Why do bad things happen? Do bad things happen for good reasons? Is there a hidden benevolence in all things?
For spiritual teachings to have any value, they must have a practical, human relevance. They must look like us and empathize with our feelings. It can’t be all about the heavens. All worthwhile religious traditions must be about our experience here on Earth.
Religion gives vague answers about the reasons for why bad things happen. I think that’s fair and understandable. There is no one answer we all equally perceive. Every tradition has its own facet of the diamond. The light reflects differently from there. And since there is no rational, human answer to some of the tragedies that befall us, traditionally, we conclude them to be celestial in origin, aka punishment from God. Punishment implies we have done something wrong.
Since religion is rarely about definitive answers regarding the mind of God, it can’t give a clear answer. But I think religions can’t give a clear answer because they expect the answer to be more complicated than it is. And so they conclude the simplest answer invalid; or perhaps they don’t even notice it at all. Even as the word comes from their very mouths.
What harm would it do to believe that every tragedy has a hidden potential encoded within it? Does believing it diminish you in any way? What proof have you against it? My point is, when we behave as though certain things might be true, they have a tendency to behave that way. We have a tendency to see the world through our lens of choice. Rose-colored glasses see roses more often. Does that mean the roses were never there before? Or you’re just noticing them more now?
There is no real answer to the question, Why do bad things happen?Although if I had to synthesize world scripture into a one-word answer of my own assumption, it would be: love.
That is, to me anyway, the simple answer to the question. Love is why bad things happen. This I truly believe without understanding it one single bit. This is a faith assumption that love is at the root of all things, including bad things, including when I don’t understand how, or am so grief-stricken I don’t care.
And that may not be true. I have no way of knowing if love is the answer to why bad things happen. But I do have a way of behaving as if it were true. I have a way of responding. I anticipate goodness in a way that tends to attract it. This is what spiritual practice is meant to teach us. It helps us to choose what color glasses through which we see the world.
Where is the love in bad things? It can’t be in our grief. It can’t be intermingled with our rage, especially our rage with God. Or, perhaps, it can. Where inside our tragedies exists the little paper fortune?
I think the first step is to assume there is a paper fortune at all. Attune yourself to its existence. Make the invisible visible to you. Once we have this mindset, we are on the lookout for signs of it. Isn’t that what you want? Don’t you want to know how best to navigate through our sorrow? Don’t we want little trail markers to help us along the way? Unless you know what the markers look like for your trail, why would you even think to look for them? And rather than wonder, we wander through the woods, battling the thicket for nothing.
Some of our greatest wisdom tales display for us in exuberant detail what happens when we forget there is benevolence in all things. The news shows the same. Battling with symptoms instead of root problems because we don’t know that love is in the soil.
It is as useless as trying to punch holes in the ocean. Some are not looking for the best possible ways forward as they should, but the ways that satisfy their rage and fear in the immediate. Revenge rather than restoration. They are not humble. Their methods will fail.
Considering the issue of our problems with guns and drugs, for example, their existence is natural and logical. We have created a vacuum that supports their continuing presence. People are built to seek self-worth and meaning. When it does not come naturally, it will be gotten unnaturally. The benevolence here is not about legislating guns and drugs as much as it is about raising up those who would be most vulnerable to them. The benevolence here is that love is the only answer to the problems of guns and drugs. The benevolence here is that once we figure that out, the world will change.
God gets what It wants in the end, by hook or by crook, all nourished at the root by love.When we get sick, we don’t legislate against the symptoms; we seek out the virus if we truly wish to feel better. Symptoms are simply a natural part of the cause-and-effect process of illness. They are not villains unto themselves. Love your enemy. Seek them out at the root. Don’t do battle with their fears. They are phantoms.
Some, however, would have you believe battling windmills is the only way forward, but that will get you nothing but a twisted sword. You must untether the windmill from the grinding stone entirely to cease its function. Let the windmill spin. Useless as a pinwheel toy, its arms will rot away and break in time, now obsolete, now impotent from the process of further grinding us into powder. Untether the power that sorrow has over you. Let it spin itself into oblivion.
Look for bumper-stickers of spiritual wisdom. They are often more helpful than we give them credit for in navigating the intricacies of our daily lives. The best wisdom uses the fewest words. The most helpful mathematical equations are the most elegant.
The goal here is to move through life with an assumption that even on your darkest days, there is something through which to grow from, and empathize with, and ring a bell into the universe. There is always a best path forward, no matter how deep our pain nor how intense our fear.
Assume that from your list of options, one of them is the best of all possible choices, maybe even a transforming one. Prepare yourself to notice it. Listen for wisdom from your heart. Promise yourself to heed it.
You have everything you need to spin gold from hay. It’s already a part of you, a part of the benevolence with which you were so gloriously made. Claim it.
Wil Darcangelo, M.Div., is the minister at First Parish UU Church of Fitchburg and of First Church of Christ Unitarian in Lancaster, and producer of The UU Virtual Church of Fitchburg and Lancaster on YouTube. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @wildarcangelo. His blog, Hopeful Thinking, can be found at www.hopefulthinkingworld.blogspot.com.