I recently read an article encouraging Christians to stop saying “everything happens for a reason.” The argument? Everything doesn’t actually happen for a reason.
According to the author, some of life’s occurrences are random — but they “can ultimately be redeemed and used by God for a purpose (Romans 8:28).” There’s a distinction between some of life’s events happening with purpose, and some happening randomly but with qualities God can redeem after for his purposes. “These two things are quite different if you begin to unpack their meaning and understanding.”
But there are a few problems with this. First and foremost, the Bible doesn’t support it. Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers (Genesis 37). Job lost everything he owned, his children, and his health (Job 1-2). Jesus’ friend, Lazarus, was sick and died—causing confusion and pain for friends and family—since Jesus wouldn't go to heal him (John 11). Paul was given a thorn in the flesh, “a messenger of Satan to harass him” (2 Corinthians 12:7). Jesus, an innocent man, was murdered publicly and with the approval of all the involved religious and political leaders (Acts 4:27-28).
Can we all agree these are horrible events? Of course we can. And while not a single one of us would like to find ourselves in a similar situation, often times we do (except for being crucified for the sin of the world). We lose jobs. We lose loved ones to cancer and car wrecks and house fires. We go through divorce and abuse. These are all situations of intense pain and suffering.
And yet the Bible is clear. God is not random. He doesn’t spin the world, take his hands off, and wait for opportunities to step in and clean up a mess. He is sovereign. He is wise. And his ways—though they may include hard times and pain—are higher than our ways and always work together for our good (Isaiah 55:8-9; Romans 8:28).
Joseph was used to save Israel and preserve God’s people during a great famine (Genesis 50:20). Job experienced God’s faithfulness and blessing on the other side of heavy suffering (Job 42). Jesus let Lazarus die on purpose so that the power of God would be displayed in his resurrection and people would believe (John 11:14-15). Paul’s thorn kept him humble and taught him about the sufficiency of God’s grace (2 Corinthians 12:8-10). The death of Jesus was the most heinous act of evil ever committed — but it brought salvation to the world (Romans 5:6-11).
It’s a mystery why and how God allows pain and suffering, and how he intends to use it for good. Yes, God is love. Yes, he is good. But yes, he is still sovereign over his creation, absolutely sovereign over all of it (Isaiah 46:8-11). While it may sound like a help to believe suffering does not intentionally come to us from God, the biblical truth is that it does — and the real comfort is in knowing God has a plan for your pain, to grow you, to make you more like Jesus, to use you as his ambassador. The only real comfort is in knowing God is not out of control and in every situation there is a definite purpose.
At the same time we can all agree it typically doesn’t comfort hurting people to hear aphorisms like "everything happens for a reason.” Most of the time it can be insensitive, and therefore I agree it shouldn't be used lightly on people in the midst of their pain. So get rid of the bathwater, sure, but let’s get the baby out first.
Don’t fall for a fake comfort. Everything does happen for a reason. Jesus said not even a bird falls from the sky apart from God (Matthew 10:29-31). Your circumstances are not random and meaningless. It’s precisely because everything happens for a reason that you can trust God to fulfill his purpose and bring you safely through it. It may just take a little faith.