When someone says this with the best intentions, they probably mean you’re missing out on something good because God wants to give you something better. And maybe that doesn’t seem untrue for some things, for missed job opportunities or a denied college application. But what about a sick child, a dying friend, or infertility? What about someone who is suffering the effects of abuse, poverty, or neglect?
On the surface, this sentence might have the appearance of lifting a burden. But in reality it assigns someone the responsibility to find reason in unreasonableness. And in the worst case scenario, comes with the implication, ‘You’ve done something to deserve this.’
‘Everything happens for a reason’ tries to skip past the current suffering by offering an explanation, but what would be infinitely more comforting is to listen to someone express their pain and wrestle with them in the senselessness.
Probably the most famous (and maybe even most cliche) example of someone left “reasonless” is Job, who suffered greatly and cried out to God. And when God answered, he answered with questions. When Job asked, “Why did you let this happen to me,” God responded, “Where were you when the world was formed?” If there is a reason, God doesn’t reveal it. He redirects Job entirely.
Would having a reason lessened any of his suffering? What could have been said to erase the pain of losing all his wealth and family?
The only thing that can make a person wholly comfortable with the pain of being alive is numbness. Appeals to ‘reason’ only work for the head, not the heart. Attempts to alleviate pain by offering an explanation fall empty and flat.
If there is a reason, it is a reason beyond our understanding. We would do better to join in the questions than attempt to answer them.
“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
It’s possible to acknowledge the good things God did through bad things, and still feel the hurt from it. Christianity gives us the freedom to say evil is evil, to be angry at injustice, and to grieve our losses. We don’t have to pretend to be okay with every situation we find ourselves in.
Acknowledging goodness can come from adversity, even believing that God has a plan for someone’s life, doesn’t mean you have to ignore the painful reality that comes with living in a broken world.
Walking through a painful season, two extremes can be tempting: refusing to engage in the deep and painful questions by leaving everything up to mysterious and unrevealed ‘reasons,’ or refusing to accept the hope and goodness that God will provide by giving oneself over to despair. Much of the Christian life is learning how to find the balance.