There have been countless times my wife, Tammy, and I have had a conversation that revolves around a statement we have often heard.  We hear the statement – or a variation of it – most often after some tragedy that has befallen a community or a family.  Quite often, it is spoken by well-meaning people – often Christian people – who feel as though they must say something in the face of another person’s pain or grief rather than remain silent.

“Everything happens for a reason.”  Or the variation: “This must have been God’s will.”  The implication is that God causes – or wills – everything that happens.

At first blush, this statement seems encouraging.  Think about it: you or your family have just endured the news of the loss of a loved one.  Word quickly spreads to your friends, community, church, and neighbors.  Like any good person would do, many flock to your side to shower you and your family with love and support.

During the rush of people coming and going, offering to help in whatever way they can – perhaps by providing meals, watching your children, taking care of household things – someone sits next to you on your couch, puts an arm around your shoulders and, as you weep at trying to take in all you have just heard, says, “Everything happens for a reason.  It’s all a part of God’s plan.  You may not know what that plan is, but God never does anything without a purpose.”

The person means well.  He or she is trying to offer comfort in what is the most painful time of your life.  That person may actually believe what was said is true, that everything does happen for some reason we may not be able to see or understand in the moment, but will become clearer as time passes.  Maybe.

Such a sentiment is often offered as comfort.  But, the truth is, it often comforts the one saying it more than the one receiving it.  In other words, it is spoken so that the one saying it is comforted in the fact that he or she “said something.”

It would be better to say nothing at all.

To begin, such an idea portrays God as uncaring, distant, aloof.  It implies that God willfully brings about tragedy.  It is as if God’s hand is literally guiding a person toward misfortune.

When I was nine years old, my family moved to Tulsa, where my father would serve as the senior pastor of an up-and-coming church.  Three days after we moved in – boxes still unpacked – dad walked in the front door, called for my mother who was in the kitchen making grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch for my brother and me, and announced that their oldest son – our brother – had been killed in an accident while serving in the Army.  At that moment, the world stopped.  At nine years old, I was unable to take in what dad had just told us.  My mother collapsed on the floor; dad sat next to her.  My older brother and I just stood there, not knowing what to do or say.

Somehow, word had gotten out in the church.  Within minutes, leaders of the church were at our door.  They had come to express their sorrow and offer any help they could.  One of them was a physician.  He had come to offer his condolences and, thankfully, administer a mild sedative to my mother.  As my brother and I stood there, trying to take it all it, not knowing a single person who came into our house, I saw one of those people sit on the couch next to my mother and heard her say, “You may never know what God’s will is in all this….”

It was the first time I remember thinking to myself “Did God really cause my brother’s death?  Was the accident really not an accident, but something planned…by God?”

The accidents we experience in life – the accident that took my brother’s life – is just that: a random event that.

It was not part of God’s plan.

It was not a case of “everything happens for a reason.”

It was not God’s will.

It just happened.

Simply because a random tragic event occurs – as devastating as it may be – does not mean that good cannot come from it.  The death of my brother serves as an example.  Because of his death, my family was better able to minister to families who have found themselves in similar situations.  We know what it is like to lose a loved on to random events with tragic endings.

God does not will everything that happens.  But in everything that happens, God wills good to come from it.

When tragedy strikes, perhaps knowing this will move us closer to the love, beauty, and wholeness toward which God is constantly calling us.