Hi, my name is Melissa and I’m one of those intolerably obnoxious people who believes pretty much everything happens for a reason.
In my defense, it’s how a self-proclaimed control freak like me makes sense of a world that is way beyond her control. Ice cream cone fell on the ground? I probably didn’t need the extra calories. Got rear-ended and totaled the car? Now we can buy something cheaper and avoid another loan. The whole family got hit with the stomach bug? Hello, family bonding time. When someone tells me about her horrible breakup or that promotion he didn’t get, I probably won’t say it out loud at the risk of getting decked, but you better believe I’m thinking it. Everything happens for a reason.
I’ve weathered plenty of trying experiences throughout my life, but I haven’t come across one yet that I couldn’t later point to as being absolutely necessary, even if I would’ve never chosen it for myself. To me, making those kinds of connections is intensely gratifying. I live for that moment, sometimes years after the fact, when I can finally discern the reason behind my past suffering; to my OCD soul, it’s the cosmic equivalent of getting to cross the last lone item off a long to-do list.
Though not much, there is some good that comes out of this obsessive need to uncover the greater meaning. Namely, that people like me are natural optimists; we can almost always find the silver lining in any circumstance. The problem comes when we can’t seem to explain away the suffering, when there’s no earthly reason we can point to that makes the pain justifiable.
As I said, I can puzzle out most of life’s tragedies. But there will always be certain circumstances for which I can’t find a justification: mainly, mass killings, deaths of children, acts of terrorism, and particularly destructive natural disasters. Take Sandy Hook, for instance. A school shooting that steals the lives of 20 innocent children and six adults is something I just can’t figure out in my mind. Even for a tireless meaning-seeker like me, it seems impossible to find the reason behind injustices of that magnitude.
In my earlier years, I blamed God for those tragedies, as I think most people do who can’t wrap their brains around pointless suffering. Why would a supposedly loving God inflict such intense pain and anguish on the people He claims to love? What’s the divine justification for that? But it occurs to me now, as a slightly wiser adult with a marginally better understanding of God: maybe we as humans aren’t actually meant to know the earthly reason for everything.
As you can imagine, this has been an exceptionally tough pill for me to swallow. Accepting my own limitations doesn’t come easily to me. But as I learn to trust God more, I also become more understanding of the fact that His justice is the standard, not mine. What may seem tragically unfair to me probably makes perfect sense to Him. And, as Pastor Jason said last Sunday, we have to be careful about using someone else’s suffering as fuel for our argument against God; for all we know another person’s unimaginable pain actually drew them closer to Him, not farther away. As usual, it all seems to come down to trusting God more and leaning not on our own understanding of the world.
The tricky part for me though is that pain still hurts. Suffering doesn’t just automatically get easier to handle when we trust that God has a reason for it. I still need consolation when life is hard and I have to admit that I’m not at the point yet where faith alone provides that for me. So, where else do we turn when we need comfort during trying times?
In his book, The Reason for God, author, pastor, and theologian Timothy Keller suggests that the resurrection should be a source of consolation for us in the face of suffering. “It promises that we will get the life we most longed for, but it will be an infinitely more glorious world than if there had never been the need for bravery, endurance, sacrifice, or salvation.” In essence, he’s saying, “If we never know injustice, we’ll never fully appreciate the justice that God will surely provide for us someday.”
The someday is the part that trips me up, however–mainly because it requires one of my least favorite virtues: patience. God has promised justice to His people, which is a certainty most Christians believe in. But the hard reality for us is that justice may not come in our lifetimes. We may not live to see the murderer imprisoned or the law reformed or even the obnoxious neighbor step in dog poop. As Keller says, we’re hardwired to want “our suffering not to be in vain.” We as humans crave earthly vindication from a heavenly God.
I’m starting to realize He doesn’t work that way, though.
Most of us consider our lives as beginning and ending with our first and last breath on this Earth. (Leave it to us mortals to be so short-sighted as to believe that 100 years max is all there is to life.) For God, however, our lives are only just beginning when we breathe our last. There is so much more that He promises us if we have the faith to believe that death isn’t the end of the story.
The hard truth is, God will deliver the justice we crave, but it may not be here in this world or this lifetime. For someone like me who wants an immediate answer for everything and gets impatient filling a glass of water, that’s a pretty tough reality to digest. But by believing in God and trusting that He loves me, I have to also believe that what He has in store for all of us who suffer here on Earth will be worth it a million times over.
C.S. Lewis once wrote: “They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into glory.”
So maybe I haven’t totally missed the mark in thinking everything happens for a reason. It just turns out that, all along, it’s been God’s reason, not mine.
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