“Everything happens for a reason,” I am often told. Though millions believe this, I do not think it is true. Trying to bring sense and order to random suffering and injustice is like expecting to see a Rembrandt or Monet in a pool of retch, another inevitable human byproduct. This primal urge to find meaning in everything is grounded in an ungodly appetite to control everything. However, God’s plan was not that he (or we) would control everything but that, through agency, most everything would become out of control. Consequently, accepting the randomness and injustice of life is part of accepting God.
“Accepting the randomness and injustice of life is part of accepting God”
I cringe nearly every time I hear someone say that “everything happens for a reason.” I cringe whenever I hear someone say God gives us trials so that we can learn from them. Do you know how that sounds to someone who hasn’t eaten a normal meal in three years and lives on a feeding tube? Do you know how that sounds to someone who has seen countless, innocent children dealing with the terrible fall out and aftermath of sexual abuse? It’s ridiculous to think that a good and just God would want any child to be sexually abused. It’s offensive for me to think that God intentionally deprived me of food for three years just so “I’d learn my lesson.”
That God is a false God. It’s not the God of love that I know. Stuff happens. People make bad choices that hurt others. The body does strange and random things that we don’t understand and can’t control. God is not pulling the switch on everything. He is not the master of circumstance.
“Saying that ‘everything happens for a reason’ makes as much sense to me as blaming the paramedics for the accident.”
Indeed, God’s role is not primarily to control or change your circumstances. It is to help you cope with them. His power is most strongly felt not in creating the massive crystal chandelier of our existence or even suspending it, but in restoring it when we or others have shattered it into a million pieces. He does not conduct the orchestra of life. He gives us earplugs to alleviate the noise and clatter of a symphony run amuck. God does not will life’s messes. He is the humble and helpful janitor, who faithfully arrives on the scene to help you clean them up. God does not cause or will suffering but uses it as a venue for communion with mortals. So saying that “everything happens for a reason” makes as much sense to me as blaming the paramedics for the accident.
Random, unwarranted suffering is simply part of mortality, an inevitable byproduct of agency. But that doesn’t mean suffering has to be completely senseless. Those who suffer often ask, “What am I supposed to learn from this?” I think the better question is, “What can I teach?”
“Those who suffer often ask, ‘What am I supposed to learn from this?’ I think the better question is, ‘What can I teach?'”
So if you are suffering, please don’t listen to the people who are telling you “everything happens for a reason.” Please ignore the people who are telling you that God must have something really important for you to learn. That’s nonsense. Yes, you can learn from suffering. In fact, you will learn from suffering. But that doesn’t mean God willed or wanted your suffering.
When people tell you that you have some important lesson to learn from your suffering, politely tell them, “No, I have something important to teach.” Teach people, through your grace and dignity in suffering, what it means to endure. Teach them what it means to persevere. Teach them what it really means to have hope. Teach them, by example, that you can be happy in suffering. Teach them how to love.
Teach them that you stand with Job, who said, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” (Job 13:15.) Teach them and show them how to be like Paul—who was whipped, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, robbed, betrayed, starved, sick and imprisoned (2 Corinthians 11:23-33) but said, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:11-13.)
“Love your way out of the storm.”
Being grounded in Christ simply means living his mandate to love others. Love your way out of the storm. Love others. Stop thinking about yourself and your problems. Stop focusing on what you can’t do and just do what you can for others. Love your way out of the storm. As I have said repeatedly, if you live your life with love, you live your life with God, for God is love. This is how you walk with God daily. This is how you find his presence in his seeming absence. This walk with God is the stabilizing factor of life. It’s what brings order to a chaotic world that is spinning out of control.
No, not everything happens for a reason. But your suffering can give you reason to live, to keep trying, to teach others, and to be an instrument in the hands of God to help bring his presence back into the world … for you and for all those around you!