Over the years the phrase: “Everything happens for a reason,” has been tossed around as if it is a scriptural truth. It is not. And it is not sound Christian theology. It smacks of predestination and a belief in fate.
In the face of a tragic death I have heard people say: “God needed another angel in heaven.” (By the way, people do not become angels) “It was God’s will.” “It was her time to go.” “God is trying to teach us something.” “Everything happens for a reason.”
None of these are scriptural or theologically sound. And most people experiencing grief or going through a difficult time DO NOT find those words consoling or helpful. In fact they can be very hurtful and infuriating. I realize people are intending to comfort or help someone find a meaning to the suffering, but in reality these statements will not work.
We want easy answers to life’s difficulties. People often say these things when they have absolutely no idea what someone is experiencing. Or else they simply say them because they have not thought them through to the logical conclusion that it implies that God is not a God of love, but a bizarre god who is so unpredictable that he will kill and maim but all in the name of being good to us. (Think it through). This completely removes God’s grace and love from the picture of faith, and certainly leaves us without hope.
When a man is murdered, if someone says to the widow, "Everything happens for a reason,” she may well reply, yes, the man pulled the trigger and killed my husband. But God did not will evil. God does not will evil.
Or what about my friend who committed suicide? Please do NOT tell me that God planned that, or that it happened for a reason or that it was supposed to happen. If you do say that, then either you do not believe in free will or you believe in fate. Unfortunately what it seems to imply is that you do not believe in the goodness of God.
When an Evansville man killed a man in a drunk-driving accident, no one dared tell the widow and the fatherless children that the death of the husband and father was supposed to happen. It would have been hopelessly insensitive and cruel.
When the terrorists attacked on September 11th 2001, we heard people say, “everything happens for a reason.” Seriously? This is sadistic to suggest that God somehow helped mastermind and plan this event where over 3000 people died. No one would say that to the survivors of 9/11.
Or in the face of a Tsunami or a tragic earthquake, it would be best if people did not try and explain how God had a hand in disaster and instead simply pray for the victims and help whenever and wherever they can.
Christians who do not reflect on this simplistic answer – “everything happens for a reason” are saying, in essence, that “somehow, someway this is the best plan for you, God did this to you, but it is for your own good.”
Now many theologians, not simply me, point out that this is a short cut to faith. But, in fact, this whole notion destroys faith and hope, and ultimately charity. (For if everything happens for a reason, then why should I try and help the poor? Help the sick? It’s all God’s will. Right? Who am I to interfere with their destiny? Using this line then enables us to excuse ourselves from helping anyone).
I am in no way saying that good things cannot happen or that by God’s grace we may be in a certain place at a certain time, but that is a gift of Providence.
What I want to prevent is anyone thinking that we are pawns on God’s chessboard. We are not. We are not puppets on a string. We are not marionettes in God’s magic playhouse. We are not mere robots for God’s amusement. We are creatures with an intellect and a free-will and a soul. We are capable of choosing good or evil.
Yet we still hear people say “God took him” or “God took her.” Or what about those thousands and thousands of Japanese who died in the earthquake and subsequent tsunami? I have heard people say: “Everything happens for a reason,” or “God’s trying to teach us a lesson about how fragile life is.” or what about this one: “God punished Japan for attacking Pearl Harbor.” This is clearly ignorance unparalleled. How in the world could we have gotten so far away from the truth? God never wills an evil. God does not inspire someone to murder or get drunk and kill someone for some greater purpose. God does not mastermind an earthquake.
Jesus’ answer to the question why do bad things happen is NOT because God zaps people. It is because good people and bad people get hurt; we live in a fallen world. People do bad things. Storms do what storms do. Hurricanes do what hurricanes do. Tectonic plates move and cause earthquakes. Bad things happen. Good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people.
Are you saying that God kills people? Of course not. But if we go around saying “Everything happens for a reason” then God must be responsible for every evil act as well as every good effect.
Hopefully by now you can see the reason why I have taken the time to passionately write about this “everything happens for a reason” idea because it is “bad” theology, if we can even call it theology.
Good things CAN come out of the bad things that happen in our life. And God gives us the opportunity to respond in a positive way. But if everything happens for a reason is God’s reason, then that means that God is a terrible God who is seeking to destroy our lives, this god is an unpredictable monster. The god Moloch had to be appeased with human sacrifice. If we go on believing that everything happens for a reason, then eventually we would have to say we have no free will but are mere puppets of God in some celestial toy theatre.
But we believe God IS with us. Immanuel means God is with us. God will redeem our suffering, just like Jesus’ death was transformed into the Resurrection. God can turn our pain and sorrow to joy. This is the heart of the Paschal Mystery!
Saint Paul wrote: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Nowhere in scripture does it ever say that God is behind everything that happens. If this were so, then humans would not have free-will.
Evil is evil. Bad is bad. But we know that if we are in Christ, then even the worst suffering cannot keep us from God; nothing can separate us from the love of God.
Again, Saint Paul wrote: “What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? … in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8: 35-39).
This is what we need to say: “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus,” rather than “everything happens for a reason.”
Some of you might think of the man born blind man in John’s gospel chapter 9. The disciples ask “Whose sin caused his blindness? Was it his sin or his parents’ sin?” But Jesus replied: “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.”
Blindness is not good. Jesus says that the man was simply born blind. But God’s glory can be revealed in the blind man. But God did not make this man blind so that Jesus could one day happen along and give him eyesight.
We believe that even the worst suffering imaginable CAN bring forth abundant life.
The Resurrection of Christ followed Jesus’ Crucifixion and Death on the Cross.
We believe that New Life CAN spring forth from suffering of any kind.
We believe that Goodness CAN come forth from suffering, death, and destruction
God’s Grace is given to us when we suffer and when we grieve in a spirit of faith.
Regarding human violence we know that God has given humans a free will. It is a sin when one uses his free will to do harm. Evil is a lack of good.
Thomas Aquinas commented on The Problem of Evil. Since God is entirely good, He permits evil in his creatures because he is good and he may even bring forth good from evil. It is due to the infinite goodness of God that he permits evil; yet from evil he can bring forth good. God never wills evil as a means or an end, but can use it as a means to the end for good
Why does evil exist? To this question… no quick answer will suffice. Only Christian faith as a whole constitutes the answer to this question: the goodness of creation, sin, and the patient love of God…the Incarnation of his Son, his gift of the Spirit, his gathering of the Church, the power of the sacraments, and his call to a blessed life. As the Catechism assures us: There is not a single aspect of the Christian message that is not in part an answer to the question of evil.
God in his almighty providence can bring a good from the consequences of an evil, even a moral evil, caused by his creatures…
From the greatest moral evil ever committed—the rejection and murder of God's only Son, God, by his grace that "abounded all the more," brought the greatest of goods: the glorification of Christ and our redemption. But for all that, evil never becomes a good.
In the final analysis, things may not happen for a reason, but we can find a reason to go forth in faith when bad things happen.
"For we know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).