“Everything happens for a reason” must be one of the most head scratching statements I’ve ever heard…not just because this “reason” is often undefined, but because I never know the speaker’s perspective in making this statement.
They could mean that everything has a material cause, that is, a building exists because of the elements of brick and mortar.
They could mean that everything has an efficient cause, much like the domino effect of the decisions we make. For example, I could say that I failed a class because I failed the final, and I failed the final because I didn’t study, and so forth and so on.
Still, there is a final perspective that can be taken, which refers to a higher purpose or goal behind an outcome or event, an overriding reason that may not be immediately apparent.
Even then, I’m still puzzled by the ambiguity of saying “everything happens for a reason”. What is the impetus that runs the order of purpose, if any? Is it karma? Is it the universe? Are these already-laid-out goals specifically good purposes or bad purposes?
I’ve heard it from acquaintances, celebrities, even news anchors and athletes. It seems to have become a modern cliché, an “insert-your-own-meaning” phrase which in essence conveys a message of comfort and control, often when things don’t go as planned. Everyone assumes what the other person is saying, when it fact this statement is more loaded than a plate at a free buffet.
From a Christian perspective, the best way to describe the statement, I believe, is that it’s simply incomplete and out of context in itself. I say this based upon the scripture of Romans 8:28:
“And we know that all things work together for the good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose”
Do our lives amount to nothing more than random drifting, or is it up to us to steer the outcome as best we can? How much does God play into the direction of our lives? I can’t begin to scratch the surface of theology in this post alone, but I can shed some light on God’s promise for the meaning of our lives through this scripture.
He communicated this through the Apostle Paul in starting out the scripture by saying And we know. God’s sovereignty in our lives is not a speculation or guess. What’s one thing that we can know without a shadow of a doubt? That all things work together for the good. Let’s break this statement down further by looking at each phrase in this wonderful scripture:
It clearly states that ALL things work together for the good…not just some things, not just the good things, but ALL things. This includes all joyful, good events as well as all sad, painful events in our lives. It would include our bad decisions, our failures, our set-backs and yes, even sin. There’s nothing that qualifies “all things’. How would it all play out? Well all things…
How in the world could anything good come of heartbreak or loss… or the consequences of a horrible decision? What about emotional pain inflicted by betrayal or the physical pain of illness? It’s easy to blame God for not listening or caring. I know I have. I’ve flat out defied Him to answer in my worst suffering. Yet, I look back and see that He was there all along, in mercies that got me through day by day. Circumstances may not make sense individually. This promise states that each experience, be they good or bad, will weave together for our ultimate benefit.
It’s like a jigsaw puzzle. If you look at each piece individually, it doesn’t make sense.
Some pieces are dark and uninteresting. Others are bright and colorful, but none of them show the whole scene of the completed puzzle. It’s not until they are all put together that we see the whole picture. It’s interesting that no matter what a piece displays, each one is vitally important. Lose one and the picture is ruined.
That’s how it is with our lives. We can’t see the full picture by looking at just one of the pieces. God sees the whole.
Great examples come from the Bible itself.
For instance, there’s the story of Joseph, the son of Jacob. He was thrown into a pit by his jealous brothers, then taken into slavery in Egypt. It just got worse from there. He was falsely accused of adultery and thrown in jail. Finally, after many years in jail, he found himself in a position of power over Egypt. The brothers who were so cruel to him as a kid were at his mercy when they had to travel to Egypt for famine relief. He forgave them, saying, “What you meant for evil, God meant for good.” (Genesis 50:20). God used the passage of time and all these hardships to mature Joseph to be the man of God that he turned out to be. He used the famine to bring his brothers to humility and gratitude, and He brought everyone into a place of healing.
For the Good
We may be able to point back and say, for instance, that if we lose a job, God will lead us to a better one. I don’t believe that concept to be true in all cases. As we’ll see in the later part of this scripture, the benefit referred to here is of spiritual value—to make us more like Christ. He can definitely bless us with earthly gain and ease, but “good” is not measured this way, or everyone, (even those who hate God), could claim His favor. He can and does bless materially, but He is after a far greater value in our hearts and lives, a value we won’t see completed until we are made perfect with Him in eternity.
To those who love God
Here’s where the incompleteness of the statement “All things happen for a reason” comes into play. From a Christian perspective, the peace of mind of knowing that all is for a purpose is stipulated only to those who love God and are called according to His purpose. What does it mean to love God? Well, here are some of the characteristics of someone who loves God:
- They keep His commandments (Psalm 25:10)
- They put God first in their lives (Luke 10:27)
- They acknowledge that the Father and Jesus, the Son, are One. (John 10:30)
How can we say we love God if we don’t know Him and keep His commandments? This brings up another question. How much “keeping” of his commandments would merit us as one who loves God? Do you ever wonder if you qualify? Well, read the next clause:
And are called according to His purpose:
What does it mean to be called according to His purpose, and what does it have to do with obedience? That question is answered in the next scripture, Romans 8:29:
For whom He foreknew, He predestined to be conformed to the Image of His Son…
Isn’t that glorious? You see, although we are called to love and obey God completely, how many of us do this perfectly? None of us…but it says here that if we are believers in Christ, we are predestined, we are pre-appointed, no less, to be conformed to Him.
And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corin. 3:18)
That is His purpose for us, and that is what He has promised to do. This whole passage comes full circle when we see that we cannot love the Lord and not be called to His purpose. We see that it is His work in us, and not our efforts that bring us to want to love and obey Him. We see that He uses all things to work together towards that end.
What an awesome promise! If we are predestined to this purpose of transformation in our lives, it’s a done deal. Romans 8:28 is the explanation of the answer to the “everything happens for a reason” question. Our response is nothing less than gratitude for His sovereignty and glory to Him.
Like Joseph, have you ever gotten to see some of the reasons for hardship in your life? Have you been able to look back at a difficult time and see the intangibles you would have never had otherwise? What were they? I’d love to hear your stories!