Q: I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately and one of the books I’m almost through is “When Good Things Happen to Bad People.”
I’ve been raised to believe that everything happens for a reason, but I’ve always had a difficult time understanding why, well, why bad things happen in our lives when we are essentially “good people”.
The author basically is saying that God does not cause bad things in our lives, but some things happen randomly and are pointless tragedies.
Then, of course, he goes on to say how we can make meaning out of tragedy. He says it’s not the tragedies that are important, but how we respond to them. I’m trying to reconcile my belief in everything happening for a reason and having meaning, with the author’s notion of bad things just happening randomly. What do you think?
A: I think you’ve just asked the age-old question: do we believe in a God (if we believe in God) that is “in charge” or everything, or are we essentially in this alone to make it or break it?
If we believe that there is something greater than us that is in “charge” of our lives, then we give that something power over us. Then we can bargain with it - “okay, God - if I’m a good person, then nothing bad should ever happen to me, okay?”
That’s buying into the notion that we know what’s in our best interests at all times, we should be able to direct our lives without any outside influence, and say what happens to us, in every situation.
Of course we don’t want anyone we love to die, we don’t want to lose our job, we don’t want to get sick, but how do we always know what’s in our best interests? Is it possible that sometimes we don’t see the bigger picture?
This is such a touchy topic that I want to make sure I say exactly what I believe, and not try to sugar coat or make light of anything.
I abhor violence, especially to children, elderly, or vulnerable people (or animals). It just makes me angry, and I have been known to scream at people who are abusing other people.
Having said all of that, this is what I know: we are here to experience 360 degrees of everything - what we might judge to be the good, the bad, and the ugly. Why? To help us get a balanced perspective of life, to help us feel and understand and really know all sides of life.
If we decide what’s good and bad, then we set ourselves up for disappointment, and our life becomes this quest to avoid pain and hang onto pleasure.
I know, I know, that’s human nature, but I think we get to the point in our spiritual development when we are capable of rising above that childlike view of good and bad and are able to relax into just being in the moment, whatever’s happening. When that happens, we can experience something called detachment - being able to be present and yet unaffected by our surroundings. In that moment of detachment we can see with a clarity that is not possible from our previous limited viewpoint. We can see how our current illness has led us to slow down and re-prioritize our life, we can understand the deeper wisdom of our partner’s death, and what gifts we have received in return.
I’m currently reading “Dying Well” by Ira Byock, and he speaks of the gifts his family received as his young father was dying. It was an awful time, he said, but his whole family was able to talk honestly and freely about past hurts, offer forgiveness, embrace each other on a deeper level than ever before.
Would we ever want our father to die young like that? Of course not. But can we ever consider the possibility that we can’t always know what’s going on behind the scenes that’s working for our Highest Good?
I don’t happen to think that things just happen randomly. I believe that if we could somehow get at the very core of all things, we would see beautiful cords connecting everything together, as in an extraordinary and intricate tapestry, weaving everything and everybody together into one cohesive picture.
I believe my actions affect not only those around me, but somehow also affect every other being in this world, if only minutely. I also believe that what I do to others, I am also doing to myself, hence the Golden Rule, which is found in some form in every major religion in the world. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
I do not think that there is a God sitting up on some throne somewhere “making” things happen to people. I think we are all in this together, “making” things happen to and with each other in every moment. I don’t think we are separate from God, and I think that which I call God is always operating out of love, and for our Highest Good, but again, that encompasses a whole range of experiences and emotions, not just the happy, fuzzy, warm, pleasant ones. Sometimes our greatest growths come out of our greatest tragedies.
I personally know that being with my mom as she nears the end of her life has given me a depth to my compassion, love, and devotion that I never thought myself capable of. I have done things I didn’t think I could do, have forgiven things I previously thought unforgivable, and found a very soft, very beautiful spot in the center of my soul.
How can that be bad? It’s not - it’s good, and it’s all growing out of extreme sadness and pain. Would I trade any of it? Not on your life.
This is real, it’s, well, life-like, and if we are able to come to bat, in all circumstances, and strive to see the gifts in our life, we will keep growing and understanding and become more empowered to live our lives to the fullest.
I might even change the title of that book to “When Things Happen to People.” That way we can start working with a new vocabulary that doesn’t deal so much with those concepts of good and bad, and helps us just to understand and live with what is. When we embrace the all, we become more powerful, and are ironically then better equipped to deal with those “bad” things that do happen. And feeling stronger gives us more confidence in our lives to not be afraid of what might happen in the future, and also saves us from that despondency of crying “Why me, God?” when things don’t always go our way.
Things will always go their Way, just as we go ours. Now it’s just a matter of how we choose to see it. I, for one, just want to understand. Random vs. Reason? I’ll choose the thought that things may happen seemingly randomly, but ultimately always for a reason.
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