Menu Close

Is There a Silver Lining in Everything?

silver lining

Last night, Sherri Shepherd was a guest on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. Shepherd is an actress, comedian, author, and television personality. She told Noah that her goal was to make people happy. Unfortunately, she does so by lying to people about reality. She’s an Evangelical Christian, so she’s used to people lying to her about reality. She returned the favor on Noah’s show.

Shepherd wanted Noah and viewers to know that there is “a silver lining in everything.” As soon as Shepherd uttered this, I said “bullshit.” This worn-out trope suggests that no matter what you are going through in your life, good will come from it. This thinking is rooted in the Christian idea that God is intimately involved in our lives; that no matter what happens to us, he will make lemonade out of our lemons. Christians are told this over and over by their pastors, so much so that they believe it to be true. Instead of rationally examining their lives and the experiences of others and coming to the obvious conclusion that there’s not a silver lining in everything, they allow a cheap cliche to distort reality.

I see no silver lining in my mother’s suicide.

I see no silver lining in being sexually molested by my step-grandmother.

I see no silver lining in my sister-in-law’s tragic death in a motorcycle accident.

I see no silver lining in my suffering and pain.

I see no silver lining in diseased, starving children.

I see no silver lining in homelessness.

I see no silver lining in violence and war.

I see no silver lining for the families who lose children to school shootings.

I see no silver living for the families who lose their sons, daughters, and spouses to drug addiction.

I see no silver lining for 45,000 families this year who will lose a loved one to suicide.

I see no silver lining for the children who will be sexually molested by their pastors, teachers, and family members.

I see no silver lining for those who will writhe in excruciating pain before they die this year.

I see no silver lining for the former church member, one of whose sons is serving a life sentence for murder, another who committed suicide, and a daughter who died from cancer in her 20s. And the final indignity? Her husband died in his fifties.

I know scores of people who have greatly suffered. I see no silver linings for them outside of the fact they survived.

No, the “silver lining” is a myth. Life is cold, brutal, and hard. The Bible says that all things work together for good (for Christians anyway), but this is a lie. All things don’t necessarily work for good. That’s just not how life works. The best any of us can do is embrace and hold on to the few ropes life throws our way. I see no silver lining in my life. There’s no hope or promise for a better tomorrow. My pain and suffering are ever with me, and will be until I die. Yet, I don’t act on the impulse to end my life. Why? Those ropes I mentioned: Polly, my six children, my thirteen grandchildren, my siblings, and the work I do through this blog. I have tied knots on these ropes and I am holding on. Will these be enough for me in the future? I don’t know. I just know that for today they are enough.

Let me conclude this post with a quote from the late-great Barbara Ehrenreich:

We need to brace ourselves for a struggle against terrifying obstacles, both of our own making and imposed by the natural world. And the first step is to recover from the mass delusion that is positive thinking.


Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.


  1. Avatar
    Benny S

    Dear Sherri: I adore your sparkling and energetic personality, however please explain the “silver lining” to the Holocaust. And please don’t say “God works in mysterious ways.”

  2. Avatar

    This is a tangent to the subject, but I’ve concluded that I do better with my pain when I feel hopeful. Probably has to do with being more relaxed, so stress doesn’t trigger as many pain flares. Possibly this Christian woman feels hopeful over what she believes Jesus suffered, and then stress is a little reduced and so is pain.

    However, these types of Christians then use their hope to bludgeon the rest of us. (Well, God helped ME so I’m sure you will be fine.) But being hopeful doesn’t automatically make her empathetic. I just don’t know how this gulf can ever be bridged, between the evangelicals, the dedicated theocrats, and the rest of us.

    • Avatar
      Karen the rock whisperer

      There’s the hopefulness of, hey, statistically the odds are in my favor, I’ve learned over the years that my body adapts to pain, I did more than I thought I could yesterday, and I don’t hurt all that much (yet). Oh, and there was a political victory last night that suggests that all is not lost for a cause I support. That kind of hopefulness encourages me.

      The CHRIST HELPED ME AND HE’LL HELP YOU! cry does not rally me, it is not hopeful about my current existence, it invokes someone you can’t begin to demonstrate is a real force in the modern world, and so forth. It does not celebrate human resilience, civilization, creativity, science, etc., it bypasses them all. Don’t waste my time.

  3. Avatar

    I had the most awful example of this three weeks ago. I went to my family’s fundy church. It was founded by Joe, funded by him as he’s wealthy and is its hero. Sadly he’s developed dementia which has progressed rapidly. From the pulpit an Elder urged members to keep praying and visiting him in his Care Home as ‘he still loves to talk about the lord’ and other residents and their visitors are listening and ‘clearly interested in the conversations.’ What kind of a god rewards one of his most dedicated of followers with dementia as an evangelism tool? That’s not ‘mysterious ways,’ that’s monstrous. I asked how he was this week and, rather embarrassedly, a member told me that he could no longer receive visits from the women in the church as the progression of his dementia means that he now behaves inappropriately with females!!! Ain’t their god awesome?

  4. Avatar
    Merle Hertzler

    Ehrenreich’s book, Bright -Sided, is a good one. I read it years ago. We cannot simply ignore the pain around us by replacing it with an ersatz feeling that all is well. People are suffering real pain, and we need to admit that. Yes, we can try to make the best of what life offers us, but we need to be grounded in reality.

  5. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    Barbara Ehrenreich is one of my heroes. I miss her already.

    As toxic to the “silver lining” myth is its corollary: When one door closes, another opens. If that were true, death wouldn’t be final. And all those starving, suffering people would have a way out of their misery.

  6. Avatar

    Crap happens, and then we die. For a lot of us, there are numerous good things in between birth and death. But think of all the untold and forgotten millions who had horrible lives: people who were enslaved, people forced into sex work, people who starved to death, etc….the world has been brutal for many of its inhabitants.

  7. Avatar

    Not every gray cloud has a silver lining, but some do. Even in despair I think we should at least look for it. It reminds me of an interview I saw with Malala (Yousafzai) who was shot by Taliban because she went to school. It brought it home for me, someone who had been through so much, wasn’t defeated at all.

    (Hopefully, this doesn’t come off as annoyingly cheerful!)

  8. Avatar

    if someone had said that to my late mother-in-law she would have gone ballistic. Her childhood endured the depression. She married a soldier early in World War II; they had 4 children. the first died in infancy. two more were born before the war ended. after the war they had one more child. by the time those children were in school her husband was fighting in the Korean was. Over the next several years the third-born child became seriously ill and endured long hospitalization. Her husband was missing in action and eventually declared dead. The youngest child was injured in an accident and died of the injuries. No Greek tragedy; I know the family! (She eventually remarried and had two more children. her later years included failing eyesight. she went from dynamic to reduced to watching TV soap operas. ) No silver lining in that situation.

  9. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    Slightly OT but maybe relevant here, I studied art metalsmithing at my local community college, back when a student could afford to use sterling silver. Not only does silver tarnish, but that behavior is often harnessed to create dark lines or spaces in an otherwise polished silver piece. After taking those classes, I never understood the popularity of saying that business about clouds having silver linings, because if you blink, those silver linings might start darkening and throwing lightning and a deluge at you.

  10. Avatar

    I suppose faith in the silver lining must hang on for some Christians, lest they ponder the question of suffering too deeply and become another Bart Ehrman.

  11. Avatar

    Hi all. I live in Memphis, TN. I’ve lived here for about 24 years and can honestly say that, even with its issues, I love this city and its people. My wife is still a devout Christian and watches preachers a lot. Yesterday morning, the preacher was talking about what Bruce said, that god will take the bad things and turn them around for your good. And, count it all joy in times of trouble. And all that bullshit! It’s been a rough couple weeks here. Ask the family, friends, former and current students of Liza Fletcher how god is going to cause something good to come out of her abduction and brutal murder. Ask the family of the police officer who was shot while on patrol in broad daylight what good will come from that. Or the victims and their families of the 19 year old who drove around the city carjacking and shooting people at random if they are “counting it all joy”? I wouldn’t be shocked if the person asking those questions got punched in the nose. I know all the stupid ass brainwashed Christian answers to all these questions. On this side of religion, it’s interesting to me how people will use scripture after terrible things happen, but when you bring up scripture about god protecting people and keeping the thing from happening the first place, you either get a blank stare or some crazy mental gymnastics to try to explain that. Sigh. Be safe and hang in there folks. Enjoy the happy moments when they appear. Thanks, Bruce for all the great posts. You are much appreciated.

  12. Avatar

    Bruce, by sharing personal things as you do, you often inspire people in ways that are not related to evangelical issues. I do not share your physical challenges, but I have other challenges I must deal with, and recent events have taken me to a very dark place all of this week. Some times the goal is just to get to the next day.

    Thanks for sharing and showing people they are not alone.

Want to Respond to Bruce? Fire Away! If You Are a First Time Commenter, Please Read the Comment Policy Located at the Top of the Page.

Bruce Gerencser