A Reason for Everything?

by Tim Hall

A phrase I hear with increasing frequency goes like this: “Everything happens for a reason.” The words are uttered after an unexpected and disappointing turn of events. Perhaps a loved one has died, a job has been lost, or a marriage has broken apart. “Everything happens for a reason,” the would-be comforter opines, intending to open the sufferer’s eyes to larger realities.

Such a statement might be comforting if it means God was not absent during the unfortunate events. A degree of comfort comes from knowing that the Lord watches over us, and that his control has been exerted in any situation. But we also might wonder what good purpose the Lord had in taking away a loved one. Why would I want to serve a Lord who causes pain through tragic means?

Job was blessed to have friends who cared enough to come to him after his tragic losses. He was not so blessed, though, when they misrepresented God in trying to explain the losses. Job’s summation likely can be spoken by many who hurt: “… Miserable comforters are you all!” (Job 16:2, ESV).

Why do some Christians think that God has every event of our lives planned? One reason might be a scripture often quoted, Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” The words are presented as if they apply to everyone. If that be so, then God has already made plans; my life is mapped out. According to that view, everything does indeed happen for a reason.

Maybe we should check the context before deciding Jeremiah had us in mind. Verse 4 seems to be pertinent: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon …” As it turns out, God was not announcing his modus operandi toward all people of all time. The “plans” to which he referred in Jeremiah were directed generally toward the nation that had been exiled to Babylon.

That God has given people freedom to choose their own destiny is a theme that runs throughout the Bible (see Deuteronomy 30:19, for example). While it may seem to relieve us of personal responsibility to say that “everything happens for a reason,” the statement is not supported by scripture.

My loved one did not die tragically because God planned it that way. The inappropriate exercise of free will (sin) is often the reason bad things happen.

Don’t affirm disaster to be an act of God unless God has specifically told us so.

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