“Everything happens for a reason,” we like to say. The question is, What’s the reason?
We humans have a curious need to assign meaning to events. We seem to be perfectly incapable of living without asking the question why. Similarly, we are altogether obsessed with the future outcome of a particular event. Whether we’re looking back on the cause of an event or ahead to the implications of an event, we’re always asking the same question: What does this mean?
At no time do we do this more than when struck by tragedy or trauma. There’s a death in the family, an illness befalls a friend, you lose your job – it’s in these situations that we most often wonder at the purpose of our circumstances. More than just seeking meaning, however, it seems we’re really constantly wondering whether our present difficulties will turn out for the good in the long run.
And don’t we do this for one another, as well? We have a friend who is struggling with a hard season and, with all the best intentions, suggest that her hardship has come “for a reason.” Our desire is to offer solace, to provide interpretive understanding to her difficulties.
But what are we really saying when we say that “everything happens for a reason”?
For the most part, I think we’re typically saying that either (1) the sources that caused this terrible event are actually good, or (2) the terrible event is actually good for us – it will lead to something better.
But neither of these is necessarily true, and both ideas can be damaging. I’ll deal with the first part today, the second another day.
The source of a truly terrible event can be, and often is, truly terrible. Looking at the most awful of circumstances, like the death of a child, for example, whatever the cause, it is surely not good.
From a biblical perspective, death is never regarded as a good (or even neutral) thing weaved into the order of creation. Rather, death is the very enemy of God from the very start. It is the terrible consequence of the Fall (Gen 2:17; Rom 6:23) and the very things that Christ set out to overcome (1 Cor 15:26). Death does not originate from the Father, but from the enemy (Jn 10:10). Throughout the 66 books of the Bible, the Lord is fighting against the powers of death. We ought not call death or the causes of death good.
“Everything happens for a reason,” but sometimes that reason is pure evil.