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.





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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.””

  5. 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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  7. 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!

  8. 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?

    • Debi Patton, I see what you mean. It can feel like everything we’re been put through is pointless. If the possibility for perfection exists, why not do it right? Just end the suffering and despair in a perfect existence. I know it’s cliche but “You never know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” and I believe that applies to free will. Much like a parent that loves their child gives them free reign over their own life, even if the parent knows their child makes terrible decisions. Do you want to be forced to go to heaven and worship someone but never experience an iota of discomfort, or would you rather have a choice over your existence, taking on the responsibility of negative consequences (suffering)?

      You could also see it this way, imagine a father restricting his children to their home. He has set their schedule for eating, for sleeping, studying and work and free time. He teaches them things and cares for them but they can never leave the house, even though the house is HUGE. They grow old and die of old age, never suffering grief or injury of any sort. The End.

      See how ridiculous that sounds? Sure nothing happened to them, but they never really were “themselves” they were their fathers idea of what he felt they should be. Like being held up to an expectation on the basis that it’s the only reason you exist, not because you have a choice, but because that’s just the way it is.

      God is not a micro-manager, nature is the perfect example of self sustaining existence, essentially a biological “machine” with DNA “coding” basic behavior and survival instincts. Humans often react off impulse and feeling “in the moment” emotions, on that level we are equivalent to mere animals… however our father in heaven in all his infinite wisdom gave us reasoning and logic (I say that seriously and jokingly at the same time… God is not without humor yes, he created us after all)

      The father of creation intended that we choose to take a path of salvation; A good example is the book Genesis where the knowledge of good and evil was obtained by Adam and Eve, there could have been 2 out comes.. We know which choice was made already yes?

      Before even eating the fruit Man was given dominion over everything on earth, but on the same flip of a coin we were given responsibility of such matters. The question is not then, “Why does God allow bad things to happen?” But rather, “Why do WE allow bad things to happen, why do WE lie and cheat and steal and murder, why do WE choose to ignore others in need.”

      The bible says GOD made us in his image, that means that Rage and Love and Happiness are all things that GOD himself feels, for we were created in his image. The bible calls our body the temple, and that we may invite the Holy Spirit into our lives, and that Jesus may even walk with us during our times of happiness and hold are hand during times of despair.

      God is our father, and anyone that TRULY has loved with all their heart unconditionally will understand the meaning of “To love someone, you must first let them go, if they love you, they will come back.”

      I don’t fully understand these things myself. I am merely a young man, 24 years… but I feel that our idea of God and who/what God really is are two vastly different “people” if you will. Theres the McDonalds version of faith, then there’s the really nitty gritty version of Faith… and this reality of faith can be too brutal for some people. The crucifixion of Christ should be proof enough of how brutal faith and commitment can be.

    • HE did.
      A beautiful spirit creature for whatever reasons decided to tell the man and women that Almighty god lied to them.
      They were murdered by that resister.
      But that was not the end of Almighty’s plan.
      That’s why He send His son to earth
      Through one man sin entered the world. Thru one man Jesus the Christ takes sin away.
      Paradise will be regained very soon.

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