Over the past many months, I’ve heard more and more people say “everything happens for a reason” when something bad happens to them. Some of the events have been small, some quite impactful and even catastrophic for the individuals. Some of those who have said it believe in God, and some believe in a benevolent Universe. I’ve tried to figure out why so many people are saying this phrase, or clinging to this philosophy. Have they thought about it, long and hard, and decided that is the way of things so they will throw their lot in with that faith practice? Were they taught that in some educational or enlightenment training? Or, did they just hear it so much that it caught on and they joined that growing snowball of conviction, rolling down the hill of social media or the blogosphere?
If someone has thought long and hard and chosen this way of thinking for good solid reasons, I’m not trying to dis their choice. I respect people’s right to choose. That freedom belongs to each of us. What I want to do is challenge those who haven’t thought this through to step back and think about it.
“Everything happens for a reason” has a long history, and it’s called “determinism.” It means everything past, present and future has already been decided, determined, and is inevitable. We have no choice. So like what I just said about people’s right to choose? That is not true. If you’re a determinist and things truly happen that way, you’re a determinist because it was pre-determined. And I guess the next big question is: by whom or what? Why has everything been pre-determined, and what’s making it happen? That’s a pretty tall order for the universe or a being to plan out every stinkin’ event, action, reaction, etc. And if you believe in God, one even remotely like the one in the Bible, then somewhere, sometime, something took a left turn and changed the God that is revealed in the Bible to some big puppet master in the sky.
The biblical God is all about free choice. From Lucifer and his followers to the Garden of Eden story to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, choices are everywhere. Whether you believe those as literal or metaphorical stories, the whole premise of being a human in a world put into motion by God is that we all have choices.
There are some concepts that I have seen get twisted. Like the verse that says all things work for the good of those who love God. People misread that to say everything that happens is good. Not true. Many many things happen that are not good. I’ve heard people say crazy things—like when a child dies—to try to justify why that could happen in a world, which in reality they believe is both deterministic and run by a god they want to respect and follow, even if that belief system goes all or partially unrecognized. They tell grieving parents things like, “God needed another angel,” or “God wants to teach you a wonderful lesson,” trying to line up their concept of reality with the notion that everything that happens is good because there was a reason behind it. Well, that is just nuts. And cruel. First of all, that idea that “all things work for the good” means redemption. God redeems things. He takes the worst things and makes something good come from them, so there is that hope in the midst of devastation that not all is lost. And secondly, why would anyone try to comfort a grieving parent by justifying it? Just hold them and let them grieve. They’re devastated. There is no way to make it better. To suggest that a god with all the power held the strings and directed all the events to occur just so, which led to the loss, is a misunderstanding of the biblical God. Of course, everyone has the choice to make the god of their choosing and put there faith there. We all have free choice. Just don’t spill that on grieving parents. The people of the Middle Ages believed the world was flat. And they could believe that with all their might, and shame their neighbors if they believed otherwise, and they could invest their nest eggs in beachfront property at the edge of that flat world where it fell off into nowhere, but that didn’t change reality. Even if they believed it with the deepest, truest, most sincere, until they were blue in the face conviction. The world—well, we know how that belief panned out.
Another misconception is that "God doesn't give us more than we can bear." The Bible doesn't say that. It says that for any "temptation" we have, there is a choice we can make to step away, to not choose the destructive or hurtful. Again, choice. There are options.
With the recent horrid events in the news, the Orlando massacre and the death of the toddler near Disney, how can anyone suggest everything happens for a reason? Did some power somewhere determine a man would go on a hateful shooting spree? That an alligator would snatch an innocent child? The only way “everything happens for a reason” comes into play here is more like Newton’s Laws of Motion, for every force there is an equal and opposite force. If someone does something, something happens. If a crazed homicidal manic goes into a nightclub with a gun and he shoots, people die. If a carnivorous alligator is hungry and sees a small mammal within reach, that child is in great peril and might perish. If we’re exposed to dangerous toxins that cause cell mutation or disease processes that aren’t even discovered yet, we’ll get cancer. If people get drunk then drive a car, they’ll often hurt or kill others. It goes on and on. In the same way, if a person is hurting and you offer them compassion and grace, their pain and suffering will be relieved for a moment. If you give food or a coat to someone in need, they won’t be as hungry or as cold. If you smile at someone, you might cause a ray of hope to break into their world.
If you are a believer in determinism, I guess nothing I say really matters. It is already written by fate. It is already done. If you’re mad at me, it was predetermined you’d be mad at me and I can only respond in the way I haven’t yet but inevitably will. But if you haven’t thought this whole “everything happens for a reason” thing through, consider your options. There is a lot of goodness. There is a lot of badness. We all have choices. We each can make some difference. We each can believe in a God or Power that lets us choose, and who can help us find hope in the midst of badness.
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