Does Everything “Happen for a Reason”?


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Several months ago I came across a blog post where someone referenced an article titled “Everything Doesn’t Happen For A Reason”. Many were saying how pleased they were to hear someone say this because the author was pointing to situations where something terrible happens to a person and those around might try to console the person with what this author called a trite platitude like “Everything happens for a reason”.

A further point was the reality of grief and how hard it is to experience loss and move through grief. He said this trite statement wasn’t helpful at all and gave other suggestions of how to better help the grieving person.

This question haunted me for a few weeks. I searched online for similar articles and found that most seem to take the same tact that you often can’t make sense out of a tragedy and to say it happens for a reason is just running away from the fact that “stuff happens” and we just need to deal with it. Trying to make sense out of suffering, bad stuff, evil, etc. is just not possible. There is no “master plan” out there that includes these unfortunate trials in our lives.

As I boil it all down in my mind, my first question for you is “Does anything happen for a reason?” For me, if you say “everything doesn’t” means that “some things do” happen for a reason.

If you disagree with that, then you must be saying that “nothing happens for a reason”. Everything is just a random act. No one plans anything or does anything with purpose. There is no intent. Results don’t follow from cause. No one learns from mistakes. Words such as because, teach, cause, effect, learn, consequence, etc. shouldn’t be part of your vocabulary.

I read a book to learn something or get entertained. You teach a class so someone can learn from you and maybe because you get enjoyment from teaching. I write an article so that someone can read what I have to say. I buy a car so I can drive around. These are all reasons.

You might gather that I think the term “nothing happens for a reason” is unreasonable. If you think it is reasonable, we may have nothing else to discuss here. Because, I’m trying to write some words for you to read and you don’t believe in that. These words are all just chance occurrences that somehow end up on this page for you to take in randomly with no meaning at all.

So, I’m saying there is some meaning to things that happen. But the question here goes a little further. Does “Everything” happen for a reason? That’s our question. And, if we say “No”, then my questions are, “What things happen for a reason?” and “What things don’t happen for a reason?”

Do good things happen for a reason? Routine things? Bad things? Evil things? Kind of bad things? Really good things? Things I want? Things I don’t want? Planned things? Unplanned things? Things others want from me? Things I desire from others? Horrible, tragic things?

Let’s review some hypothetical situations to see how we might judge:

  1. A couple gets pregnant and they lose their baby at 9 weeks to miscarriage.
  2. A couple has a baby and it dies in 2 days from a birth defect.
  3. A couple has a special needs baby who requires round the clock care for the 8 years of its life.
  4. A young girl is killed on the night before her high school graduation in a horrific car accident. The driver of the car, her best friend, was drinking. She lives.
  5. A woman contracts breast cancer and fights it for 5 years and then dies.
  6. A woman contracts breast cancer and it’s so advanced that she dies in 2 months.
  7. A high school athlete collapses on the football field and dies from a heart attack.
  8. A 62-year-old man collapses on the golf course and dies from a heart attack.
  9. A man leaves his wife for a much younger woman and abandons his family.
  10. A woman leaves her husband because he’s not the same person she married 32 years ago and she’s no longer happy in her marriage.

For each of these situations, let’s judge whether this happened for a reason or not. And, let’s judge for the person directly affected, the parents, any children, spouses, other relatives, best friends, co-workers, etc.

Do you have a definitive answer for each situation and each person potentially affected? How is the grief process to be lived out for each person? What about the person who died or moved on? If you do have the answers, for sure, with no room for discussion, then you may be the wisest person to ever walk this earth.

Here’s the real problem. Life isn’t what we want it to be most of the time. We can try to control our lives and construct things the way we’d like. But, we’re not in control. Life is lived. There is a plan and everything does happen for a reason.

The reason it is so hard to deal with the 10 situations listed above and so many others is that life can be incredibly cruel and also incredibly happy. Sometimes my cruel can be your happy. That may sound horrible, but let’s discuss a quick scenario from the business world. Consider a company that goes bankrupt. If I’m the owner of that company it’s a tragedy for me and my family. But, a guy could buy that business for a song, invest some capital, run it better and turn it into a gold mine. My cruel is his happy.

Dealing with horrible tragedy that affects us directly can’t be scripted. In many ways, it’s the essence of the human condition. Authors, teachers, philosophers, theologians, clerics, pastors, playwrights, movie producers and virtually every human who has dealt with suffering have been trying to make sense of it for thousands of years.

The fact is that I don’t think you can make sense of it most of the time. We all struggle with suffering, evil, sin, bad stuff, hurt, pain, etc. Some of us get through it seemingly “better”, but who really knows what’s deep in every heart? Perhaps the person apparently suffering the most is the one gaining the most eternally. Can you tell me for sure that isn’t the case?

For the author I mentioned, I purposely didn’t want to mention his name or try to go point/counterpoint with him or any of the others out there who are trying to deal with this issue. He displayed some downright anger and also revealed that he’s had his own share of health issues and suffering.

And, I can feel for him. On one level, what he’s trying to do is help others through their grief and he hasn’t been satisfied with the attempted consoling phrase “Everything happens for a reason”. The reason is that in the midst of suffering it can be so hard to come to grips with reasons that might mitigate the suffering. We may never see the reasons on this earth. We may not realize how our own suffering is helping others or ourselves. Call it trite, but it’s true. I’m sorry, but it’s true.

It’s also true that those around us struggle mightily with how to help us when we’re in suffering. What we might say or do for one person in suffering may not help another. Some might want to be with others. Some might want to be alone. Some might want to talk. Others might want to just be silent. Some are angry. Some are in despair. Some may grieve for a few days and others for the rest of their lives.

Suffering is crappy, crappy business. I know that I’ve dealt with it, too. For me, there have been life situations the last few years that have knocked me into complete submission. At times, I have no idea how I will cope. I can see that there have been people that came into my life to help and others who have just plain abandoned me. I can see that I’ve been put in situations and met others that never would have happened without this suffering. My view of what life is about has changed dramatically and I know it is for the better.

The article the other person wrote was for me. His suffering and the work he does trying to help others was the reason he wrote the article. And, it’s the reason I was attracted to it and stewed about it. And, now I’ve clarified some issues for myself and I’m sharing them with you.

As I wind this down, I want to be clear that “Everything Happens for a Reason”, but many of the hard things, good and bad, we don’t understand because they are beyond our ability to reason. Some with greater insight may be blessed to comprehend a reason better than others. In truth, sometimes it may not be great to understand the reasons.

There is someone who does understand it all and He’s God. I know I haven’t talked about Him yet and maybe some of you were hoping I didn’t. But, the fact is that we have a Creator and Planner who set this all up for us. He’s been revealing some of the reasons and telling us what we should be doing for thousands of years. When His Son Jesus was here He told us more. His Disciples didn’t understand all the reasons for what was happening, what He was teaching them and why He had to suffer and die. Now we know.

He’s told us how it all ends. But, exactly how the story will unfold for each of us is not at all clear. Each soul has its own story and each soul’s story is somehow connected to every other soul.

I have ancestors back through the ages who did whatever to whomever for whatever reason that resulted in me being here. So, I could live my life, experience my own joy and have my own suffering. People were conceived, born and died. They sacrificed, sinned, loved, invented, wrote, spoke and just plain lived for all of time before us.

All their reasons and even more have become part of my reason. And, my reason is affecting my children and my grandchildren and thousands or millions of others in ways we can’t comprehend.

With all the wonder, intricate planning, systems, nature, designs and just plain awesomeness of our universe, it is hard to believe that God would say “Look, I’m just going to see what happens here, for no apparent reason.”

It’s just not reasonable.

© John S. Cohoat, 2016

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John S. Cohoat

John S. Cohoat

John is a Midwesterner, born and raised in the great Hoosier State of Indiana. He jokes that he has a “checkered past” in that he didn’t choose the path that many thought he might when he left Notre Dame and rose quickly through the ranks at a large public accounting firm. He’s been the Chief Financial Officer at a medical laboratory and CEO of a small hospital. John has owned an ice cream company, operated restaurants, worked for large Catholic Health Care organizations, did real estate business development, wrote a book and owned a bed & breakfast. The last several years John led a membership and consulting strategy organization for small business owners. For over a dozen years, John has mastered the art of copywriting for several small business clients and Catholic organizations. His true passion now is personal spiritual development including copywriting/fundraising for Catholic organizations and spiritual writing. You can find out more about John and his work at www.cohoatbusinessgrowth.com including samples of his writing.

  • Nancy Ward says:

    “Each soul has its own story and each soul’s story is somehow connected to every other soul.” So true. That’s what makes every story as unique as God created each of us. In how we allow God to shape us through our tragedies and joys advances our trust in him–or in ourselves. Praise God we can always ask fo the grace we need to cope with anything with his strength, not ours.

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