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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Everything Happens 1

Today I’m reading Romans 12:1-3. Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

I've decided to write a book, and I need your help.

The book is tentatively entitled: “Every Happens” with the words For A Reason crossed out (see today’s picture).

What has piqued my interest is that I have heard the phrase “Everything happens for a reason” used a number of times over the last few months, and it started to get under my skin.

As far as I can tell the first person who said it was the film star Marilyn Monroe. Here’s her full quote: “Everything happens for a reason. Every action has a reaction. Always remember that what’s meant to be will always find a way to come about.”

I’ve heard the same sentiments expressed in Hollywood acceptance speeches, talk show interviews and graduation addresses.

Here are some similar quotations (some unattributed):

“Everything happens for a reason and a purpose, and it serves you.”
 Anthony Robbins

“I trust that everything happens for a reason, even when we’re not wise enough to see it.” Oprah Winfrey.

Everything happens for a reason, what’s supposed to happen will happen… if things don’t go your way, it can be stressful, painful, and hard, but you don’t always have to be in control. It’s all just a part of the grand scheme of things. Don’t let your emotions cloud your vision. Don’t ever fail to see the bigger picture. You may not understand why things are happening the way they are, but soon enough you’ll know”.

“I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they're right, you believe lies so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.”

“Everything happens for a reason. Nothing happens by chance or by means of good luck. Illness, Injury, love, lost moments of true greatness and sheer stupidity all occur to test the limits of your soul.”

The thing is, I have also heard this expression used by Christians as a way of understanding their tragic or painful experiences. For example: “No matter what your problem is, big or small, it usually entails a portion of your heart getting broken. Sometimes, it’s only a bruise, sometimes it feels like it’s shattered into a million pieces. When dealing with a broken heart, it can be devastating and utterly painful, but sometimes it is just God’s way of calling you back to him, to make you grow as a person, or maybe you have to experience that to pave the way for something much better.”

And I began wondering, how “Christian” is that?

When I hear people use that phrase I can’t help but grit my teeth. I think people are trying to console themselves when something goes wrong, and they jump to that phrase - like an automatic cooling mechanism that kicks in on an overheating nuclear reactor. People use it to philosophize away their life’s circumstances. To somehow east their pain. And in many cases, it’s the only thing left for them to hold on to (or so they think). People find comfort in this yearning for a higher purpose that’s behind everything we experience.

If you define “the reason” as a simple cause-and-effect model (such as if you work hard, you’ll reap the results), then everyone can pretty much agree that everything does happen for a reason. But I have a problem with the belief that every single thing that happens is just a small puzzle piece of a higher power’s master plan. That every event is “caused” by this higher plan, whether you call it fate, Karma, Insallah or the will of God.

For example, if I get in an accident and lose my leg, does this mean it happened because God planned this for me, and he wants me to learn something from it? Or, did the accident happen because I chose to speed and talk on my cell phone while eating a Big Mac and I ran a red light? Or, is it a combination of the two?

I don’t doubt for a minute that God could use the loss of my leg to bring glory to him, but it’s the issue of causation that troubles.

If folks really believe there is a divine cause behind everything then what do you say to the person with terminal cancer or the young parents who only child has died, or to the millions of people who experience tremendous suffering and pain - what do you say to them about a God of love?

What I want to do is to explore the differences between these two statements: “Everything happens for a reason” and “There are reasons why everything happens.”

I believe what Paul says in Romans 12. God does have a will for us, and his will is perfect. But all that requires a lot of unpacking to really understand that this is one of the great mysteries of life.

How's that sound to you? Is it worth exploring?

What I'd like from you is you input on the topic. What questions does it raise in your mind? Where do you struggle with these issues in your life? How do you reconcile the will of God with your human free will and the seeming randomness of life? In what ways have simplistic or stupid answers infuriated you? How do you see all this at work among Christians? Are their stories you would be willing to share?

Your input would help me know how to proceed? If you want you can email me at



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