So a friend of mine asked this question after she read this post. I am not sure I can fully answer difficult questions like these, but I will at least try.
Well, not that I think this is some kind of rule at all, but I believe that there are different kind of struggles in life and about 95% of them, if we were to look back and evaluate each one of them, we would probably be able to observe that we had played some kind of part in it. We often know what would be the wise thing to do in many situations and we choose not to do it and, sometimes, not only we choose not to do the wise thing but we go ahead and do the very opposite of what we know we should do. Then we struggle, we suffer and we decide to be blind to the fact that we brought this on ourselves.
I believe God placed a seed of everlasting nature inside each one of us (Ecc 3:11 NIV) and we can often distinguish wise from unwise. We instictively know what is right, but we often choose to convince ourselves that the unwise decision is actually a good idea because: 1) it’s not like I am harming anybody, right?, 2) everybody else is doing it, 3) I simply don’t feel like doing it because it will cost me something right now, etc etc.
In these cases, well.. 1) You’re actually harming someone. Yourself. 2) Everybody else will have their own consequences and regrets and just because you don’t see the consequences of their actions, it doesn’t mean there aren’t any. Just think about how many secrets and regrets we’ve had and how many times we’ve suffered without others being aware of it. 3) Doing what is right will definitely cost us something right now, but it will also set us free. Choosing to act unwisely will take us to a place of regret later on, causing a lot more pain in the process.
Wisdom is, most often than not, self-evident.
Not everything is in our hands to control, of course, but I do believe that if we started thinking in terms of wise vs. unwise and decided to really do what is right, I am absolutely sure we would not struggle that much. “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. (Eph 5: 15-17)
Yet, sometimes we suffer the consequences of someone else’s unwise choices. And there’s also many kinds of evil in the world that will do us harm. When we were young, our parents would say things like “I don’t like this friend of yours” or ” You shouldn’t hang out with these people – they are up for trouble”. Parents know that. They don’t always apply this knowledge in their own lives, but they sure know this truth. “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm” (Prov. 13:20) If our parents/counselors/menthors really thought life was nothing more than chaos and random suffering, they wouldn’t worry so much about who we walk with. They know wise people help us build our character, rebuke us and give the right example. Unwise people neglect or even destroy the opportunities that have been given to them, but mostly they’re great at taking other people to the pit along with them. This is why it is so important to belong to a community that provides accountability. Paul said in his letters that we must “encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Th 5:11).
It is easier to spot the unwise decisions other people make. We often see things more clearly when it is not about us. I really think we should make things less about us and more about God and our neighbors. If we look at every situation through the filter of “what’s in it for me?”, we’ll end up bringing a lot of regret into our lives. I have made way too many bad decisions in my life before and, being a Christian, I guess there’s a moment when we have to decide that these days are over. Personally, I have been trying to deepen my relationship with God and know His will, so that hopefully my decisions will always be made through this filter. And every time I feel a bit lost, I end up wondering what He would say about it. You know.. like when you know exactly what your mom would say if if you asked her opinion on a subject.
Now, there’s also this third cathegory of struggles we go through that really have nothing to do with with us, like accidents, illnesses, natural disasters and evil. I acknowledge the existence of such problems, of course, but I also think the average person that asks the question “if there really is a God and we are part of a greater plan, how come we struggle so much?” is more likely to be “struck” by the everyday struggles of life, so to speak. Not that these things aren’t real, because they are. I feel like there’s too much ground to cover before getting to them and I am not, if ever, qualified to even try to explain why God allows these things to happen. However, I think people who ask these questions must realize they are not the only ones who think about these things. There is nothing new under the sun. Countless people have wondered about these things. There is a lot of literature on this subject and the best that I know of is The Problem of Pain, by C. S. Lewis. The thing is, there is really no excuse for not going after the anwers, unless you are an Atheist.