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Does Everything Happen for a Reason, Really?

“Don, I have a problem with the statement religious people make…. When bad things happen, I hear them say ‘Everything happens for a reason.’  I wonder about that. A child is molested, or a person dies in a wreck, and the Christian says, ‘You have to remember: Everything happens for a reason.’  Is that true?”

“I see your problem.  It sounds like it was God’s purpose to hurt that child or cause that death, right?”

“Exactly.”

“I too have a problem with that because throughout the Bible it is clear that evil acts are blamed on people, not God.  But, at the same time, He uses evil acts for His good purposes. For instance, when the Assyrians of the 8th century BC plot and plan to destroy Northern Israel, and then actually do it, God pronounces judgment on them.  But He actually uses them for His purposes, to punish and discipline His disobedient people. Another example: the worst thing that we could do as human beings would be to see God visit earth in a human body and kill Him. And that’s what we did. But, it’s also the best thing that ever happened: His death is the means of our salvation. God can redeem even the worst situation for a purpose.”

“So, Don, would you tell someone who loses a child that ‘Everything happens for a reason?’”

“No, partly because I’m not told why that particular thing happened. Remember when the disciples asked Jesus why the man was born blind (John 9), ‘Was it because he sinned, or his parents sinned?’ And Jesus’s answer was ‘Neither.’ So, I want to be slow to draw any kind of conclusion about why any particular bad thing happened. Plus, it is not what the grieving parents need. They don’t need a theologian; they need a friend. They need someone to weep with them, to care for them. But good theology is a great help when the time is right. I think it is interesting that while we can’t know why any particular affliction happens, we do know why there is affliction in general.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that we know that we live in a fallen, broken world experiencing the consequences of sin from the choice made in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve sinned, and they were told by God that there would be consequences. Suffering reminds us of that. We live on a fallen planet. Every time a child suffers, or a tsunami wipes out a town, or someone attacks a school, or deadly cancer or epidemic strikes, it makes us wonder—or reminds us—what’s wrong. Sin is wrong. The physically broken natural world reminds us of our spiritually broken soul, separated from God. Suffering has and does draw people to Christ.  So, while God does use all evil and suffering here on earth in some redemptive way, we can’t know for sure how He does that or why He allows any specific evil.  The real question to consider is, ‘If the Christian view about this is wrong, what alternative worldview answers the question better?’ In all of my studies I have found no better answer.”

References: Genesis. 3:16-18; John 9:1-3; Romans 5:15-16

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