Last week I heard someone use the word "z'chut" in a context I didn't quite understand. I had thought it meant "merit," as in something one deserves based upon an earned right. But it's really closer to privilege, an honor not necessarily predicated on action or position. In that sense it seems a word particularly suited to the Jewish experience. Do we merit survival, despite the odds, because of good deeds? Or are we still here thanks to divine intervention, or just luck? Google isn't the best place for answers to major existential questions, but it did lead me to this observation on the Chabad site:
There is a common misconception that life is about being in the right place at the right time. In truth, how you experience life has more to do with what is happening inside you as with what is happening outside.
Like riding a roller coaster without being prepared, if you are not well-tuned to the channel of life, a symphony of miracles could come across as cacophony from the boiler room.
This is what the sages call z'chut--sometimes translated as merit. It means a refinement of the soul, so that it will be precisely on the right frequency and static-clean.
So maybe the answer is: it doesn't matter why we've triumphed or suffered. What counts is being open to learn from these experiences; therein lies the honor, the z'chut.