Does everything happen for a reason?

Throughout May and June we will be having a series of reflections shared by Michael Petrow. Michael is a scholar of Origen, who was a brilliant early Christian theologian from the second century. Even though Origen’s name has been tarnished with the label of heresy, his writing has had as much impact on Christianity as Augustine and Aquinas. In this series Michael is going to share with us some of Origen’s timeless wisdom and relate it to our complicated modern day lives.

Michael is also a spiritual director and a scholar of early Christian mysticism and depth psychology. He currently lives in New Mexico where he works with The Center for Action and Contemplation as well as The Guild for Spiritual Guidance.

I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did!


The Origenal idea I want to consider today is whether EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON. Origen believed that one day we could and would

“learn the judgment of divine providence about each individual thing; about things which happen to [hu]men[s], that they happen not by chance or by accident, but by a reason so carefully thought out, and so high above us, that it does not overlook even the number of hairs on our head, and not of the saints only but probably of all [hu]men[s]; the scope of which providence extends to even ‘two sparrows’ which are sold for a penny, whether sparrows is to be understood spiritually or literally (FP2.6.5).”

And of course he invited that this understanding–or even the trust that this perspective is coming–yields exquisite results. For once we “come to know the reasons for all things that happen, [our] soul can never be in any way disquieted or admit any feeling of sadness, nor is anything affrighted” (FP2.7.4).
Now I both love and hate this idea, I agree with it and disagree with it, terribly. I’ve seen it abused when people tell others that their suffering is all a part of God’s plan. I’ve also seen people rush to bad ideas and toxic beliefs in order to make sense of a terrible situation.
Yet, I cannot fully shake the notion of the Abandonment to Divine Providence, or the Sacrament of the Present Moment, as another mystic put it. But does that make me the victim of Divine action or a mere puppet?
Interestingly enough Origen also believed we lived in a cosmos in which humans had total freedom and the LOGOS or divine plan did not in any way over rule that freedom… even though he still thought that in the end all things would work together to result in the blessedness of all things.
Not to get too nerdy, but since his time theologians have devolved into dualistic debates about sovereignty and free will, but he didn’t see any conflict ironically. Perhaps he thought a bit like the Process theologians, or those who think of the the Divine as Omni-Competent, instead of omniscient or omnipotent. The idea here is that God is less about making everything happen, and more so using everything that happens for good. (True Love requires the giving of freedom after all, and that means we live in a free and sometimes chaotic cosmos.) My fav theologian says that Love overcomes power precisely but not resorting to power.
Now if that is true, it has some massive implications for us. It might mean that living in the image of that Divinity we also need to shift our perspective from asking WHY DID THIS HAPPEN TO ME?–to HOW CAN I MAKE EVERYTHING MEANINGFUL? Or better yet, how can I think about this and act in it in a way that contributes to the blessedness of all things? The alchemy of life, and perhaps the gift of divine love is that we participate in this process of transforming great suffering into great love and meaning. Maybe? What do you think? Does it matter?


If you enjoyed this article, please share it on your favourite social media or sign up for our email list to receive weekly reflections. If you want to learn more about Celtic Christianity and Contemplation, check out some of the free videos from our virtual retreat: Sacred Spaces: Contemplation and the Celtic Spirit.

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