My Problem with the Phrase, “Everything Happens for a Reason”

Many well-intended Christians struggle to find the right words to say to one who is hurting. They see their brother or sister-in-Christ dealing with grief and they feel compelled to reach out. However, in an effort to provide comfort and encouragement they sometimes create more heartache and confusion. In the midst of a trial, they will say things like:

  • You should feel blessed that God chose you to suffer.
  • Hang on! God must be up to something!
  • This is all part of God’s wonderful plan.
  • And, everything happens for a reason.

So let me see if I understand this: cancer is somehow a blessing from God? A young girl being raped is somehow a good thing in God’s eyes? The school shooting in Newtown, CT, is all a part of God’s wonderful plan? A son or a daughter killed in a car accident by a drunk driver is really a blessing in disguise?

God is good. He is the supreme ruler of the universe. He is in control. And no matter what happens, our God can help us through it. This does not mean, however, that He is the direct cause of everything that happens. Not everything that happens is something that God wants to happen. Not everything He allows to happen is good. God did not cause Satan to rebel. He did not force Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. He did not make David commit adultery with Bathsheba. He did not sanction what was done in Newtown, CT. He did not sign off on those terrorists flying into the Twin Towers, killing thousands. He does not give people cancer. And he doesn’t kill small children because He needs them in heaven more.

When one says, “Everything happens for a reason,” what they often mean is that no matter what happens to us, it was God’s will. Even unexplainable tragedy and horrendous suffering that stems from evil can be attributed to God and His divine plan for your life. The “proof-text” for this doctrine comes from Romans 8:28 where Paul writes:

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” 

This oft-quoted verse has come to mean that everything is really a good thing, no matter how bad it may seem. That is not the message of Romans 8:28. God does not cause all afflictions to occur. He is not the source of all the earth’s ills. Does He permit them? Yes. Does He prefer them? No, not always. There were times in the Old Testament when God brought hardships upon His people as a consequence for their sin (cf. Jdgs. 6:1), but even in those instances the intent was benevolent in nature. To pin every disease, disaster, or death on God is to tread on some very shaky soil.

There is no denying that God can take adverse circumstances and work them out for the good of His people. Joseph is a prime example of this. Was God responsible for the actions of his brothers who, in their jealousy, sold him into slavery? No. Did God force Potiphar to throw Joseph into prison? No. Because “God was with him (Gen. 39:21)” Joseph eventually rose to a position of great authority in Egypt. He saved the Israelites and the surrounding nations from a severe famine. Joseph endured extreme hardship and  heartache. Was God directly responsible for all of it? No. Yet, God was able to work in the midst of it. Notice what Joseph says to his brothers in Genesis 50:20:

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about His present result, to preserve many people alive.”

As Wayne Jackson has said, “God can and will accomplish His good purposes no matter what the situation or circumstance. But that doesn’t mean that everything that happens to us is somehow good or necessary.”*

So let’s stop giving God the credit for the devil’s best efforts. Everything may have a cause, but it’s not always God. God never promised that this life would be fair, or that everything would always work out in our favor. However, He does promise that no matter what life or the devil throws at us, His good and eternal purposes can never be hindered.

*Jackson, Wayne. All Things Work Together for Good: Controversy or Comfort?

* I highly recommend the book 10 Dumb Things Smart Christians Believe by Larry Osborne. He offers great insight on this topic.

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