Why we cannot seem to let go of "everything happens for a reason"

Over the years (hereherehere 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. 

image from:

image from:

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.

Everything happens. Sometimes there is a reason.

You have heard it, "Things happen for a reason." 

For many this mantra is hopeful because it gives a sense of security that no matter what crap they are living with right now, there is meaning behind it. That suffering is not without purpose. This can reassure us when we feel like we are alone and broken and hopeless. If we can only believe that things happen for a reason then it dulls the pain a bit and gives us breath for another day. I do not discount the comfort this provides people in time of need.  

But it does not provide comfort for me at all. 

It can be argued that if things happen for a reason than ultimately that reason is God. It is God that caused the tsunami. It is God that gave the cancer. It is God that was behind genocides and wars. When I hear "everything happens for a reason" my mind jumps to the question, "why would God not only allow but even cause this amount of suffering?" 

I do not believe that everything happens for a reason. I do not believe that God causes, green lights or approves of the suffering in the world. 

Rather than causing the suffering, I believe God is present with us through the suffering like a friend. Rather than trying to teach a lesson of how strong God has made you ("God will not give you more than you can handle") or get you to be more faithful ("God brought you to it and God will bring you through it."), I believe God weeps and struggles with us. 

As Rev. William Sloane Coffin said at his son's funeral ten days after he died in a car accident, God provides minimum protection and maximum support.

Here is what I know. Everything happens. Sometimes there is a reason, sometimes there is not a reason. Either way, God is present with you. 

And that brings me more comfort than thinking that everything happens for a reason.