Everything Happens For a Purpose
Everything Happens for a Reason.
Today we start a new series of messages called Urban Legends. Urban legends are stories and ideas that are thought to be true by those who circulate them. They are not necessarily false, but they are often exaggerated and sensationalised. If you’re on the internet, you will be familiar with forwarded emails, often containing some sad puppy-dog story or some dire warning.
What happens is either
· Somebody starts a completely fake story to see how far it will travel….
· There is something that is actually true, but it spreads like Chinese Whispers until the result is distorted or exaggerated…
There are also religious urban legends or myths - things that some Christians believe to be true, but which are either completely false or exaggerated to some degree.
The first urban legend we want to attack is the statement “Everything happens for a reason.”
I have to be careful, because I have chosen as my first urban legend one that many people believe. I’m sure you’ve either said this, or you’ve had someone say it to you in the middle of a difficult time.
If you have had this said to you in a particularly difficult time, how much comfort was it?
I have sat with a lot of people who have just suffered the death of a loved one. I have found that line not to be very much help.
How would it go over with the families of the students killed at VirginiaTechUniversity?
Not only is this statement not a lot of help on the human level, I think it’s not really true on the biblical level.
The underlying idea is that if God has allowed something into our lives, it must ultimately be a good thing. Given enough time, we will eventually see that what happened was good and not bad. I am going to challenge that thought in just a minute. First…
The whole Everything Happens for a Reason thinking has its start in solid biblical thinking. There are two words that theologians use to describe God, and these are at the centre of this idea. The words are:
Omniscient: That means that God knows everything. God is all-knowing. Most of us as kids were able to put something past our parents, teachers, other kids, and so on. But you can’t put anything past God. God knows all.
Omnipotent: That means that God is all-powerful, that God can do anything. There is no power greater than God. There is no power equal to God.
Put those theological thoughts together and you might come up with something like this – which I have heard people say.
There is nothing that can happen to you which doesn’t first pass over God’s desk. Before it can happen, God must approve it, or allow it. If something bad happens, it is because God first of all approved or allowed it to happen. Therefore, there is a reason for it happening, and because God is good, the reason must be good.
I have good news and bad news.
Good news: Everything happens for a reason. That part is true. No matter how good or bad it is, there is always (usually) a reason behind it.
Bad news: The reason is not always the reason we hope fore. The reason may not always be good.
Let me give you some examples:
The church I grew up in had a sister-church relationship with another church about 100 kilometres away. The pastor of our church was a friend of the pastor of that church. Our youth groups often did things together. Mostly, we went to the same summer camps and often travelled together. Because of this, I got to know the pastor of the other church, as well as his family. I remember he had a daughter who was probably 5 or 6 years younger than me. Because of the age difference, I wasn’t interested, but I remember that she was a cute kid. Years later, when the daughter was about 16, a prayer request went out that she had gone missing. People over a number of states were asked to pray that she be found safe and well. A few days later they found her murdered body. The autopsy revealed that she had been raped.
This story is one of the first things my mind goes to as maybe the starting point when I began to question Everything Happens for a Reason thinking.
Are we saying that somehow the devil ran this evil deed across God’s desk, and God put His stamp of approval on the rape and murder of a 16 year old girl?
I read this week that by 2020 there will be 18 million AIDS orphans in Africa.
Are we saying that someone asked God if it was okay for there to be 18 million orphans due to AIDS, and that God agreed to that?
We’re all aware of the horror of the largest mass shooting in America’s history. 32 people, plus the gunman, Cho Seung-Hui killed.
Are we saying that God gave approval to mass murder for some higher and better purpose?
One of the biggest arguments I hear from sceptics is that a God who approves this kind of devastation cannot be a God of love and kindness.
I’ve got to say that I agree with them!
Let’s look at the Scripture that is often quoted to accompany the Everything Happens for a Reason thinking to see what it is really saying to us. And then I want to unpack what I believe the Bible is really saying about bad events and God’s purposes in our lives.
Romans 8:28 NASB
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
This verse was shown to me by my high school biology teacher, Mr. DeJong. He was a fantastic Christian. I was going through a hard time with my dad being sick. This verse brought me huge encouragement.
The trouble is not in the verse. The verse is part of the inspired word of God. This is a powerful and uplifting verse. The trouble is in what we sometimes read into it.
The verse does not say that everything is good. It doesn’t say that everything that happens to you is good for you because somehow God put his stamp of approval on it.
It does say that even in the worst situations of life, God is at work to bring about good.
There’s a huge difference in those 2 readings of Romans 2:28.
It doesn’t say that God causes everything that happens.
It doesn’t say that God approves everything that happens.
It says that God will work in everything that happens to bring some good from it.
There are two big conditions to this promise…
Have you seen those great offers on TV, and at the bottom of the screen are the words “Conditions Apply.” That means that if you don’t meet the conditions, the offer is not valid. This passage has conditions that apply. Look again at the first part of the verse.
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God…
Condition No. 1. Love God.
This promise, that God will be at work in every situation to bring about some good, is for those who love God. What about those who don’t love God? Well, the best I can see is that the promise doesn’t apply.
Let’s look at the second condition. God causes all things to work together for good … to those who are called according to his purpose.
What does that mean – to be called according to God’s purpose? Let me put it simply (because that’s how I understand it best). To be called according to God’s purpose simply means that God has called and you have responded to his call. So, for Condition No. 2, we will put this.
Condition No. 2. Respond to God’s call
This promise is for those who fulfil these two conditions. First, you have to love God. Second, you have to be living in response to God’s call on your life.
What does it mean to love God and respond to God’s call?
I put my hands up while singing worship songs?
I sing “I love you Lord”?
I get warm feelings when I read my Bible?
Love is shown through obedience.
John 14:15. Message
If you love me, show it by doing what I've told you. (from THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language © 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. All rights reserved.)
Now no one obeys perfectly. Nobody has any bragging rights. We are all imperfect people. And none of us has the right to start telling another believer that they’re not doing it right. We are all desperately in need of grace.
But, if I am living in such a way that I am knowingly, either verbally or non-verbally, saying to God - “Get out of my life. I’m not going to do what you want me to do. I am not going to respond to your call on my life,” - then I have no right to claim the promise of Romans 8:28.
We have to love God AND respond to God’s call in order for this promise to be valid for us.
There will be times when God does work for the good of those who don’t love Him and have not responded to His call on their lives.
God loves every person, and God’s love will be at work in every person’s life, to some degree. But when it comes to the promise of Romans 8:28, the conditions are very clear.
God works for the good of those who love God and respond to God’s call on their lives.
That’s the first thing. Now I want to talk about…
Two reasons why a bad thing might really be good.
These are the times when something unpleasant, and painful, can actually be a part of God’s plan to bring about some ultimate good.
Sometimes God does initiate things that are unpleasant.
Sometimes God allows things that are unpleasant.
And when God does it, He is in fact working good in our lives.
There are at least two reasons… (probably more)
1. God has something better in mind.
How many have had something happen that, at the time felt really bad, but in fact turned out to be one of the best things that could have happened?
Get put off from a job only to land a better job….
Go through a painful time only to find later that it built a character depth you would have never had if you had not gone through the pain…
I remember a time when God led me into working with very difficult people. I was sure God did it, but I didn’t know why. But that experience had the effect of breaking off some very rough edges – edges that probably wouldn’t have broken off any other way. If you asked me if I’d do it again, I’d say no. If you asked me if it was ultimately a positive time, I’d say yes.
2. It is a necessary step towards a greater good
The story of Joseph (Genesis 37-50)
Favoured by his dad & hated by his brothers…
Strange dreams in which his brothers bow to him…
Sold into slavery…
Unjustly jailed for sexual harassment…
Rises to second highest position in the land…
Famine brings his brothers to Egypt seeking food…
Joseph reveals who he is…
Brothers realise he’s in a position to get revenge…
Genesis 50:20 NASB
You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.
Joseph realised that the bad that happened to him was really a part of a greater plan of God to bring about a greater good.
We love it when God shows us that our suffering was for a purpose. We love it when God brings some greater good out of what looked like a terrible situation.
God does do that. But not every time.
We can become bitter with God when we assume he has made a promise he never made and feel that he must do always what he does do sometimes.
Two reasons why a bad thing might be a bad thing.
I do not believe that everything that happens in the world happens because God wants it to happen or because God directly approved it happening. I think there is another explanation that is better supported biblically than Everything Happens for a Reason or that it passed God’s desk and He allowed it to happen…
1. We live in a fallen world.
Bad things happen because we live in a fallen world.
This is core biblical understanding:
Right in the beginning, God gave people something called free will.
He put Adam and Eve in the Garden and told them what he wanted them to do and not to do (one thing). Then God set them loose and allowed them to freely choose the course of their lives. He did not intervene when they ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This wasn’t God’s will. It wasn’t given His stamp of approval. It was a direct violation of God’s express will, and He gave them the freedom to do it.
God gave humanity the ability to choose how we will live our lives. We can choose to do good, or we can choose to do evil, and most of the time God will not stop us.
Does that mean that God doesn’t see – that He’s not omniscient? Oh, He’s still omniscient. God still sees, and much of human behaviour breaks his heart.
Does that mean that God’s no omnipotent? No, God is still all-powerful. It’s just that God has chosen to let humanity choose its own behaviour and not to intervene (most of the time) with the decisions we make.
This free will thing includes deliberate wrongdoing as well as accidental or negligent wrong doing.
So, God did not intervene when a gunman shot 32 innocent university students and teachers…
He didn’t stop terrorists from flying planes into the World Trade Centre…
The preliminary reports about the plane that crashed a few weeks ago in Indonesia revealed that the pilots were on an incentive program to cut costs. So, when the plane was coming in too fast to land, instead of choosing the safe option and flying around and trying again, the pilot opted the cost-saving choice of trying to land anyway.
(We’re not sure it happened that way, but we still see plenty of example… for instance the truck driver, being pressured to drive too many hours, chooses to push himself too far and ends up killing innocent travellers.)
There’s another important thing we need to recognise…
Our free can have devastating effects!
When we make wrong choices, people get hurt.
We cause ourselves harm…
We hurt those we love…
Even innocent people get hurt…
This has led some people to think that maybe giving us free will was not such a good idea.
I’ve had people say to me, “Why doesn’t God stop people from doing bad things? Why doesn’t he give us free will, but just stop us from doing bad things that hurt others?”
What would you say to someone like that?
I say two things…
Where should God draw the line?
Do you want God to stop hunger? How about greed as well? What sins should God stop us from committing? If God is going to stop murder, should He also stop anger (which when it’s out of control can lead to murder)?
Most people wouldn’t have a problem with God removing the Hitlers (or the Cho’s) of the world. But should God remove every person who does wrong?
The Bible declares that sin is sin. But in wanting God to stop certain things from happening, a line has to be drawn somewhere. If we put ten people together in a room and tried to determine where that line is, it would never happen.
Do you want God to limit your free will?
I have found that people don’t like other people to have free will, especially when that free will might harm them, but they don’t want anyone to limit their own freedom to choose.
That’s the first reason why a bad thing might be a bad thing. We live in a fallen world where the poor exercise of free will has caused havoc.
Now for the second reason, which is closely aligned
2. We have made foolish decisions
Proverbs 19:2-3 TLB
It is dangerous and sinful to rush into the unknown. A man may ruin his chances by his own foolishness and then blame it on the Lord!
Have you ever done that? You rush into a decision. You don’t consult God (pray about it). You don’t seek wise guidance. You barge in and then, when it falls apart, complain to God about it.
What is it about humanity that we can get ourselves into trouble and then expect God to put it all right?
Proverbs 22:3 NLT
A prudent person foresees the danger ahead and takes precautions; the simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.
One of the biggest questions is…
Why didn’t God intervene?
Why didn’t God stop the drunk driver?
Why didn’t God pull the fire alarm before the shooter got to the campus?
Now, sometimes God does intervene.
On September 11th, 2001, there were an extraordinary number of people who were delayed for some reason on their way to work. They were spared.
Sometimes God does intervene, but not always.
Why God intervenes sometimes and not at others, I don’t know.
Some are healed, and some aren’t…
Some are spared, and others suffer…
We don’t know why.
We know this.
1. Character is more important than comfort.
We put a lot of emphasis on personal comfort.
God doesn’t share our craving for comfort.
He’s more interested in character.
2. Nothing can separate us from God’s love.
Regardless of what happens to you, God will never stop loving you.
He will never stop wanting the best for you.
If you love God and respond to God’s call, God promises to work in every situation, even the worst, to bring about good.
3. In the end, God wins.
It doesn’t matter who’s ahead at half-time.
I follow a lot of sports, and I figured this out. Being ahead at half-time is nothing. What counts is who’s ahead when the full-time siren sounds.
Things might look bad now, but it’s the end of the game that counts.
Not everything that happens is the will of God.
We will suffer because of our own foolish decisions.
We will suffer because of living in a fallen world.
Jesus understands what it is to suffer. e has lead the way and has obtained the victory.
Don’t give up! Finish well! Everyone finishes, but not everyone finishes well. This is not all there is.
Finish full of faith. Hold on. Build your faith. Focus on the end of the race…