It’s hard to find a piece of good advice that isn’t bad advice for somebody or, at the least, the wrong advice for a certain person at a certain time. Indeed, perhaps the chief thing separating a good advice-giver from a poor one is that the former knows what to say to whom when, whereas the latter dispenses wisdom indiscriminately to all and sundry. Likewise, the good listener knows when to accept and when to reject advice offered, and knows further that advice which was illuminating in one circumstance may be disastrous when applied in another. This is perhaps especially true of the spiritual life, in which today’s victory is apt to become material for tomorrow’s temptation.
For some time I’ve been fond of two analogies regarding how earthly life works. One compares life to a tapestry: while we live, we see only the backside, a confusion of buckling loops and tied-off threads. It is only in heaven that the design on the other side will be manifest, and each dangling thread’s part in our good and God’s glory revealed.
The other analogy makes a similar point by comparing life to a story. Like fictional protagonists, we don’t usually understand the significance of the little things we do and say and think and suffer; it is only when we finally view life from the Storyteller’s viewpoint that the plot becomes comprehensible, and we understand how its every twist and turn, however harrowing it seemed at the time, led towards the happy end.
These are comforting analogies, with a good deal of truth in them; but like any analogies they have their pitfalls, and may sometimes confuse more than they enlighten. The problem (or potential problem) is that both analogies make it all too easy to assume that one is the central character.
Read the rest at the Register.