Whenever I teach my class dealing with God, suffering and Evil, I hear someone say, “A lot of terrible things happen in the world, but I believe everything happens for a reason and is part of the plan of God.”
At first, such comments sound religious and comforting. Our thoughts are not God’s thoughts. Everything is determined through the inscrutable will of God. You don’t have to think any more and it wouldn’t do you any good anyway because what God is doing is all a secret. It’s a mystery.
But if you do think about it, you will see these comments are insulting to God and our respective religions. In our scriptures, there are many events which occur that are not the will of God. In fact, God is pictured as quite surprised and upset at what people do. For example, Cain murders Abel. God does not stop the killing and in fact, is shocked by it. God does not say, “Don’t worry. It’s all part of my plan.” Throughout the scriptures, God is periodically depicted as angry and upset at what people do.
And if it is true, that everything happens for a reason and is part of God’s will, it would mean God is a cosmic monster who commits all sorts of evil for the sake of some hidden master plan. It would mean the Holocaust was the will of God; it would mean wars, earthquakes, tornadoes, cancers, heart attacks, everyday tragic accidents, suicides, senseless and undeserved suffering would all be happening for “a reason.” Such actions would not be the work of a loving God. It would be the work of a sadistic masochistic architect who kills millions of people for the sake of some grandiose mysterious plan. This God should never be worshipped.
But I ask myself, why is the notion that everything happens for a reason so popular? Because it offers up comfort and declares a rhyme or reason that explains all the absurdity and craziness happening every day. It makes us feel better if we can think all the absurdities of life as part of some cosmic quilt woven together even though we cannot understand the pattern.
I get it. The brain needs and creates patterns whether they are there or not. But we do not have to capitulate to such ideas. We know that accidents happen. We know people carry within them generations of genetically determined diseases. And we should know, if we depict everything happening as part of the Divine will, we will be teaching people to hate God.
Near as I can tell, God created a universe in which chance and laws of nature control much of what happens. We trust God is interacting with human decisions but obviously not in such a way as to stop suffering and evil, deserved or undeserved. The notion, everything happens for a reason, is wishful thinking, a delusion, causing more and more people to become atheists.
Let’s be honest. The world can be a dangerous place. God’s activity in the world is problematic, mysterious and difficult to discern. So, remember again Whitehead’s warning: “Seek simplicity but distrust it.” If you are going to have faith, let it be an intelligent, honest and humble faith. In that way we shall honor and not insult our God.