That’s something that I hear nowadays several times a week. And it’s always bothered me. The person who says it — what kind of insight is that person claiming to have that the target of that ‘advice’ is meant to infer?
I recently bought a T-Shirt that, the moment I saw it, I knew it was something I had to wear. It says “Everything happens for a reason”, and then below that it says “And that reason is usually Physics”. That pretty well summarizes my view on why bad things happen. You got into a car accident? That’s physics at work. Your dad died? Well, that’s biology, which, if you look at it deep enough, depends on Physics. All of the mechanisms, atoms and molecules interacting in your body, even if they are parts of living organisms — if you drill down deep enough into what’s happening at the molecular level, medicine and biology and chemistry is reduced to Physics
OK, but that’s my non-religious, non-spiritual brain at work. What the heck is THAT OTHER person thinking when he or she says “Everything happens for a reason”. Is that meant to imply that there is an invisible hand at work, an intelligent entity that is thinking “Well let’s really screw with this guy now, make him miserable, make him suffer. But if he doesn’t die, if we don’t permanently crush his spirit, he’ll learn from it.”. Or does this come more of a belief in fate than any kind of religious belief?
Fate, oddly, can be believed in without any kind of religious baggage. The concept of a mechanical universe is something that must occur to be a possibility to almost any student taking a Newtonian physics class. In fact, it kind of goes against some religious beliefs, that we have free will. Because, really, if everything in the universe IS purely mechanical then everything, once set in motion (in a purely Newtonian universe) would behave in a predictable way. Even your thoughts, being the result of a mechanical process, are predictable. Of course, once Quantum Mechanics enters your thinking, you can begin to question how predictable things really are. But on the macroscopic scale, most everything can be tracked from cause to effect.
I’m starting to think that it’s a phrase that doesn’t mean anything other than “it’s something I can say when something bad happens to another person, and I can’t think of anything that would ACTUALLY be comforting. “Yeah, your Grandmother died but at least you still have your health”. “Yeah, you are sick, but at least you have a good doctor”. “Yeah, your doctor is a quack, but at least you know that now.”
Things happen, some of those things are bad. And that’s about it. If you need to know the reason, on the macroscopic scale, odds are it was just physics. I doubt that would be comforting to a lot of people. But it does make me feel better.