“While people often claim moreover to learn by ‘experience,’ it is rather from an intellectual analysis of experience that they learn, if at all, in such cases.”
Carl F. H. Henry
God, Revelation & Authority — Vol.1 pg. 264
Clearly what Dr. Henry is suggesting is that we do not learn by experience but rather we learn by how we interpret our experience. This can be the only explanation for two or more people going through the same experience and ‘learning’ different things from that experience. This is only to say that our presuppositions about the nature of God and of His reality inform us as to interpreting our experiences. A Christian and non-Christian going through the same difficult experience will come out of that difficult experience with substantially different conclusions. The Christian will interpret the experience through the eyes of confidence in God’s character and be able to say with that ‘God intended it for good,’ while the non-Christian will often use the experience as proof that God is absent.
Dr. Henry’s observation is why I am forever encouraging people to interpret life through God’s promises and to resist interpreting God through the difficult circumstances and vicissitudes of life. If God be for us who can be against us? If God is for us then whatever adversity he sends us in this vale of tears will he not turn it to our good?
This kind of certainty should make a HUGE difference in the way that we interpret our experiences.
Another point that Dr. Henry seems to be making is that people don’t learn by experience but rather they learn by thinking. This is a key concept in an age that is experience oriented. Experience does not shape us but rather how we think about experience. Similarly, neither do we learn or think by emotion. Emotion is the consequence of thinking and interpreting something we experience in a certain way. This is why I’ve never been able to understand the idea that people ‘think with their emotions.’ Nobody has ever thought with their emotions since emotions are the consequence of some kind of previous thinking. If I am experiencing the emotion of sadness it is because I am thinking a certain way about some kind of experience. The same holds true for every other kind of emotion. It is not possible for emotion to be the ground of our thinking since emotions are but visible manifestation of the kind of thing we are thinking. Even in an age of image where we speak of our emotions being manipulated, what is really the case is that our thinking is being manipulated.
All of this is why, then, the Scripture teaches not ‘as a man experiences so he is’, or ‘as a man’s emotions are he is’, but rather ‘as a man thinketh in His heart, so he is.’