Everything happens for a reason.
That statement has become cliche in our culture.
We say it when trying to help a friend through tragedy. It’s a good self-help phrase to pick up our spirits after a disappointment. We’ll throw it out there when discussing deep topics as a way to plant our flag on the side of life having some sort of meaning.
But not everyone believes that it’s true. Lots of people hope that it’s true, while many others are more convinced of the randomness of the universe and focused on maximizing its utility rather than really spending time trying to find the meaning in everything.
The fact that it’s become cliche is a consequence of the decline of orthodox Christian influence in western society. It’s not meant to be cliche. It’s meant to be a comfort and a reassurance of God’s sovereignty in the midst of the troubles we all inevitably face.
Despite the fact that the world is full of suffering and tragedy and pain and injustice, Christians have no other way to view the world.
Everything happens for a reason.
That statement is very much a truth found in the Bible and Christian tradition throughout history. It’s not a throwaway. It’s not meant to placate. There is deep significance in holding to this belief, about which scripture is clear.
From the sin of Adam and Eve all the way to the crucifixion of Jesus, the Bible is full of tragedy infused with eternal purpose. Yet while we can see the purpose of suffering in the context of scripture, it’s admittedly much harder to discern the purpose of suffering we see and experience in the moment.
To make matters worse, the go-to scriptures designed to help us navigate pain and disappointment have in many cases become cliche themselves. For example:
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” – Romans 8:28
“For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” – Ecclesiastes 3:1
There is tremendous truth in those verses, but they come across as platitudes because they are so familiar. They have lost their meaning for so many because so many have lost sight of their place in creation.
Humans are such self-absorbed beings. We don’t often really stop to take stock of our place in the grand scheme of things. And as civilization has progressed and we’ve become so advanced and self-sufficient, when we do take time to consider our place it’s hard not to put humans squarely at the apex of the universe.
Then when things don’t go our way, we begin to question why. What could we have done differently? How can this be fixed and prevented? If things always went according to our plans, we would never have to ask why they happen. The reason would always be, “Well, that’s how I planned it.”
So how can we position ourselves (namely, our hearts and our minds) and to which places can we turn to affirm our confidence and belief that everything happens for a reason?
1) Reorient Our Affections
When you read Paul in Romans 8:38-39 exhort that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God,” are you overwhelmed with praise and gratitude and unending joy? Do you suddenly become filled with determination to not let anything ever bring you down or stop you from pursuing God’s will?
I’ll admit that I don’t, and you probably don’t either. But how can that be? We’ve just been promised that there is nothing in the entirety of creation, including death itself, that can separate us from God’s love. He is always with us, no matter what. He is the most powerful being in the universe, He made all things and he is absolutely, 100 percent committed to us. Amen!
But does that mean all of our bills will always be paid? Will our cancer or our friend’s cancer be cured? Will poverty and exploitation and hunger disappear? Will there finally be world peace? Will we get the job we want or the spouse we want or will all of our other good, wholesome, seemingly Christ-honoring prayers be answered?
Nope. That’s not what that means. And that hurts and that disorients us and we end up disappointed because – most of the time – we want those things more than we want to experience the fullness of God’s love.
That has to change for us to truly embrace that God is in control and everything happens for a reason. Otherwise we’ll just half-heartedly accept it as a fact until real tragedy hits, and our deep emotional or physical pain will overcome our knowledge of God’s sovereignty. His mysterious reasons won’t seem sufficient to justify what has happened.
The fact is, no justification is needed. God’s will is beyond our understanding sometimes, if not all the time. Unless we desire God alone above all things, then when anything will prize above Him are threatened, we will question God and demand reasons that simply won’t satisfy us.
We simply have no choice but to place ALL things at the foot of the cross, to bring everything we are in submission to Him.
This must be our prayer, “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.” – Psalm 90:14
2) See God As He Truly Is
Make no mistake, God’s will is done on earth and in heaven.
Jesus didn’t teach His disciples to pray for God’s will to be done so that God would have enough reminders about his task list. We include that in our prayers so that it becomes even more rooted in ourselves.
The Lord does not answer to us. He listens to us, He cares for us, but he is not directed by us.
The God who loves us and who would leave His entire flock to go after just one lost sheep (Luke 15), is the same God who destroyed cities and toppled nations and allowed Israel to be exiled and ultimately sacrificed His own son to accomplish His plan of reconciling His creation.
And He is a God who requires one thing above all – Absolute, undivided devotion to Him.
What is the First Commandment given to Moses?
“You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)
When the disciples asked Jesus for the greatest commandment, what did He say?
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)
This theme of desiring God above all things is everywhere in scripture. We are to seek first His Kingdom (Matthew 6:33), do all things for His glory (1 Corinthians 10:31), leave our families and careers to follow Him (Luke 14:26), receive our salvation for His name’s sake (Philippians 1:29), use our salvation to proclaim His excellencies (1 Peter 2:9), ask for His will even in the matter of whether we should live, let alone what we do with our lives (James 4:15).
Fortunately for us, God no longer requires adherence to a set of rules as the price of admission. Faith alone is the ticket, but isn’t the cost still just the same? To follow Christ requires every piece of us to be given over to Him so that nothing remains of our will, only His.
Some people read those passages and see Jesus as jealous, self-promoting, arrogant and ultimately not someone worth worshipping.
But isn’t the better posture a recognition that of all things to which we could give our attention, affection and adoration, the creator of the universe should be the recipient? He’s doing it for our good. Nothing else can satisfy us.
Yes, it’s His glory, but it’s also our deepest joy.
As the old worship song goes, “Our God is an awesome God, He reigns from heaven above.”
We have to accept that Jesus Christ is the only thing worthy of our devotion. The command to love Him with all of ourselves and above all else is the most freeing command we could ever hope to receive.
To do so requires right affections and right perspective of who God is.
Once those are secured, anything that comes our way in life will be filtered through that lens. Only then can we say with confidence that everything happens for a reason, even if that reason is simply that it was God’s will.
Sometimes, that has to be enough.