Summary: People often say "Everything happens for a reason." An implication of this is that everything happens because God wills it. This can be difficult to reconcile with belief in a God who is good. This sermon looks at the truth and untruth of this statement.
We’re going to start off this morning with a little trivia. Kip’s going to put some statements on the screen and we are going to decide whether these sentences come from the Bible or not. This is just a little game, we’ll do a few of these every Sunday for the next few weeks for a little fun. There’s no punishment for a wrong answer, so don’t be afraid to participate. Alright, here we go… [Bible or Not? Trivia]
So we’re starting a new series this week called, “Bible or Not,” where we will take a look at certain common phrases shared among Christians that sound Biblical and maybe hold some truth about the faith, but which don’t tell the whole story. And I’ll just go ahead and give you all a little hint up front by letting you know that none of the phrases we are going to talk about over the next five weeks are actually in the Bible. This week, we’re going to be thinking about the meaning of the phrase, “Everything happens for a reason.” Now there are some other variations on this phrase, like, “It was the will of God,” or “It was meant to be,” or “This was part of God’s plan,” or “It must’ve been their time,” which we hear a lot at the time of someone’s death, especially when that death is unexpected or untimely.
As we begin to give some thought to what it means to say, “Everything happens for a reason,” let’s listen to a Scripture reading this morning from the book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament. This is near the end of Moses’ life, and Moses is preparing to leave the Israelites, sort of paving the way for Joshua to take over leadership and guide the Israelites into the Promised Land, and Moses says to the Israelites: [Read Scripture passage.]
Now, we’ll come back to that passage in a few minutes, but I want us to think for a minute about what is meant or implied when it is said that, “Everything happens for a reason.” What is the message that comes across through that phrase? Or think about it this way, what or how would you feel if you had just been through a really rough patch in your life, and someone says to you, “Everything happens for a reason.” How would that make you feel? [Allow for answers.] The problem with this phrase is what’s implied, more than what’s said. The implication, particularly when a Christian says something like this, is that whatever is happening is the will of God, that its part of God’s plan. So, the earthquake in Haiti back in 2010 that killed about a quarter of a million people; it’s was God’s will that those people would die, or that that was part of God’s plan. Or it was just meant to be when a two year old in a Wal-Mart pulled a gun out of his mother’s purse, and thinking he was playing with a toy, discharged the weapon, killing his mom. “It must’ve been her time.” You begin to see how difficult it is to believe in a God who is good, a God like the one described in Romans 8, who we know in so many ways works for good in the world, but who at the same time wills so much that is bad. These two ideas just don’t jive, they don’t fit together.
So what we’re going to talk about today are some of the problems behind this statement, “Everything happens for a reason.” Although we need to acknowledge the truth here. Everything does happen for a reason, but look at this meme I ran across on the internet this week [Kip puts meme on screens]. It says, “Everything happens for a reason. But sometimes the reason is that you’re stupid and make bad decisions.”
…Which brings us to the first problem with this phrase, “Everything happens for a reason.” If everything happens for a reason, and that reason is nothing more than it was part of the will or plan of God, then that completely removes personal responsibility. So you go and cheat on your spouse, and then you explain that it was simply part of God’s plan. Or you’re texting and driving, and you cause a wreck that kills someone, and you just say, “It was their time.” So not only are we free from responsibility, but also, all of a sudden, God is the cause of all the bad in the world. And think about how such thinking would affect decisions in our lives. If we’re going to die anyway, what’s the point in eating right, or exercising? Or if it’s God’s will that we get cancer, then going to the doctors for medical treatment would actually be working against God’s plan. Or, if God had already planned that Villanova would win the 2016 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship this week, then what’s the point in any of the teams practicing? I don’t think I need to explain to you that this is simply not rational.