Speak Carefully?

Before writing this, I checked.  I thought I had blogged before on the use of the phrase “everything happens for a reason,” and I had.  Here.  But that was in 2009.  It’s been almost 5 years, so I’ll feel free to dredge it up again.

This post is inspired by a conversation I started on Facebook yesterday.  I posted “You do not know that ‘everything happens for a reason,’ so stop saying it!”

Rachel graciously pointed out that this post is a bit harsh.  Thankfully, by the time she told me that, I had realized the same thing and expanded my thought this way:

While I do not know with utter certainty that every action of the universe is not ordered, I do not believe thinking this is so is beneficial to us choice-laden or -driven people. Nor do I find such a cliche truly helpful or healing to one who has just suffered unjust loss.

and this

I think it is (at least sometimes) because we WANT there to be order and answers to why things happen. After a recent conversation with someone who has faced the loss of 5 close family members in less than a year, though, I realized this person was not actually comforted by such a ‘promise.”

In fact, this person seemed to feel more distant from the source of such a promise.

I offered, OTOH, that God, by grace, is able to bring good from every situation and event without having caused that situation or event. I believe this perspective on God’s grace is more helpful.

What I’d like to tackle now is related to several responses I received.  I was quickly challenged by some that I don’t know that everything does not happen for a reason.

This is true. I don’t.

But neither do I teach, preach, or say to wounded people that “everything is meaningless!  Nothing happens for a reason!”

To encourage or implore people NOT to say “everything happens for a reason” is neither to say that

  1. nothing happens for a reason (that is beyond your or my control); or
  2. not everything happens for a reason (that is beyond your or my control.

Whether there is a grand design behind every single thing – an Ultimate Cause beyond every single effect is beyond my understanding and yours.

Generally, I think the cliche is offered out of the best of intentions.  It is not always heard that way.  The more I thought about it yesterday, in fact, the more I wondered if Christians saying things like “everything happens for a reason” and “God is in control.” are heard by non-Christian folk as words of judgment and condemnation upon those who suffer.

We want to be able to say something to the hurting and broken among us.  Can we at least agree to choose our words carefully in these situations?

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One thought on “Speak Carefully?

  1. Steve, I think it is our “need” to say something that gets us into trouble.

    There are other ways to comfort the grieving and at the same time keep our mouths shut. As far as I know, no where in the scriptures are we told to tell about love, but we are told to love. And love through actions speaks volumes over words.

    I agree that telling people that “everything happens for a reason”, while comforting to us, can cause more pain to someone who is already grieving.

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