Have you ever heard anyone say, “Everything happens for a reason?” I have. And I just shake my head in wonder. It seems that people need some assurance that someone or something is in control – if not themselves. What do you suppose was the ‘reason’ for the shooting of Representative Giffords? I surely do not know.
Several years past a colleague had a newborn daughter – born with cerebral palsy. The pregnancy was not planned. This couple was a classic example of the 1980’s Yuppies. They were professional people, worked hard, partied hard, and were proud of their material wealth. I heard people around the office say, “Everything happens for a reason.” Then they began their reasoning. “God is teaching this couple about compassion for the less fortunate,” was one refrain. Or how about this, “The local United Cerebral Palsy organization needs professional people to participate in their organization. God has sent this Yuppie couple to UCP to better benefit mankind.”
Another friend was once driving down the street, slowed to check the movie marque at the local theater, and saw at the next intersection another car run a stop sign. Her conclusion, “God slowed me down to prevent someone else from crashing in to me.”
I am a walker. As a senior citizen it is incumbent on me to take care of myself. Recently I discovered my High School Vice Principle lived on my walking route. He and his wife are eighty-four. They were working in their yard and I stopped to renew our acquaintance. We had some good laughs about the days when he used to give me after school detention. My adolescent deeds warranted at least a three-day-suspension – but the good man saw hope in me and restricted me to in-school detention. Had he given me the out-of-school suspension – well – I imagine that I would have used the idle time for much greater mischief. Was he put in my life for a reason?
The Vice Principle and I have talked many times since. When I am out walking and he is working in his yard I always stop and we visit. A few days past I was walking on a very hot day and the VP was sitting in an old webbed lawn chair, held together by duct tape, in front of his garage. He was enjoying the early morning shade. As usual, I stopped to visit. We talk about the current state of education in America compared to when I was in high school. We talk about gardening and yard work. We talk about family. It seems we have become intimate friends this past several months. A month past he told me his fifty-five year old son died two years ago from a brain aneurysm. Was there purpose in this death of a middle-aged man? Yesterday found us talking again, he in his lawn chair and me stretching after my walk. He told me, with quivering lips, that his wife suffers from dementia. I said, “Do you mean Alzheimer?” He shook his head and said, “I just call it dementia.” He told me they had done brain scans and the dementia was confirmed as a brain degeneration. I asked if she was in good health otherwise. “Yes, there is longevity in her family.” I ventured to ask if he worried that he might pass first, leaving her to her own devices? “Yes,” again with quivering lips, “I go to the doctor anytime any small thing troubles me. I have to stay alive to take care of her.” We could logically say that if we long enough we will physically and mentally deteriorate – but this does not satisfy our need for spiritual guidance.
The VP and his wife are active members of a local United Methodist Church. I don’t know what the Methodist Church teaches about God’s Purpose in our lives. Every Church has their own definition, their own understanding of God, their own understanding of God’s purposeful intervention in our lives. Some believe in predestination. Some believe in the power to influence God’s Wisdom by sincere prayer. Some believe that some of us are protected because God has a bigger purpose in our future – we are supposed to do something down the road to justify our present protection from death and destruction. Some of us self-destruct with addiction or other obsessive, compulsive, or impulsive behaviors. Some believe we have been led down that path because God wanted us to learn something specific so that we might help others. Might we suppose that the VP and his wife have been burdened with dementia in their home that they might learn something more about faith? Perhaps her dementia is caused by God to teach other younger couples in their church about compassion for the elderly. Or perhaps the entire life of the Vice Principle was designed to teach me something. I know people who put themselves at the center of the universe, people who believe every happening is for their benefit.
Does everything happen for a reason? Clearly, in my own life, I have learned and become a better person as the result of the trials of my life. Some of my trials were of my own making – some happened without any help from my own lunacy. I have learned forgiveness from some trials. I have learned the harm of bitter resentment from others. Was the purpose of my life trials designed for my spiritual improvement as a human? There were times in my life when I liked God just fine – but I thought he did not like me in return. I often asked, “Why me?” Others tried to comfort me by saying, “Everything happens for a reason. God works in mysterious ways. That which does not kill us only makes us stronger.”
How about this one: “God will never give you more than you can handle.” Tell that to the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust. What is the difference between a pizza and a Jew? The pizza does not scream when you put it in the oven. Was the purpose of the Holocaust to improve our sense of humor?
People like to know why. What causes heart disease and why does one brother get it and another does not.? Why is one addicted to nicotine and another is not? What cause diabetes, and why me or why my brother? When the plane crashes and half the people die and the other half survive – we ask why? Why? Because God has a purpose? Because everything happens for a reason? Because God works in mysterious ways? Is God trying to teach the families of the dead something about suffering? Does God have a greater purpose for the survivors? If God had a greater purpose for the survivors then does that mean he had no purpose for the dead? No – they died to serve their purpose of teaching others about suffering? The reasoning of the human mind is predictable nonsense.
My grandson’s friend died in an accident last summer. My grandson asked me why. My answer was that they were riding on a motorcycle on the highway and ran head-on into a truck. The driver of the truck was drunk and crossed the center line. The laws of physics dictated the outcome. Everything does happen for a reason – but not necessarily a spiritual reason. We live according to defined laws of our universe. When we break those laws then there are predictable outcomes.
As I talked with my grandson I realized his concern. Children like to think of the world as being orderly. They prefer certainty to the randomness of perceived chaos. Actually – many adults prefer predictable outcomes. When chaos strikes we understand the physics – but we find ourselves searching for spiritual meaning.
Help me out folks – does everything happen for a reason?