Why Everything Does Not Happen For A Reason


That phrase.

We’ve all received it personally gift-wrapped by well-meaning friends, caring loved ones, and kind strangers. It usually comes delivered with the most beautiful of intentions; a buffer of hope raised in the face of the unimaginably painful things we sometimes experience in this life.

It’s a close, desperate lifeline thrown out to us when all other words fail:

Everything happens for a reason.

I’ve never had a tremendous amount of peace with the sentiment. I think it gives the terrible stuff too much power, too much poetry; as if there must be nobility and purpose within the brutal devastation we may find ourselves sitting in. In our profound distress, this idea forces us to run down dark, twisted rabbit trails, looking for the specific part of The Greater Plan that this suffering all fits into.

It serves as an emotional distraction, one that cheats us out of the full measure of our real-time grief and outrage. We stutter and stop to try and find the why’s of all of the suffering, instead of just admitting that maybe there is no why to be found and that perhaps this all simply sucks on a grand scale. May you feel permission to fully acknowledge that profound suckness.

Any even if somewhere beneath all of it; far below all the dizzying trauma that we experience here there is a fixed, redemptive reason for it all, it’s one that will likely remain well beyond our understanding so long as we inhabit flesh and blood.

Deep within the background operating system of my faith there’s a buried, fiercely protected trust in a God who is good and in an existence that matters. But this core truth doesn’t come with the assumption that all things (including all the horrors we might encounter here), have a purpose. It doesn’t come with a hidden silver lining always knitted into the fabric somewhere, if only we can uncover it.

To believe that, is to risk painting the picture of a God who is making us suffer for sport; throwing out obstacle and injury and adversity just to see what we’ll do, just to toughen us up or break us down. I find it hard to reconcile that with the perseverant hope in a God who is not out to squash me. 

It’s exhausting enough to endure the dark hours here and not lose our religion, without the addition of a Maker who also makes us bleed. Instead, I prefer to understand God as One who bleeds along with us; who sits with us in our agony and weeps, not causing us our distress but providing a steady, holy presence in it. This still leaves me with the nagging question of why this God can’t or won’t always remove these burdens from me, but it does allow me to better see the open opportunity provided in tragedy.

There’s an oft-misused excerpt from a pastor’s letter to his faith community found in Scripture, where the author Paul writes:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

This isn’t a Heavenly insurance policy paid with faith and exempting us from anything unpleasant, but the promise that if we choose to respond to all things from a place of love and goodness; that we, not necessarily our circumstances will be better for it.

In this way, I believe in suffering as a sacred space; one where we get to choose.

It’s not a supernatural cause-and-effect experiment from the sky, specifically designed to do something to us or in us, but it is a time and place where we can respond and as we do, we are altered. Our pain does not have a predetermined purpose, (otherwise we would be straddled with the terribly complicated task of figuring it out in a billion small decisions every single day), but that pain will always yield valuable fruit.

As much as I hate to admit it, my times of deepest anguish have almost always been the catalyst for my greatest learning, but I could have easily learned different lessons had I chosen differently. Yes, I certainly grew tremendously in those trying times, but I could have grown in another direction altogether with another choice. In that way, those moments of devastation held no single, microscopic needle-in-the-haystack truth to hunt for while I grieved and struggled, but there was still treasure to be found in the making of my choices and in their ripples.

No I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason, but I do believe there is meaning in how we respond to all things that happen to us, even when they are not at all good things.

Be encouraged as you suffer and choose.





230 thoughts on “Why Everything Does Not Happen For A Reason

  1. Pingback: Why Everything Does Not Happen For A Reason | Thoughts from an Ordinary Guy

  2. Pingback: Why Everything Does Not Happen For A Reason | john pavlovitz » The Vulnerable Project

  3. and herein lies the wisdom of Job. Not that we will ever understand or even hope to receive an explanation for all of the suffering we have endured, but that one day we will see God.

    • I agree with the post about the wisdom of Job.
      In principle I do believe everything happens for a purpose. We may never know the purpose, may not need to or may not be ready to know the purpose. Looking for the purpose may also not be the most helpful thing at certain times. I believe God’s plans are comprehensive and always carried out. He is not a weak God being surprised or stumped by tragedies and disasters. He is in absolute control. And He is good. I would rather avoid the risk of painting God as out of control. I believe we cannot even try to interpret His motives unless He reveals them to us. I believe in hiding in His almighty power.

        • “stupid things” = allowing sick, twisted murderers, rapist and other perverts, to live. And then, release them back into society. Because they “paid for their crimes”.

        • I’m with you that, among other things, people do stupid stuff. I don’t know why the assumption running throughout this article was that God was the cause of the suffering; that seemed to be the only way to think about it in order for there to be a reason behind it. Yet, he quotes Romans 8:28, which says that any and all circumstances can be turned to good for those who love God. So, when God turns it to good, it now has a purpose or reason for having occurred. And God is to be glorified because He took something evil (which He did not cause, but which is always because of the fallen, sin state of this world) and made it into something wonderfully good, which is something only He can do.

        • yes sometimes but that doesn’t explain genetic illness from which my 4 month grandniece died and her grandfather was killed in a helicopter accident. My sister has lived such a good life, always going to church, never judging others, always trying to help and this is her “reward?

    • it as always bothered me when people talk about this being the wisdom of job, as if the reasons behind what happened to him were not clearly defined in the first chapter. which is why god’s rebuttal to job’s challenge at the end is equally insufficient – in light of that first chapter, it makes god’s answer that of a spoiled child who doesn’t want to be called out on his misbehavior.

  4. I find comfort in the thought that everything happens for a reason. That in itself gives a purpose to events for me. I am not privy to that reason, so don’t search for answers, but feel I may find out when I meet my maker (hopefully). It solves the “terrible God” problem too…the reason was bigger than me. Maybe this is simplistic, but it works for me.
    I appreciate your viewpoint on this though as I don’t want to downplay anyone’s pain, if that is what this phrase conveys to others.

    • Janine, I agree. There is great comfort in knowing that God is fully in control, and He only allows that which is for our own good and our own sanctification. They saints through the millennia have written copious amounts about this, and the role of redemptive suffering. I highly, highly recommend the book, Into Your Hands, Father: Abandoning Ourselves to the God Who Loves Us, by Wilfrid Stinissen, and follow-up with He Leadeth Me, by Walter Ciszek.

      • One other thought. To say that suffering is often without reason flies in the face of what we know of the Cross. The greatest suffering in the world (the torture and death of Innocence Himself) was for a reason. And that same God asks us to take up our own cross (think about that!) and suffer with Him, so that we may be heirs with Him. It is all for a reason. Every last bit of it. And that is the only thing that can possibly bring comfort in suffering. It’s all for a reason. And it’s all good, for those who are in Christ Jesus. Again, I cannot recommend the above books highly enough. God bless!

      • A couple of things:
        I understand your “take up your cross” argument as it applies to Christians, but by that logic, wouldn’t people of other faiths be absolutely free of suffering?
        Also, I’ve looked, and the phrase “God is in control” doesn’t appear in the Bible. Instead, Scripture describes God as being “sovereign”, meaning that, while He is certainly the ruler of creation and will be victorious in the end, creation (including you, me, carnivorous plants, lions, bacteria, etc.) is in continual rebellion, which causes suffering. The miracle of the cross is that, even in our rebellion, God still called out to us in love through His Son, and we’re given the opportunity to answer. “God is in control” kind of sells all that short and it denies a simple truth:
        Sometimes the “reason” is simply that the world is a fallen and messed up place waiting for redemption. God is not some micro-manager who goes around engineering people’s destruction, but He is the one who carries us through it when the world’s rebellion causes us to suffer.

        • AMEN. Thank you. The biggest lie Satan has convinced Christians of is that God is behind every thing that happens to us.
          Romans 8:28 says he causes all things to work together for good: NOT that he causes all things!

      • Leila, I think you may have misunderstood a small amount. I do not think the writer here is trying to say that suffering has no reason or no purpose. I believe that the writer is simply trying to say that, although many things do have a reason or purpose, including suffering, not all things, good or bad, have an immediate reason or purpose if at all. For many people, saying that “everything happens for a reason” can be akin to saying “God causes all bad things” when it’s in painful situation. The writer is probably trying to say that, sometimes, it can be worse for someone to search for a meaning that they may never understand than focus on what is mentioned towards the end of the post. This is that it is really the choices you make in the midst of those painful times are what is important, instead of trying to find a deeper meaning or cause for the pain and suffering. This is due to the idea, unfortunately, that trying to find find these meanings or causes can sometimes lead people to believe that God forces terrible things upon us, such as the death of a close friend, cancer, rape, murder, etc.

      • I am not souch responding g to this post as I am to your next post. I would caution you against making such broad sweeping strokes about what is the only thing that will help when you are in crisis. For me, the authors thought about God weeping with us rings much more true than God having purpose. For me God needs to be the kind of being who cries when my seemingly healthy father was diagnosed with leukemia and then, 3 days later, suffered a stroke into his brain stem killing him. If it helps you to believe that there is a purpose to this that I will not see until the day I meet my make then say it and move on, don’t tell me I won’t find peace of I don’t accept it as God’s will. For a God to exist in my world it can’t be a murderous bastard.

      • These are very thoughtful responses and I thank you! I think in some cases it’s just a matter of semantics that makes it appear that we disagree, but in other cases, there really is a difference in what we understand of the Christian God, His sovereignty (which does not mean that He messes with our free will), and His Divine Providence, which is always for our good (should we choose to cooperate with Him, as Christ did, even unto death). I wrote my own piece in response to pieces like this one, and reminded folks that a God who does not even let a sparrow fall to the ground without His will is not a God that let’s things happen “without a reason”:


    • I face things the way you do, Janine, and it has served me well. My life and experiences are but a thread in the tapestry and only God knows the whole picture, I don’the need to. However I have always been fascinated with the curiosity about “what if” I had chosen differently at any given junction in my life. But I try to listen closely for God’s guidance, and when I have done that the direction has been quite clear.

  5. I’m a firm believer that God set everything in motion. Nature and life and all the rest. Bad things happen……….because of nature or because of chance…….or, because of the sin of mankind. How do you tell a parent whose child just died of cancer that everything happens for a reason? How do we say that God sends these horrific things to make us strong/ God DOES NOT send tragedy. It’s just part of life that was set in motion thousands of years ago. God is definitely HERE for us, in our times of grief. All we can do is endure and try to come out on the other side of suffering and grief. After the grief has subsided, we go on to find as much happiness as we can with what we have left. And, we take comfort in the fact that someday we will be in heaven (the New Earth) with God with no more horror. When we pray………….it shouldn’t be that someone be healed……….it should be that no matter what happens, God will be there with us.

    • Yes, I agree that things happen because of error or chance…that God does not cause a head-on crash killing a family or any type of tragedy such as that. Sometimes things happen because we make a mistake and it is our fault and not God’s. I do not think He plans things like that–or the boat in China sinking with 450 persons on it…or the plane flying into the Towers…humans do things that cause problems but God is there to help us come thru it. He is a just God.

      • Who are you leaving out here people? Have u read the book of Job! Did God do all those bad things to Job? No…so who did? Satan! You say”but God could have stopped it”, yes he could have…BUT God allowed it. Why? because Satan said the only reason Job was such a good Christian was because of all that God had given to him. So God allowed Satan to take everything of Jobs ,put sores on his body and suffer but he could not take Jobs life. Why would God allow such a thing? Was there a reason? Yes! was it to prove to Satan he was wrong? I don’t think so. In my humble opinion, he was showing all those friends and family who wanted him to give up and give in that Job was a true man of God and had all trust in his Lord…not in his wealth and health. A true example of FAITH! I believe there is a purpose for everything. I may not know what it is..but I have faith that God is complete control and there is a ppurpose for everything bad or good.

        • actually.. Job didn’t even have Christ, or the Holy Spirit as comfort. Just his faith in God. So, Job was not a Christian

    • That would make God the “clock maker”, who simply set the world in motion and then sort of let it spin while He watches. But that is not the Christian God. The Christian God does not even let a sparrow fall to the ground without His will and consent. He has counted every hair on your head. He is all-powerful, and He knows what He is doing (and what He is allowing) at every moment. This is a good and comforting thing indeed!

      • I am not in any way comforted by your words and belief. You have just told me that your god deliberately killed my 21 year-old son. It is assertions such as yours that steer me AWAY from god, not closer. Why on earth would I want to worship a being who killed, or allowed the death of, my firstborn son, for some “reason”? Why would I worship a supreme being who has nothing better to do than mete out grief and death, all the while chuckling about how we’ll never know in our lifetimes why we were made to suffer such incomprehensible, heartbreaking, lifelong grief?? Why would I worship a god who decided that having my son die would be good lesson for me??? Just. No. I’m glad you are enjoying your bubble. I bet all your kids are alive. Trust me, you have no clue what it’s like to have a child die, and you will never be able to imagine it, or understand it. I wish you continued peace, but please don’t assume everyone is as lucky as you are…

        • Why would anyone follow a God who kills our children. My son died in a car accident many years ago. For a long time I thought it was God’s way of getting me to follow him. But after going out in the world in search of now what I realilzed I was wrong. I started reading the bible and some how this horrible pain, inside of me was changing, I was changing from the inside out. Now I was never a bible banger, but I needed to know what if anything or where if anywhere would I find or see my son again. All I could find was stuff this Jesus guy said. It was like he was speaking to me, clarifying to me what happened. He said ” the enemy comes to kill steal and destroy, I come to give life, abundant life!” Something like that, Jesus said, the enemy kills! So I started going on these mission trips and I started seeing and feeling this presence inside of me, it was,this feeling was replacing the sorrow, the guilt, the pain, and I wanted to see and feel more . Then I found something God said, “He said if you seek me you will find me, if you seek me with all your heart! God did not kill my son, the enemy did, in an attempt to kill steal and destroy me and my hopes, dreams and life with the family I still had. For while I allowed the enemy to do this, then one day I choose to not believe the enemies lies! My son is still dead, It still hurts, but now I know the truth and there is joy in my world, and that is the same plan by the way for you in your life. “for I know the plans I have for you, plans to NOT harm you, plans to give you hope and life! Death was never the plan for your life!

        • You have my heart, Pati, and you put everything I was thinking into words. The author of this article has it right, people living in a bubble very often wound us, despite the fact they preach the Lord’s word. Throw away those that wound you – the author of this article had it right. Bless you! I lost my 17 year old son a little more than ten years ago – I’ve heard all the platitudes a bereaved parent can hear.

        • I’m with you 100% Pati. As a young man I suffered through a tumor on my eye—ended up at the Mayo Clinic where they healed me. When I got home I bumped into an old friend and he said “Everything happens for a reason.” And I remember how angry I felt in that moment, and I said: “Then God is a jerk and when I see him, we are going to have words.” I mean, how do you explain the millions of people who die each year form natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes, et. al? Or starve to death or die of disease because they have no access to medications? Why not concentrate, as christians, to making this a better world by finding ways to feed the hungry, get meds to those who need it and the like?

          • And that’s just It. Stop looking to god to provide these things for those hurting.

            Clearly god has left the job to us. Clearly we are him.

            Maybe that’s what he’s been trying to tell us.

            Seriously… what more evidence do we need?

        • I lost a child as well… and a lot more, along with a piece of me.
          My other children will never know me the same either., and that’s a shame.

          Your comment was Well said. Incomprehensible for some ‘reason’ sums it up well.

          What ‘reason’ could be good enough make something like ‘THAT justifiable.

          There are so many others ways to ‘make a point’ … and serve as a ‘good’ lesson.

          To be left with nothing more but a shrug of the shoulders, we don’t know, while having to bear that kind of anguish is simply appalling to me.

          How we choose to respond – is outside the box when dealing with that sort of thing. There is dealing with that kind of thing. I cringe anytime anyone pretends or acts like there is.

      • Can you please tell me then the reason “God”, allowed my 29 year old daughter and my husband of 34 years to be murdered in a public place by her ex husband leaving 2 young girls without their mommy and their father who is facing the death penalty. ( He was a piece of crap before her murdered 2 people and wounded an innocent bystander so they are better off without him.) Also leaving all who loved them and many who didn’t even know them but were unfortunate enough to live nearby or happen to be shopping there traumatized and griefstricken. Can you given me a “reason” for this? Anything? Do you have any wisdom to a possible reason this happened? Please enlighten me. This may seem to you and others, small in scale compared to other tragedies in the world, but this is my world. I don’t want to seem to be minimalizing any of the many, many terrible things people have been through, but if you can answer this question for me, possibly you have some valuable insight you could also share with others. Thanks

        • That is awful, l’m so sad for you. Yes, l ask constantly where is the reason for these terrible things.
          Chidren who are, or have been continually raped and psychologically bullied and put down. Why would thus be described as a ‘plan’ for their life. If it ends in their death – what purpose does that fulfil?
          None of the answers come anywhere near to explaining this. It is all a sop for the pain and grief. There’s nothing in it for the brutalised victim whose life has been snuffed out.
          All that has been said here are mere sentiments. Any who are suffering imaginable, or unimaginable sickness , starvation, Imprisoment, sexual and psyhological trauma, and are powerlessly enduring it, and often dying as a result. TELL IT TO THEM even if they can’t comprehend the words. HOW DOES THAT HELP THEM WHEN THEY ARE DEAD, OR ARE THE WALKING DEAD AMONGST US.

    • Janet, I completely agree with you! For me, it’s easier to believe that life just happens, not that horrible things are planned!

  6. Finally someone who has been able to take the unrealistic expectation of the verse in Romans away. How many times have I read it and just reared up in disbelief over something that is patently not true and that is such opposition to the idea that we “take up our cross”. But what you have written fits what I have seen again and again. It is the people who respond with Gods help with love and forgiveness after appalling tragedies who can move on and not get sucked into the vicious spiral of revenge. It is the Nelson Mandelas who after 27 years of prison respond with love who have not been warped by life but are showing God’s love to the world.
    This piece has been like a release for me. I have hated that verse with a passion because it gave the worst sort of middle class comfortable Christianity credence (the “I’m ok so it proves I’m a good Christian because He looks after those He loves” type). But I can certainly accept and indeed hold onto the idea that whatever the circumstances God can work for good IN us.
    Sorry for the incoherence of my comments. You touched a nerve.

    • Gill, I understand your frustration with this verse as it is quoted out of context so often, but I just want to be clear that the problem isn’t the verse itself but how it gets used. When read in the full chapter of Romans 8, it takes on a very different meaning: something more akin to “Look, bad stuff just happens sometimes, but God will come alongside us in these difficult times, and if something good can come from this situation, He will make it so.” I’ve grown to love Romans 8 because of how v. 26 describes God’s Spirit groaning alongside us; that’s a very different picture than the “everything happens for a reason” platitude.

    • It doesn’t help that Romans 8:28 has been atrociously translated through the ages. The Greek is clear: God will be with us in our circumstances, none of which He authored. He wants to synergize with us to redeem as much as possible from a terrible event, but He leaves that up to us, also something out of His surrendered control. In Eden he delegated authority to mankind, and never took it back. Jesus famously prayed for God’s Kingdom to come, but unless you think this is heaven…His will is NOT being done. Finally, Every reference to God “almighty” in the New Testament refers to God in Heaven, not on Earth.

  7. My grandfather’s favorite verse was Rom. 8:28. He signed all his letters with that, and told his family that if he ever signed with a different verse, there was something wrong and someone needed to check on him. After he died, Dad took it on, and at one point, I gave him a wooden and leather sign with the verse carved in. One of my Uncle’s took it after Dad died. I have that wooden sign back, in storage.

    A few years ago, while still attending AA meetings on a regular basis, I was sexually assaulted. It was violent, it was horrifying, I was terrified, and I was alone afterwards. Those people spouted that awful phrase at me non-stop. There is a story in their book that uses that phrase as a central point.

    Everything happens for a reason? No. I cannot and will not believe that a loving God wanted that to happen. There is no fucking way my Heavenly Father would have deliberately allowed that to happen to a child of His. I hit the bottle pretty heavy after that, trying to balance the physical reality of what happened with the way those people were mind-fucking me into a near suicide.

    What saved me…. My mother, as religious as she is, told me that she doesn’t believe that God controls everything on earth, that Satan has been given dominion for awhile, and the terrible things that happen are his doings, not God’s.

    Thanks for posting this. It’s good to have a reminder every once in awhile that I am not the only one who doesn’t believe that everything happens for a reason.

    • Wow Sylvia, so sorry! Your mother was correct. There is much evil driving people and the terrible things they do to others. It’s free will choice… God doesn’t force anyone to follow him. People that don’t know him, can invite the enemy to have authority and dominion over their hearts. Until they’re ready to repent and allow God into those places…. the ungodly spirits remain. God Bless you, heal you and make his face to shine upon you.

      • I highly recommend the book, Where is God when it hurts by Philip Yancey. Hugely controversial at the time, if memory serves me correct it was written at the high the of Charsamania movement but he goes into great detail on this subject.

    • Wow. What a horrible thing to endure. And God bless you for not giving up the struggle. My wife is sober 9 months now, after hiding four years of drinking. Through AA, she’s had a closer walk with God and a deeper community of believers than she’s had in our previous 23 years of marriage. No, not all things happen for a reason, but God can use any situation to draw us closer to Him.

    • This same phrase has brought me a lot of hurt, too. Trust me, since I was first held down and raped at 5 years old, I have tried to find a meaningful reason or purpose to explain it, but here just isn’t one. Not everything is meant to be. I like to think that if they could, God’s followers would try to intervene and help me if they saw my childhood body being broken and abused, and not just write it off as something that was meant to be, and will make me stronger one day. When people say it ‘happened for a reason’ – although I know they’re trying to be hopeful and optimistic- it feels like they are absolving the perpetrator of blame or wrong doing, and denying me the right to be upset or damaged by my past. They say ‘the abuse doesn’t matter, what matters is how you grow and recover from it’, but actually these are horrendous things that need to be processed, not dismissed.
      For me, pretending that everything awful thing that happensed to me is just an opportunity for self-improvement and part of a perfect plan that I can’t understand yet is more often harmful than hopeful.
      I have tried to grow and strengthen through all the abuse I suffered, and I’m going to continue trying to make the most of where I am, but I’m not going to pretend being raped and beaten has improved me.
      It has shattered me.

    • God doesn’t cause suffering, God redeems suffering. Christ sits and cries with you to help you through what makes absolutely no sense. Ever since the beginning of time, God’s purposes have been redemptive.

  8. This is the first time I’ve read this perspective, yet I’ve felt it and tried to articulate it for years. I’ve always hated that phrase myself, and often try to gently invite my suffering patients (I’m a psychotherapist) into their grief a little deeper by setting this sentiment aside. Jesus is in the pain, “the first to cry,” as someone once told me. Your post makes me think of C.S. Lewis’s line: “No wonder You utter no answer, because You give Yourself as the answer, and so all questions [of why] die away.” (I butchered the quote, but it’s something close to that.) Thanks John. I don’t know who you are, but I appreciate your heart.

  9. A meaningful exploration of this mystifying topic. Despite all the explanations offered by theologians the matter of purpose behind unmerited suffering doesn’t hold water for many people.

  10. Thank you. I’ve wanted to be a mother since I was in sixth grade. I was finally able to get pregnant in 2010 but miscarried at 10 weeks. Over and over from the ‘Christians’ in my life I heard that everything happens for a reason or that the miscarriage was God’s will. The whole experience nearly destroyed me and I walked away from God. In the last five years I have not found ‘the reason’ and this is the first time since then that I feel I can reconcile what happened in a way that will bring me peace.

    • Terri, God did not cause your baby to die, just as He did not cause my 10-day-old baby to die. BUT God is with us, beside us, holding us, crying with us, all of the things that a loving parent would do for his/her hurting child. In what ever way we react to the situation, He is still with us, beside us, holding us, crying with us …

      • I’m over flowed with God’s blessing! And want to share it, and speak it out.please find it in your hearts to ask God in prayer in Jesus name to show each one of us what is of him and what is not.He will show us.He says ask and it shall be given seek and you shall find knock and the doors shall be open.

  11. Where could I send you some tithe? You bless me so much. I send many of many of your blogs on to others

    Signed: a gay, reforming evangelical. Mandy Marshall

    Sent from my iPad


  12. So well written, and you were able to express my feelings on this that I’ve never been able to put into words. Thank you.

  13. Well said. I have reposted things you’ve written several times. I don’t believe we are supposed to figure it out and we may never know the “why.” But I do believe these hard times can be a “teaching” moment for us. I find myself asking, “What am I supposed to learn from this?” I don’t get answers, but it helps me refocus on the opportunity to learn and grow.

  14. I’ve written about this myself before. I believe God is with us through everything but I don’t think God causes everything. I specifically don’t think God causes suffering and pain. I can’t believe in a God like that … or if I did I could not proclaim that he was good and I couldn’t give my life to a God that was not good. However, like you, the difficult times in my life have often been times of positive growth and change.

  15. The reality of suffering has bothered me for many years. There is no shortage of well-intentioned cliches that are more harmful than helpful. I am in the process of thinking through and writing a theodicy. It may take many years, but I am determined. I am pleased to read others, who like myself, don’t believe everything they are told.

  16. Yes! I believe the same. You express what I am feeling much better than I can! Having the mindset that “everything happens for a reason” enables a person turn from responsibility.

    I tell my kids that things happen — try to learn from the experience.

  17. Good piece John. For many years now, I have heard over and over again the phrase one hears over and over again in Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical churches. You have probably heard it to: “God has a special and unique plan for your life. All you have to do is discover what that unique plan is and follow it faithfully.” I do not believe that. It is Calvinist bull doody. It asks us to believe that God is simultaneously the author of all good and all evil in the universe. It also asks us to believe that God’s so-called “unique plan for our lives” means that all of the evil and bad things that befall us (including our own good and evil thoughts and actions in the world) were preprogrammed just for each one of us individually 15 billion years ago. So, some American guy gets his body ripped in half with machine gun bullets on Omaha Beach June 6, 1944—and God planned for that to happen. God says, ” I love you my son. That is why I ripped you in half with machine gun bullets. This is a special gift I have had planned just for you and you alone for the past 15 billion years. Isn’t it great!!! Nah, no problem!!! I appreciate the sentiment, but no “thanks” are needed. I just love doing special things like this for my children. Hey, maybe if a medic comes along in the next 10 seconds, you might survive. Have a nice day!!!”

    The fundies among us need to believe that God planned every moment of their lives. For example, when Joe picked up that coffee cup just a second ago, his right wrist rolled a half turn to the right. God planned that slight wrist roll. It was in the plan!!! Many Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals are attracted to these faith traditions because they are emotionally disturbed people who have a deep, inner psychological craving for “certainty” in a world where we know from statistics that enormous numbers of things happen randomly, as a result of natural forces in the universe, or as a result of perverse human actions (including our own).

    The fundies (and Presbyterians) need a God who has preplanned every 0.0001 seconds of their life because it helps them feel certain—when in reality there is no certainty with many things in this life here on Earth. If an ISIS militant is slicing off one of their heads, they somehow manage to believe that God is holding the knife—and as long as God is slicing their head off and he preplanned it—well that makes it all certain and really cool.

    We usually hear it in the form of a car that just ran over little Cindy, caused her to convulse in agony for a half hour on the pavement, and die. You can count on some old fundie granny stepping in to say to her mom: “It’s okay Mrs. June. It was just little Cindy’s appointed time. God took her home to be with him just a few minutes ago, and you can rest in the certainty of that.” In other words, God planned it 15 billion years ago, God killed little Cindy at the appointed time in the plan, plugged all the pain in that He could find, and that makes everything all cool, happy, and certain. Why did God choose a painful hit and run to kill little Cindy? Well, I guess that is just one of the great mysteries of the universe, but we can take great consolation in the notion that God does a much better job of premeditated murder than Jack the Ripper or Ted Bundy ever could—and He plans it all and wills it all billions of years in advance. I guess to some people, there is no more frightening thing than living in a sinful world they do not understand that is spinning out of control culturally and socially—and their only way to deal with that is to believe that God preplanned every moment of it all—and that this preplanning puts him willfully in control over everything good and bad that happens. It is not just that He is in control, like when you are watching a toddler in a room to keep her from killing herself. God is in control in the sense that He is doing the good and the evil as part of some grand, preprogrammed plan that has been eked out down to the last minor detail.

    This belief is why so many people in Europe have abandoned the Christian faith since World War II—to the point where it is almost nonexistent in many of their nations. Prior to the war, many of them held to these similar fundie notions about a God who plans out every little thing and is in total control of every tiny thing that happens in life. I used to work in a tourist job where I met several 100,000 people from all over the world every summer and talked to many of them. Numerous Europeans have told me that the devastation of World War II made them give up on the notion of God and abandon the Christian faith forever. They could not understand how a supposedly loving God who was in total control of every little thing and preplanned every little thing in each person’s life could execute such terrible destruction and evil on his own faithful people in Europe—resulting in the destruction of whole countries, the deaths of millions of innocent people, and acts of cruelty among the worst in human history. They concluded that God had either abandoned them, He did not exist, or He was not looking after their best interests as part of his plan. So, if God had walked out on them, then I(if He even existed) they would walk out on him too—and they did. They have actually told me this.

    With the possible exception of the American Civil War, we Americans have sat here fat, dumb, happy, and wealthy beyond the highest dreams of avarice. Our geographic isolation by several oceans has spared us from the kind of devastation that Europe experienced during World War II. However, our time is coming. Human beings and their lust for war are great—and our world is much smaller now. Our enemies can reach out and touch us now—both the faithful and the unfaithful among us. All will suffer like Europe did eventually. My money on red at the roulette table bets that this flawed fundie notion of “God has a unique plan for every person’s life and every tiny thing that happens in life” will not survive the devastation—and they will walk away from God because of it—just like the Europeans did after World War II. Sometimes we humans set ourselves up for failure because of the stupid things we choose to believe.

    • P.S. Everything does happen for a reason. For example, L.A. has a huge earthquake because the pressure on the San Andreas fault gets more than the rock can bear, and it has to move to release the stored energy. It’s just that the reason is not necessarily direct action by God or Satan in every instance. It’s a wild and wooly universe out there, and lots of things are happening both randomly and nonrandomly for lots of different reasons.

      • I cannot wait until the fundies show up here to disagree. Their need for “certainty” in life and a sense of “eternal security” are so pervasive that this whole subject will drive them even more nutty than they already are. You will see long lists of KJV scripture of dubious applicability and subject to much argument. Some will tell you that this event or that event in modern times was an act of God. My response: “You can believe that as much as you like but simply believing something strongly does not make it true. I want the specific evidence that proves beyond all doubt that this event or that event was an act of God. For example, some will say that AIDS was a plague sent by God to express his displeasure with the gay community. My response: “Prove it!!!!”

      • When I was a child in Middle Tennessee, the old ladies referred too the deity as “Gawd.” You know: “Hit musta been an act of Gawd!!!” My response: “No. Baroque and Rococo—and Lou Liberace were acts of Gawd.”

    • I think this has been my struggle since I’ve become a Christian…all this Christianease getting thrown around that I’m just now at the point that I can see none of it is Biblical. I have beaten myself up repeatedly because i didn’t know if I had found “God’s Plan” for my life and someone in the church told me if I wasn’t following His plan, i wouldn’t be under his umbrella of protection. I appreciate your comment. I needed that this morning.

      • Be careful when leaving one unbiblical thought (“You must find out God’s plan for you”) and latching on to another one (“Everything Does Not Happen for a Reason”) . We will be “tossed here and there by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph 4:14) if we are not basing our ideas on what is biblical.

    • I invite you to visit Third Presbyterian Church, 4 Meigs St., Rochester, NY so you can see for yourself that your characterization of what “Presbyterians” believe is far from accurate…

  18. I’m not sure why we find it more comforting to say that fate or Satan is behind suffering rather than a loving God being behind it. Can God be loving AND send suffering our way? Apparently so.
    “[I]n this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” (Acts 4:27-28) There was no greater suffering, no more horrific event in the history of the world than the crucifixion of the Son of God. If THAT suffering had a “reason”, and was in fact predestined and orchestrated by God, and if it served a most loving purpose, then why can’t any and every other suffering?

    • I think this is the “turned inside out” fundie notion of “if even one word in the Bible is ever found to be wrong, then the whole Bible must be rejected.” It is like saying, “If God killed Hitler by making him have a car accident, then we must assume that God causes all car accidents on planet Earth.” Sorry. I don’t buy it, and neither does anyone else with half a brain. Only a fundie would believe garbage like this. Can God intervene? Sure. Does he intervene in every thing and every time—-I doubt it.

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  20. I am a funeral director in a small, rural community, and have sat with neighbors, friends, and family for just about 40 years. I also have a later-in-life degree in theology. Your words, sir, are exactly how I understand suffering and unspeakable pain, and how a loving and benevolent God endures them with us… never picking and choosing who can ‘handle’ more or who could use a life lesson caused by heartbreak. Again, thank you.

  21. Does God not cause suffering for a reason? I would emphatically say yes… For Jesus’ death and burial are paramount to illustrate that and that very act and omission of The Lord is the cornerstone on which our faith rests. Was there resurrection and triumph? Yes. But not before the suffering.

  22. Why do so many people only quote Rom 8:28 and leave off the rest of the verse in 29 ? That verse tells us that “those whom He forknew, He also predestined to BECOME CONFORMED to the IMAGE OF HIS SON,” that is the good that God will bring about. Everything in our life can ake us more like Jesus!

    • The only problem with this Calvinist nonsense is that it allows the Calvinist to say, “Well damn. I just blew my husband away with a DB shotgun. Shrug? I don’t feel so bad about it because my doing it must have been God’s will. It would be interesting to see how these predestination notions crept into 1st-2nd century theology and why? Does anyone know from a historical perspective. They have always seemed out of place to me—like some sort of sunglasses were overlaid on the gospel for some reason.

  23. Aeschylus said, “… even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon our hearts. That in our grief and in our despair comes wisdom by the awful grace of God.”


    Back in the day when I used my ten cherry-picked Bible verses to answer every difficult question under the blazing sun, life was so slam-bang easy! And I confess that this very phrase, “Everything happens for a reason,” came out of my mouth a lot. I wasn’t a healer to the world — I was a parrot. Life has a way of bringing us to our knees, though, and I realized that all the suffering and abuse I’d been through did not have a “reason” other than to derail and destroy who I was meant to be.

    I stopped say that phrase. I haven’t said it for years. Now I believe that God wastes nothing — nor should we. To, “Why does God allow bad things to happen to innocent people?” I say, “Why do we?”

    We are His hands and feet and mouths and hearts… and we need something a little bit better than soundbites and zingers if we are going to meet the suffering of this world and give them hope.

    Love this post, brother. Love it.

    Daisy Rain Martin

    • “Awk!!!!!!! Polly want a salvation experience? Awk!!! John 3:16.” Your post made my day. The vast topographic relief between reality and truth is what makes this so funny. Thanks!!!

  24. By your own admission, the phrase, “Everything happens for a reason” is actually true. In fact, your final statement even gives us a “reason” for the “everything”: “No I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason, but I do believe there is meaning in how we respond to all things that happen to us, even when they are not at all good things.” The “reason” for “everything” is to point us to the “meaning”. Instead of going after a rare heretic that somehow gets “prosperity Gospel” out of Romans 8:28, your piece would have been better served with Genesis 50:20, where Joseph informs his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” There is no need to split semantic hairs in order to have a catchy/controversial/inaccurate blog post title… though if your goal was to achieve clicks, you have done exactly that! 😛

    • The “reason” for “everything” is to point us to the “meaning”.

      I find this a terribly oversimplified view of suffering and pain, one that sidesteps the many difficult questions we have to fave as people of faith. In this scenario, every terrible thing that happens (a child dying young and violently, for example) has a reason, a beforehand purpose, and that it is somehow always redemptive for those going through it. I would argue that is not at all a reality.

      Your statement is an example of how much we as believers all want God to be fully good, and yet somehow we also want every awful thing we experience to be something God designed, or is using to teach us. I don’t believe you can make this claim with any more certainty than the “inaccurate” post I’ve written.

      Thanks for commenting.

      • “The “reason” for “everything” is to point us to the “meaning”.
        I find this a terribly oversimplified view of suffering and pain.”

        ^ I agree. Finding meaning is a difficult and worthwhile struggle which is a way in which many manage to grow through and despite their suffering. It is a personal victory over the pain and evil that has been inflicted, but it is not an inevitable outcome gifted to us in the form of the trauma.

  25. It is intriguing, the way that people choose to view this issue. I see many arguing against God being the instigator of pain and suffering, and another arguing that God must not have any control during this time, and that Satan, ergo, has dominion.

    I see it differently. I believe at all times, God is in control. The enemy can do nothing w/o permission of the Father. Job would be a perfect example.

    What I DO believe is that God does not allow suffering w/o PURPOSE. Yes, we live in a broken world. And, yes, sometimes God chooses not to intervene when evil comes near. But, shockingly enough, I don’t believe it is all about ME, or all about YOU. I don’t believe God “owes” us perfect lives, and I believe that those who do believe that are FOOLS. Instead, I think that when tragedy comes upon us…and it will, it serves to advance the Kingdom of God. And that these tragedies are opportunities for us to be molded and refined. See Romans 5, 1 Peter 2, James 1, et al.

    Does God, himself, send these things? That’s a hard one to answer. Look at Sodom and Gomorrah. Yep, He sent that. Or all of the times that He both warned, and then punished, Israel for choosing other “gods.” A good parent disciplines their children. Do you not discipline your own?

    Do people say stupid, hurtful things when tragedy strikes? Beyond a doubt. But rather than condemn them, can we not just acknowledge that many simply don’t know what to say. And that many have been taught really crappy theology that leads them to blame us (or the victim), or to try to comfort others by stating that it was God’s will?

    Do I believe that all tragedies are a result of God’s will? No. But, do I believe that He does not allow pain w/o PURPOSE? Without a doubt. Do we always understand why? No. Is it always for “our” benefit? No. Was He capable of intervening? Yes.

    Would a “good” God allow bad things happen to His children? Yes. God’s own son, Christ, came to earth as a human being, and went to the cross willingly, to bring hope of restoration and reconciliation between man and God. If Jesus were willing to do that for us, how/why do we whine when crappy things happen to us?

    Lest you think my life has been hunky dory, I was bullied as a teen–to the point to attempting suicide, widowed as a young mother of three, have grieved the loss of three babies, and buried both of my parents. But I don’t blame God for that. Instead, I am grateful to have had Him to turn to in my darkest hours, knowing that God has suffered too, sending Jesus to the cross that we might be reconciled to Him. If anyone knows the pain and purpose of suffering, I think the Creator of the universe experiences it every time that we do, and gives us the opportunity to choose to feel aggrieved, or to invite Him into our pain, to give or find purpose in the very place that the enemy would most desire to steal it.

  26. Thank you for this piece. Romans 8:28 is my “life verse” & I recently wrote about it stating nearly the same ideas. It is not all good. But I didn’t come to believe that until I faced it. Until I felt destruction and devastation in ministry and relationships – not until the brink of bankruptcy while standing in line counting quarters for milk for my babies did I learn that sometimes bad things happen and that God could not always be held responsible. He did not show up as my insurance agent. He was not my genie in a lamp. He didn’t turn things around for me. Thats when I knew; bad things happen to people who love God.
    So I guess what I’m wondering is those who dissent with your thoughts I wonder how much suffering they’ve experienced. Because 15 years ago I would have argued differently.
    If I’ve learned anything it’s that suffering is sacred too. And we fight too hard to keep grief at bay. When sometimes ashes and a rent cloth are just as holy.


  27. Riddle me this Batmen and Batwomen? Go over to the “Flee from Christian Fundamentalism” blog and read the post about “The Adkisson Manifesto.” Explain how God was in full control of and directing every little thing that happened at the church and identify the great, holy, and meaningful PURPOSE that was being worked out there:


  28. The one things that comes to mind is the comment “God does not hand us more than we can handle. I personally have experienced much sever abuse in my lifetime and yet have done very little to harm others in my life. I always said to myself you can handle this. But now, enough is enough I can no longer handle more suffering. It has come to a point of awakening everyday with anxiety thinking ‘whats next’ I unfortunately have lost trust in my fellow man – I have erected a psychological iron fence as my boundary.

    Also, when I talk to God I am so angry about millions of innocent children being abused, especially by pedophiles which is a worldwide epidemic. I ask God to send his only daughter to but a stop to this.

  29. From a Biblical worldview, we understand God is totally sovereign over all things and yet is not the author of sin. So He ordains whatsoever comes to past yet is not responsible for the actual evil and sin committed amidst whatsoever He ordains in order to accomplish all of His Holy will. Before we say, “no, that evil I endured could not have been ordained by God.” Think of it this way….the greatest evil committed in human history was planned by God the Father from all eternity in order to redeem His people. And that was the crucifixion of and wrath endured by the perfect God-Man and Son of God, Jesus Christ. No suffering we ever endure will compare to that injustice and pain. Yet for it, I am thankful and it was for a most glorious purpose

    • Not all Christians believe that God planned the crucifixion from all eternity. Some of us believe that the people who crucified Jesus had as much free will as any other human being. If people had accepted Jesus’ message, the crucifixion would not have happened, would not have been necessary. In other words, God did not require Jesus’ suffering and death. It was an outcome of human choice against God.

      • Mormon theology maintains that Satan and Jesus were blood brothers in Heaven and that both were sonsof God. God asked for a volunteer to go down to Earth and suffer like Jesus did for the redemption of mankind. Satan said, “I don’t think that sounds like a very happy mission, I’ll pass.” God got angry at his son Satan for refusing to volunteer and in a fit of rage flung him to Earth like a meteorite. (Apparently God gets so pissed that He does not recall the actual meaning of the word “volunteer.”) Jesus, noticing what just happened replied in an anxiety-ridden stammer, Uh-uh-uh, I’ll volunteer.”

    • Calvinist BS. If God ordains it, then He is responsible for it. If I ordain the trigger on my gun and the person in front of me takes a bullet, then I am responsible—and God is too in the same situation. I have zero respect for John Calvin and believe he earned that in Zurich.

  30. “If all the sick for whom we pray were healed, if all the righteous were protected and the wicked destroyed, the whole program of the Father would be annulled and the basic principle of the gospel, free agency, would be ended. No man would have to live by faith. If joy and peace and rewards were instantaneously given the doer of good, there could be no evil—all would do good but not because of the rightness of doing good. There would be no test of strength, no development of character, no growth of powers, no free agency, only satanic controls. Should all prayers be immediately answered according to our selfish desires and our limited understanding, then there would be little or no suffering, sorrow, disappointment, or even death, and if these were not, there would also be no joy, success, resurrection, nor eternal life.” Spencer W. Kimball

    • If you are impressed by this, which you appear to be, you will be miserable in Heaven because that is what we have been led to believe it is like. It is a place where you can eat 500 Twinkies and never get fat. This is like a wealthy person saying, I need to surround myself with poor people I do not help so I can look at them and have greater satisfaction in my own wealth. If I did not have them to look down on, my wealth would be meaningless and I would be miserable.”

      Go back to the drawing board an try again.

  31. I see your point, John, yet sometimes saying something trite and unhelpful is better than saying nothing at all, because at least you’re acknowledging that there’s an issue that’s important enough to address.

    I think we naturally tend to shy away from people going through an a terrible suffering pertaining to the death of a child or an equivalent life-shaking trauma. That or we speak in cliches that often aren’t helpful.

    However, in my experience the worst thing you can do is ignore a friend in pain.

    I’m bipolar and came to terms with the family history of mental illness about 15 years ago during a major blowout with depression and anxiety during my last year of college.

    The worst of it only lasted for about 6 weeks (which anyone suffering from a major depressive attack will say feels like 6 years), but I saw extremes respecting the good, the bad, and the ugly, in the way people reacted to how I was feeling and acting during that relatively short time.

    Some folks were understanding and kind while others essentially accused me of faking an illness to get attention and wondered why I didn’t just “snap out of it.” And I experienced everything between those extreme reactions, of course. But I can live with all that because I think those responses came from a place of sincerity, on a fundamental level.

    The only reaction that devastated me was hearing from a friend about 18 months later who said, “sorry I didn’t get in touch with you. I just didn’t know what to say about the tough times you were going through.”

    I would rather have heard “snap out of it” than “I just didn’t want to bother investing energy in reaching out to you in any way.”

    Just my 2 cents, of course. Other people may feel differently.


  32. Reblogged this on The Spiritual Blog of Rev. Michael F. Copado. and commented:
    John Pavlovitz, once again articulates something I’ve been working on as I try to look at God/Jesus/The Universe through grown up eyes, shedding the image of a capricious bearded man up in the sky either judging us or bailing us out, or Jesus as a 2 dimensional superhero we put on a pedestal and worship while virtually ignoring the teaching to love one another, and a Universe that is full of awe and mystery and science that is not seen as separate from my faith.

    I have always hated plithy statements such as “this is all part of God’s plan to make you stronger” or “Everything happens for a reason.” Even as I’ve sometimes uttered them myself.

    I didn’t lose my home 8 weeks ago, or my brother 20 years ago for “a reason.” And though I may have become stronger, I, like so many people who have faced tragedies, could have been broken by them.. Sometimes I still feel broken by those and many loses in my life. Does that mean God doesn’t love me? Or I failed in some way…a preposterous and I think damaging idea we unconsciously perpetuate.

    I lost my brother to cancer, one of the most insidious diseases out there, exacerbated by depression, another insidious disease, one that I am intimate with. I lost my home because of a grease fire in a kitchen, and broken fire extinguisher, and a scared young adult who may have panicked and grabbed water after his fire extinguisher failed him.

    God didn’t cause these things to happen to test us, or because He (hard to break the habit of anthropomorphizing or gender-izing.) They happened because we live in a world, heck a universe ruled by natural laws, especially entropy. We live in a realm were for whatever reason systems, including fleshy ones, break down. That’s just the way it is, houses sometimes catch on fire, sometimes we face the tragic death of a loved one… and ALL the time, we face the inevitable truth of our own death as well. In other words Shit Happens… It happens equally to the good and the bad.

    I love what John said here in this piece. It’s what I’ve been trying to articulate as I contemplate the idea of a “Grown Up God.” and my relationship to it. If you don’t have time to read the whole blog, at least contemplate these passages.

    And consider them the next time you are tempted to offer consolation with words that actually offer little…

    “It’s exhausting enough to endure the dark hours here and not lose our religion, without the addition of a Maker who also makes us bleed. Instead, I prefer to understand God as One who bleeds along with us; Who sits with us in our agony and weeps, not causing us our distress but providing a steady, holy presence in it. This still leaves me with the nagging question of why this God can’t or won’t always remove these burdens from me, but it does allow me to better see the open opportunity provided in tragedy…

    …As much as I hate to admit it, my times of deepest anguish have almost always been the catalyst for my greatest learning, but I could have easily learned different lessons had I chosen differently. Yes, I certainly grew tremendously in those trying times, but I could have grown in another direction altogether with another choice. In that way, those moments of devastation held no single, microscopic needle-in-the-haystack truth to hunt for while I grieved and struggled, but there was still treasure to be found in the making of my choices and in their ripples.

    No I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason, but I do believe there is meaning in how we respond to all things that happen to us, even when they are not at all good things.

    Be encouraged as you suffer and choose.”



    Rev. Michael

    • Well said. I agree also with what Harold Kushner wrote in his book, when Bad Things Happen To Good People. Basically that God doesn’t orchestrate our disasters but stands with us to help us pick up the pieces. When my young son drowned 27 years ago those ‘platitudes’ hurt so much. What gave solace to my grief has been to work with The Compssionate Friends, a support group for bereaved parents. It doesn’t give a ‘meaning’ to my loss but does give my life meaning. Thanks be.

  33. I’d say that IF everything happens for a reason, that reason is not necessarily that it’s part of God’s plan. I’ve got high blood pressure. The reason is not that God wants to make me sick. The reason is simply that I eat a crappy diet and choose not to get the exercise I need to stay fit. To hear those pious words out of someone’s mouth when you’re down and suffering is just cruel.

  34. The moment this otherwise brilliant piece went off the rails was, “I find it hard to reconcile that with the necessary belief in a God who is not out to squash me.”

    Necessary? If we’re taking out all assumptions, then take out the big one, too. When you do, it all falls neatly into place and you realize that things happen as effects (the causal “why”), but not for a REASON (the philosophical “why”). Your basement may flood due to decisions made by builders and engineers and planners a century ago, but not because of a capricious supernatural entity wishing to test or punish you. The greater hubris is in assuming that an omnipotent being would care about non-omnipotent beings at all, or even give them any thought at all.

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  36. A good article which generated some interesting comments. I don’t think I will ever fully understand the problem of evil and suffering, at least in this life. I think God can work in bad situations, and I think He wants to and does help us in them, but that doesn’t mean the situations are good. And I see so much suffering without any apparent redemptive effect. As a Christian, I take comfort in the fact that when Jesus was asked to help someone, He always did it. He never told the person asking that God wanted them to suffer or that they should continue to suffer because it would make them a better person. As I believe Jesus was God in human form, I believe Jesus’s dealings with suffering people show us something essential about God’s nature that we can cling to even if we don’t understand all the whys of what happens.

  37. I prefer to say (to myself more than others. Sometimes when in the dark, others don’t need our empty however well-meaning words, they just need our hugs, our presence, our prayers, our food) “good can come from bad” rather than “everything for a reason”. You said it well, from our darkest times we make choices and can learn a multitude of lessons. Looking back, for me, this has often been the good. It doesn’t make it less bad at the time though.


  38. God will find a way to make something positive out of all situations. It may not be fully evident to us at the time, or even afterward. I truly believe as the writer does that God takes this journey of life with us and walks side-by-side with us, crying with us and celebrating with us. He longs for a deep relationship, regardless of where we are in our walk. Thanks for a thought provoking write-up.

  39. Reblogged this on My Life. One Story at a Time. and commented:
    We’ve all heard those words – Everything happens for a reason. I, myself, have tried so many times to find the reasons my children were alienated from me. I begin to think I must have done something so bad that “it happened for a reason.” I’m glad I read this and I am going to read and re-read it until I change my thought process, because my thought process is distructive. I do not think that God is punishing me for the consequences of someone’s elses freedom of choice.

  40. If He is not in control, weaving his glorious plan and work through every little thing of my life…. if He did not have a purpose in all of the horrible pain I’ve experienced… quite frankly, I have no comfort, in life or death.
    Is it hard to accept that He has purpose in pain? Oh my, yes. But his ways are not our ways, his thoughts are not our thoughts. He knows the work he has for us, and in the end, we shall see his glorious unfolding, a story of grace so masterful it will take our breath away. Cling to him, and know that He will have his way; we may not see it now, but someday we will.

  41. My 13 year old niece was killed in a car accident, my son almost died of a drug overdose, my 33 year old nephew died from complications of drug use, then my 20 year old nephew took his life this past year. These young people were great outgoing kids raised in loving homes. I don’t understand why. Walking through all this grief and great sorrow has taught me that people are not perfect and they make horrible choices using their God-given free will with irreversible consequences. There is evil in this world, but to me God takes the terrible trials and gets us through them. My precious nieces and nephews are in heaven. They do not suffer. It wasn’t God’s will for a young man to take his life. He was operating outside of the will of God but God took him to a wonderful place. He took this horrible act and brought him to heaven. I have to remind myself that what I choose spills over onto other people. I hope to be kind to others and nonjudgmental and brave after all of this. If that sounds simple, well, it keeps me sane believing there is a God who cares about me and loves me. Thanks for your perspective.

    • I can give you the classic fundie response to your post—been there—seen it many times:

      “Your nieces and nephews were constant and rebellious sinners who never knew Christ and died in their sins as drug addicts. Every last one of them is in unspeakable agony in Hell right now this very minute and will be there forever.”

      You can escape this fate. Repent of your sins. Believe every word in the 1611 KJV Bible. And serve God in one of our churches ONLY, because all other churches are wrong in what they believe and headed to the Lake of Fire.

      • As if they know any of that. You can take comfort in the fact the seemple peeple who need a seemple gospel for their seemple minds—know very little about anything in this world or the next because they have…well…seemple minds. That’s all you have to know. Rest and be at peace about your nieces and nephews.

  42. I think it may be all about the contrast. Two quotes come to mind:

    “The man who is born blind will never know the meaning of darkness as he has never seen the light.”

    “Out beyond the right-doing and the wrong-doing, there is a field, I will see you there.”

    We create God in our own image – which is probably wrong. We believe him to be like us. Yet we cannot know why we are here, what our purpose is, what this life means. We try to explain it and understand it and shape it and make it something in the direction we think best, (this is religion’s hope) yet we are only human, not God so we cannot know, nor can we even really know of his existence other than that there is a nagging intuition, a question of our very own ability to be self-aware and have consciousness which suggests there may ultimately be something more than this physical world.

    Of course none of this makes the suffering any easier but perhaps if we stopped trying to ‘blame’ God or think God is in some way involved then we may free ourselves from the tyranny of hope and explanations and expectations.

  43. ‘m still going over this in my mind and haven’t fully processed everything…it’s such a grand, mysterious topic that I don’t think we will fully understand until we see God’s face. But…with the phrase I have a few thoughts. Could it be that maybe we are tired of how people use those words as an emotional band-aid rather than actually disagreeing with what the phrase is saying? Right now I think that’s where I’m camped. I don’t want someone to pat me on the back and say “everything happens for a reason” and then not stick around to allow me to grieve and feel all the feels. It’s very similar to someone saying “it’s ok” or “it’s going to be ok” when it isn’t. But the phrase itself I don’t think is untrue. Jesus prayed “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” Yet God did not spare his own son from dying an incredibly painful, torturous, wretched death. Do I think it was lack of love that caused God to send Jesus to the cross? Absolutely not. Love propelled everything behind Jesus’ sacrificial death. Do I think it was lack of purpose and reason that God didn’t take that cup from Jesus? Absolutely not. And so, in our suffering I do believe that it is working for our purposed good because I believe in a God that is wholly good and embodies love. I doubt that in seasons, and have the freedom to do so, but I know at my core that my daughter’s cancer is not outside the realm of God’s control yet at the same He allows it to happen. I am not saying that He created her tumor while He formed her in my womb, but rather than she was born into a broken world where sin and death are rampant and that Jesus grieves with us. And what God knows as “our good” might look nothing like our idea of good. Goodness isn’t happiness, it isn’t comfort, security, health. Goodness is being with God. I agree with having a choice in suffering. I can grieve with grace, knowing that God isn’t out to squish me while at the same time knowing that while it definitely does suck, it doesn’t suck just to suck, end of story. It isn’t meaningless.
    So, I do have to believe that Our pain DOES have a predetermined purpose, (otherwise Jesus’ pain would be obsolete and our whole existence would be void of redemption and full of hopelessness).We aren’t straddled with the terribly complicated task of figuring it out, because God doesn’t ask us to figure it out He simply asks us to trust Him. To live by faith. This is not an emotional distraction, this is HOPE.

  44. Love some of the pop culture responses, responses well manipulated to fit pop thinking, pop rationality, pop spirituality. If God is who he says he is, and if he is all-powerful, then he brings things into being or allows things to happen. I will never understand most things – why should I assume I can be on a par with God? Isaiah 55:8 tells me that God’s ways are not my ways, his thoughts not my thoughts. Do I understand Matthew 4:1? Where the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted? Certainly not. Do I understand why God didn’t exile Satan and his demons permanently? Nope. Do I believe God chastises his children? Ratcheted down Paul in 2 Cor. 12? That Satan actually stood before the throne of God and asked for permission to afflict Job? Sure I do. Mine is a faith position; and it is a valid position, as even science is faith-based.

    The problem that some scholars have is that they look for an answer for everything, think they have one for every question.

    In the end, when all’s been said and done, be sure your god isn’t one you made up to fit your needs. (A god who will allow you call him god while you use your four-letter words to argue his case.)

  45. I think all things do happen for a reason. My wife died at 39, I couldn’t understand why God would allow something like that to happen until I got deep into the book of James and what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians. To count it all joy means that my mindset has to be so deeply ingrained in God’s word that I don’t look at trouble through my earthly eyes anymore. Match that with what Paul said about feeling so overcome that he wanted to die but he realized it was so he would depend on God and not on himself. Everything happens that we might learn to trust God.

  46. I am one of those who believes that there’s a reason for everything and most of it we do not nor will ever know about only that there’s some reason. As you said I guess ultimately it’s just a way to cope or understand the situation that happened. Depending on what it is I sometimes think that God has used it to show me something HE wants me to see, or that I’m not where HE wants me to be. It might not even be to my benefit at all but for someone else’s. HE is sovereign in all things and HIS reasons I do not hope to decipher. I am led by faith in that he wants the best for me.

  47. Why does an all good, all powerful God allow evil?(yes he allows evil otherwise he would not be all powerful)

    To bring a greater good out of it. Just look at a crucifix. There you will see represented the greatest evil ever. The created murdering the creator in a most horrible way. There also see the greatest good. The creator freely laying down his life for the salvation of the world. God bring good out of evil. We don’t always see the good but know that it is there.

    A year ago May 30 my mother was taken from us. At the visitation at the funeral home my cousin with his wife brought their eldest child. Here she learned about life/death and through her faith how to deal with such things and I watched her pray for my mother. I thanked God for allowing me to see some of the good that he had brought out of the death of my mother.

    Jesus I Trust in You.

  48. AMEN. So much truth here. My 7 month old son passed away this past March unexpectedly and there will NEVER be a good enough reason for such a loss. I believe with my whole heart in a good God, one that turns ashes to beauty, mourning into dancing, and darknes to light – but never could I believe in a God who would cause such devastation upon anyone all because He has “good reason”. God is only light and life and truth, death is not His doing as a way of teaching us something, or as punishment for sins. Thank you for writing these words. My heart goes out to each of you who read this blog, as we are all on a journey of loss and of life. I pray each person is encouraged, as I have been.

  49. So many things wrong with this post I wouldn’t know where to start or how to stop. Suffice it to say that we should be very wary of of anyone who wants to tell us what Scripture “really” means, especially if it is prefaced with “I prefer to understand God as….” as that betrays a definite (possibly purposeful) bias in interpretation.
    And what in the world is “an operating system of faith”? Is that the new hip version of “faith DNA”?

    BTW, I think leilaatlittlecatholicbubble did a good job of addressing some of the shortcomings of the author’s position.

    • A wise friend once explained it as this: God does not cause the evil in the world. It does not happen for a purpose driven by Him. The suffering happens as the earth is groaning in its broken state waiting on the King to return. The Romans 8:28 is referring to God’s ability to take all of the bad stuff, all of this groaning of a fallen creation and after the fact twist it to His purpose. In all things God works. He is there in the bad and the good, and even in this fallen, suffering world, He is bringing about his kingdom. And because we know He works, we are waiting eagerly for the completion of His work, which will end the suffering.

    • Of course. No one else understands scripture except for you and all other the other people who believe in a seemple scripture for the seemple mind. Have you been seemple today?

  50. Everything happens for a reason. I don’t know why but thats ok. I have faith in god. We are his children. He loves us no matter what. He gives us free agency or freedom to choose. And blesses us and sometimes the why comes later. Its ok to feel what we are feeling.

  51. The reason we suffer is sin – our own and that of others; consequences multiplying throughout the generations and manifesting well beyond our comprehension. But God doesn’t simply allow sin to reign . His answer is the gospel of the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ. And until His return and we see the full splendor of the Kingdom, His Church works to alleviate at least some of the suffering in this world, bringing medicine, food, and clothes to the most needy when no one else will; and empowering, eternal hope found only in Christ. There’s no need to apologize for faith, because there is a time appointed for each of us when we’ll discover or individual fates. Trust and obey Jesus.

    • So, a child born today will suffer, simply because God refuses to allow that child a fresh start until he can grow up, find Jesus, and answer an altar call?

      Is that really what we believe as Christians?

      • We live in a fallen world, which means that child will continue to suffer even after coming to a saving faith in Jesus Christ. Even examining the Apostles’ lives will show that being a believer doesn’t protect us from the realities of this evil world. Scripture is replete with people of God that led painful lives. We need to be careful not to create a “God of our understanding” that runs the universe the way that we think He should.

    • Bullshit!!! The dinosaurs suffered total annihilation when a giant bolide from outer spaced crashed into the Earth. All of the extant life on the entire Earth endured suffering like we people have never seen and maybe never will see on this planet. What sin did the dinosaurs, wasps, and other living creatures commit. That was 65,000,000 years ago when there were no people on the Earth. We know this for a fact. When are you fundies going to wake up to the reality that the creation stories in Genesis are parables instead of science and history? God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit teach us using parables—parables—parables. Make no mistake about it, there are important messages in those earliest parables, but we know for certain that they are neither scientific nor historical messages. The chief message is that mankind’s primary problem is that every individual person wants to be God. Our sin nature arises from that—not a talking snake trying to get a woman to eat a piece of fruit. I hope your final individual fate will include a lecture on living your life in stupidity and ignorance foisted on you by religious leaders who do not know their own anus from a hole in the ground.

    • I know. I know. I know. It is just a seemple gospel made special for seemple peeple who think seemple thoughts in seemple minds. It’s a seemple Bible to be read in a seemple way like a seemple comic book. It’s all just so very seemple.

  52. Reblogged this on Delicious Ambiguity and commented:
    Interesting perspective. I love hoping for that moment when every puzzle piece will fall into place and we finally understand all the why’s. But…what if that doesn’t come this side of heaven? Thankful for a God who walks this journey with me — the sweet moments and the painful ones. He is for my good.

  53. A wise friend once explained it as this: God does not cause the evil in the world. It does not happen for a purpose driven by Him. The suffering happens as the earth is groaning in its broken state waiting on the King to return. The Romans 8:28 is referring to God’s ability to take all of the bad stuff, all of this groaning of a fallen creation and after the fact twist it to His purpose. In all things God works. He is there in the bad and the good, and even in this fallen, suffering world, He is bringing about His kingdom. And because we know He works, we are waiting eagerly for the completion of His work, which will end the suffering.

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  55. I think this article is great. However, I don’t think it can be said that God doesn’t ever cause pain and suffering. Look at God in the OT especially. How many times do he and his prophets talk about the afflictions that God has placed upon them and his people? I don’t believe that all suffering we experience as Christians is directly God-inflicted, but to say that God is never the cause of suffering and affliction I think overlooks an important (and difficult) part of who God is.

  56. Dover…. You are hitting the nail on the head over and over again. This reformed hyper Calvinist movement is destroying true faith. Here in the west we are twisting Christianity backwards, and we are paying the price culturally and as a society. I do believe the Father has anger, just as He has love. There are those things which our Holy Father despises and those would obviously have consequences. I also believe there is evil that works in this world, and there is also chance as well. There is good that can come from pain and suffering, as I know very well in my life what trials I have endured and the pain these so called Christian Calvinists can continue to deal on brothers and sisters by their false beliefs and teachings. I pray often for those who suffer through such travesties.

  57. Hi John,
    I just happened on your website/post for the first time this evening. I’ve suffered some dark times like most of us, and I know there’s bound to be more coming. This phrase always seemed a bit more stoic than I could bear at the time. Maybe it’s like Shakespeare said – he never found a philosopher that could bear the toothache patiently. I guess if some draw comfort from it, that’s great, but it was never enough for me. When the Lord’s presence finally came in my darker hours – that was enough! Brother, your words are from the Spirit. Thank you.

  58. Yes! Exactly! I will never understand why God has allowed my daughter to suffer the unspeakable pain of brain cancer and live a life of debilitating disabilities and seizures, but I must believe that someday in heaven she will be happy, healthy, and pain free and that I will someday understand why. This is my last hope. If I didn’t believe that I would go insane!

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  60. Oh, the Wonder and Travail that is Life…Of course there is a reason…the reason is that we live in a world not designed for us, but made by us because of our rebellion against our Wonderful Father…And because He is so Wonderful, He has promised to make it right…one day. Peace.

  61. There is a reason for everything under the sun…Both Good and Bad! Man rebelled in disobedience from the beginning which caused the sin nature of mankind, who were not created as such before his fall from grace. That is why by nature, we are all without sin. Questionable to some??? Well, who teaches a child to lie? Satan is the father of liars, so it is part of his fallen state that man made himself accessible to through his disobedience. Even in our born again state we are subservient to our sin nature. Think not? Have you ever heard of Christians falling into sin?
    One aspect from which most do not like to reason from is, that in many, but certainly not in all cases, bad things that happen, in our eyes and to our knowledge, are just so heart-rending and incomprehensible, that we immediately go into a myriad state of emotional hypotheses of reasoning. But because we know in part, and know not all things, and do not like to admit it, sometimes the events that affect ourselves and others, are the after effects and consequences of mocking God in our actions and/or lifestyles, thus reaping what we have sown. There is a scripture at Galatians 6:7 that states, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” In these type of situations sometimes a victim can be reaping, because it is the cause and effect of the actions rendered, and on many other occasions it can be one or many who are affected, because of the state of their hearts and minds. God’s greatest commandment to man is to LOVE: HIM first, and second greatest, our neighbor as ourselves. How many can honestly say they abide by these two commandments…

  62. Would you allow me to add a link on my blog to this post of yours? Very well written and is exactly how I am feeling while currently going through a separation/divorce. Thank you.

  63. It is sad that many of us want live here on earth and want to give the impression that there’s no time we have all felt like Job’s wife, “why don’t curse God and die?” I am appalled by the comments citing suffering comes as a result of sin. This, at best is licentiousness and at worse, a destructive legalistic approach to Scriptures. A comment here asked, if a child born should “suffer right from birth till they can repent?” No one answered. In Job’s case, according to scriptures, he did not sin. Job was blameless. A man who when an astray donkey found its way to his home, he would not sleep till the donkey is restored to the owner. Even though this was Job and even though he retorted to his wife, “you speak in the manner of foolish women” he still cursed his life and questioned why he was born and dispised his life (Job 3, 9), he felt the pain so deep that he couldn’t see any good reason in his suffering (Job 6, 7), he was bitter and charged at God and said, “does it seem good to you that you should oppress, that you should despise the work of your hands, and smile on the counsel of the wicked?” (10). That is only a few to show that this article is correct. I like how the writer has personalised his writing and in many ways expressing the depths of his heart during those moments he felt like Job. My question to critics who want to judge and disregard this poignant narrative about our journey here as believers is, have you ever felt like you have fallen off from God’s fingertips? Have you ever experiences a tragedy that have made you get angry at God and think God allows suffering to come to us who believe in the deity only to sit back and see us writhing and smoldering in pain as God laughs with unspeakable enjoyment? It is insane, I believe, to hide behind the curtain and with a straight face claim none of us believers have felt like God has moved far away from them. A really great article. An article that shows that side of us which helps us come closer to know God’s presence with us in tough and trying times.

  64. I agree with Esther. So often, the assertion that “everything happens for a reason” is based on the assumption that it is GOD’s exercise of will that brings suffering. That ignores humans’ exercise of free will, which may be (and, in my opinion, likely is) the case of suffering.

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  69. Couldn’t possibly have time to read all of these, but of the ones I read, my view here couldn’t possibly be less popular. I saw this posted on FB and it sparked me to start a blog of my own. I have no animosity toward you and am glad for your feelings toward those who disagree. If you’re intersted, and to allow you to hear a sort of rebuttal, here it is: surefootedword.wordpress.com. Thank you

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  74. Thank you. A God who IS LOVE does not abuse us as though we were chess pieces in some cosmic game of chess. We always want answers, to tie up loose ends, to make sense out of what makes no sense at all. For myself, belling that the Divine is with me in the pit, shining a dim flicker of a light just enough to know where to set my toe, is enough.

  75. Everything DOES happen for a reason! The reason might not have anything to do with God as in Job’s case. God isn’t making the days up as they come…This life was predestined before the foundations of the world. Our present and future is God’s PAST!!! He knew what was going to happen to Job and it had nothing to do with him…SATAN was behind it. In Job’s case he opened the door to Satan because of his fear that his kids had cursed God. God told Cain if don’t do what is right Sin lies at your door. Job was a righteous man but not perfect. He was full of FEAR which God tells us not to do. He opened that doorway to attacks from SATAN. God just allowed Satan a little room to work for a short time.

    • Have you actually read the book of Job? God gave Satan PERMISSION to ruin Job’s life. Since God is supposed to be more powerful than Satan, I think that means God was behind Job’s suffering. You yourself said God GAVE Satan room to work for a short time.

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  77. Thanks, John. From now on when I’m offering condolences I will say, “May you feel permission to fully acknowledge that profound suckness.” 🙂

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  81. I think it is good that we consider well any old saying or common belief, turning it over and over in our minds, looking at it from every angle. It keeps the wisdom fresh and useful to us. I think you came to the wrong conclusion in this case but I like that you are focused on God’s word in your suffering. May God bless your searching and reaching for Him by increasing your wisdom and comforting your pain.

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  83. “To believe that, is to risk painting the picture of a God who is making us suffer for sport; throwing out obstacle and injury and adversity just to see what we’ll do, just to toughen us up or break us down.”

    Yeah, ’cause it’s not like there was a story about that in the Bible.

  84. Reblogged this on Nothing So Wise and commented:
    Of all the things I believe, this is one of the deepest. So well said. God does not give us suffering to see if we can figure out the reason! (I don’t actually believe God gives us suffering, ever.) Amen.

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  86. I don’t think we have as much of a problem with the horrific events that we have in our lives more than the emotional suffering that comes with them. The suffering & emotional disparity is what we really would rather not experience. Yet we also experience things that we know were not by mistake either.

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  88. THANKYOU THANKYOU ive been pondering this for many weeks, because i feel like everything is just a matter of the decisions we make and the consequences of God (which we do not choose) and things like death or the Holocaust or paris attacks etc; didnt necessarily occur for a greater purpose, but only because of a poor choice made by individuals. The Romans verse contradicts “everything happens for a reason”, because God can use the situation for good, he turns the bitter into sweet- Which would mean he never intended for those events to happen, nonetheless his consequences to sin are still carried. He can choose to use the events to save people etc; So after reading this article, it further backed up my thinking. Im glad im not alone to defy this well known saying. It made me think that every thing we do is simply because of who we are, and that there is no greater aspect to things. Then there is the discussion of God’s will, Job etc; and I get lost lol Thanks.

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  91. With the phrase, “everything happens for a reason” it all depends on how you interpret ‘reason’. One could argue that everything has to happen for a reason. For example: I wasn’t paying attention whilst walking, I tripped and fell. The reason is simple cause and effect. However, what if when I fell someone helped me up and that person later became my spouse? Now the interpretation of reason could be: I had to trip and fall in order to meet my spouse.

    One describes a simple cause and effect, the other an inference of predestination or fate; something beyond my control set up the scenario, in order to instigate a secondary effect.

    Of course there is another option. What if all events in our lives were potential learning experiences, the outcome of which help us make balanced judgments, decisions and execute self-determined actions, but, at the same time were, in a sense, ‘set-up’ by a higher power ? Using this rationale, the reason why I met my spouse was because I learnt and made a judgment, by putting all the factors together, that there was a good probability the person who helped me up may be a good person and one whom I would like to get to know better. Ultimately, my actions led to the secondary effect, but, the initial scenario may, in effect, have been ‘set-up’ by a higher power.

    It is my belief and understanding that God wants us to take full responsibility for our actions, learn from them and develop positively going forward. Therefore, I do not believe in absolute fate. I do, however, believe, that some lessons (not all) are placed along our journey but what we do with them rests entirely on our shoulders; ergo our fate is still determined by our own actions but some learning opportunities may have an aspect of God’s intervention in them. A Devine nudge if you will.

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  93. “The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don’t always spoil the good things and make them unimportant.” ~ The Eleventh Doctor

    I’ve stopped trying to understand the “why’s” or “how’s” of life. Things happen. We learn to deal. How we deal with it both shows character and our ability learn and adapt and grow…. or to stagnate and stay the same.

  94. Of course many random things do not happen for a reason. Without humans (or other animals) driving events, there can be no reasons. The childish, delusional belief that an invisible, unresponsive, alternately loving and wrathful magic man in the sky is responsible for everything that happens is both pathetic and insane. Only those of low intelligence and who lack critical thinking skills believe such prehistoric superstition.

  95. The most fundamental truth that drove me to write – why do we suffer. I think we have to begin by letting God out of the boxes we build for Him. Centuries of defining what, or Who, the Almighty might be; and long drawn out thesis of what we can expect once we define Him. We have developed an optical illusion, and to break free, we must first free God. We are pattern-seekers, we do not easily tolerate action without cause, and consequently we build causes that suit our needs. Our primary assignment on this earth is to care for those who require it. I wish we could remember that.

  96. In reading the comments, I see so many others who are struggling with grief, pain and/or anger. I am there with you—my son was murdered five years ago. Before that, I was a very “traditional” believer, and I probably uttered words like “everything happens for a reason” to someone at some point. His death turned everything upside down in my understanding. So I learned to question—“Really? So what was that very excellent reason that God is keeping secret from me?” In the last 5 years, I have so many more questions than answers. I can’t deal with all of the standard answers and phrases. How can I pray to this God anymore? If He is in charge, then he lets some pretty crazy things happen, and our prayers change nothing except to give us the illusion that we’re doing something. If Satan is in charge, then what’s up with that? Why is God taking a back seat? There are no sensible answers. I’ve decided that my whole concept of God and how things work must be totally flawed and confused. And I’m starting to think that I don’t want to understand the answers because they may be too disappointing.

  97. Great Article! reminds me of Eclessiastes 9:11-12.

    “I returned and saw under the sun that—

    “The race is not to the swift,
    Nor the battle to the strong,
    Nor bread to the wise,
    Nor riches to men of understanding,
    Nor favor to men of skill;
    But time and chance happen to them all.
    For man also does not know his time:
    Like fish taken in a cruel net,
    Like birds caught in a snare,
    So the sons of men are snared in an evil time,
    When it falls suddenly upon them.””

  98. I have felt exasperated sometimes with people who might be categorized as “New Age” who think that the right belief system and good behaviour can save a person from the randomness of life on earth. These people believe that the good and bad experiences in their own and other people’s lives can be explained by their positive or negative thinking and good or bad behaviour, whether in this life or in previous ones. They look at everything that happens to themselves and to others in this cause and effect way, without any regard for the fact of the randomness of life on earth.

    I know a man who recently bought a car from a used car place. After about a week of driving it, a serious underlying problem with the car was revealed, and he was blaming himself for having bought a bad car. He seemed to think that if he had thought differently, or if he were more spiritually developed or a better person, he would not be in the situation of having a bad car. My reaction was “Maybe it has nothing to do with who you are as a person – maybe it’s just a bad car”, trying to open his mind to the randomness factor, but he didn’t seem to be able to consider it this way at all. Of course, buying a used car from anyone entails a certain amount of risk and maybe he had been too trusting, which some might consider a character flaw. I could have argued that it might have been a good idea to have had the car thoroughly checked out by a mechanic before buying it – something practical like that. I didn’t think of saying these things at the time, though, because his concern seemed to be deeper, as though it was some flaw in his essential nature beyond being simply too trusting or not careful enough that had resulted in him being in the situation of having a bad car.

    I have tried to tell various New Age people that not everything that happens is orchestrated and fore-ordained, but they do not want to hear this and they even sometimes seem offended. When I start talking about randomness, most get quiet and take on a kind of superior attitude. Usually my statements about randomness are not challenged very forcefully, if at all, but I can tell they disagree and since continuing to talk about it tends to cause increasing discomfort, I usually back off and change the subject.

    For me, the fact of randomness was a huge revelation that happened gradually over several years from observing or knowing about the severe pain being experienced by two close relatives. Fortunately for one of them, the periods of pain would come and go, with bouts of severe continual pain lasting anywhere from three weeks to four months and then subsiding for anywhere from several weeks to several months; in recent years, the periods of pain have become rather infrequent and of shorter duration, which has been a great relief. Unfortunately for the other person, the pain started five years before she passed on when she got shingles on her torso; for her, the pain never subsided, so that she lived out her remaining years in unimaginable agony.

    Some of the character traits of these two individuals include: kindness, optimism, helpfulness, loving actions, compassion, trust, and believing the best about others. These are two of the nicest individuals I have ever known, and I had not been able to explain their pain experiences inside of the belief system of reincarnation and karma, which in its simplest explanation is something like this: we live, we learn, we make mistakes, we die, we are born again, etc., and our future learning experiences are based upon some reckoning of the goodness and/or badness of our collective lifetimes, until we ultimately pay off all our debts and reach Nirvana/Heaven. I felt as though applying this understanding to these two dear relatives would be like blaming them for their pain and I could find no blame in them. I refused to blame them, and I remember feeling angry when well-meaning friends would say things like, “Well, there must be some lesson that their soul needs to learn”.

    So I lived for some years with this conflict between my love for these people and this belief system that didn’t really work in their cases, until I came to the realization of randomness. This realization allowed the ideas of karma and reincarnation to still exist, but in a new context, and it looks like this: Randomness is the only explanation of the random bad things that happen in the world: disaster, disease, accidents, death (not wars, or other intentional harm caused by humans). Of course there are things we can do to minimize risk such as eating well, getting enough sleep, observing safety precautions in dangerous activities, but random bad things happen here – it is the nature of life on Earth – and that is the karma of being here. The karma is coming back to this random place life after life to learn lessons. Maybe we have some choice about our initial circumstances, such as choosing to be born into a family where there is a reasonable likelihood that we will survive to adulthood and not be killed by war, famine, or disease – where we will have a chance of getting a reasonable education so that we can go on to contribute something to society – but randomness is always a factor. Nothing is really certain here. As much as we try with our positive thoughts and good deeds, which probably do help to achieve certain things, or at least to feel better while we are trying and make life easier for ourselves and those around us, nothing is certain on this earth, and death is inevitable. So the random bad things that happen to us and to our loved ones are not because of our own or anyone else’s personal failure – they are not our fault – it’s just what life is like here.

    There may or may not be lessons for an individual who is suffering because of some random event, and as observers of their suffering, the only lessons that matter are the ones that exist for us – whether or not we take advantage of the opportunity to exercise compassion and try to help them.

    If I would start a church, which is a fantasy I sometimes have, one of the central teachings would be the importance of the realization of randomness.

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  100. Shared on my facebook. Thank you for so eloquently stating what I have always believed. When someone quotes, “Everything happens for a reason”, I simply say, ” Please do not say that to me.”

    I also reply “Why ask why? ” and “Move forward.” I am a person of faith, but I do not believe our God doles out heart-wrenching problems to some and relatively simple lives to others.
    Again, thank you so much!

  101. So this, and many of the responses, beg the question that has been in the back of my mind for some time… Why did an omniscient God create us in the first place, knowing that we would suffer horribly, both emotionally and physically? Or perhaps the question is, why did God create us and allow those horrible things to happen at all? If God wanted us to be with and for God, why not just create us in a perfect world with no pain and suffering, but where we all sing hallelujahs and praises to God? It is within God’s power. What’s so great about “free will” if it comes along with so much pain and suffering?

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