“Life is difficult,” as M. Scott Peck so memorably wrote in The Road Less Traveled. How, then, does the wise person deal with it? How does he live with life’s difficulties? Ecclesiastes 7:7–14 offers sage advice in answer to those questions.
First, realize that life’s difficulties present temptations to shortcuts, which should be avoided. “Surely oppression drives the wise into madness, and a bribe corrupts the heart.” The oppression spoken of here is not what the wise man does but what is done to him. (A truly wise person does not oppress his fellows.) Oppression pushes him to the breaking point, and in order to escape, he offers a bribe to his oppressor. But a bribe corrupts the hearts of both giver and receiver by providing a financial incentive to continue the extortion.
Second, life’s difficulties call for patience. Why? “Better is the end of a thing than its beginning….” We do not know what good things in us God is accomplishing through the difficult things he allows to happen to us. The only way to discover them is to wait until they are over. In hindsight, we will see them perfectly.
Third, anger is foolish. “Be not quick in your spirit to become angry….” When facing life’s difficulties, some people blow up. They thrash and rage about; they “do not go gentle into that good night” (to borrow a phrase from Dylan Thomas). But frustrated anger is not a character quality God wants to develop in us. Anger emotionally shorts out our wisdom fuse, and without wisdom, our life has no real power.
Fourth, then, wisdom is a boon in troubled times. When we go through difficulties, we often wax nostalgic about “the good old days.” Such nostalgia is an escape from present-responsibilities, however; it reflects an inability to live in and deal with the circumstances of the moment. God does not call us to live in the past but in the present, and in the present, a life is wisdom is as good as—or better than—a life with lots of money.
Finally, God wants us to accept that all things—good and bad—come from his hand for our benefit. “God has made the one as well as the other….” Romans 8:28 reminds us: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” This is a hard teaching. Paul does not say that everything that happens to us is good, but rather that God can make something good of everything that happens to us—if we give him enough time. God uses the best of times (prosperity) for our ultimate good, as well as the worst of times (adversity).
So, do not be afraid of difficult times, and do not lose your head. Patience and wisdom will get you safely through them.