Why I Hate It – For some reason almost everyone seems to believe this bizarre statement. We say to hurting families at funerals that this must be part of a bigger plan. This cliche is often used when someone gets a terminal illness or when bad things happen to good people.
Please stop. It isn’t helping.
I remember that day like it was yesterday. A friend and I were called to Kevin’s house, no one had heard from him for days. As we entered his house I knew what had happened, I could smell it. Death has its own fragrance. We found Kevin sitting alone, in front of his television, dead from an overdose called ‘speedballing‘. Another wasted life.
I spoke at his funeral a few days later. I remember too well my half-baked attempt to make sense of something that should never have been. I will also never forget the lady who came to me after the funeral and accused me of “putting a negative spin” on the situation. She concluded with, “I know this will change a lot of lives and you should have spoken of that.”
I host a group for people who have lost loved ones and are struggling to cope. They are broken and confused, damaged goods. Inevitably in the group someone will share how, at the funeral of their child, an aunt or a well-meaning pastor came to them and said, “I guess God needed another child in heaven.”
The God they believe in must be a bastard. Apparently they believe that God needed another pre-adolescent to fill the roles so he killed yours. In counseling we call this a ‘cognitive distortion’. We also call it asinine.
Only slightly less damaging is the statement, ‘everything happens for a reason’. People who believe this think it is a very loose translation of a bible verse, “all things work together for good”. It’s not, and any decent theologian will tell you the bible verse does not mean that everything works to promote what you think is good.
Daniel Wallace explains – You’ve heard it thousands of times: “Don’t worry; everything will work out just fine.” It’s the eternal optimism that is born not in the crucible of reality but in the wishful thinking of the American dream, of Hollywood make-believe, or of a nave Pollyanna outlook. All of us know it isn’t completely true—we know of children who were cut down by cancer or drunk drivers, of drug addicts who came from good homes, of family men who lost their jobs, of soldiers who returned from battle with one less limb. We know of countless tragedies and needless suffering, yet we repeat the myth to our children without blinking an eye: “Don’t worry; everything will work out just fine.”
The fact remains that most people in my part of the globe still believe this to be an important truth. The painful truth is, however, that the grieving widow given this advice often wonders how such a tragedy could possibly be a good thing. As a result many who suffer wonder if this situation is somehow the will of God, or it is because they are not spiritual enough. They become confused, hurt, and often shunted in their grieving process.
This phase is indeed problematic on several levels. The speaker gives the impression that they believe that he or she has some inside track to the motivation of God or Karma or whatever mystical unseen hand is in control of our universe. They are saying that there is a power that decided that there was a good reason to inflict their newborn with cancer or have a woman raped. There must be some reason why some sixty million people perished in World War 2 including millions upon millions of innocents. Apparently we are supposed to learn a lesson which required 2.5% of the world’s population to die and over 6 million Jews, 2.5 million Poles and countless others to be murdered.
And given the existence of this holy force, which acts on our behalf, who am I to question why a child was molested or my friend Duke died of lung cancer at nineteen.
Even if you cannot see the fairy tale ending then your pain was part of a greater plan that helped someone else, surely? Don’t be upset that you were paralyzed by a drunk driver, think about the lesson you’ve taught others about drinking and driving!
As a person of faith I am not suggesting that all pain and suffering is pointless, or that nothing good can come out of a good situation, but the belief that everything happens for a reason is not only untrue, it is also a naive and potentially damaging way to look at life. Kevin’s death was a tragedy and I realize more and more that it is not necessary to rationalize or justify. Stuff happens. Bad things do happen to good people. Sometimes the rich do get richer and the poor do get poorer. Sometimes life isn’t fair (another lie we want to believe). Sometimes addicts die, in spite of our best efforts. I no longer blame God for things I cannot accept without a fairytale ending.
It’s only when we open our eyes and accept life on life’s terms that healing and hope begins. Pretending we are not angry, or frustrated, or confused, only keeps us sick and makes us bitter. No more lies.