Can Someone Please Explain …..

I keep coming across the the saying Everything Happens for a Reason and it feels like a tangled web in my head so I’d be delighted if someone, somewhere could tell me what on earth it means.

Maybe I should explain where I think I’m coming unstuck with it! It’s when it’s used as a sort of platitude that it drives me nuts. What does Everything Happens for a Reason mean when it is said, for example, when a loving husband and father of three young children is swept away by an aggressive form of cancer?

I don’t think it refers to the possible causation of the cancer; rather it seems to be a new, but secular, version of: It’s God’s will ;  These things are sent to try us … and the like.

Do people who say Everything Happens for a Reason believe in some Greater Force that is somehow firing banana skins and bonanzas at us to keep us on our toes lest we get complacent  in our little comfort zones?  Or, does a heartfelt longing for fairy tale endings underpin these 5 words that have me snaffled and baffled …..?




Author: socialbridge

I am a sociologist and writer from Ireland. I have worked as a social researcher for 30 years and have had a lifelong passion for writing. My main research interests relate to health care and I love to write both non-fiction and poetry.

29 thoughts on “Can Someone Please Explain …..”

  1. Its a cop out pure and simple. A platitude mouthed to fill an empty space to encourage the listener to accept the unacceptable. It has nothing to do with gods or anything of that sort. But is, maybe, a reflection of our inability to actually do anything to help -perhaps the hope that we can be as sanguine when such a situation arises in our own lives.

  2. I always say ‘Everything happens for a reason’ but it’s more for small things in life. I do agree with you, so many unanswered questions about why awful things do happen.

  3. I am with you!There are so many of these platitudes that are shared around the internet these days it drives me bananas too…my mind puts a hilariously (to me) depressing twist on this one. I remember one time years ago in the midst of gloom and depression I came across an older lady who had wandered into some roadworks and fallen over. As I helped her I wondered could this be the reason I am here on this planet, to help this woman for this five minutes and the rest of my years are to be a meaningless drag, my job done and all to do is wait for death?…Always makes me laugh when I think of it now. But you’re right its the new take on blind faith. I prefer to think that we can sometimes give reason to things that happen, use them as best we can to forge something for ourselves or if not just bloody weather them (What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…that’s another annoying one, I’d rather be weak thanks.) John Irvings A Prayer For Owen Meany is an entertaining take on this.

  4. >> secular, version of: It’s God’s will ; These things are sent to try us … and the like. <<
    It's NOT ".. and the like". For those who believe in God and his word – the Bible, this is a deeper meaning that indeed is linked to Him. To those who don't really believe in God this may appear as some shallow secular ".. or the like" phrase. Sorry, but that's where I disagree. Yes, I am a [believing] Christian and trust Him and His decisions. Looking back in my life, there were many things that I thought were a disaster and later on realized that it had to happen because of something different that He had in mind with me. Yes, I learned to trust Him and believe that everything happens for a reason. Why? Because nothing happens without His permission. We 'Earthlings' often don't see the greater meaning and the long term planning God has. His planning is on a different time scale than our own one.
    – Hans

    1. Hans, thanks so much for bringing your perspective as it puts the words in a context in which they make sense. Even though I’m not a believer in God, I fully respect your belief and can see how ‘Everything Happens for a Reason’ has profound meaning within that belief system.

  5. The platitude is another way of saying: “God works in mysterious ways.” It has been assumed to be an out for the Deity’s behavior to be contrary to our will or our understanding. Prior to any comprehension of the world of microbes, it was commonly presumed, although quite falsely, that all disease was resulting from either the presence of a demon or due to the aggravation of a deity. Historically, shamans, high priests, and witch doctors have always held this “Get out of jail free” card in their vest pockets to avoid their superstitions unraveling. For if their myths fall apart, they will lose control over the previously fearful and superstitious.

    When you see this platitude posted or hear it quoted, you can be certain it is intended to imply a belief that all things are in the control of a greater power with some immutably justifiable greater plan that is beyond our understanding.

    But let’s take it to what it could mean in a realistic and tangible world of cause and effect:
    “The building fell down because the earthquake weakened the foundation which resulted in it not being ables to sustain load-bearing support for the walls and roof.”
    I suppose some might wish to blame this on Harold, as Harold must have had some purpose in mind to cause the earthquake, or at least so for those who do not understand what the core of the earth is comprised of, nor about plate tectonics.

    But the walls of various cultures will be or not be held intact according to all kinds of effects from causes without requiring any presupposition to explain phenomena by the supernatural. Here is a model of how “everything happens for a reason” works:

  6. I do believe it is often for lack of something else (better?) to say. Deep down, we want to believe that horrid things do happen for a reason, otherwise, why would they? In times of difficulty, I am often surprised by people apologising for saying these, I won’t say platitudes, but, expressions, because they acknowledge not knowing what else to say to comfort. I’ve always replied with acquiescence just to put the other at ease! Then move forward.

    1. Morning Dale, I agree that people tend to feel a need to say ‘something’ when something tough happens. I’m interested, though, in the extent to which ‘Everything Happens for a Reason’ is uttered about even minor, minor things that can be positive.
      It’s not something that I lose sleep over but it has intrigued me, especially as it is something that is being said more and more or else I’ve become acutely aware of it.

  7. As a platitude it drives me nuts. I think that bad luck is random and it’s people searching for a reason behind it.

    If viewed retrospectively, I think it’s possible to look at one’s own life and see how bad has been turned to good or visa versa, as well as which paths we took at life’s crossroads, and that a lot of what has happened is down to one’s choices, both good and bad. We can even choose how to react to such as terminal illness — do we sit there waiting to die, moaning day in and day out, or do we make the most of what time we have left and inspire everyone around us with our positive attitude and bravery?

    I hate the thought of some higher power, akin to the Ancient Roman and Greek gods, moving us around a great chessboard in a game of some sort.

  8. I think people want to say something to comfort others (or themselves) when they feel helpless to help or unable to explain why horrible things happen for no apparent reason. I remember an old army buddy saying that the man on the left of him and the man on the right of him were killed while they were looking at a map. He felt he was saved because God had a purpose for keeping him alive. But what about my uncle who was killed in the war at twenty? Was his life not worth saving? Did he have nothing important or worthwhile to do with his three score and ten?

    1. Naomi, thanks very much for writing and for posing questions which I certainly can’t answer from my particular belief system. I’m so sorry to hear about your uncle’s death at war at such a young age. It’s something that resonates strongly with me.

  9. I see that this subject has stirred up a lot of strong feelings. I must say, that I agree wholeheartedly! It drives me nuts, too. I think, as Stanley first posted, that it is a statement meant to fill an empty space when someone has no words to help or soothe. Naomi brings up a question I have asked many times myself, especially when people say things like, “God saved me for a purpose.” Or ” God called him home.” Which really drives me up a wall! But I believe that people do this in an attempt to make sense of something that they do not understand. Blame it on God is an easy explanation, one way or the other. I don’t believe in that kind of God; one that is arbitrary and punishing. I am a believer in God but I don’t believe in God’s plan or that it is to have a loved one die so that another can figure out the reason! That doesn’t sound like anyone I wish to call God or even a Higher Power.

    When my mother died of Lymphoma at 69 yo 23 years ago, I heard a sermon that talked about someone with cancer “raging against the dark” and it resulted in remission because everyone prayed together. My mother raged…and we raged, too, but that did not result in a remission. I asked why? And there was no answer. Sometimes there is none. No logic, no reason, no will, no plan. It is nature, it is life, and it is random. Just as a tornado sweeps through a neighborhood, reducing some homes to piles of toothpicks while their neighbor’s homes are untouched. There is no plan in that. It is just the way things are. I supposed that I have accepted that I may never have answers to my many questions, and that I don’t always have to understand.

  10. Hey well, “snaffled and baffled” kinda sounds more fun than it is 🙂 But to say that “everything happens for a reason” is actually a deep thought… I do agree that there are too many times when too many phrases roll too easily off the tongue. For me, this phrase is comforting—since I have given my heart to God and believe His promise to never forsake me. Now in faith, I’m able to trust God’s perfect wisdom/power and view troubling situations through His eyes. Apart from God (who knows everything, is not random and is in control of all things), these words are mere words of wishful thinking. 🙂 ❤ ❤

  11. Hi KwH, thanks for writing and I can certainly see how ‘everything happens for a reason’ makes sense in the context of someone, like you, who has a deep faith in God. While not sharing your faith, it is certainly something that I deeply respect.

  12. I think you hit the nail on the head when you suggest it’s just another more modern way of saying It’s God’s will. In the US it still seems to be quite okay to talk about God pulling the strings and how we should some how be grateful to be in such a safe pair of hands. We cynical Europeans shy away from mentioning the fella upstairs, but can’t really get away from the idea that somebody else will see it’s all right in the end. It’s a way of coping with adversity maybe. Easier to kid yourself that there’s somehow a point to the awfulness if only we were clever enough to see it. Oh well. Maybe we’ll grow beyond religion one day.

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