Finding meaning in a random universe
We have a habit of saying, "everything happens for a reason." I don't think that this formulation of the way the universe operates, though superficially comforting, is very helpful. It leaves us looking for meaning in seemingly random events, including those that are on the surface quite terrible. It also causes us to look outside ourselves for explanations that are often unobtainable.
The fact is that many events in this physical universe of ours do not happen for any discernible reason. Even the minority of events that are directly attributable to human choices are as often as not due to random, ego-based impulse. It debases Spirit as well as ourselves to suggest Spirit is carrying out some cosmic agenda that is beyond our comprehension, and that every tragic event that we experience is designed to lead paradoxically to a greater good. We may even choose to abandon the spiritual path rather than accept the notion that Spirit callously imposes pain on us or other beings for reasons of its own. It may also lead us to passivity and fatalism to believe that current events have a cause that is in the past or "out there" somewhere. Better to recognize that events are mostly random and to seek elsewhere for meaning.
The whole notion of causation (and therefore "reasons") depends on the existence of time, of a past that has brought us to where we are and a future that will develop out of the present. Yet time is only a construct that human mind created to explain its limited comprehension. Spirit has no experience of causation because it knows no past nor future, only the eternal Now.
This does not imply that we who still live in a time-bound space should abandon the working hypothesis of causation. Before our spiritual awareness reaches a certain level, contemplating the lack of objective meaning in external circumstances may lead us only to despair and destructive behavior. Though we inhabit the physical universe only conditionally, in order to survive the experience and remain sane we need to impose order on it. It is important for us to realize, however, that such order is imposed by our minds and not by the workings of Spirit. Nor should we turn to fatalism, for we still have the power to create a loving, peaceful space around us and others through the manner in which we react to events.
Rather than affirm that everything happens for a reason, I would prefer to say that every experience presents us with a range of outcomes that are determined by how we choose to respond to it. What differentiates these responses from each other is their degree of consistency with Spirit. Some will have the effect of enhancing the loving relationships we have among ourselves and with Spirit; others will increase our separation. In the end this is what determines whether the event is perceived as having a positive or negative outcome. So, in a sense everything does happen for a reason, but the reason for everything is the same: to provide us with the opportunity to develop an ever more harmonious relationship with Spirit by learning to react to every situation with love and compassion.
This interpretation places the responsibility for our relationships with Spirit and its various manifestations squarely where it belongs: on each individual. It also refocuses our attention from the past to the present moment. All events carry the opportunity for us to react in ways that produce greater or lesser harmony between ourselves and Spirit. We may see events as "good" or "bad", but those terms have meaning only in relation to their effects in the physical universe. Since all physical things are impermanent, and time is only a way of constraining our view of the universe, physical effects have no significance compared to the way we choose to align ourselves in relation to Spirit.
We are defining our role in Spirit in every instant. Each moment presents the opportunity for greater love and harmony. We are constantly at choice, and the choices we make define not only ourselves, but our experience of the universe. In order to take advantage of the opportunity for choice we must remain mindful that there is more than one way to react to every situation, and be aware of what those choices are. The closer we choose to align ourselves with Spirit, the greater peace we will experience.
It may also be that the Universe works according to laws that we do not understand, and therefore do not recognize. For thoughts on the working of karma, see this post: Karma the Teacher