. . . at least that’s what folks say. But, is it true? Like many matters of faith, and this is indeed a matter of faith, it’s impossible to prove. If you could prove it, then it wouldn’t be faith.
Not being provable, however, does not negate the value of a belief. It’s impossible to prove, for example, that Jesus was an actual person who lived, you know, right around the same time someone was inventing the calendar. There are some theologians who contend that Jesus or Yeshua or Joshua, as he might more accurately be called, was a creation of the early Gnostic Christians, a kind of avatar of perfection, a character specifically developed to be a model and a cornerstone for this new religious belief. But even if they are right, even if Jesus was a fictional character and not a real person at all, that doesn’t necessarily devalue his role in shaping world thought. Provability is not always the standard by which we can measure value.
So, what value is there in believing that everything happens for a reason, regardless of whether it’s true or not?
We tell ourselves that everything happens for a reason because we’re trying to make sense out of things that make no sense. Sometimes life is a mystery. Sometimes it’s even a tragedy. For people of faith — whether that’s a traditional faith running as a thread through a particular religious tradition or whether it’s a private tendency toward hope — it’s important and even vital for this existence to fit into some grand scheme. We want to see a design, at first invisible, become gradually clearer, like those magic eye pictures that look like nothing more than busy wallpaper until we shift our focus, look through the picture somehow, and then, as if it should have been obvious the entire time, an image pushes through the chaos and becomes clear.
Believing that everything happens for a reason can be the reason we even start the practice of looking for patterns in our lives. And those patterns are there. Of that, I have no doubt. I’ve seen patterns play out in my own life, and sometimes patterns within patterns, the events of my life acting as so many interconnected cogs in a giant machine.
Believing that everything happens for a reason can also comfort us when nothing else will. When we can’t understand anything about a situation, resting in the faith of believing there is a rhyme and reason to it can bring a kind of peace. But, the comfort of “everything happens for a reason” is a personal comfort. It can be a reminder we use for ourselves that everything will turn out okay, but it doesn’t always land quite right when it comes from someone else.
I overheard someone at a funeral a few years back as they grasped the hands of the newly widowed woman struggling to make it through the unimaginable. They said, “Well, everything happens for a reason,” and you could almost hear the internal cringe of several of us standing nearby. Here’s a small piece of advice; do with it what you will. In that situation, the situation where someone has experienced tremendous loss, say that you feel for them, say you’re praying for them, say you’re carrying them in your heart — say just about anything except everything happens for a reason. Even if you believe it’s true. Even if you know THEY believe it’s true. Just don’t say it. Not then. Not ever. Keep it for yourself.
Actually, I might suggest that when people are really hurting we should set our “spiritual-ness” down and just be with them. The hurt they are feeling isn’t in their divine nature anyway; it’s in the very human, fragile person they are, and the hurt they are experiencing is real for that person. Any spiritual attempt to explain it, suppress it, redirect it, or enlighten it is often, in reality, acting to negate it, belittle it, and self-righteously sweep real pain away as if it was insignificant dust on an otherwise shiny life.
Sometimes people need comfort, true and gentle comfort, not an aphorism or a spiritual sound bite. “Everything happens for a reason” may be true, but “I’m so sorry this happened to you” is far more comforting. And human. And real.
And if our heart is right when we say it, no one will need faith to believe it’s true.