“Everything happens for a reason.” We’ve all heard those words, haven’t we? They’re what someone is almost guaranteed to say when another person shares some painful, awful, heart-breaking experience with a group of people. Someone will almost always say, “Everything happens for a reason.” It’s just what people say when someone shares a very painful experience.
But what does it mean, really? As best I can tell, the implication is that more than what we might call ordinary cause and effect is being described by those words. “Everything happens for a reason” seems to be saying that God intends for everything to happen for a reason known only to him. I don’t buy it. It’s true that every event, however dreadful, has a cause. But I don’t believe God is pulling the strings every time, say, a baby dies, a drunk driver runs over an innocent person or someone commits suicide. Sure, each one of these events has a cause. But to try to attribute every sad event to God’s will is just wrong–and certainly not supported by the Bible. For example, if a man gets so drunk that he falls off a stadium balcony and dies, well that happened for a reason. But the reason is that the man himself made a sinful, stupid decision to get falling-down drunk, not that God wanted him dead. I don’t believe God wanted that man to sin by getting drunk. And if he hadn’t gotten drunk, he wouldn’t have died. I suppose you might say, “Well, God didn’t want him to sin, but the man’s time was up, so God had him die at that moment.” Fair enough. But let’s back up a step and apply the “Everything happens for a reason” logic to the man’s getting drunk. Did God want that to happen, too? Again, I don’t think God desires anyone to sin. When you get right down to it, I think people cling to the “Everything happens for a reason” line because, if you don’t think too much about it, it suggests that God knows what he is doing and is in control of the crazy world in which we live. It’s true, of course, that God does know what he’s doing and is in control. But “EHFAR” effectively short-circuits the whole idea of human choice and responsibility. God made human beings in his image, and he wants us to cooperate with him by believing in and obeying him. The first chapter of Genesis says that God gave humanity dominion over the world. Dominion means lordship, and lordship requires taking responsibilityfor our own actions. Of course, responsibility is difficult, because then we become responsibile not only for our own actions, but for their consequences. It’s much easier just to pretend that God dictates every thing that happens and we can sit back passively so that when bad things happen we don’t really have to do anything beyond saying, “Everything happens for a reason!” But human beings are not robots. Yes, God is far greater than we are. His ways are not our ways, and we cannot fully fathom the depths of majesty within the One who created the heavens and the earth simply by speaking them into existence. But we’re made in his image, and we have responsibility for how our lives–and to a lesser degree, those around us–turn out. Yes, some events happen simply by God’s choices, and many happen by our own. And many more happen, I think, happen simply because the collective sin of mankind has left the world a big mess, and sometimes that big collective mess is why bad things happen. But please, don’t try to blame sin and pain and suffering on God. He may allow it, but he doesn’t want it. I understand that you may be one of the millions of Americans who say “EHFAR” whenever you are forced to stare into the face of overwhelming evil and pain. I certainly don’t want to fault you for holding on to some scrap of spiritual hope in a very frightening and maddening world. But I encourage you to dig deeper into the Word of God, the Bible, to find more fulfilling answers than a bumper-sticker phrase could ever give us. It takes more work, but it can bring real peace. And that’s a pretty good reason to make the effort. I am sports writer for the Manchester Times and preacher and elder for the Church of Christ at Fredonia. The ideas expressed here, however, are my own and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Times or the church.