Avoiding Error – Or at Least Trying!

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“Is it possible to escape error altogether? No, it is impossible; but, it is possible to set one’s mind continuously on avoiding error.” This quote is from the Greek philosopher Epictetus (Discourses IV, 12), a man born a slave in the 1st century who lived in Rome until he was banned by the Emperor Domitian. Epictetus was a powerful speaker who lived a simple, self-controlled life. He was, however, far from a religious man. In fact, like most Stoic philosophers, he believed all external events are simply determined by fate.

But read that quote again. It sounds pretty biblical doesn’t it?

Although Epictetus doesn’t give much context for how a man is to achieve this avoidance of error, he does insinuate it can happen, and that it is a noble effort of man to pursue. The whole concept reminds me of Psalm 119:10-11…where we do get a context: “With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (ESV).

Can we avoid sin altogether? God’s word says we can’t. Romans 3:23 tells us “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But, we can follow the psalmist’s advice and embed God’s word in our hearts – for the very purpose of avoiding error! We are going to fall once in a while. The best of Christians are going to slip up and sin. The best individual at any undertaking is going to fail on occasion. Another great philosopher, Michael Jordan, said, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed.” (Ok, so maybe philosophy wasn’t really his game – but you get the point!) We’re going to try our best to please God…and mess up sometimes.

However, we can set our minds continuously on avoiding error by being immersed into God’s word. The author of Psalm 119 will go on to say, in verse 105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” God’s word can guide us; can help us make better choices and better decisions. But, we have to allow it to become buried in our hearts – an integral part of who we are.

Is it possible to escape error altogether? I would have to agree with Epictetus and say no. But, with God as our support and His word in our hearts, we can make every effort to set our minds on righteousness.

“…whatever is true, whatever is honorable…if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).