I had no idea until recently how emotionally charged is the sentiment, "Everything happens for a reason".
In recent months, a few blog posts have been making the rounds on Facebook and social media blasting the use of the phrase, and even denying the basic truth of it. Here, here, here and here, for starters.
I'm not going to lie -- I've been disturbed down to my bones that even good and faithful Catholics have re-posted or lauded these articles.
Now, a huge caveat: I fully understand that some people are simply decrying the phrase as unhelpful or insensitive in the immediate aftermath of an intense suffering or grief. Indeed, there is much to be said for simply listening to someone in great pain, being present to that person, holding a hand, loving the person through a hard time, and being silent as they grieve or try to cope.
After all, we are all individuals, we all react differently to a crisis or tragedy, and we all need different things to help us in the moment. Recognizing the deeper meaning of something can certainly come later, when the agony starts to lift.
But the outright denial that everything happens for a reason, well that I don't understand. Here is an example of what I've been seeing:
If anyone tells you that all is not lost, that it happened for a reason, that you’ll become better as a result of your grief, you can let them go.
Let me reiterate: all of those platitudes are bullshit.
You are not responsible to those who try to shove them down your throat. You can let them go.
I am left stunned by this. How can this be? How did we get so far from understanding the truth of God's Providence and what it means for us as Christians?
I am fairly certain that none of the authors I linked is Catholic, and I recognize that outside of Catholicism there is no understanding of redemptive suffering, no theology of suffering at all. This in itself is a loss, and a barrier to the true peace and joy that can be ours even in a dark and painful world.
Think about what God has told us about His divine care, down to the last detail: He knew each of us before he knit us in our mothers' wombs. Every hair on our heads has been counted. Not even a tiny sparrow falls to the ground outside of His will. Everything, everything is accounted for in God's Divine Providence.
So how could it possibly be that some things do not happen for a reason? And how could it be that our own trials and sufferings are random, arbitrary, accidental, if the greatest sin and suffering of all, the brutal torture and crucifixion of God Himself, was the very planned, very meaningful instrument of the redemption of the world and our salvation?
How could the world's gravest evil and suffering, i.e., the Cross, have a reason, but yet our lesser sufferings do not?
It's simply not possible.
We know from Christ Himself that God would not give His children a stone when they ask for a loaf of bread. Isn't everything, our joys and our sorrows, given to us by the very Hand of a loving Father? If we are weak and imperfect and do not understand His ways at the moment, does it follow that there is no reason, no purpose to those ways? Of course not.
I don't understand what comfort there could be in believing that God is not all powerful, and that pain and suffering and agony happen to us indiscriminately and incidentally while He watches helplessly? Who could find comfort in a world spinning out of control, "ruled" by a God who only picks up the pieces after the randomness of the moment begins to settle? To my mind, that is incredibly unsettling.
And thankfully, it's untrue.
We are a fearful and anxious people precisely to the extent that we don't understand that a loving Father is in control and that His Providence covers us at every moment.
It is only in total trust, only in total abandonment to God, that we can find true freedom from fear and anxiety, to be graced with the peace that surpasses all understanding. To find Christ's peace and joy is to say, without reservation, "Thy will be done" -- and then to give ourselves over to whatever cross has been fashioned for us by the Lord, for our perfection and sanctification.
This is our Faith.
One of my favorite passages from one of my favorite books is hard for modern Americans to hear:
The distinction between what God wills and what He merely permits is extremely important on the theological level. When it has to do with real life, however, with unavoidable events and our reaction to them, we might wonder if speculation about the difference is not often a subtle form of escapism. If God does not will the evil that befalls me, I do not need to accept it. Then I may in good conscience rebel against it.
And we know, from the example of Job and the saints, that this rebelling against unavoidable suffering is not the good path. God can be trusted in all things that He places in our lives -- all things. Even in our lowest and most excruciating moments, He knows what He's doing and why. We can be sure that it's always for our good, never for our harm.
I find this teaching on total abandonment to be so comforting, so true and real, that I have ordered my life around it, just as we are all called to do. When I was in my darkest moments, how very comforting and welcome would have been these words from Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussade:
If God takes away your peace of mind, very well, let it go with the rest; God remains always, and when nothing else is left to you.
This kind of trust, this level of surrender to God's Providence is nothing less than complete freedom. What balm for the soul!
And so, to all my friends and family: When I enter a crucible of suffering again (and I will, as we all will), I give my full and unrestricted permission for you to comfort me with the true and sweet and beautiful words that so many inexplicably decry:
Everything happens for a reason.
Nothing is random.
Nothing is meaningless.
Nothing is out of His plan or His control.
To that I say, praise God!