Ever had a terrible day, or a time when something really bad happened to you, and the best consolation anyone could offer you was that “everything happens for a reason”?
When life mugs us—when we’re the victims of the world’s beat down, literally or figuratively—it’s not always helpful to hear the vague reassurance that what we’re going through is happening for some greater purpose. I once saw a marquee that said, “Everything happens for a reason. Sometimes the reason is that we make stupid decisions.” Which is very true! But Christians tend to use this phrase with the (often unspoken) implication that “everything happens for a reason that is preordained by God.”
If you break it down to the base essence of action and consequence, there are three catalysts that affect circumstances throughout the universe:
In 2014, the New York Times posted an opinion article addressing the question, “Does Everything Happen For a Reason?” According to a study performed by the Yale Mind and Development Lab in which individuals were asked to reflect on personal experiences such as the births of children, the deaths of loved ones, and serious illnesses, it was found that a vast majority of people both religious and atheistic believe that everything happens for a specific reason—be it God or “fate.” Of the religious, the article says:
“Unsurprisingly, a majority of religious believers said they thought that these events happened for a reason and that they had been purposefully designed (presumably by God).”
Herein lies the problem with the statement that “everything happens for a reason.” While on the surface it seems harmless—plausible, even, and at the very least, comforting to know that our struggles are not just some feeble shout into the yawning abyss—the implication remains that God caused the tragedy for a purpose. Whether it’s a lesson to be learned, a rude awakening, or a punishment, the inherent message behind the phrase remains clear: God is responsible for “everything” in an equation where “everything” usually equals “something terrible.”
The implication errs in that it frames the God of love as a calloused Being who carelessly drops anvils on people’s heads just to prove a point. So, what often happens when Christians throw around the phrase “everything happens for a reason” is that they are, by default of the common understanding, implicating God as the catalyst for suffering with some “greater purpose in mind.”
The sad truth is, there isn’t always a “greater purpose.” Terminal illness is terrible—period. A parent losing his ability to provide for their children is scary and heartbreaking. Period. Death is terrible. Period.
While we can and should find reasons to praise God in the midst of life’s storms, we must also be careful to never imply, even indirectly, that God brought the storm just so that we would learn to praise Him. While God often allows the circumstances of self-inflicted misfortune to come upon a person, that’s a far cry from the claim that God is lounging on the clouds picking people to zap just for some higher cause.
It’s a commonly-held belief in Christianity—too common, when you really dig into it—that God is the reason behind every natural disaster, personal loss, and turn of fortune in a person’s life. In the book “Don’t Blame God,” the authors tackle this dilemma by exposing the hand of God’s adversary, Satan, behind much of the suffering and destruction in this world. Sudden sickness, random acts of violence, and the chess-like movements of evil around the globe can usually be attributed to the spiritual handiwork of God’s arch-nemesis.
This is something we have to be aware of, because the “god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4) is one of those “reasons why everything happens.” When you have an enemy made up of hate, lies, and pride, the reason for the trouble that befalls you is not always good or done in the interest of shaping you into a better, kinder, more enlightened person.
The additional problem with this phrase is that it removes from the individual the responsibility of seeking out the cause of any given ailment. If sickness, death, and misfortune just “happen for a reason”—a reason which is almost always framed as some future lesson or windfall on the horizon—then no one really has to look at how their choices and the steps they’ve taken might’ve led to their current struggles. When we paint suffering in an esoteric, fate-ordained light, we excuse ourselves from examining our own role in “fate” and the part we play in the things that happen to us.
All that being said, what is the conclusion? Is this common phrase true?
In direct terms—yes. Everything does happen for a reason. But not everything necessarily happens for a divine purpose.
Take comfort, friends: God is not out there dropping anvils on people’s heads, and your head isn’t next. His desire is to work in harmony with His people, not to toy with our lives for some unfathomable “reason”. When things happen, we can search out the reasons why—and we can take them to God for wisdom and instruction, knowing He always has our best interest at heart.
 “Does Everything Happen For a Reason?” New York Times, October 17, 2014. Accessed 4/20/17. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/19/opinion/sunday/does-everything-happen-for-a-reason.html?_r=0
 Don’t Blame God, Spirit & Truth Fellowship International.