Does Everything Happen for a Reason
I sometimes cringe at the phrase, “Everything happens for a reason.” Such a statement is a common response to everyday difficulties or minor inconveniences. At other times, it is used to explain away our anxiety concerning God’s will and providence in major matters of importance. For instance, we become anxious seeing the capacity for evil to abide and even thrive in our world. We then attempt to calm ourselves and our frightened minds by attributing evil and dark pain to some happenstance of cosmic forces that we just don’t understand. In fact, yesterday we witnessed yet another act of senseless, murderous violence in Austin. Why would a disgraced law enforcement detective commit such grievous acts—resorting to the murder of his own family? To answer this question by saying, “Everything happens for a reason” just doesn’t add up and, frankly, doesn’t do much to calm my nerves. There must be a deeper and fuller kind of wisdom out of which we can make some sense of the senseless.
The world which operates outside of acknowledging or following God often resorts to two main explanations for senseless evil in the world. One explanation is called “fatalism.” This is the embrace of simple fate and serves as the basis for saying, “Everything happens for a reason.” For Christians to resort to fatalism downplays our biblical faith in the Lord. Fatalism portrays God as some sort of random being who does not have much involvement with, much less time for, a relationship with us. Fatalism has its roots in the teachings of a Greek philosopher named Epicurus. Epicurus lived around 400 years before Christ and basically taught that the purpose of life is to achieve some semblance of happiness and freedom from anxiety. He assumed that if one could free oneself from anxiety—which he called the source of all irrational behavior—then that person could embrace one’s fate with freedom and joy.
To be honest, I find neither freedom nor joy in Epicurus’s teachings! To explain away evil by simply chalking it up to our anxiety is simplistic at best and deadly at worst. To say that “Everything happens for a reason” becomes a convenient way for us to avoid the deeper mysteries of life in an attempt to keep a thin bubble of personal happiness from popping.
Another explanation for senseless evil is something called casualism. It’s best known by the phrase, “I’ll take my chances.” In other words, if there is a God, then that God has let the universe spin randomly out of control with no reason for anything whatsoever. This is the old “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps” kind of theology, meaning that bad things are going to happen, so we might as well go on, take our chances on the bad and the good, and if something bad happens, then we’ll just have to get over it.
Yet another explanation has to do with assessing blame. In this method of making sense of the senseless, we attempt to judge people and human systems for leading a person to do an evil act. For instance, it’s quite common nowadays to blame current violence and evil on certain past corrupted human institutions, systemic racism, and flaws in the general attitude of government and society. How easily though that we find fault in the systems and institutions rather than the humans and sin behind such institutions. How easy it is for those who attempt to control and radically alter the faulty systems end up making more faulty systems under the pretentious notions of “making things better.”
We are fortunate that none of these above explanations are found in the teachings of the Bible. Jesus never taught us to chalk bad things up to happenstance or to tough it out until you die. He didn’t blame institutions or certain systems for all human ills. Our God also did not create the whole universe simply to leave us to our own devices. Jesus points us to the true God who not only gives us freedom of will but also takes a great deal of interest in all matters of our lives. Yet, because sin has entered the picture, we see in the Bible that God deals with human evil and senseless violence in a number of ways. Sometimes God prevents some sins from occurring while at other times he permits people to go all out in their use of freedom to take sin to maximum lengths. But why is this?
What we see in Christ is the picture of a God who loves us fully and graciously. His love actually prevents him from turning us into robots. We have free will. God actually can limit himself from intervening in our exercise of will. Yet, this means that we can use that free will to damage both ourselves and others. It’s not based on fatalism or happenstance. God then is not the author of sin or evil.
Be careful when using phrases like, “Everything happens for a reason,” or “I’ll take my chances.” In every matter of life, turn to the Lord who provides solace for the anxious heart and courage for the wounded and pained victims of seemingly senseless violence. We will find at the end of the day that in order to save our lives we must lose them for Jesus and his sake.