“It was meant to be.”
“The Universe wanted me to….”
“I was supposed to learn something from that.”
“There are no coincidences.”
“There’s a reason for everything.”
These statements are nearly universal, and there is no pattern to them. Atheists, believers, liberals and conservatives, and people characterized as either spiritual or not use some version of these statements. Many (I would say most) believe in some form of fate, destiny, providence, or another form of external manipulative power.
However, rarely do people talk about the implications of these sayings. Thinking about the reality described by these statements is stunning in many respects.
First, “It” in the phrase “It was meant to be,” and “Everything” in “there’s a reason for everything,” refer to any and every event. In most uses, the events to which “it” and “everything” point are positive in some way: the birth of a child, the purchase of a nice car, the landing of a great new job, and even a date with an attractive, interesting person. Most of the time people would not possibly include EVERYthing because that would mean assigning meaning or reason to things like the Holocaust, Pol Pot killing fields, and the 9-11 terrorist event.
Second, in every case, the phrases strongly imply an intelligence behind the events as indicated by the words “meant” and “reason.” However, the inanimate world is not conscious or able to plan. It’s ironic that people sometimes accord cognitive ability to the Universe as in “the Universe wanted me to have that car.” Wanting and desiring are intelligent processes. “Reason” and “mean” point to purpose and benefit, yet, “senseless” is the word that is most often assigned to negative events such as the Holocaust and the 9-11 terrorist attack. An event cannot have a “reason” while at the same time being “senseless.” Those are mutually exclusive states.
Third, events that are planned or meant are complex and connected to other events. For example, a friend of mine once said their purchase of an antique clock overseas was “meant to be.” Meaning, in this case, means design or planning. The existence of the little wooden clock meant that a particular tree had to be planted and grow to maturity so that it’s wood could be harvested for the clock it was “meant” to be a part of. A craftsman would have to be born decades before, trained to be a clockmaker and thereby be able to create and craft the clock. After the clock was created, it had to be protected from destruction for all those decades before it appeared in the clock shop. And then when it did appear in the clock shop, the clock had to sit on the shelf, unsold, until my friend purchased it, etc. etc. It becomes ridiculous when you think about how much exterior control has to be exercised for each event we experience.
Fourth, when EVERYTHING has a reason, we have no freedom to judge or reject events. A car the “universe wanted you to have” is no different in value or significance than a genocide in a foreign country or Assad barrel-bombing his people. According to this way of thinking, both events have meaning or reason.
My experience has been that people love to say that “God wanted them to have the house” but they would never say that the stabbing of a pedestrian on a sidewalk was equally God’s will. Self-interest is often the filter through which we send our judgments of a thing’s value. I like that new car so the Universe must have wanted me to have it. But who has the courage to say the Universe wanted me to have cancer or for Hitler to rise to power?
Fifth, if EVERYTHING is reasonable and meaningful, then there is no good and evil, and we have no way to think about things like rape, murder, greed, cruelty, etc. If EVERYTHING is meant to be, so are these things just named. If I say that the Universe fates my life, then I have I have to either accept it or rage against it. Many people believe that there are good and bad forces at work in our world, and they are able to separate good and bad events in their thinking.
Finally, believing that an intentional force meticulously controls all history robs individuals of their responsibility. Twenty years ago a friend of mine said his unmarried sister believed that if she got pregnant it was meant to be. In other words, an invisible force wanted her to get pregnant, therefore the sister believed she had no choice in the matter. It is impossible to resist an invisible force that “reasons” what is to happen to you.
Believing that EVERYTHING has a reason, removes one’s freedom to choose which events are meaningful or meaningless.
Faith in God has a unique point of view with regard to all this. First of all, God recognized how screwed up the Creation was vis-a-vis His original intentions for it. So God set about to rectify and redeem the Creation, culminating in the coming of Jesus, his death, and his resurrection. God is altogether good and stands over against the Evil that seeks to enslave and destroy the creation. Evil does not come from God. Nor does Pol Pot, racism, the Oklahoma City bombing, and every other evil in the world.
This is incredibly comforting to me. I much prefer to believe in Good versus Evil rather than an impassible force governs the world and assigns vague meaning to the events of our lives.