I hate clichés as much as-if not more than- the next guy, but not all clichés are created equal. So let’s not judge a cliché by it’s cover, it’s the thought that counts, right? I guess time will tell. Right now I want to take some time to consider a cliché that’s a real diamond in the rough, the cliché that “Everything Happens for a Reason.”
Last year I wrote a post on this topic addressed to non-Christians in which I sought to point out a contradiction in their beliefs. My goal was to show that it’s irrational to hold the belief that everything happens for a reason if you don’t believe in the transcendent and personal God of Christianity.
This post, on the other hand, is directed toward Christians who believe in the transcendent and personal God of the Bible yet don’t believe that everything happens for a reason. It’s my contention that the biblical depiction of God is that of a sovereign Lord who has authority over all of His creation, is present in His creation, and has absolute control over His creation.
There’s been a truly terrible article going around lately with the title “Dear Christians, Stop Saying ‘Everything Happens for a Reason”, from faithit.com. It’s portrayal of God and day to day events are not inline with how the Bible describes the Lord. Again, I don’t like most cliches, but Christians absolutely should say “everything happens for a reason”. Here’s my argument:
p1. If God is sovereign, then everything happens for a reason.
p2. God is sovereign
C. Therefore, everything happens for a reason.
Let’s flesh out premise 1 a little bit. First off, what is sovereignty? Google defines sovereignty as “supreme power or authority”. Some synonyms of the word include: jurisdiction, rule, supremacy, dominion, power, domination, authority, control. Think of a king, a “sovereign”, he has supreme rule over his domain. A king controls what happens in his kingdom, we get this. So the analogy between an earthly king and a heavenly King is a strong one. An earthly king rules over his earthly kingdom, he controls everything in his realm, the Heavenly King rules over His kingdom, He controls everything in His created realm, which is literally everything.
Sovereignty implies, control, authority, and presence. Think about it, A king that has no authority is no king at all. A king who has no control over his realm is either impotent or is engaged in dereliction of duty. A king who is not present in his realm is not observing and caring for the needs of his land. To be a sovereign is to be present, to have control, and to have authority. So if God is sovereign then He would have control over His creation, Authority over His creation, and He’d be present in His creation. If God were to be sovereign then, everything would happen according to His purposes, everything would happen for a reason. But is God sovereign?
Here we move on to premise 2, “God is sovereign”. Now for a lot of us Christians, the phrase “God is sovereign” is a tautology; we would say that to be God is to be sovereign, duh. Charles Spurgeon, for instance, says “I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes- that every particle of spray that dashes against the steam boat has its orbit, as well as the sun in the heavens- that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses. The creeping of an aphid over the rosebud is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence- the fall of… leaves from a poplar is as fully ordained as the tumbling of an avalanche.”
Does this view of sovereignty mean we believe in fate? John Calvin answers, “Let the stoics have their fate; for us, the free will of God disposes all things.” We don’t believe in the impersonal fate of the stoics, nor the karma of My Name is Earl. Rather, the free will of God is over all things, He’s guiding and directing all things for His own glory and for the good of those who love Him.
But there are lots of Christians who would to take issue with the description of sovereignty thus far. I’ll address some of the most common objections later in this post. For now let’s see how the Bible describes God:
“No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the LORD. The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the LORD.” (Proverbs 21:30-31)
“The LORD of hosts has sworn “As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposes so shall it stand, that I will break the Assyrian in my land, and on my mountains trample him underfoot; and his yoke shall depart from their shoulder.” This is the purpose that is purposed concerning the whole earth, and this is the hand that is stretched out over all the nations. For the Lord of hosts has purposed and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?” (Isaiah 14:24-27)
“At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives for ever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”. (Daniel 4:34-35)
“The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?””Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36)
“Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” (Psalm 115:3)
“Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying ‘my counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose’, calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.” (Isaiah 46:8-11)
“Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.” (Psalm 135:6)
“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15)
I could go on, but I think you get the point. The Bible describes God as utterly sovereign over time, events, people-everything. He has planned all that comes to pass and no one can thwart Him. He does all that He pleases, both in the heavens and in the earth. God is the ultimate authority, He controls His creation, and He is active and present in creation as He brings His plans about.
Since God is sovereign, everything happens for a reason, namely, God’s reason.
“Ok, Park, I get it, you can cherry pick Bible verses to confirm your calvinistic bias, but you obviously haven’t thought through the implications of your argument. If God is sovereign in the way you describe it then He’s responsible for all the evil that happens. I could never believe in a God like that!”
Well, I encourage you to read through the context of each of the verses I’ve cited and you’ll find they aren’t cherry picked but the passages as a whole will also confirm God’s absolute sovereignty. Secondly, the Bible is not silent on the problem of evil, in fact just about every book in the Bible discusses the problem and affirms that God is in control over both evil events and evil people. King Solomon acknowledges this fact when he writes, “The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.” (Proverbs 16:4).
Jeremiah takes this idea a step further when he says, “who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?” (Lamentations 3:37-38). Not convinced? Take Job’s response to his wife after she gives in to despair and tells him to curse God and die, “‘You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” (Job 2:10). If we want to be biblical, we have to acknowledge that God is in control of all that comes to pass.
There is no gratuitous evil in the world that happens outside of God’s plan, he has a purpose for everything and His purposes are always for a greater good, whether we can see it or not; for his ways are higher than our ways. Take Jospeh for example, his brothers beat him and sold him into slavery, yet he sees God’s sovereign hand over his life and tells his evil brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50-20). Evil men perform evil acts out of their evil desires, but God stands above His creation and guides even the wicked to do His work, which He intends for good, and as we’ve seen above, His good plans cannot be thwarted.
God’s sovereignty means that He can use evil to vanquish evil. If this weren’t so, then He could never use any of us, for we’ve all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. Romans 8:38 confirms that God works all things together for good in order that those who love God will be conformed to the image of Christ. Both good and evil are used by the sovereign Lord of the universe to bring about His desired plans. Think about the greatest evil ever committed, the God-Man, Jesus Christ, was put to death. Yet God used the greatest evil in history to bring about the greatest good, salvation for all who believe, adoption as sons and daughters, eternal life with God.
This means that if God could use the worst evil and bring about the greatest good, then He most certainty has a purpose for allowing the pain and trouble you’ll experience in your own life. For the believer, there is no more punishment, Christ drank the entire cup of wrath stored up for you. All that’s left is discipline, God works all things for the benefit of those who love Him, not so that we’ll all have Lamborghinis, but that we’ll all continually grow into the likeness of Jesus Christ our Lord.
If you believe everything happens for a reason- that God is guiding our choices and actions for good- then you can take comfort in the unknown, you can trust that God will bring about good even from your hardest trials. If somethings happen outside of God’s control, then how are we to be sure of God’s victory over sin and death? How are we to be sure that He who began a good work in us will bring it to completion?
If God is sovereign then everything happens for a reason. The Bible describes God as a good and sovereign Lord of all, therefore everything does indeed happen for a reason.
If you’re a Christian, how could you not believe that everything happens for a reason?