The Problem with “Everything Happens for a Reason”

In this old post, The American Jesus tackles the frustrating phrase “everything happens for a reason.” For one, it pretty much never makes anybody feel better. For another, I don’t think it’s accurate.

We always think it will give some grand sense of purpose to those who are suffering, but it rarely actually does. Instead, it conveys the extremely harmful idea that suffering is part of God’s plan. What kind of a God does this create? Clearly one who enjoys suffering or at the very least can’t come up with a better way to get what he wants than to hurt a lot of people along the way. That isn’t comforting. That just makes me wonder when God’s grand plan is coming to hurt me next. Zak describes this God:

Regardless of any potential “reason” such a god would choose to does this things, if indeed God had a hand in intentionally causing them to occur, then that God is not the God of the Bible.

That God is not worthy of worship.

That God is evil.

Or, of course, we just could admit that maybe God isn’t the one scheming to create all of our suffering (for an ultimately good purpose or not). We could say this about the reason behind things in our lives:

When that young mother and her child were hit head on by a drunk driver and died tragically in a car accident, that also happened for a reason – someone had too much to drink and without concern for anyone else’s well being they got behind the wheel of their car wherein their impaired judgment and slowed response time resulted in them running a red light and taking the life of a mother and her child.

But there was no grander narrative behind these moments, no deeper meaning to be discovered if we simply read the signs correctly. They happened and there was a reason behind their happening, but that reason was mundane, not divine.

In other words, these things were not part of God’s plan.

He makes sure to offer this qualifier:

This does not mean that God does not enact judgment. Scripture testifies to this truth. But what scripture does not do is ascribe to God the responsibility or blame for every terrible thing that happens in life.

The truth is we live in a broken world and in such a world terrible, meaningless things happen. Not because God wants them to happen, but because our decisions have unavoidable consequences and because nature is an untamable beast that is always on the prowl.

But when we try to ascribe divine meaning, purpose, or reason to tragedy, we merely compound the pain and turn God into a villain.

To sum it up, he discusses what we need to do instead:

We must do everything we can to avoid becoming our loved ones tormenters in their time of trial.

Yes, there will come a day when every tear will be wiped away and there will be no more death or crying or mourning or pain.

But until that day comes, our testimony to that future reality is not found in trying to attach meaning to the meaningless. Our testimony, and our gift of grace to those to suffer, will be found in our willingness to suffer with them, to walk with them through the valley of the shadow of death so that they know they are not alone.

In that act of grace, we incarnate the truth that though meaningless pain and suffering may seem to rule the present, that is not part of God’s plan.

God’s plan is that one day He will make His dwelling place among His people to dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be among them and be their God.

On that day and not before it, the old order of things will pass away and all things will be made new.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.

  • That whole phrase: “It’s all in God’s plan”….. bull crap…. NONE of this was in God’s plan… Gosnell, Bangledesh, Afghanistan, my wife’s cancer… none of it is in God’s plan. God’s plan is that the things that will make it so such junk doesn’t happen will come to fulfillment… the fact that bad things happen… God never intended that… Yes, consequences for sin happen… but again, that’s not God’s plan, that’s consequence… God’s PLAN is that we will not sin so we won’t have to face the consequences….

    I call bull crap, along with Zach, on “It’s God’s plan”….

  • bonniecasad

    My recent goal is to research and think upon God’s “sovereignty.” The phrase we’ve all heard isn’t true, at least in the “divine, not mundane” way. But God’s plan? Does God have a plan for each of us? There is a goal for each of our individual lives? I don’t think so. I think God listens to us, and sometimes helps us. I think that when he opens doors or circumstances line up for the good, it isn’t an endorsement of some plan, just grace.

    And even that phrase I used, “opens doors,” does he? He gets credit for the good but not the bad? So confusing.

    • Lots of very good questions that I’m not going to try to answer in detail except to say this: a big part of the problem from my perspective is that Christian thought shifted from being grounded in the Hebraic framework to being grounded in the Greek philosophical framework. And Greek philosophy starts with certain assumptions like absolute control and being distant outside of time which I would say are forced onto Scripture instead of actually there.