The Arbiter of Goodness


There’s always enough bad news to go around.  No one needs major events like the Boston Marathon bombing or the West, TX fertilizer plant explosion to find something gone wrong.

At one moment, everything seems fine.

And then, something happens.

That something causes pause.  We seek to understand, process, and move forward after a reflection pointing to the oughtness that should prevail in the world.

It doesn’t take large scale disasters, though.  A conversation arose with friends recently where terminal cancer and a pending divorce were respective  weights. 

“Everything happens for a reason,” it was said.

Well, yes.  A coin toss will result in a “heads” or a “tails” is often said to be caused by chance.   But chance is powerless.  It’s just the mathematical probability of known outcomes.  The particular coin flip, however, depends on the mass of the coin, the inertia with which it’s sent upward via arm and hand movement, the force applied to the thumb a certain distance from the coin’s axis that causes it to revolve, gravity, the resistance of air, the particular point in its descent when it’s caught, and whether or not it is flipped from palm to the back of one’s hand before viewing.  That’s the cause.

Things don’t happen by chance.  They happen for reasons, which is why the young Boston Marathon bomber will be plied so that people can understand the madness, illness, and/or misplaced convictions that led him to an evil action.

Everything doesn’t happen for a good reason, but the phrase “everything happens for a reason,” when uttered, is linked to the hope that good will come from the bad.

It may.  It may not.

When such statements are made, there’s an implied appeal to a greater being or force, that is an arbiter of goodness, or, at minimum, of fairness.  Maybe it’s trust in karma.  Unless you’re on the wrong side of it.  What options are there?  Ask the Greek, Roman, or Hindu pantheon of Gods.  Maybe they’ll help.  Buddha makes no such promises.  Or, trust in your lucky stars.  I assume horoscopes still make into newspapers who need guidance spelled out to them.

Upon hearing the news of the Boston bombing, I don’t have and will never have means to count the number of people who said “Oh, my God” or “Jesus.”  I once had a co-worker who dropped this phrase when a pencil lead broke, never mind for more metaphysical consideration.  Isn’t it interesting how the call to a greater power, all but spat upon in today’s Western public discourse, arises by so many at the time of need?

Is it because we all want a parental unit to make it feel better?  Or is there something wired within us that cries out for justice and mercy to a being with the authority to see it through?

In context to my friend’s cancer, I followed up with a revision to the other’s rather hopeless “everything happens for a reason.”

“... in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’” (Romans 8:28)

To which my friend, fully accepting the promise and the promise maker, replied, “Amen.”


  1. I would contend that it depends on your POV if everything happen for a reason. For example, to the Marathon bombers, the bombs made had a reason to them. But to you, the marathon runner caught in the blast, there is no reason. It comes closer to poop happens.

    You got up. You got dressed. You ran, and you got caught in a blast. You could have also been hit in the head by a beer bottle tossed by a crazy woman from her 18th floor balcony instead. Or you could have simply finished the run.

    I simply refuse to believe that God causes something to happen to you, whether good or bad. Sometimes, things happen, and your belief system and the set of circumstances will allow you to prevail, or sadly, fail. Sometimes great things come from these trials. Other times, we are simply broken.

    It is what defines us as individuals.

    Sometimes, poop just happens to the best of us.

  2. Specific to the verse, the point is that God does not promise those of faith to be free from evil or the pain of suffering. He promises to be with you during it.

    As for causality, there was "The Fall," during which God allowed death, pain and suffering into the world. The point is that He is sovereign. If he doesn't cause bad things to happen, but could prevent them, is He excused from blame? This is one of the main stumbling blocks to belief, in my opinion, in that the God revealed in the Bible, who literally provides the firmament for divining good and evil, doesn't live up to our expectations of moral character. How funny is that?

  3. While I whole heartedly agree with your first paragraph, I am having trouble dissecting the second. Mostly because I believe there is no reason for Him to be excused for blame (poop happens) and I guess my expectations for moral character are perhaps defined differently?

    Ah, but now to be able to define that in this medium at this time is giving me difficulties. And for that, I apologize. Perhaps after some time, I can come back and discern that further. ;-)