I have been seeing an article floating around the internet called “Not Everything Happens for a Reason.” In the article, Christine Suhan makes some pretty bold claims about God’s will and sovereignty. I kept seeing it pop up on my newsfeed, and each time I thought of different ways that I’d like to respond to what the writer is saying. But, wouldn’t you know it? Chad beat me to it. And, what he says about it is so good that I decided to use his response instead!
So, please welcome my husband, Pastor Chad Edgington.
I read this article last night and found it to be very disappointing. I think the author makes a good point. Saying “everything happens for a reason” is probably not a good thing to say to someone who is grieving. I think she is also right in pointing out that much of our suffering is a consequence of living in a fallen (sinful) world. However, I think her understanding of God’s will is not consistent with the biblical revelation.
She writes, “God’s will is not an event that happens to us, it’s how we respond to what happens.” She says that she spent years trying to understand the reasons behind her hurts, and what finally she “found through years of searching, experiencing, and living is that often there is no reason for why tragedy has occurred.”
But, this is contrary to what scripture teaches. God’s thoughts, plans, and purposes are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). He is in unquestionable control and is sovereign over everything that happens in this universe (Psalm 135:6; Dan 4:35). Even the most seemingly insignificant things are matters of His concern (Proverbs 16:33). Not even one sparrow falls from a tree apart from the Father (Matt 10:29). Col. 1:17 says that Christ holds all things together; every particle of every atom moves at His direction. We understand from the Apostle Paul that in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). His will encompasses every moment of our life from beginning to end, and even the exact length of our life is determined (Psalm 139:16).
However, God’s ways and purposes are consistent with man’s ability to make decisions and our own purposes (Proverbs 16:9), even when those decisions are wrong and sinful (Genesis 50:20). In other words, even our moral free-agency and our willful decisions are woven into His accomplishment of His own purposes, without compromising our own purposes and intentions. God’s will is extremely complex in that regard, and thus we struggle to comprehend how He could cause natural disasters (Joel 1) or use sinful aggression against children to accomplish his purposes (Isaiah 13:18), or why He bears with patience, and even gives good things, to those who deserve His wrath and destruction (Romans 9:22-23). These are hard teachings, and they challenge us, but one thing they don’t do is paint a picture of a God who is only concerned with our response to things that happen.
We can confidently trust that a good God has a purpose and is in control, in some sense, of everything that happens (at the very least, He permits things to occur that He could stop), even the most severe calamity and horrible human behavior (Amos 3:6). At the same time, He is not responsible for evil nor is He in any way sinful because God, according to His character, can do no wrong. He is blameless (Psalm 145:17, Job 34:12, Psalm 18:30). As disconcerting and baffling as that may seem at first glance, I find it to be ultimately more comforting (and biblical) to recognize His control and power over all things, than to assert that things happen outside of God’s purposes and control, or at least His permission. Do you think the Bible teaches that you live in a universe where things happen apart from His control or purposes? If you do, you aren’t reading your Bible. Would you honestly desire to live in a Universe where God is not in control? Who is in control? Nobody? Why would you even pray to a God who is not powerful over all things?
Just because we cannot think of a good purpose for something happening, that does not mean there is no good purpose. It’s arrogant to assume that God can’t have a reason because our little human brains can’t think of one. It also seems like we forget that God ultimately and rightly vindicates on our behalf all of the unrighteousness and suffering we endure- is this not, after all, what we see happening on the cross?
I appreciate the heart behind what this writer is trying to do, but she is making an appeal based on an idea of God that is foreign to scripture.
My recommendation would also be to avoid the phrase “everything happens for a reason” and instead aid suffering people with things that are more comforting, such as, “We serve a good and righteous Father. We can trust Him, even when we don’t understand what is happening.”