A couple of things happened in the Olar family earlier this week that set the cogs and gears turning and rattling in my strange brain. They were the sort of minor annoyances of a hectic life that somehow manage to resolve themselves in neat ways.

A couple of things happened in the Olar family earlier this week that set the cogs and gears turning and rattling in my strange brain. They were the sort of minor annoyances of a hectic life that somehow manage to resolve themselves in neat ways.


First, my wife forgot to buy more milk, so we barely had enough for the kids’ breakfast cereal the next morning. After taking the kids to school, she stopped by a nearby store to get a jug of milk. It wasn’t where we usually buy our milk, but as it happened, this store had flyswatters for sale.


Now, she’d been trying for a while to find a new flyswatter to replace the one we broke while battling a swarm (not really) of houseflies this summer, but the stores where we usually shop only stocked flyswatters during the warmer seasons. If she hadn’t forgotten to buy milk the night before, she wouldn’t have happened upon those flyswatters.


Then on picture re-take day, my wife forgot to send our shy daughter’s undesired proof back to school. I had to leave work for a while to pick up the proof and take it to school, where I remained for about a half an hour encouraging our daughter to smile for the camera. If my wife hadn’t forgotten the proof, we probably would have ended up with another picture of an unhappy girl.


“You see? Everything happens for a reason,” my wife said. I have no doubt about it, since it’s just one of those Christian things to trust in what the Founding Fathers called “Providence” — the assurance that God gives us what we need, has our best interests at heart, and never causes or allows anything that won’t somehow work out for our good.


Of course, that’s really easy to say, and to believe, when you’re talking about being in the right place and at the right time to find that flyswatter you need or to put a smile on a little girl’s face.


But when it’s some tragedy or disaster or terrible injustice, the words “everything happens for a reason” can sound foolish, unspeakably naive, even offensive. Do you really want to tell a mother who has lost her baby, “There’s a good reason for this”? Or the father who has to bury his son fallen in battle? Or the abused child? Or the rape victim? Or . . . well, you get the idea.


An unimaginable number of really awful things happen every day. Isn’t it more likely that “everything happens for a reason” is just a cheap and easy way to try to impose some sense and meaning upon things that are fundamentally senseless and meaningless? Aren’t we just trying to comfort and reassure ourselves against all the terrors and traumas of life?


Even more, can we really trust in the goodness and omnipotent providence of a God who allows so much evil?


Those are serious and legitimate questions, and although I think there are good answers for them, I don’t say those answers are necessarily satisfying or always convincing. For instance, in answer to what philosophers and theologians call the Problem of Evil, St. Augustine said, “Since God is the highest good, he would not allow any evil to exist in his works, unless his omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil.”


This doesn’t justify any of the evil things we do to each other and to ourselves, and it doesn’t make tragedy and catastrophe any less painful or horrific, but it does allow for a way in which even our worst failings and offenses can somehow have a meaning besides, “(Excrement) happens.” That’s one of the things Christians see in the crucifixion of Jesus: a redemptive meaning and purpose even in the midst of hateful, shameful abuse, pain, death and failure.


Still, whether we’ll ever know the meaning or purpose of any particular experience, that’s something else. We can’t ever prove that there is (or can be) a good reason for everything, but we can at least believe it.


Like it says in Gordon Lightfoot’s song, “The Wherefore and the Why” — “Then all at once it came to me / I saw the wherefore / And you can see it if you try. / It’s in the sun above / It’s in the one you love / You’ll never know the reason why.”


Not now, anyway.


Jared Olar may be reached at jolar@pekintimes.com.