Over the years (here, here, here and here.) I have written a few posts on the phrase "everything happens for a reason." What I have failed to identify in these posts is what is really behind this phrase and why we cannot let it go in our popular Christian culture.
It all has to do with control.
Humans are under the spell that we are in much more control of things than we like to admit. We are reminded of this false sense of control daily. We set the temperature of our homes at exactly 76 degrees. We use a remote control and take birth control. We decide when to use cruise control and we talk about pest control. We believe we can control air traffic and crowds. We teach others how to be in control of emotions while looking for the newest diet to help us control our weight.
Additionally it is worth noting how deeply we resist giving up control (which may be why the great religions teach the path of surrender).
When we believe we are in control of more than we really are, we project that others must also be able to control more than they really can.
For instance we think that the President of the United States has a lot of control over the economy of the nation. Or we think that meteorologists can really predict the future. Or we think a pastor can grow a church. Or we think personal determination will inevitably lead to personal success.
With all the reminders of how much we "control" we can see why "everything happens for a reason" is difficult to let go of. It is the ultimate creed of the god of control. It is the idea that someone, somewhere has to be in control because to think that things are not somehow under control is too frightening for us to imagine.
The most zealous devotees to the deity of control will even admit that we may not know right now or that we may never know what the reason is, but to trust that everything happens for a reason. This can be said because the reason is what is important but the soothing reminder that control is, well, in control.
Until we let go of control as cultural god, we will continue to hear "everything happens for a reason." The more we hold onto control the more we will miss the message of Jesus who teaches us about how to live in trust rather than in control.