Earlier this week I was having a conversation with a group of undergraduate students. During the conversation, one of the young women shook her head and said those infamous words: “You know, I’m a true believer that everything happens for a reason.” I’m not sure why the comment struck me this week, rather than any of the other times I’ve heard it, but it did, and it got me thinking.
I used to have a fairly deep distaste for the phrase, “Everything happens for a reason.” My problem was not exactly that there’s something ‘wrong’ with the phrase, although I admit (in my more pensive moments) to examining the quote in light of the Great Problems of the world and being tempted to ask all sorts of penetrating questions about evil and God and etc.
As it turns out, though, the phrase itself isn’t what bothered me. It was simply the fact that the phrase was so common, that people used it all the time, and that sometimes it felt those five words had become another way for people to avoid having to ask hard questions.
Well, maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. And maybe it’s not for me to say. And although I’m not the wisest man I know, I do know that I’ve at least grown wise enough to know that the depth of a person’s spiritual encounter with God quite often has nothing to do with the way a person expresses that encounter, that relationship, that faith.
But let’s get back to that college student who got me thinking.
A glance back over the last decade suggests that college students grow up in a pretty complicated time. Now a young woman, this student would have been in grade school when the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center occurred. If she can remember any big news item before that, it was probably the shootings at Columbine, CO.
For my peers, and people immediately older, one way of dividing up time is to remember everything before September 11 and then everything after. This student doesn’t have that. Through most of her childhood until now, she’s lived in a post-9/11 world, a world of two wars, of economic instability, of nearly daily news reports about terrorism, shoe bombers… et cetera, et cetera.
She also lives in a world more tightly connected than humanity has ever known. This means that if she’s aware at all (and, knowing this young woman, she is), she’s immersed in knowledge of the AIDS crisis in Africa, global and domestic problems of poverty and malnourishment, human trafficking and racial injustice. In a YouTube world, she’s probably seen videos of things like famine in the Horn of Africa, earthquake victims in Haiti, and that video of abused animals with Sarah McLachlan singing “Angel” in the background.
It’s not just global things. She’s a person like the rest of us, which means she’s had people she’s known and loved grow sick, move away, even die. She’s had her own struggles with relationships, with friends, family, stress about work and school and what happens when she gets a job and moves out into the world.
And somehow, somehow she still believes that God is at work in all facets of life. She still believes that things are happening for a reason.