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The Oldest Religious Idea

May 25, 2010

If I had to speculate and guess the oldest religious idea it would probably be:

Everything happens for a reason

Hand in hand with this belief is the fact that we are all human (duh!), but what that means in reality is that we are all finite and we all lack a context of the whole of reality and experience. Therefore, lacking a context of the whole and believing at the same time that “everything happens for a reason” often leads to suggestion that “something, out there” is responsible for events happening that are not understood.

In ancient Egyptian observation the sun goes “down” over there and comes back “up” over there; there must be a purpose… I know: the sun has to travel through the underworld; we better have a ceremony to help it! Why did that earthquake destroy that city? Why did this person prosper? Why did that person die? Why did they win the war and we lose?

It must have happened for a reason…

Of course, some articulations of this belief can become so deterministic as to be almost cruel and evil with its heartlessness. Sure, believing that everything happens for a reason is nice when things are coming up roses; I’m sure that there is a nice amount of existential smugness that warms someone in their bed at night because God had to give them lots of blessings because “they deserved it.”

But I’m fairly certain that when the human experience goes very poorly there is no such solace. Why me? Why are you doing this to me God? Why would God allow this to happen?

Why did the earthquake happen in Haiti? They deserved it! Thank you Pat Robertson.

Probably another factor that feeds the desire for everything to happen “for a reason” is a fear of randomness and chaos. To live is to die, and sometimes to die under painful and unfair circumstances. I think we all carry this angst to some degree. In some instances it is easier to suggest that “Everything” happens for some cosmic design than to face more random suggestions.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. May 25, 2010 8:46 am

    You left out another common articulation for why bad things happen. In addition to, “they deserved it,” I often hear, “it’s a part of God’s plan.” This one rests on the idea that God lets bad things happen to good people to either test them or to bring about some greater good.

    While I think there are some serious flaws or unanswered questions with this interpretation, it seems a much healthier and holistic answer than the two-dimensional, “they deserved it.”

  2. May 25, 2010 8:56 am

    Yeah, Davo I agree, however, “it’s a part of God’s plan” is just another way of saying everything happens for a reason.

    This can get just as silly.

    Recently, I had a friend whose husband impregnated his secretary, Apparently, according to her, it was part of God’s plan. Why exactly God is going around causing affairs and extra-marital pregnancies I’m not sure, but I guess for the moment it allowed her to not focus on her role in the whole set of events, and “cosmic blame-shift” to whatever her conception of God was.

  3. EricW permalink
    May 25, 2010 10:47 am

    to whatever her conception of God was.

    Was that (i.e., “conception of God” = i.e., something willed/planned by God) a deliberate play on words? 😀

  4. May 25, 2010 12:59 pm

    Explain rampant ear hair growth then.

    Fatalism is a definite religious impulse, it is also an easy way out. Not only does it deflect culpability it also ascribes a desperation to the hope that there is an intelligibility to creation.

    I wonder though which is first: fatalism or karma. Both are fairly universal. Both have a degree of truth to them. And both are countered and supported within the Judeo-Christian scriptures.


  5. May 26, 2010 8:40 am

    “It was God’s plan” always sounds to me like, “They didn’t deserve it, but if God wants to make an omelette, God’s gotta break some eggs.” That is, it sounds like something that’s easy to say if I’m not the one getting the soggy end of the stick.

  6. May 26, 2010 10:53 am

    Resting in the sovereignty of God doesn’t seem silly to me, in fact it’s really the only reasonable conclusion I can come to when reading scripture. If we’re talking about Pat and his “they deserved it” line, well I had a lot of problems with that mainly because it showed no grace, tact, wisdom or any gospel perspective. The reality is *we all deserve that(death)*, but praise be to Jesus that he took upon himself what I deserve. If our view is that bad things happening are punishment, then we don’t understand the cross.

    I find most of the resistance to sovereignty or the arguments used against it don’t recognize the 2 sides of God’s will. As an example, biblically it’s clear that God desires that all would be saved and come to faith, but we also know biblically that isn’t going to happen.

    Your friend’s husband impregnating his secretary certainly was not God’s desire or in his will(clearly sin), but we know that for those that love God all thing work together for good(Rom 8:28). So if her hope is in Jesus working this horrendous situation for good, then I think her hope is well placed.

    If we look at Judas as an example, God did not author that sin, but he used it to complete His good and perfect will, mission and purpose in dying on the cross. To me, that’s the greatest example of something meant for evil but used for God’s glory.

  7. May 27, 2010 3:45 pm

    Feh. We live in a fallen world — there’s the “reason.” The best we can do is to comfort each other in our misery, and praise God that life’s not fair. It seems callous and should thus be seasoned with as much grace and love as we can muster, but God never promised any of us a rose garden.

    Well, I mean, except for that one guy.

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