One of the really common lies that gets told over and over by well meaning people is this: “Everything happens for a reason.” Usually this is the response offered to people who’ve gone through or are going through very difficult times. It is said to offer hope and encouragement to sufferers everywhere. The only problem is… it’s not true. Additionally, I think that deep down, there is something in the emotional response of humans that senses that this isn’t true. Who has ever drawn great comfort from this platitude? At best, suffering people think that they ought to feel better upon hearing that “everything happens for a reason,” but even the heart knows what the head refuses to acknowledge: things sometimes happen for no reason at all. And I wish people would grow a lot more comfortable acknowledging this.
Evil needs no reason. In fact, since God is a god of order and love, disordered things simply can’t make sense! Psychology and pathology aside, the devil is behind disorder, disunity, bitterness, hatred, and sin. Without reason. Try telling a child who has been sexually abused that it happened for a reason. Try telling someone who watched their loved one commit suicide that it happened for a reason. Try telling anyone who is enduring the scalding fires of sin, broken promises, fear, shame and abandonment that it’s happening for a reason. It’s not true. What’s more is that saying this invalidates the pain a survivor has experienced. The brain will then try to sell this awful distortion: “If terrible things happen for a reason, I have no right to be upset about this. Something is wrong with me.”
This (ineffective) comforting line reminds me of a couple other truisms that often get told to people who are going through hard times. One being the “Everything is going to be okay.” And that’s not true either! Somethings things just aren’t going to be okay! (… and that’s okay) Finally, in efforts to console others we also like to say “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” False. Patently so. People are just very unsure of what to say to people in pain… and sometimes these well-meant phrases can do more harm than good. Here are a sprinkling of more affirming alternatives to say to suffering people; the internet provides more with a simple search, I’m sure.
- That wasn’t fair.
- That should never have happened to you.
- You won’t always feel this way.
- God will see you through this.
- I’m sorry you went through that/are going through this.
- It’s okay to feel weak.
- What can I do to support you?
- Life is really hard sometimes. I’m with you.
At the end of the day, we don’t need to feel like our entire faith system has crumbled if we realize that everything doesn’t happen for a reason. This is very compatible with Christianity. God has a master plan, sure. But that includes true freedom that is born of Love. We are not predetermined to choose evil or to suffer evil “for a reason.” Indeed, we must suffer the consequences of our own poor choices and the poor choices of others and the incomprehensible, natural tragedies that no one can make sense of. God doesn’t promise us that there is a reason for these things. In truth… we should expect to not understand everything (Do you really want to be an expert in evil anyway?!). He only promises that all things will work together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). He is a master, artisan weaver. And our lives will present to Him both beautiful, vibrant threads and the ratty old, ugly threads. He doesn’t just use the good in our lives. He also uses the evil to bring about His glory, and He will weave a stunning masterpiece if only we let Him.