Monday, October 29, 2012

On "everything happens for a reason"

I was just minding my own business, reading a blog because I'm avoiding a homework assignment for a few minutes more, when there was this post about PCOS, infertility, and infant loss.  So I think to myself, "Well, self, let's read this and see if it resembles our experience."  And then I read the comments and it was a mistake.  TRIGGER!

Of course there was a comment about everything happening for a reason.  There always is one of those.  "Everything happens for a reason" la la la, here let me try to tell you your pain serves a purpose and that some divine intervention caused it.

I spent some time with the school chaplain (yes, yes... I go to one of those schools, where someone is talking about faith at least once a semester, and I personally think it's a good thing, but that's another post) about just this after the last miscarriage when I was struggling more than I am now with this "If there's a divine plan for my/anyone's life, how can it include such unpleasant stuff?  If EVERYTHING happens for a reason, what does that tell us about the nature of the divine and do I want anything to do with such a divine presence if it's sending such horrors on unsuspecting people?" quandry.  She pointed out something that I really appreciate.

First, if we trust in a loving, parental, divine figure, then not everything happens for a reason.  As parents we get to see that children just do stuff sometimes and they have no idea why.  While "everything" might be in our control as parents, sometimes what happens defies control or explanation.  It just happens.  You can trip and catch yourself a thousand times and then one day fall and break bones.  There's no reason for that instance over another to have a bad outcome, it just happened.

Second, even if we accept that the divine is the boss/parental figure and plans out every step of our lives, we still have free will and can do whatever we want.  This resonates for me since I dreamed of meeting the spouse in the weeks before we had a chance to meet at an event that I ended up not attending.  I had the same dream 2 years later in the weeks before we actually did meet.  To me, this tells me that the plan was there but I intervened and we didn't meet for a while, until we did.  Same goes for the bad stuff in life.  There is no plan for a car accident today, but if I'm texting while driving, I sure increase the chances that one will happen.

Additional to this is the "G-d must be saving them from something worse that would have happened."  Again, this really puts a mean-spirited tone to the divine.  If we understand our every action is planned out, why would the loving parental figure we thought up first plan out something awful?  It's nearly impossible to hold the idea of infinite loving divine figure and also plotting nasty stuff divine figure in your head at once, which suggests to me it's theologically bunk to make the effort. One of those ideas is wrong.

And third, it's short-sighted to ascribe meaning to what might just be chance and randomness.  Just because our brains like patterns and order and reasons doesn't mean there is a reason.

So keep your "everything happens for a reason" ideas about the bad things in life to yourself.  It hurts whether there was a reason or not and imagining all the bad things I could have done to cause whatever bad thing happened just ruin me.  Just because I learn and grow after something bad happens doesn't mean I had to go through all that pain to learn whatever it was.  I could have learned to value friends and to get them help the minute I saw a problem some way besides losing a friend to suicide.  That didn't happen to teach anyone a lesson.  It happened for all kinds of reasons but they aren't about punishing the living.  Those miscarriages, those might-have-been babies, they didn't die because I was a bad person or because I needed to learn something from it.  That's too horrible an idea for me to live with.

For me, faith in the divine has to come from that loving parent perspective.  I have faith that there is a plan for my life and that some things are destined to happen, but none of them involve sorrow and pain.  I believe in a plan for my life that includes good things and a path to being helpful to others.  That's the faith that I'm sharing with the kid, that the divine is like a loving parent, helping us figure out where we need to go and how we can live in harmony with each other.


  1. I firmly believe that's a line developed to keep poor people in their place. There are so many horrible things that happen in the world that are absolutely disgusting to justify in that way.

  2. That's a really good point, and it makes awful sense to use it to keep people in their place. Plus it makes me feel even better, knowing it's not only theologically unsound but also unpleasantly oppressive.

  3. The "parental figure" explanation of the divine (which I don't really believe in, but if I were to this) is the only idea of it I could wrap my head around. I can understand if there is a divine presence that love us beyond measure, despite our mistakes, and wants us to be happy, but can't actually affect change in our lives (and therefore can't cause--or prevent-- the bad things that happen to us). I know some people don't like this idea of the divine because it bestows upon it less power but if the divine is all powerful, I just can't accept it would allow the horrible atrocities that happen all the time to happen. I don't know. I don't believe in a divine presence to maybe this is a conversation I shouldn't participate in, I just wanted to say I appreciate your take on it. It's one I can totally understand

    1. I like your explanation. This is where I came from, originally, the "but if the divine is all powerful, why does bad stuff happen?" place. I'm actually most specifically currently of a mind to take that parent idea a step further and say that almost all of the awful things that happen are because we people decided to do them and nothing could stop us. Much like bullying or the girl wars, as a parent, I won't always or even usually step in to stop it because I want the Kid to learn stuff without my interference. So I suppose I actually believe in a divine that's not in charge of nature beyond having (maybe) set it in motion, and is in charge of perhaps the big picture of human lives and the highlights of them, but not anything else.