Does everything happen for a reason?
What is the will of God?
What is the will of God for my life?
Good questions most Christians will most likely ask at some point in their life.
Many are willing to do God's will, but many more often don't have the slightest idea of what that means in a practical sense in their life. So they turn to their pastor or their elders or other mentors in the church and ask, "How can I discover God's will for my life?"
I've been asked those questions before many times. And at first I'd give a good answer, "Be patient. God will show you." After all, doesn't God say, "They that wait on the Lord won't be disappointed?"
Yet somehow that really isn't encouraging or comforting to the person asking. It seems there should be a better answer—a more practical answer. Unfortunately, what I'm learning through 15 years of ministry is that for many, waiting more often looks like wasting. Many are waiting for some great revelation from the Lord, and so in the mean time, they wait.
On the other hand, I can’t tell you how many times I have had church members come up to me with a message from God. Oh yes—and please forgive my sarcasm—but they have been given a prophetic message from on High. And I can tell because they begin with the phrase, “I’ve been praying about this and I feel impressed to tell you…”
Or maybe they say, “Everything happens for a reason.”
Or “It must be God’s will.”
“I was in a terrible car accident, what is God trying to tell me?”
“My girlfriend left me, I lost my job, but everything happens for a reason. God must be trying to tell me something.”
“My husband died—God called him home.”
There are really three responses to these types of events in our lives. #1, the aforementioned "everything happens for a reason", also known as "theological determinism." #2 is a deistic approach, and #3 can be summed up in the law of "cause and effect."
Theological determinism teaches that God has predetermined, or predestined, everything that will happen on earth. We are pawns in a galactic chess board. God has written a script and we are just actors in the drama. He is the ultimate and grand Puppet Master. He is high above the curtain with strings attached to each person, and however He moves the little sticks is how the puppet moves.
From the Christian's perspective determinism works this way: Because we know that God is good we can trust that everything that happens to us will ultimately result in good; if they look bad at the moment, it's because we can't perceive His entire plan. Thus, this trial I'm going through is "God's will."
The second view, Deism, is the ideal that God created everything, set it in motion, and is no longer directly involved in it's workings. Deism teaches that God doesn't intervene in our affairs. Thus when storms, earthquakes, or hurricanes happen, it's the result of a natural process. God doesn't cause suffering, and He doesn't do anything to stop it.
Deism doesn't work for me though. Because if it were true, that would mean that John 1:14, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us..." wouldn't be true. Scripture clearly teaches that God IS involved and interested in His creation.
But Determinism doesn't really work either because if everything really does happen for a reason, then that means God is causing it to happen. I have problems with this. Let me explain.
In my pastoral career, I've stood by the bedside of too many individuals who were in their last moments of life. I've listened as a mother wept for her 19 year old son. I've stood next to a father as he shook and trembled at the coffin of his 13 year old boy. I've held the hand of the 80-something year old lady as she buried her husband of 58 years.
How would you feel if you were one of those people and I told you, "This has happened for a reason?"
Or worse: When I was a youth pastor in Australia, and young lady came to me one night after I had finished preaching at a camp meeting and asked, "If God is so good, where was He when my dad was abusing me and torturing me?" A child that required years of counseling for the emotional trauma, and surgery to heal the physical abuse. Does she think God is good or that this happened for a reason?
I know she doesn't—or didn't—because she told me so. Thankfully, she was able to work through her anger at God as I shared with her. I believe that if God is so good and loving, then the ways He chooses to accomplish His plans will also be good and loving. In fact to consider these terrible events "the will of God" is nothing short of blasphemy. It doesn't add up that a God Who loves me, Who has numbered the hairs on my head (a number that changes—decreasingly) would treat me in an unloving way. It's egregious to think that.
Which brings me to cause and effect. Scripture does teach that when we live according to the Word of God--there are specific blessings. When we live contrary to the Word of God—there are consequences. Which doesn't explain why the person who smokes and drinks their whole life can live to 101, but the vegan, church attending, church member dies at 59. There always seems to be exceptions, but maybe there is more meaning to be discovered.
Remember Scripture teaches that the effects of sin are handed from the parents on down to the children through generations. It's why the Bible says that when God created Adam and Eve it was in His image, but when it describes Seth's birth, Seth is born in Adam's image—he was born into a sinful situation. Furthermore, the second commandment talks about the iniquities of the parents being handed down to the third and fourth generations...
Maybe that's why I like my mom's definition the best of all. When my close friend from childhood died from cancer in his early 20's, I wrestled with God. It hurt. It stung. Why him? He had so much to offer. If everything happens for a reason, what possible reason could God have for allowing him to die?
But one evening while talking with Mom about it, she gave me this incredible view: “Benjamin,” she said—she’s the only person in the world who calls me by my full name when I’m not in trouble—“sometimes, things like this just happen. There is no reason except that he is a casualty of war. Satan attacked Him. But we know, God will win, and he will live again when Jesus comes.”
God didn't cause him to die. God didn't cause me to get into a car accident that has left me back pain. God didn't cause all the evil in the world just so He could teach us a lesson. However, God does promise that in the face of sin and tragedy, to use it for good. "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."
Let me conclude my thoughts and understanding with a quote. Cornel Rempel, a counselor and a chaplain gives a definition I can agree with and offers a better response by Christians to challenges in life:
"Suffering is not God’s desire for us, but it occurs in the process of life. Suffering is not given to teach us something, but through it we may learn. Suffering is not given to punish us, but sometimes it is the consequence of our sin or poor judgment. Suffering does not occur because our faith is weak, but through it our faith may be strengthened. God does not depend on human suffering to achieve His purposes, but sometimes through suffering His purposes are achieved. Suffering can either destroy us, or it can add meaning to our life” (Health, Healing and the Church's Mission: Biblical Perspectives and Moral Priorities, Williard Swartley, p. 98).
I've learned that my faith doesn't prevent or fix my problems, but faith does give me a mechanism to lean on and survive. It gives me a reason to exist and press on toward the upward call of God. It gives a bright hope in the face of a dark future. It affirms my confidence in God and gives me a reason to keep on believing.
God is not the puppet master. He is our coach. Our mentor. Our redeemer. Our healer. He gives wisdom and guidance.
But the decision to believe is yours.