One of the last things many people in the face of suffering want to hear is “everything happens for a reason,” a common quip among spiritual people. But is it true? Is there a design so grand and meticulous that merits such an absolute statement? If so, how could so much of the world’s suffering be part of some cosmic plan?
I have to say, up front, that I don’t know for sure. But what follows are some ideas that have helped me come to terms with this really heavy question:
Here’s the thing: there is just too much chaos in the world for me to accept that everything happens for a reason. We live in a fallen world. One in which nature is relentlessly wild and uncaring. One in which famines and diseases and warfare and natural disasters and death spring up out of nowhere.
But I have come to believe that the chaotic things that happen can be re-purposed into something good and beautiful—which may sound effectively the same as the “everything happens for a reason” theory, but is quite different in its application. Let me explain:
It is most evident in nature. Nothing is created or destroyed. The elements are only re-purposed. It’s the kind of entropy that isolates birds in the Galapagos, spawning thousands of new species of birds over geologic time; the kind that erodes sedimentary rock, creating magnificent arch formations; or shatters a young writer’s life and inspires her to write one of the most moving American memoirs of all time.
So rather than thinking that everything happens for a reason, I’ve started thinking that order and chaos work in tandem. The entropy of everything is re-purposed to be something creative rather than destructive. And perhaps that is one of the great functions of the Atonement of Jesus Christ—especially as it pertains to our personal lives.
So this is the idea: nothing is created or destroyed. Or rather, because of the Atonement, nothing stays dead or destroyed forever. The shambles are re-purposed to something else: creativity, insight, or a new life. Maybe not everything happens for a reason—there may be far too much chaos in our fallen world to accept that explanation—but everything that happens can become meaningful, because of God’s love. And therein lies the miracle.
Just think of some of the great works of art that followed some of the world’s most tragic events like Picasso’s Guernica after the bombing of Guernica, Spain; or Wilfred Owen’s poem “Dulce et Decorum est” about the disillusionment of soldiers fighting in World War I. The chapel in Provo that was destroyed in a fire, then rebuilt and re-purposed as a temple, is another excellent metaphor in this situation.
One may argue that a work of art or a few lines of poetry are little consolation for such violence and suffering, but this is what we do. The human consciousness is the conduit through which suffering and chaos is transformed into something transcendent. Just imagine what the creator of heaven and earth can do with such grand notions of life and death. What transcendence lies in store for our immortal spirits?
We live in a fallen world, and with that come chaos and entropy and death. But that does not have to be our only reality. One of the beauties of the Christian faith are the ideas of creation, rebirth, and resurrection. And another thing I do believe without a doubt is that God is aware of all things chaotic and entropic—especially us, his divine children.
“Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.” Matt. 10:29-31