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.
I’ve been working out my thoughts on this since your last post on God not giving us more than we can handle. I’m still working it out because life happens and suffering is here and looks like to stay but what I’m telling myself in the deep, dark, scared out of my mind moments is that God has allowed this, he has a plan, and perhaps since He has allowed this it is in some way needed to get me or someone near me to Heaven. It gives me comfort. It makes me feel like there is a purpose and that good and glory will come from it. So in a way, everything happens for a reason? What do you think? You and your family are in my daily prayers. In Christ.
I think God is marvelously flexible in how He chooses to use suffering. It would be correct to view things as having meaning and purpose only because God has chosen to use something disordered, evil and painful as part of His plan. Those things in and of themselves don’t have to be imbued with a purpose or logic. But He can make all things new, good, right and holy in such a way that the suffering brings about a greater good. In a sense He ‘baptizes’ something terrible, in retrospect, with His mercy towards our fallen nature. But something terrible should never have had to happen in the first place. I hope that makes sense. Thank you for your prayers!