Everything Happens For A Reason

 

 

I’ve long been annoyed by the saying “everything happens for a reason.”

For one, I find it to be rather sappy and, well, I’m not a particularly sappy person.

Secondly, I’ve never thought the sentiment was true. Some things just happen. There’s no rhyme or reason to them. They just happen. But the more I think about it, the more I’ve come to realize that I was wrong.

Everything does happen for a reason.

When you got that new job you were hoping for, that happened for a reason – you applied for it, you interviewed well, and the company thought you were the best candidate for the job.

When you failed that test you needed to pass in order to maintain your GPA and keep your scholarship, that too happened for a reason – you spent too much time on Facebook, going out with friends, and catching up on your favorite shows when you should have been studying.

The time that house on the news got hit by lightinging and burned to the ground, that happened for a reason – the roof of the house was the closest contact point for the bolt of lightning and the massive charge of electricity caused the wood the house was built with to catch on fire.

And when that young mother and her child were hit head on by a drunk driver and died tragically in a car accident, that also happened for a reason – someone had too much to drink and without concern for anyone else’s well being they got behind the wheel of their car wherein their impaired judgment and slowed response time resulted in them running a red light and taking the life of a mother and her child.

But there was no grander narrative behind these moments, no deeper meaning to be discovered if we simply read the signs correctly. They happened and there was a reason behind their happening, but that reason was mundane, not divine.

In other words, these things were not part of God’s plan.

When these sorts of events occur and we find ourselves in a moment of speechless horror, many of us utter the words “everything happens for a reason,” either to ourselves or to those who are suffering, with the thought being that God is behind these events and has a reason, or purpose, for them occurring.

Let’s assume for a moment that that is true, that the sort of events I’ve described, as well as other horrific tragedies, were the handiwork of the divine. What, then, does that say about the nature of God?

In short, it says that God is a God who apparently delights in suffering. It says that God is the sort of god who sends drunk drivers to kill babies, who burns down people’s homes, and afflicts random people with horrendous diseases like cancer.

Regardless of any potential “reason” such a god would choose to does this things, if indeed God had a hand in intentionally causing them to occur, then that God is not the God of the Bible.

That God is not worthy of worship.

That God is evil.

Does the Bible speak of a God who works to draw out good in the midst of great evil? Absolutely. But there is tremendous difference between a God who orders the chaos and a God who causes it.

This does not mean that God does not enact judgment. Scripture testifies to this truth. But what scripture does not do is ascribe to God the responsibility or blame for every terrible thing that happens in life.

The truth is we live in a broken world and in such a world terrible, meaningless things happen. Not because God wants them to happen, but because our decisions have unavoidable consequences and because nature is an untamable beast that is always on the prowl.

But when we try to ascribe divine meaning, purpose, or reason to tragedy, we merely compound the pain and turn God into a villain.

Mothers who suffer miscarriages should never have to hear that God killed their baby. Family members who just lost a loved one to cancer should never be told that God made their loved one sick. Friends whose homes have been lost to natural disaster should not have to hear that God wanted them to be homeless.

While we would never say these things exactly this way, when we try to comfort our friends and loved ones with the words “everything happens for a reason” or “God has a purpose,” then this is exactly what we are telling them.

It is a good and holy thing to want to console our friends who are suffering, but more often than not the greatest comfort you can give is the silence that accompanies a listening ear, a loving shoulder to cry on, and the promise of prayer.

Pain is hell.

Which means we must do everything we can to avoid becoming our loved ones tormenters in their time of trial.

Yes, there will come a day when every tear will be wiped away and there will be no more death or crying or mourning or pain.

But until that day comes, our testimony to that future reality is not found in trying to attach meaning to the meaningless. Our testimony, and our gift of grace to those to suffer, will be found in our willingness to suffer with them, to walk with them through the valley of the shadow of death so that they know they are not alone.

In that act of grace, we incarnate the truth that though meaningless pain and suffering may seem to rule the present, that is not part of God’s plan.

God’s plan is that one day He will make His dwelling place among His people to dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be among them and be their God.

On that day and not before it, the old order of things will pass away and all things will be made new.

 

Grace and peace,

Zack Hunt

 

 

  • http://www.facebook.com/jennifer.putnam.14 Jennifer Putnam

    And what of the folks who offer their god praise for all the good things? Are they on as shaky a scriptural ground?

    • ZackHunt

      Good question. Without wanting to open up the inevitable can of theodicy worms, I would say no they have solid scriptural (and theological) grounding.

      To borrow from and paraphrase a little Augustine and the Psalms, all good things come from God and therefore God is worthy of praise for those good things.

      • Karen

        James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.”

      • http://www.facebook.com/jennifer.putnam.14 Jennifer Putnam

        And all the bad things come from our own fallen actions? That seems a pretty sweet racket, When it’s good, it’s because he did it, when it’s awful it’s because we’ve fallen short of him. Seems an impossible standard to meet. But hey, if you’re gonna crib from folks, Augustine is a fantastic place to start. :o)

        • ZackHunt

          I would agree that when it’s good it comes from God, but I would have disagree/I’m not saying when it’s awful it’s because we fallen short of God. I don’t think evil is the result of our failure to live up to an impossibly divine standard. I think evil results merely from our poor, and often self decision, the poor and often selfish decisions of others, and nature/natural forces. I would agree that that Augustine is a great place to start, though he and I part ways on a few things. :)

          • Dillon

            I don’t know Zack, I really enjoy your blog but this post just doesn’t do much for me, being honest. In my little world either God does/can cause everything or God doesn’t/cannot cause anything. I prefer to choose the former because considering the latter leaves me at an impasse.

          • ZackHunt

            Ok you’ve got me curious.

            So, a God who is behind some things but not all things leaves you at an impasse, but a God who kills babies and gives people cancer doesn’t leave you at an impasse?

            Is it an issue of sovereignty? And if so, why does God have to cause evil in order to remain sovereign?

            Also, you’re drawing a dichatomy that I did not. I never said God cannot/does not do anything. I said God does not cause evil. I wasn’t suggesting the choices are: God can do anything or God can do nothing. I think that’s a false dichotomy. Perhaps that helps your impasse?

          • drew

            just curious then. How would you interrupt Isa. 45:7. The Hebrew is in fact Ra, evil? Just curious. Thanks!

          • ZackHunt

            I mean this respectfully, but this conversation isn’t going to go anywhere with proof texting.

            But even though you didn’t answer my questions, I will try to briefly answer yours.

            Long story short, I would greatly caution against taking the English translation of 1 verse that doesn’t mean what you’re implying it means as the definitive guide for your theology, particularly when the vast majority of the Christian tradition has gone out of its way, via scripture, to affirm that God is not the source of evil.

          • drew

            I’m sorry, I didn’t know you had asked me questions. This is my first comment so I was unaware. My apologies! What questions were they?

            I agree that one verse should not define our understanding of God, I just do find it interesting that it is God talking and He uses such language. I find language and Christianity and the language of Christianity to be extremely interesting (i.e. Wittenstein, Hauerwas, Kallenberg).

            I also want to make clear I am not inclined to say that God commits evil. Jesus wept, which seems an odd response if you made it happen, or you knew of it ahead of time. I think the reaction of God throughout the OT displays a God that reacts and is shocked by our actions. I just find Isa. 45:7 to be fascinating in that discussion.

            Thanks for your input.

          • ZackHunt

            No, it is I who owe an apology to you. I get so used to drive-by comments I just assumed you weren’t actually interested in engagement. My apologies for that.

            I agree that it’s definitely interesting. For me it speaks to the complicated and sometimes seemingly contradictory nature of Scripture. Though I think in this case “discord” would probably be a better modern translation than “evil” considering the context, but that’s just my 2 cents and I am definitely not a Hebrew scholar.

          • drew

            No problem, I understand it’s the nature of the beast and I’m sure it’s common to get responses like that.

            Yeah, I by no means am not an Hebrew scholar either. I have seen it translated into other ways. In my arrogance I undoubtedly assumed it was a translator not reading the text as the text but trying to make it more digestible for it’s reader. Bonhoeffer and Hauerwas have been a huge influence on me in that sense: one of our hardest jobs as believers is to affirm that we are indeed being Truthful to ourselves.

            Thanks for your 2 cents! love the blog!

    • http://lovingfromtheinsideout.blogspot.com Connie

      Zach can correct me if I’m wrong, but I think what he may be getting at–or at least a potentially helpful thought :)–is: we cannot possibly know how much of a hand God had in the causing of that which brings pain and suffering. So to say, to those IN pain and suffering, “everything happens for a reason” is to imply “there’s a divine/cosmic reason” which is to imply “God caused this.” Um…you don’t know that. It’s like when some Christian leaders said that 9/11 was God’s judgement on America…my favorite response to that: “You weren’t invited to that meeting.” UNTIL Job’s friends opened their mouths (and implied all his troubles were HIS fault), God praised them for coming along side…in silence.

      Zach: your thoughts?

  • Pingback: The American Jesus: Everything Happens For A Reason

  • Brad

    After Katrina, a guy tried to tell me that it happened because New Orleans was evil and full of sin and voodoo. My response was, “No, Katrina happened because they built an entire damn city under sea level.” That was the end of the conversation.

  • will

    thank you.
    legalism makes every single tragedy in life about what i/he/they did wrong to merit god’s punishment. the question is what kind of god does that leave us with… and how many die-hard legalists actually want to have anything to do w/ the sadistic god they claim to adore…?

  • Karen

    Thanks, Zack. This is a subject near and dear to my heart. I’ve mentioned David Bentley Hart’s book The Doors of the Sea before. Your post put me in mind of this passage (found on pp. 97-98):

    . . . At the moment it is enough simply to make this point clear: God’s gracious will for his creatures–his willing of all things to his own infinite goodness–is the creative power that makes all things to be and the consummate happiness to which all things are called; but this does not (indeed, must not) mean that everything that happens is merely a direct expression of God’s desire for his creatures or an essential stage within the divine plan for history.

    There are those for whom saying this leaves behind an intolerable remainder, a kind of irrational surd. For them, unless one believes that every event has a substantial and organic (not merely accidental or occasional) place in the plot of universal history, and a specific function in the final synthesis of history at the end of time, then somehow the logical coherence of the universe begins to disintegrate, and God’s final resolution of the story of the world is little more than a vulgar <em<deus ex machina. But of course, nothing is lost: the coherence of the universe is preserved by God acting to save what he has made–what is real, what has substance–not by providing a divine rationale for every dimension of every event in which his creatures are involved, no matter how much those events might reflect that ultimate privation, evil. . . .

    In another place Hart points out:

    God has fashioned his creatures in his image so that they might be joined in a perfect union with him in the rational freedom of love. For that very reason, what God permits, rather than violate the autonomy of the created world, may be in itself contrary to what he wills. But there is no contradiction in saying that, in his omniscience, omnipotence, and transcendence of time, God can both allow created freedom its scope and yet so constitute the world that nothing can prevent him from bringing about the beatitude of his Kingdom. Indeed we must say this: as God did not will the fall, and yet always wills all things toward himself, the entire history of sin and death is in an ultimate sense a pure contingency, one that is not as such desired by God, but that is nevertheless constrained by providence to serve his transcendent purpose. God does not will evil in the sinner. Neither does he will that the sinner should perish (2 Peter 3:9; Ezek. 33:11). He does not place evil in the heart. He does not desire the convulsive reign of death in nature. But neither will he suffer defeat in these things.

    Forgive me for quoting at such length on this thread, but since you have commented previously to me that you “love [you] some David Bentley Hart,” I thought you might indulge me. My observation is that only those things that are directly willed by God (and are thus a perfect expression of his will) have meaning in and of themselves. Evil, or anything that is the result of sin and the fall (and I would put natural catastrophe in this category, since the Scripture says that the whole of creation groans and labors to be freed along with those who are being redeemed from its bondage to corruption subjection to futility as a result of the fall, Romans 8:18-22), is in and of itself nonsensical.

    • Karen

      Sorry about the failure of my attempt to use hotmail commands to put certain things in italics (the expression “deux ex machina” and the title of Hart’s book).

    • ZackHunt

      Nor forgiveness required when you’re quoting Hart. :)

  • http://twitter.com/aneelandsara Aneel & Sara Trivedi

    Thank you for this. Thank you thank you.

    • ZackHunt

      Thank you for taking the time to read it. :)

  • gloria hancock

    thanks for writing this, zach… i’ve been known to get on my soapbox about this subject as well. hard to understand why folks have to connect the dots between loving God and tyrannical lightning-thrower, but we all get caught up in preconceptions and faulty theology sometimes, i suppose. (as i try to extend grace to those who seemingly rob God of His…)

    • ZackHunt

      “as i try to extend grace to those who seemingly rob God of His…”

      I love that line.

  • http://lovingfromtheinsideout.blogspot.com Connie

    OMG, YES. THANK you! As one whose fiance died, I simply cannot abide the thought that (even perhaps) God directly caused his death…to punish me or to “make me more like himself” or whatever. As one who experienced multiple kinds of abuse from multiple sources in childhood, I cannot believe that such a horrible environment was God’s will for me, especially since at its core it revolved around a form of spiritual abuse, a near 180-degree twisting of the essential Christian message (think fundamentalist legalism). Did God cause the pastors, for instance, in that environment to misrepresent Him? I have to think not. As I have become fond of pointing out…Newsflash: God’s will is not entirely happening on this earth!!!

    So again…thank you.

    • ZackHunt

      No, thank YOU for sharing your story. I know it must not be an easy story to share, so I really, really appreciate you willingness to share it with us. :)

      • http://lovingfromtheinsideout.blogspot.com Connie

        Actually I share my story pretty easily, sometimes too…perhaps. Anyway, I appreciate it.

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com/ Ed_Cyzewski

    I’ve been really working through sovereignty lately Zack. I had to pull it all down and try to start from scratch. I wonder if sometimes we systematize the specific, situational actions of God. We see God intervening in some biblical stories, and we start to imagine puppet master God making everything happen.

    I’m intrigued by the story of David and Solomon. there were certain things that God was determined to do in his sovereignty, such as raise up a Davidic Messiah. However the permanence of their dynasty was linked to their obedience. They had a certain measure of choices even though God knew how he would save his people. Still working through all of this!

    • drew

      I would recommend “God of the Possible” by Greg Boyd if you have not read it already. Not really academic but Boyd is clear on what he is trying to communicate.

    • ZackHunt

      I’m certainly with you in trying to work through all of it in my head.

      One thing I’ve found somewhat, but admittedly only on occasion, is the notion that the people of Israel were not above putting words in the mouth of God. I realize how that might sound, but the book of Judges is a great example of this. It’s bookended with the phrase “In those days there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in their own eyes,” which, to me and others, sounds a like like the author says “looking how these people did horrible things in the name of God, but claimed God told them to do it.” The writer of Exodus would call that “taking God’s name in vain.”

      That’s obviously not the situation in every portion of scripture, but I think it helps. Otherwise, we’re reading scripture like a fundamentalist, assuming that everything we read is to be taken at face value.