- Everything Happens for a Reason
- Romans 8:28
- Bill Couch May 17, 2015
This morning we begin a new series of messages entitled: “50/50: Half Truths in a World that Needs the Whole Truth.” We want to acknowledge Adam Hamilton, Pastor of the Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City, whose sermons inspired this series. We are going to drill down into some common quotations people use all the time. Many persons think these are quotes from the Bible. They contain a kernel of truth, but when we closely examine them they are actually not aligned with the principles taught in the Bible as a whole. Today we are going to look at the half truth: “Everything happens for a reason.”
What the Bible really says about this is captured in Paul’s letter to the Romans. See if you notice a difference.
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
VIDEO: BRUCE ALMIGHTY CLIP
“Everything happens for a reason.” Someone usually reminds us of that when we are going through a difficult time. We may have even said it ourselves. Do all these things happen for a reason: a terminal disease; the death of a child; a head-on collision; loss of a job; a miscarriage; bankruptcy; birth defects; divorce? The half truth is that there is a cause and effect for everything. So in that sense there is a reason—a cause for everything that happens.
However, most people mean something far different when they say “Everything happens for a reason.” What they are saying is that this terrible thing that happened is part of God’s plan for you. You can’t see the plan, but God wanted this to happen for a reason that you will understand later. It is intended to express words of comfort. “It was meant to be.” According to this line of reasoning, God has a detailed plan for you life and what he wants to happen is going to happen to you—no matter what. He brings bad things into your life for a reason. There is some divine purpose in everything that happens to you.
There are three major problems with the idea that “everything happens for a reason.” First of all, it removes all personal responsibility. God has a plan in place for your life, therefore your choices don’t matter. The choices of others don’t matter because God is controlling everything that happens to you. A 19 year old woman was texting while driving on Highway 87 last month. She lost control of her vehicle killing herself and two other persons. If “everything happens for a reason,” then God caused her to be texting while driving and kill two persons. No responsibility on her. I doubt if that will hold up in court. Last fall a freshman TTU student dies from alcohol poisoning. If everything happens for a reason then God made him drink too much that night and took his life. No responsibility on him. God did it.
Secondly, the idea that “everything happens for a reason” paints a very disturbing picture of God. As Bruce said in our movie clip: “God is like a mean kid with a magnifying glass shining the sun on ants to watch them squirm in the heat.” God causes everything for a reason: the recent earthquakes in Nepal that killed over 6,000 people and left 100,000 homeless—God did it. The recent tornadoes in Oklahoma and North Texas causing great damage and loss of life—God did it. The floods declaring Seagraves a disaster area—God did it. It is interesting that insurance companies call these disasters: “Acts of God.” What kind of monster wills all the horrible events in the world for any reason?
Thirdly, the idea that “everything happens for a reason” leads ultimately to fatalism. It does not matter what I do, God’s plan is going to determine what happens to me. No need to eat healthy or exercise. If I’m going to have a heart attack or stroke, it is going to happen anyway. If you get cancer, why bother with treatment? It is what God wants for you and if you resist it trying to getting well, you have gone against God! God has already decided who will win the NBA playoffs. Of course we know he made a mistake this year because neither the Mavericks nor the Spurs are in the finals! What kind of God is that?
The idea that “everything happens for a reason” is based upon the theology of John Calvin who lived in the 1500’s. He went to the extreme of teaching that everything that happens is pre-determined by God. He wrote, “No wind ever rises or rages without God’s special command.” Thus, hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis—all are what God wants. Calvin went so far as to say that God determines who will wind up in heaven and who will wind up in hell—so it does not matter how you live or what you believe—the list is already determined before you were born. There is no free choice. There is nothing you can do to alter the course of your life.
On the other extreme is a theology called deism which says that God created the universe with all its life forms and then stepped back to watch what would happen. He is unengaged, detached and really does not care what happens. He is just curious to see what we will do, but he is totally uninvolved and certainly not loving.
Each of these theologies can give proof texts for their interpretation of the Bible. But one of the things I appreciate about John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, is that he based his theology upon the themes and principles that flow through the entire Bible. One of those themes is that God gave us free will. In the opening chapters of Genesis he placed a tree of knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden. He told Adam and Eve not to eat of it or they would die—they would separate themselves from him who was the source of their life. They had a choice. God wanted them to choose life, but they choose to do their own thing and separate themselves from God. And all of us have made the same decision. As a result of this separation from God, our world became a fallen world. We unleashed sickness and death. In a fallen world separated from God, nature gets out of control. It is our responsibility. We did it. We cannot blame God. Over and over again the Bible lifts up the theme that God is whispering to us to choose life, but instead we choose things that destroy us. He is whispering to us, don’t drink and drive, don’t get involved in an affair, don’t look at pornography—choose life. We are free to listen to his voice or to ignore it. We can choose life or death.
In a fallen world we may also suffer as the result of someone else’s choices. Persons killed by a drunk driver may have been choosing life, but they suffer the consequences of someone around them who chooses death. In a fallen world accidents happen—a blow-out happens spinning a car out of control. It was no one’s choice, it just happened. God did not want it to happen.
We live in a world where bad things happen, but we are certain God didn’t do them because of who we know God to be. In a variety of ways, the Scriptures tell us over and over again that God is Love. In fact. if you remember nothing else today, just leave this place with these three words etched into your soul. “God is Love”. That’s the starting point – the reality that God is Love is the trump card in our understanding of God. Love is the framework from which God operates. It would make no sense for God to visit calamity upon God’s children “for a reason” because God is love. If something isn’t rooted in love, then we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it didn’t come from God. God is Love. Period. God is ALWAYS Love. Period.
Dr. Ben Witherington, is a New Testament Professor at Asbury Theological Seminary. His 32 year old daughter, Christy, died unexpectedly about three years ago from a pulmonary embolism. Just two weeks after her death, he wrote these words:
From the day Christy died, I was determined to be open to whatever positive thing there might be to glean from this seeming tragedy. I clung to the promise of Romans 8:28, that “God works all things together for good for those who love him.”
The first point immediately confirmed in my heart was theological: God did not do this to my child. God is not the author of evil. God does not terminate sweet lives with a pulmonary embolism. Pulmonary embolisms are a result of the bent nature of this world. As Ann kept repeating, “God is not the problem; he is the solution.”
One primary reason I am not a Calvinist is that I do not believe in God’s detailed control of all events. Why? First, because I find it impossible to believe that I am more merciful or compassionate than God. Second, because the biblical portrait shows that God is pure light and holy love. In him there is no darkness, nothing other than light and love.
The beginning of “good grief” starts with the premise of a good God. Otherwise, all bets are off. If God is the author of sin, evil, suffering, the Fall, and death, then the Bible makes no sense when it tells us that God tempts no one, that God’s will is that none should perish but have everlasting life, and that death is the very enemy of God and humankind that Jesus, who is life, came to abolish and destroy.
Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). If there are promises I cling to as I weep for our Christy, it is this promise, not the words “God did this but we do not know why.” No! A thousand times, no. God and his will are aligned with what is good and true and beautiful and loving and holy.
Days later, as I stood before the casket and stared at our “Christy,” I was so thankful that the God of the Resurrection had a better plan for her. Her lifeless body was so cold, so empty. I believe in a God whose “Yes!” to life is louder than death’s “No!” Death is not God’s will. On the contrary, God is in the trenches with us, fighting the very same evils we fight in this world—disease, suffering, sorrow, sin, and death itself. (Christianity Today, April 11, 2012)
Let’s erase the phrase, “everything happens for a reason” from our vocabulary and replace it with the Word of God.
“We know that God works all things together for good for those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28
The Apostle Paul makes it very clear that God does not want bad things to happen to us. Bad things are going to happen in a fallen world from a variety of causes: accidents, my choices, someone else’s choices, natural disasters. When bad things happen, we don’t need to waste time blaming God. We need to cry out, “God I’m in a real mess here and I need you now more than ever. Thank you that you are with me. You love me and you are weeping with me in the midst of this tragedy. I need you to take this horrible thing that has happened and redeem it for good. I believe that you are great enough to say that my pain, suffering and death do not have the final word. God, I trust you to bring good out of this somehow.” Even in the midst of tragedy we have a free choice: are we going to trust God because he is love or are we going to blame him and turn away from him?
Whatever you are going through right now God wants you to believe that he is love, that he is with you, that he loves you, and that his power is greater than anything that can happen to you for whatever reason. His redeeming power can work ALL things together for good.