many get burned. When we break the commandments, they break us!
Most in our Western world have heard of the Ten Commandments, but how many really know what they say? Those who do know what they say often pick and choose which ones they agree with—or, to put it another way, which ones they do not agree with. Ironically, some of the greatest deniers of the need to keep all ten are the very ones who march and protest when monuments containing them are taken off public grounds! They probably accept the commands against murder, adultery, and dishonoring one’s parents. They probably agree that it is not good to worship other gods, steal, or covet, at least in principle. But what about the Sabbath commandment?
Stepping back, one must wonder, what is the purpose of the Ten Commandments? What connection do they have with experience and with the sort of teacher experience might be? Again, experience is often a painful teacher. So is it the best one? It is easy to recognize that making a bad financial decision has consequences. However, the connection between experience and moral decisions is often overlooked.
Consider the seventh commandment, “You shall not commit adultery.” How many think they can break this command and not get burned? Our world is littered with broken hearts, broken homes, and hurting, confused children due to the violation of this short decree. All this pain could be avoided if individuals diligently obeyed this commandment. How many individuals must be burned by its violation before we get the point? Breaking this commandment hurts and damages everyone involved—especially children. The purpose of the commandment is to tell us that no matter how appealing temptation may appear, the results of acting on that temptation will not be good. Violating such a law is a terribly bad decision.
The commandments are intended to help us make good decisions, but they are not only about “me.” They are the foundation for any harmonious society. Violating them creates confusion and disharmony. Only through love and cooperation can we all be happy. The first four of the ten instruct us how to respect our Creator, and this is where it all begins. Apart from God, no individual, civil, or collective human authority has the ability to create a code of conduct that will successfully bring harmony to society. All we have to do is look around us to recognize the reality of this. While you may keep all of these commandments, your neighbor may keep nine or none. Civil authorities enforce rules, but are any of us totally satisfied with the job they are doing? These rules vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, as does the enforcement of them.
The last six commandments give us the foundation for loving our neighbor. This two-part division—loving God and loving fellow human beings—is found in Matthew 22:37–40.
So why not just have the Ten Commandments and leave it at that? Why the rest of the Bible?
This remarkable book reveals how to apply these commandments and the overall purpose for mankind. And the Bible also explains the results of violating the commandments, thus instructing us in a better way than learning by experience.
The Proverbs of the Bible are intended to give knowledge, understanding, and wisdom (Proverbs 1:2–6). They are especially directed to the young, who are inexperienced in life, and are intended to show them how to avoid painful experiences. They acknowledge that temptation is a problem, but then go on to explain the results of yielding to it (Proverbs 5:1–14).
Instruction is available, but as students we must accept and internalize that instruction. The problem is not with the teacher, but with the student! Taking instruction from someone wiser and more knowledgeable is the best teacher, and in this way, experience can be a good teacher.
Much of the Bible is historical and reveals the results of going the way that seems right to a man, but the end result of doing what only seems right, in opposition to God’s direction, is death (Proverbs 14:12). Some people object to the violence found in some stories in the Bible, such as in the book of Judges. This book chronicles what happened when the nation of Israel rejected God and followed the way of the nations around them. Those ways must have been very appealing to them, but the consequences were disastrous and painful.
These biblical historical accounts teach us through the experience of others how to make wise decisions. Their pain, heartache, and suffering does not need to be ours, if we will study, internalize, and apply in our own lives the lessons recorded for our benefit. As it tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:11, “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.”
Listening to the One who created us is the best way to learn. Learning from the examples of others, learning from their painful experiences, is also a good teacher. Learning from our own experiences, though sometimes effective, is not the best teacher! To learn more about the way of life God holds out for you, a far less painful life, you can order our booklet titled The Ten Commandments. This resource shows in detail what God’s intent for mankind is, and why all ten of His commandments must be kept.