Bill’s other pet peeve (You thought I forgot that I said he had two, didn’t you?) is when people say, “Everything happens for a reason.”
Now, I’ve written about this before because, while this cliché may make us sound pious, and it may be our attempt to give something bad sacred meaning, it all too often makes a monster of God. A child dies, a mother gets cancer, a drought bankrupts family farms, and we say that “everything happens for a reason.” The implication is that somehow God had a hand in it all. That is stupid.
That actually is more accurate theology. Human stupidity is far more likely to be the source of suffering than God is. Some time ago, I had a rather bad form of melanoma that, fortunately, was caught in time. It happened for a reason, but the reason wasn’t God. It was because I have fair skin, I got sunburned as a child, my mother didn’t know I shouldn’t play outside all summer without a shirt, or it was a genetic anomaly that wasn’t anyone’s fault. It probably wasn’t helped by the greed-driven pollution that is eroding the ozone that protects us from many harmful UV rays. Yes, there was a reason, but it wasn’t God. The real reason for the bad things that happen in our lives may never be known.
Now, having said that, I want to be clear that this doesn’t mean the bad doesn’t bring with it gifts we should unwrap or messages to which we should listen. No, God did not cause you to lose your job. There may be a dozen reasons for that, from corporate, greed-based downsizing to your own failures. We need to learn what we can, but when bad things happen, if we don’t blame God or let our minds become too angry, bitter, or depressed, we may hear a holy word. When life doesn’t go as we hoped or planned, God isn’t the cause, but God is very good at using the bad for our good (Romans 8:28) if we are open, receptive, listening. When bad things happen, rather than piously saying that they happen for some celestial reason, we would be better served to do the work of asking, “So, what is Life/God trying to say to me through this?”
God didn’t give me cancer, but God was with me in it. If I failed to listen, there really wasn’t any way even God could bring any good out of it.