Knowing what to say to someone at a funeral who is grieving is difficult. Due to the painfulness of losing a loved one, people will often either avoid the grieving person or try to explain their loss.
The phrase “everything happens for a reason” is commonly spoken to grieving individuals or those who have experienced a tragedy. However, such a phrase is not helpful to the grieving individual for numerous reasons.
This phrase is not found in the Bible and is not completely true. Likewise, when someone speaks such words, they are offering a simplistic answer to a complex question tied in with real grief.
Biblical examples of people seeking to explain another person’s suffering proved to be wrong and extremely unhelpful. Finally, for the believer who is seeking to comfort their hurting friends, there is a better way than telling them that “everything happens for a reason.”
What Is the Origin of the Phrase 'Everything Happens for a Reason'?
In basic logic, the phrase “everything happens for a reason” is true since everything has a cause and effect. However, how the phrase is used when given to hurting individuals is not necessarily true or helpful.
When spoken to grieving individuals, the person offering these words is basically telling the individual that their loss of a loved one happened to bring about something good in their life.
Although the person offering these words often mean well, the grieving individual may get the impression that God wanted and caused their loved one to die.
The Bible does not contain the phrase “everything happens for a reason.” This phrase finds its origin in Aristotle who taught that everything happens due to the cause-and-effect model (Jeremy Sherman, "'Everything happens for a reason’: Simple phrase opens worm-can of wonder,” Psychology Today).
Over time people have added in a philosophical meaning, which can be ambiguous. Most Christians who have used the phrase use it to mean that ultimately everything happens according to God’s will and for His good purposes (Romans 8:28). Other religions have also utilized the phrase, such as Buddhism with its teaching of karma.
The Lord God can use bad situations for His good, but this should not be twisted or misinterpreted to mean that God will cause bad things to bring about good. God is so awesome that He can use terrible situations for His good purposes (Genesis 50:20), but He never causes bad to happen.
The Lord is completely perfect and cannot cause evil (1 John 1:5). Death is unnatural and is the result of sin in the world (Romans 5:12). People dying was not part of God’s original intention for humanity but was a result of the fall of man (Genesis 2:17).
The Example of Job
When Job experienced grief and suffering due to the death of his children and loss of livestock, his “friends” offered numerous explanations and solutions to what he had experienced. Job’s friends claimed he had sinned, which is why he had experienced suffering (Job 4:7-8).
They urged Job to leave his sinful ways so that God would relent in punishment (Job 5:17-18; 8:5-7). These friends also tried to explain the death of Job’s children by claiming that his children had committed sin, which is why they died (Job 8:4).
Although the phrase is not used, Job’s friends would likely have chosen to tell Job, “Everything happens for a reason.”
In reply to these simplistic and unbiblical explanations to his suffering, Job told them, “I have heard many things like these; you are miserable comforters, all of you!” (Job 16:2).
His friends thought they were comforting Job by explaining his loss, but their methods were not effective. Better comfort and consolation were offered when Job’s friends silently sat with him in ashes for seven days (Job 2:12-13).
Likewise, telling a grieving individual that the death of their loved one will eventually bring about something good or that it was part of God’s plan dismisses their grief as insignificant or invalid.
A person who has just lost a loved one does not need their sadness pushed to the side or explained away as if their grief does not matter. Instead, there are more effective and biblical ways to respond to a grieving friend.
A Better Response to a Grieving Friend
A consoling and biblical way to respond to a grieving friend is simply to be with them in their sadness. Crying with them or just sitting with them is often what a grieving friend needs rather than an explanation.
A friend can be much more helpful by being present with the bereaved individual, just as Job’s friends were in the first week after the loss of his children. By doing this, the Christian helping their grieving friend will be obeying Romans 12:15, “Mourn with those who mourn” (NIV).
Another way a believer can respond to a friend who lost a loved one is to do a physical act of kindness for them. Christians are called to love one another (John 13:35), and a way to do this is to show one’s love through action (1 John 3:18).
Bringing the bereaved individual and their family a meal or groceries can be a tangible way to show compassion and sympathy. Offering to clean the house, mow the lawn, babysit, or watch their pets are all other ways to display Christian love.
These actions mean a lot to those who are hurting since they often need help with everyday tasks during the early days after the death of a loved one.
In addition to being present and offering help for everyday tasks, Christians can also speak comforting words to those who are grieving without having to resort to saying, “Everything happens for a reason.” Affirming one’s continuing presence and love for the person can be helpful.
Also, reminding the person that God is with them can also be comforting. Multiple Bible verses are relevant to times of grief, such as Psalm 23, which speaks of God’s presence in the valley of death. Psalm 34:18 can also provide comfort during difficult times, by reminding the person that “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (NIV).
Finally, believers should talk about Heaven and the future resurrection without trying to dismiss a person’s grief. Jesus spoke clearly about being the Resurrection and the Life, while also weeping with Mary at Lazarus’ funeral (John 11:25, 32-35). Believers should always speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
A Challenging but Worthy Effort
Providing comfort to a person who has lost a loved one is a challenging task. The situation may feel awkward and uncomfortable. However, for the Christian who is seeking to be biblical in their approach, offering consolation is a challenging but worthy effort.
Instead of saying, “Everything happens for a reason,” which dismisses a person’s grief, believers should instead be there for the grieving individual, show love in tangible ways, and remind their friend that God is with them in their pain. Christians cannot take the painful sorrow away, but they can come alongside the bereaved brother or sister to mourn with them.
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Sophia Bricker is a freelance writer who enjoys researching and writing articles on biblical and theological topics. In addition to contributing articles about biblical questions as a contract writer, she has also written for Unlocked devotional. Holding a Bachelor of Arts in Ministry and currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Ministry, she is passionate about the Bible and her faith in Jesus. When she isn’t busy studying or writing, Sophia enjoys spending time with family, reading, drawing, and gardening.