Your Past Experience Doesn't Excuse Your Current Sin

Joseph greets his brothers.
One of the many by-products of modern psychological theory (and there are many theories) is the muddied waters of cause and effect. Where does human behavior come from, is the question so many are trying to answer. Presumably, the better we understand the cause, the better we can understand and manipulate the effect.

The plethora of human psychological theories that have emerged and continue to emerge since the days of Freud, Rogers, and Jung, all attempt to answer the origins of human behavior. One of the many troubles, and what we're not told by the secular academy, is that these many theories are often in direct conflict with one another. For example, one theory will explain human behavior as largely emanating from the brain's biology. Another will see human behavior as the by-product of past experience.

It's that second thought that I want to address in this post.

This issue is important for us to consider, because it's a common assumption in our culture, that Experience A necessarily causes Behavior B. One of the venues in which we see this theory played out most often is in the criminal justice system. In my seventeen years of law enforcement, the last two being in the courtroom, I watched this behavioral system applied over and over again.

One time, I sat through an appeal to overturn a death sentence, in favor of a life term. The defendant had brutally murdered a man with a knife as the two walked out of a night club. The argument, which was quite compelling, I must admit, went like this: because the defendant had been exposed to extreme physical abuse as a child, and because those experiences drove him into substance abuse, he necessarily grew up into an adult who could not, therefore, control his anger and rage.

His past experiences were to blame for his murderous ways. Therefore, his death sentence must, it was argued, be overturned.

Although many practitioners of this psychological theory would deny it (and based on what, I do not know), the logical end of this thought process is that the defendant had not actually committed any sin for which he could justly be held accountable. He had committed a heinous act that ended tragically in the death of another man, but he had merely responded to the sin that had been committed against him, years prior.

His death sentence, based upon these facts alone, was therefore unjust!

From a biblical perspective, this theory fails miserably, because it excises individual human responsibility for sin, and therefore, removes our need for a Savior. The theory itself is anti-Christ and anti-Gospel. This shouldn't come as a surprise to us, though, because the roots of this man-made psychological system were set in place by people who denied the Gospel, and were largely Darwinian evolutionists.

The Bible says that all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God. The Bible does not deny, however, the influencing affect of past experience. This is why, for example, God commands parents to raise up children in the way that they should go. Clearly, the experiences of our children in our homes will bring shape to the adult person they become.

Past experience is indeed formative, but it's not determinative.

The child molester does not molest because they themselves were molested. They molest because they respond sinfully to the sins that were committed against them. While their past experience is tragic, and large amounts of help and grace are needed, God does not and will not give them a hall pass on their behavior. This is true for you, and it is true for me.

How can we know that the child molester does not molest because he or she was molested? Because not all children who are molested grow up into child molesters. This is an inconvenient truth for those who wish to hang sinful behavior on past experience, alone. In fact, their own numbers don't even come close to supporting the theory, and the explanations offered are woefully insufficient.

Still, why should we be having this discussion?

Running in the background, behind the scenes, is our understanding of the Gospel, who we are, and who God is as our greatest hope. In the context of biblical counseling, it's common to hear a husband blame his wife for his hard heart. "I hit her because she..." is how the explanation begins. Or, "I had the affair because when I was a child..." the theory goes.

King David would have, and did indeed reject this flawed understanding of his own adulterous and murderous ways. According to David, his sin was his own, and God himself was the ultimate target.

Unlike modern psychological systems, the Gospel provides both the bad news of human behavior, and the great message of hope. It's true that we've all sinned and fallen short of God's glory, but it's also true that the free gift of God is forgiveness of sin and eternal life in Christ Jesus, by grace, through faith.

And, rather than leaving negative past experiences in the hands of chance, unreconciled and without purpose or meaning, the Gospel fills in the gaps of our limited understanding, and helps us to see that those things which were meant for our harm, can and will be used for our good, to the glory of God, and for our ultimate joy.

Scripture references: Romans 3:23; Proverbs 22:6; Romans 1:18; Psalm 51; Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28; Romans 6:23.