We were sitting poolside having some ice cream when one of the party said “I’ve always wanted to ask God one question.” We, of course, asked what that question was.
“Does everything happen for a reason?”
Out of the mouth of a 10 year old came one of the most asked questions of all time. Does everything happen for a reason? You’ve probably heard it hundreds of times; “everything has a reason.” You may have even said it. It is one of those non-scriptural phrases that we treat like Holy Scripture. “Well, remember, everything happens for a reason.”
So the question was out there – and answering it can take many forms: Philosophical, theological or dogmatic. Then there is the pastoral answer, one formed of the other three – using our theology and philosophy to explain dogmatic concepts – explaining the nature of God, in a way that informs and builds up a person.
And the nature of God is truly at the heart of the question “Does everything happen for a reason?” Who is God? What is God like? We say a lot about God when we answer that question:
If everything has a reason says that God either made it happen (fatalism) – everything (good or evil) that happens is because God willed it so – God becomes the author of evil. Or there is the approach that God did not will it to happen, but allowed it to happen (as in “great, I will let Bill do that sinful thing BECAUSE it serves my purpose”). Either one doesn’t say much about a God of love does it?
But if we say things just happen, we start to chip away at God’s omnipotence. Is God really all-powerful? Can’t God prevent these things from happening, and why not?
But all of these answers take away that pesky little thing God gave us – free will. We have the choice of doing good or evil. We have the choice of preventing evil from happening. We have the choice – given by God. And yes it causes problems, because we often make the wrong choice, especially when we choose not to follow God. But even in this, God can do good.
Look at the Genesis story of Joseph and his brothers. Genesis 50:20 says “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” When the brothers tossed Joseph into the pit, they were doing evil – they intended harm. God “allowed” this (he gave the brothers free will to make their choices), and used it for good – God can make good out of all bad. God can and will do good things, even when we make the wrong choices. God didn’t say “great, the boys are working according to my plan” rather God took what was bad and produced good – the rescue of God’s people.
God “cannot” prevent us from doing evil – because God gave us the choice to follow or not to follow. And that choice is precious – we would do well to use it wisely. But when we falter, we know we can turn back to God – and God might just do something incredible.