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The Best for Everyone: The Gospel According to Oprah

A couple of decades ago, before I decided to live life without the wisdom of Oprah, she often said something that puzzled me. “Everything happens for a reason.”


Maybe they’re just semantics, but to me if something “happens for a reason” it requires thought, planning and/or justification. It requires a driving force. And I could never figure out what cosmic soul decided, for example, that the holocaust was a grand idea. OK, besides Hitler. But I’m thinking that Oprah wasn’t talking about him as being in charge of the “reason.”

I was reminded of this past mystification today in Relief Society. The lesson was about faith, I think. Or some gospel related topic, I’m pretty sure. Anyway, one of the women in the ward made this comment, “Whenever something happens, it’s the best for everyone.” She related how her son had died some time ago. According to her understanding, his death was the best thing for him at that time. But it wasn’t just the best for him, but the best for everyone. She was moved by the idea that God “sees all the intricacies of every situation and makes sure that what happens is the best for everyone, not just one person or another, but everyone. It doesn’t help one person and harm another. It’s always helps everyone.”

This is one of the times when my eyes begin darting around the room to see if I’m the only one squirming. I see some knowing nods, some sympathetic looks, some dabbing of tissue to the eyes, and a few people staring blankly at the board, but no one else looking confuse about what chapter in the Journal of Discourses taught this “principle.”

While hesitant to declare myself equally qualified with Oprah to proclaim universal doctrine, I can’t see how this fits with the restored gospel. As far as I can tell, we simply do not believe that God micromanages the universe. We don’t believe that he only allows things to happen that are “the best” for all those involved. In fact, as stinky as it might be, he allows really horrendous things to happen to even the most noble, decent, righteous, innocent people in the whole world. And he does it even when it makes everything completely wrong.

The gospel according to Alison says that lots of things happen for no reason. Lightening strikes, cars slide on the ice, diseases spread. Or at least no good reason. Mean kids pick on misfits, people cheat on their spouses, thugs murder innocent people.

Are these really the “best for everyone”? I can’t bring myself to believe so. And I’ve yet to hear an explanation for how orchestrating the murder of six million Jews was the best thing for Hitler in the long run.

What I do believe, however, is that whatever curves are thrown at us in this life, we can choose how we respond. We can use even horrendous situations to become closer to God. We can show, whatever our situation, just how good or bad we can be. And God largely leaves that choice and even the general flow of life up to us.

{ 21 comments… add one }
  • nanacarol August 27, 2008, 9:44 am

    Wow-very powerful and interesting pondering!!!! This one will take some thought. You have brought up good points. I do find it hard to believe that what happens like tonadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes can be good for everyone. Very interesting pondering material!!!

  • mandyp August 27, 2008, 11:11 am

    Alison- I have to agree with you. I don’t see how some things in life are good for everyone. For example–when somebody chooses to abuse their child how is that good for anybody??
    From what I understand God lets bad things happen because we have our agency, and then he provides a way for us to “erase” those actions that aren’t in line with His gospel.
    Thanks for this article, it was very powerful.

  • east-of-eden August 27, 2008, 11:31 am

    Have you ever thought that “the good” might only be known to the Lord, and that we might not know the reason for things in this life? I do believe that everything happens for a reason, even if I don’t understand it. The principle of “but if not” comes into play for me here….but if I don’t see the good, I’m not going to blame or curse, or lose my testimony over it. I do think this is where faith comes in. We have faith in Jesus Christ and that all he has promised us will come to pass, and that all that happens in mortality is for a reason.

  • delmar August 27, 2008, 11:48 am

    But it wasn ?t just the best for him, but the best for everyone. She was moved by the idea that God sees all the intricacies of every situation and makes sure that what happens is the best for everyone, not just one person or another, but everyone. It doesn ?t help one person and harm another. It ?s always helps everyone. ?

    I hesitate to say that I probably fully agree with you Alison…but I think I do.

    The quote above from the lady in your RS is interesting. First she said “best” for everyone. Then she said always “helps” everyone. I think the prior is a load of yuckiness….NOTHING is “best” for everyone. HOWEVER….saying everything that happens “helps” everyone is something I think I believe. Whatever it is or whatever is going on will surely help everyone effected in some aspect…..if only to teach them a lesson. A lesson on patience, a lesson on humility, a lesson on compassion, a lesson on finances, a lesson on grief. There is always a lesson to be learned from EVERYTHING, sure…but that doesn’t make it an enjoyable or good lesson. It doesn’t make it a lesson people WANTED to learn at that moment. I fully disagree that some persons lesson won’t harm another person. Sure it’ll teach the other person some other lesson, but it truly could bring harm to someone else along with that lesson.

  • Alison Moore Smith August 27, 2008, 11:49 am

    Thanks for your comments so far.

    eden, where has he promised that all things happen for a reason? And how does this not play into the idea of predestination?

  • Ray August 27, 2008, 1:29 pm

    I believe everything happens for a reason. The Holocaust happened because Hitler was a screwed up psycho; thousands are killed in natural disasters because we live in a world where natural disasters happen; young mothers are killed leaving children and husbands behind because idiots drink and drive; children get sexually abused because some men are evil, and others get hooked on porn then act out fantasies, and some wives withhold sex for extreme lengths of time as punishment and/or control; people lose jobs because of economic downturn or greed; etc.

    I do NOT believe that everything that happens is what is “best” for everyone. I can’t fathom that concept; I simply don’t get it.

  • JanetWalgren August 27, 2008, 2:41 pm

    We have our agency, others do too. God allows bad things to happen to good people and good things to happen to bad people. How we choose to deal with it determines a good or bad eternal result. This line of thinking follows doctrine and would in my mind refute the statement that “everything that happens is what is ‘best’ for everyone.” I think that statement is absolutely false.

  • east-of-eden August 27, 2008, 3:25 pm

    I never said it played into predestination….and I do believe that faith and hope are about believeing in the promises that the Lord gives us, that all his blessings and wonderments are there for us, that he does know and understand how events affect us. But I also believe that he’s not going to make us react one way or the other in any given situation, that’s where agency comes in.

    In my experience, and I am looking thru my own looking glass here….the reason I believe this to be the case is because I believe the Lord usues the events and happenings in our lives to make his works manifest in our lives, and to move us to where He needs us to be. I can choose to fit and fuss over the bad things, or I can choose to learn and grow and say, “Ok, thy will be done.” I’ve found that to be be case as we’ve attempted at “family building” as just the most recent example of things….

    As I was thinking about this after I made my first comment, the story from the Book of Mormon came up where Alma and Amulek’s families and friends are being tossed into the fires. They wanted to stop that from happening, but the Lord told them not to so that their blood would stand as a witness against the perpetrators of the evil. Right there we can see how all things happen for a reason. Do you think that the Lord does not weep for the victims of child abuse and such? Of course he does, but he will use that suffering to meter out his judgements, his wrath, his purposes, and the victims of bad things will have all things restored to them — in the time of the Lord.

    Another example, why was Nephi commanded to make a second set of plated? He didn’t know at the time, why? No, he didn’t. Did he think, “Hey I’ve just done this, I dont’ want to do this again, I need to go hunt” But he did, and because of that, the Lord was able to take the tragedy of Martin Harris loosing the 116 pages of the BoM, and make something of it. Thru this the Lord was also able to teach Joseph Smith many valuable things as well, these things helped get Joseph to where the Lord needed him to be as a prophet.

    Finally, you asked, what good came of the Holocaust? On the surface, nothing. But you can see what the world did in the wake of that tragedy. The modern nation of Israel was created, thus fufilling ancient prophecy. Jews were given a safe haven to live and worship. There is a foothold of freedom in a part of the world where tyranny is the norm. The world is now more aware of genocide and is more willing to act when it happens (and I realize that all cases of genocide are not acted upon, which is tragedy.) The US was brought out of isolation to be a leader in bringing freedom to all people.

    The concept that the Lord knows all that happnes, and is in total control and does let things happen for whatever reasons He has, is a great comfort to me, and I can’t see how it would work any other way….

  • spitfire August 27, 2008, 3:30 pm

    Believe it or not, I tend to lean towards Oprah’s remark “everything happens for a reason”…hold on, let me finish. All I’m saying is people make choices, conscious or subconscious that are a “force” by which “things” happen. The car skidding on the ice may or may not be a result of a person who chose to drive in a bad ice storm when they shouldn’t be on the road. Or it is the response of “nature” to a situation i.e. tires on ice. I just think things don’t automatically go “into play” or motion without some kind of stimulas (choice perhaps).

    Now as to the comment made by the sister regarding the death of her son, I don’t think things happen for the “best” of EVERYONE. Perhaps this is the perception this mother has taken to deal with her child’s death or it is HER interpretation of the gospel. But I would be like Alison, looking around & squirming. I can’t quite get my head around the EVERYONE part.

    We are just finishing up a 8 week study of the Constitution & the Founding Fathers. Obviously, gospel insights became a part of our discussion. Clearly, the founding of this country & it’s subsequent documents (Constitution, etc) & government was the BEST for everyone, especially for the Restoration of the Gospel. At the same time, these same freedoms have allowed others to worship the way they choose to, etc. So in a global sense, I can see certain things, like the Restoration of the Gospel as being what was/is BEST for everyone, but on a smaller level, can’t agree with the greiving mother….

  • Alison Moore Smith August 27, 2008, 4:51 pm

    Posted By: RayI believe everything happens for a reason. The Holocaust happened because Hitler was a screwed up psycho;

    Ray, sorry to be unclear with the “Hitler being in charge” statement. The implication from Oprah is that everything that happens is the WILL of God or the cosmos or the universal power. It is HOW IT SHOULD BE. Thus, it relates to the “best for everyone” statement because everything that happens is HOW IT SHOULD BE. It’s how God wants it. It’s part of “the plan.”

    Can I use a horrible tragedy as a catalyst to become better, to serve others, to right wrongs? Sure. But DID THE EVENT HAPPEN ***TO BRING ABOUT*** that change? Only sometimes.

    Maybe with that clarification, none of you will disagree??? Let me know.

  • Alison Moore Smith August 27, 2008, 4:52 pm

    Oh, and yes Spitfire. I believe this woman used that reasoning to deal with a horrible tragedy. I’m glad it gives her peace, but I really didn’t like having this “taught” as some kind of gospel truth.

  • facethemusic August 27, 2008, 7:55 pm

    I agree with you 100% Alison. I also agree that often, people use the notion of “everything happening for some Divine reason” or because “it’s the best for everyone” is nothing more than a coping skill– a very understandable one, of course. If they believe it happened because God WILLED it to happen, then they can find some comfort in that, and not feel like it happened for NOTHING, no eternal purpose at all– which for some reason is a thought that is more painful to them.
    I DO believe that when we RESPOND in a healthy way, in a wise way, in a compassionate way, etc– then our response can bring something positive out of a negative situation.
    The murders in the Amish community come to mind. That man went into an Amish community, raped and sodomized those girls then killed them. Naturally, their families and community were heartbroken. But they didn’t allow their pain to swallow them up. In fact, they showed kindness and compassion to the murderer’s wife and family.
    Did that incident happen for a reason–one willed of God? Absolutely not. God does not WILL evil, or CAUSE people to do something against His will. He does’nt WANT the evil to happen. But he will ALLOW people to exercise their own free agency, even if they choose evil. But he doesn’t CAUSE them, drive them, move them, or will them to do evil.
    Additionally, the fact that God didn’t step in and STOP it from happening, doesn’t mean that he WANTED it to happen. We all know that sometimes, He DOES intervene. When He does, it’s for a purpose that we may or may not understand. We don’t always understand why he intervenes in some cases, and not in others. But we trust that HE knows– and I think that’s what others here have alluded to as well. I think alot of it has to do with whether or not we’ve accomplished what we were sent to do. Even if it means JUST coming long enough to gain our mortal body. But, that doens’t mean that the very SECOND you accomplish whatever it is we were sent to do, that you’re going to hit by a Mack truck. And obviously, not all of us DO accomplish what we were sent to do. There are plenty of people who choose to pursue evil in this life, and DON’T accomplish what they could or should have.
    I experienced this kind of situation in my own family.
    I have a 2 year old nephew that drowned in my uncle’s pool– 12 years ago this summer. He’d have turned 14 this year.
    He was left in the care of my cousins– who at the time were 12 and 14 if I remember correctly. My uncle has a very large dug in concrete pool in his backyard.
    The 2 year old’s parents ( one of my brothers and his wife) , grandparents and my Aunt and Uncle all went to dinner, and my two cousins were supposed to babysit the 2 year old.
    Well, the boys had friends over and they were all in the driveway playing basketball. (And my cousins didn’t have any younger sibilings and were rarely ever around babies or toddlers- so they really had NO idea how to care fora 2 year old, how cautious you have be, how they get into things, wander off, etc.) None of the adults sent the friends home, but rather left for the restaurant , with the older boys all playing basketball in the driveway. You can see where this is going.
    Naturally, the boys weren’t keeping a close eye on the 2 year old– they were busy playing basketball with their friends. When they DID realize he was gone, they looked in the pool, but the pool had one of those vinyl-like covers over it, and they didn’t see him, so they kept looking around the yard, went in the house, etc. All the while, the baby WAS in the pool, but they couldn’t see him because he was at the bottom, twisted up in the cover, which was still stretched out across much of the pool. When they finally found him, one of the friends ran to his house and got his mother, who was a nurse–911 was called, etc. The nurse tried CPR– when the LifeFlight helicopter got there (they live out in the country) they worked on him on the chopper– but he was already gone.
    Now the thing is– all this happened while the adults were still on their way to the restaurant in town. Maybe a 15-20 minute drive at most? So it happened almost IMMEDIATELY after they left the house. When they walked into the restaurant and gave their names for the reservation, there were given a message about what had happened and to go the ER.
    The rest is just as horrible as you can imagine it. They got to the hospital and the baby had already been pronounced dead. Absolutely tragic and horrible for our family.
    What was uncomfortable for me, was a couple years later, when I heard my sister in law’s thoughts on the whole thing. Very different from my own and I couldn’t really say anything because I knew it was her way to cope and I didn’t want to hurt her feelings by countering what she was saying.
    In her view, this was supposed to happen. Her thought was that there was a nurse right next door (out in the country though, so not RIGHT next door) who worked on him, all those doctors, etc– if they couldn’t revive him, then God must have WANTED him to die. Plus, my brother DID give him a blessing (he’d already passed though) and that didn’t work either, and that was the clincher to her– if God wanted him to live, he would have lived.
    I didn’t have a problem with that necessarily. I DO agree that Heavenly Father could have stepped in, done some sort of miracle and spared the life of my nephew. But my problem came when she said, “He was MEANT to die, otherwise Heavenly Father would have saved him. And if he didn’t die that day in the pool then it would have been something else. Maybe we wouldn’t have left him at their house, maybe we would have taken him with us, and we would have gotten in a car accident or something. Or if he didn’t die that day, maybe it would have been the next week in a tornado, maybe he would have gotten really sick…” and she kept naming all these other plausible ways that her son would have died, even saying that if he’d been spared THAT day, he’d still have been taken from her the next week or so, in some other fashion , as though God had been plotting the death of her son. Like Heavenly Father plots and plans our deaths.
    “Okay, on Monday at 6:30pm ______ will get hit by a car as he’s crossing the street” Then Monday comes and the guy decides NOT to cross that street, but to go somewhere else and Heavenly Father says, “Dog gone it. Well, we’ll try next Monday, I’ll send a tornado.” Then Monday comes, it gets a little cooler than God planned (??) and the storm never brews up. Divine plans twarted again. So He causes a car accident which normally would kill someone, but those pesky doctors save his life! Back to the drawing board….
    At one point she said that nothing that anyone could have done would have saved her son. Her son was meant to die. It was “God’s will”.
    She had plausibility after plausibility– it almost sounded like she thought an angel or some divine force had led him to pool and shoved him in to meet his fate. She didn’t actually SAY that of course… but it had that flavor, with her insistence that it was MEANT to happen and nothing anyone could have done would have stopped it.
    My thoughts were entirely different. There were things that could have been done to prevent it.
    My uncle could have had a locked fence around the pool.
    He could have sent the friends home , so that his boys could give their full attention to the baby.
    My brother and his wife could have done that.
    The grandparents could have done that.
    Knowing there was an in-ground pool, the boys could have been told to stay in the house while the adults were gone and they could have been given that direction by any of the six adults.
    Despite that, my SIL’s thought was that even if it HAD been prevented, he’d have died that day in some other way, or the next day, the next week, etc.
    For me, it was simply a combination of circumstances that led to an awful conclusion. And the fact that the circumstances COULD have been different still doesn’t make anyone responsible. The same thing could have happened even if the adults were there. A 2 year old can get away from you in a flash. You turn your head for a minute and they’re gone, or they’re throwing your cell phone down the toilet, or whatever. That’s WHY we have to be careful. But even very conscientious parents have to go hunting for a wandering toddler every now and then.
    An adult may have missed the fact that he was caught up in that vinyl covering the same way the boys missed it. So it’s not like the same thing couldn’t have happened if the adults were there.
    For the most part, Heavenly Father lets things happen in their natural order.
    If you walk onto a busy highway, you will get hit by a car, UNLESS Heavenly Father steps in and interrupts the natural order for some greater purpose. But if you get hit and die, it’s not because He WILLED you to walk onto that highway and get hit. It’s because you walked out there, which resulted in you getting hit, and the natural order of things occurred. Either the injuries are ones you can recover from or they’ll kill you.
    I really do think that the kind of thoughts expressed by the sister in your RS class really do come from a place of pain LOOKING for comfort and relief– and believing that everything happened just the way God wanted it to– like it was all PLANNED by Him, brings them peace.
    It’s certainly understandable.

  • spitfire August 27, 2008, 7:56 pm

    Alison~I don’t agree with O. in her interpretation as you explained it …just wanted to make sure I “declared” myself….I just think there is a force, good, bad, or even God that puts things into play, but it is not always for everyone….as O. implies or states. I define “force” as our choices, nature, even God’s hand…..

    The implication from Oprah is that everything that happens is the WILL of God or the cosmos or the universal power. It is HOW IT SHOULD BE. Thus, it relates to the “best for everyone” statement because everything that happens is HOW IT SHOULD BE. It’s how God wants it. It’s part of “the plan.”

  • facethemusic August 27, 2008, 8:06 pm

    As if I haven’t already said enough– but I just thought I should add that I didn’t necessarily disagree with my SIL that Heavenly Father “wanted” my nephew home. Maybe the reason Heavenly Father DIDN’T intervene was BECAUSE He wanted him home. We even discussed the idea that possibly, e was brought home so that he could work on my grandmother, and soon after, my father, in the Spirit World. Maybe God had greater work for him to do THERE than HERE.
    My problem was simply with the idea that God plots and plans our deaths and no matter what the circumstances, no matter if there’s personal responsibility, if it’s a freak accident, something completely out of our control etc, that there’s nothing we can do about it, nothing we can do to prevent it. If God doesn’t “get us” on the first try, He’ll try again on another day with some other cause for our death.

  • agardner August 27, 2008, 8:51 pm

    Tracy, you put that very well, and I agree with you. And I’m sorry for the loss of your nephew. I’ve had a few similar experiences in my own family, and that’s my belief too. Things usually take their natural course without intervention from God. And while we may learn lessons from the difficulties we experience, it doesn’t mean that everything is for everyone’s best. I’ve had some things in my family (namely, suicides) which have definitely not been for the good of anyone.

  • mlinford August 28, 2008, 12:24 am

    I tend to think that some of this boils down to semantics or at least the limitations of language. When I read that comment in RS, I can’t help but think that she meant that all things can be for our good. I agree that it wasn’t such a good way to say it, but this to me is one of those topics that gets tricky because of the limitations of language. That, and the limitations of our view as mortals.

    But in a sense, everything DOES “happen the way God wants it to” simply because He wants us to learn from this experience called mortality, and that includes ans all the agency-driven, fall-driven, stupidity-driven, and ‘natural order of things’ driven things. And the Atonement is so much bigger than anything ‘bad’ that I believe we will be simply astonished at the wisdom of it all, and how He was aware of every detail of our lives and made it possible for ashes to turn into beauty, even when our mortal minds could never comprehend how that could be possible, or how something as horrific as the Holocaust, for example, still had its place and that not one jot or tittle of our lives was left unnoticed and that the losses in mortality will be made up a million-fold in eternity. He doesn’t have to CAUSE it for it still to be able to turn to our best good, now and eternally, taking into consideration everything that He needs to consider. If every breath is a gift, if our “days are numbered” and our “years shall not be numbered less,” how can we not believe that all will work toward the maximum blessings that He can give within the balance of eternal laws of justice and mercy? I can’t believe otherwise.

    Don’t misunderstand; I think that Alison’s point about caution about what we declare are warranted, but I also think that we perhaps could give some room for patience when people try to articulate how they trust that the worst of the worse is still in God’s hands, and that because of the Savior, ashes can be turned to beauty. It’s just hard to capture it all, imo, because of the difficulty of really understanding and articulating how God’s omnipotence and omniscience interface with the fallen nature of our existence and our world, and the core need for agency in the plan. And because we simply cannot comprehend God’s ways or what God uses to determine what it means to have something be for our best good.

  • mlinford August 28, 2008, 12:27 am

    p.s. As such, I think we do need to be careful about trying too hard to explain the detail of why things happen (“Maybe she needed to convert great-grandma Ethel on the other side”). I think in the end, we are pretty clueless about the big picture, but we can try to learn a thing or two and mostly to learn to turn to the Savior, no matter what.

    Elder Eyring once said that God plays n-dimensional chess. We see something happen and think we understand it. “Ah! He moved that pawn because….” We are limited-dimensional beings, and therefore fools, imo, to try to play that game. 🙂

  • Alison Moore Smith August 28, 2008, 12:32 am

    Great post, Tracy. Thank you for sharing, even if it’s horrifying to read. Amen, too, agardner.

    That is, I suppose, my general feeling. God let’s things happen as they will for the most part. Our test is dealing with that natural ebb and flow. His intervention is more the exception than the rule. I just wish I could figure out the secret of how to get a bit more of that in MY troubles. 🙂

  • facethemusic August 28, 2008, 8:51 am

    As such, I think we do need to be careful about trying too hard to explain the detail of why things happen (“Maybe she needed to convert great-grandma Ethel on the other side”). I think in the end, we are pretty clueless about the big picture, but we can try to learn a thing or two and mostly to learn to turn to the Savior, no matter what.

    I agree Michelle– that just happened to be one of the few things my SIL said that I could actually agree with. In her search to find a “reason” for it, to find peace in how God fit in to whole thing, it was the one thing that I felt was plausible.

  • Oregonian August 28, 2008, 9:46 am

    i agree mlinford. all the “need them as a missionary” is just hocus pocus. we don’t know and i bet God could do his thing with whomever he already has there. can’t see him saying “well just can’t possibly get aunt ethel pulled in unless Suzy Q gets hit by a bus tomorrow. guys see that she is flattened asap.”

  • mlinford August 28, 2008, 1:20 pm

    I’m somewhere in the middle on that, Oregonian. I do think that death is not a random thing to God, even if it ends up being a ‘freak’ accident that causes it in our view. If our days and breaths and years are known and all gifts from Him and if this mortality thing is so important, I still assume that somehow he’s in charge and will give us all the best opportunities possible given all the stuff that mortality includes (agency, natural processes, etc.).

    Elder Maxwell (if I’m remembering correctly) called death something like ‘the great transfer board’ or something like that. Just as we have specific missions here, and really can specifically touch and affect specific lives here, I can’t help but think that there are similar realities there. I just think we need to be careful about assuming we have it all figured out, because we just don’t. It’s impossible for us to know His ways, and that is important to acknowledge, imo. In the end, we acknowledge His will and hand in ALL things, and trust that He knows what is going on, and that can be enough. Our mortal need to know and understand it all is, imo, something we are supposed to learn to put on the altar and replace with trust in Him, regardless of the details of our trials.

    Easier said than done when all the mortal stuff comes into play. He doesn’t CAUSE others’ bad choices, for example, but that doesn’t mean He didn’t know they would happen and hasn’t made provisions for the best to come for each of us — the best possible eternal outcome.

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