The Lies We Tell Ourselves – ‘Everything Happens For A Reason’

How It Shakes Out – All this suffering is part of a cosmic divine plan.

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.

11 thoughts on “The Lies We Tell Ourselves – ‘Everything Happens For A Reason’

  1. You are totally right. I have dealt with a lot of grief in my life and hearing that phrase irks me while I am in the grieving process. I love my God and I know He loves me. He’s not a jerk. Crap happens and we have to learn to over come it. Part of it always clings to us but we grow from it. Sometimes finding a reason to cast blame on helps us grieve. Like with what I am going through right now…I have allowed myself the thought that my current loss will allow me to graduate with my Bachelor’s degree on time instead of having a delay. Now I have flipped it and decided to share what I am going through with the world. Thank you for this post.

    1. i especially hate “god needed another child in heaven” it paints god as something bad and he has enough bad press these days. i think you are taking the right track with your blog, i and everyone learn more from a story than a didactic piece. love you honesty, especially your last post.

  2. For quite some time now I’ve been looking for someone that would agree with me that not everything happens for a reason. Some things just suck! Finally. Thanks for checking out my blog because it meant I came and read this. And this is exactly what I needed today. Thank you. Cate.

  3. I agree with you, except I do think that life isn’t fair, or how else would you explain why tragic events seem to happen to nice people, or the fact that people who truly deserve worse always seem to do better than everyone else?

    I hate it when people try to justify tragedies by saying it is all part of a master plan bc frankly, if everything has already been planned for us, why even bother?

    I’m not a religious person, but I do think I’m a spiritual person. I don’t use the theological approach to explain anything and I’ve seen how people who do tend to turn their backs on their god when they feel abandoned. I know that firsthand bc my sister in law became pregnant 3 years ago, and somewhere along the 12th week the doctor spotted something wrong with the baby. Long story short, the baby had this rare syndrome it probably wouldn’t survive, and she was forced to abort bc the baby was making her sick as well. And I’m skipping the horror in between, like the hospital’s refusal to perform the abortion, meaning that in the end she had to pay for it out of her own pocket bc her insurance wouldn’t cover it; or the fact that the hospital refused to dispose of the baby, forcing her mother (my mother in law) to make funeral arrangements for it.
    After the whole ordeal, her husband has never returned to Sunday mass. And I get it, bc what god would allow such a thing to happen?

  4. I’m with you on this. Some stuff is just jacked up. I will never forget a minister from my childhood saying openly that the drowning death of the child whose funeral he was presiding over was unfair, painful, and impossible to fathom the reason for. I will always appreciate his honesty.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s