No, Everything Does Not Happen for a Reason

We don't have to figure out the purpose for our pain, but we do follow a God who meets us in it.

We’ve all received that phrase “everything happens for a reason” personally gift-wrapped by well-meaning friends, caring loved ones and kind strangers. It usually comes delivered with the most beautiful of intentions, a buffer of hope raised in the face of the unimaginably painful things we sometimes experience in this life.

It’s a close, desperate lifeline thrown out to us when all other words fail.

I’ve never had a tremendous amount of peace with the sentiment. I think it gives the terrible stuff too much power, too much poetry; as if there must be nobility and purpose within the brutal devastation we may find ourselves sitting in.

In our profound distress, this idea forces us to run down dark, twisted rabbit trails, looking for the specific part of the greater plan that this suffering all fits into.

It serves as an emotional distraction, one that cheats us out of the full measure of our real-time grief and outrage. We stutter and stop to try and find the whys of all of the suffering, instead of just letting ourselves admit that perhaps this all simply sucks on a grand scale.

In our profound distress, this idea forces us to run down dark, twisted rabbit trails, looking for the specific part of the greater plan that this suffering all fits into.

Even if somewhere beneath all of it; far below all the dizzying trauma that we experience here there is a fixed, redemptive reason for it all, it’s one that will likely remain well beyond our understanding so long as we inhabit flesh and blood.

Deep within the background operating system of my faith, there’s a buried, fiercely protected trust in a God who is good and an existence that matters. But this core truth doesn’t come with the assumption that all things, (including all the horrors we might encounter), have a purpose. It doesn’t come with a hidden silver lining always knitted into the fabric somewhere, if only we can uncover it.

It’s exhausting enough to endure the dark hours here and not lose our religion, without the addition of a Maker who also makes us bleed. Instead, I prefer to understand God as One who bleeds along with us; Who sits with us in our agony and weeps, not causing us our distress but providing a steady, holy presence in it. This still leaves me with the nagging question of why this God can’t or won’t always remove these burdens from me, but it does allow me to better see the open opportunity provided in tragedy.

There’s an oft-misused excerpt from Scripture, where the apostle Paul writes:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

This isn’t a heavenly insurance policy paid with faith and exempting us from anything unpleasant, but the promise that if we choose to respond to all things from a place of love and goodness; that we—not necessarily our circumstances—will be better for it.

My times of deepest anguish have almost always been the catalyst for my greatest learning.

In this way, I believe in suffering as a sacred space.

It’s not a supernatural cause-and-effect experiment from the sky, specifically designed to do something to us or in us, but it is a time and place where we can respond and as we do, we are altered. Our pain does not have a predetermined purpose, (otherwise we would be straddled with the terribly complicated task of figuring it out in a billion small decisions every single day), but that pain will always yield valuable fruit.

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As much as I hate to admit it, my times of deepest anguish have almost always been the catalyst for my greatest learning, but I could have easily learned different lessons had I chosen differently. Yes, I certainly grew tremendously in those trying times, but I could have grown in another direction altogether with another choice. In that way, those moments of devastation held no single, microscopic needle-in-the-haystack truth to hunt for while I grieved and struggled, but there was still treasure to be found in the making of my choices and in their ripples.

No I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason, but I do believe there is meaning in how we respond to all things that happen to us, even when they are not at all good things.

Be encouraged as you suffer and choose.

Top Comments



Sarah commented…

It doesn't really matter how you "prefer" to understand God. He is what he is.

He ordains suffering. (check out Job)

But he only ordains it for his purpose, which, you correctly pointed out, we rarely see this side of the grave.

Think of any work of art (or really any type of creation). There is a point in the process of making a work of art where the whole thing looks like crap and the artists direction is called into question. But the artist still clearly sees and knows what they are doing.

What the phrase "everything has a purpose" means, is not that we should seek to understand every part of the process and why it took place that way. But that we can rest easy knowing that a God who is himself beyond our comprehension is still in complete control of what he is orchestrating. It means we don't have to worry about why it's happening, because we know that God knows. It's one less thing to worry about.

Unless, of course, you're still trying to be in control of everything yourself. That would mean that you need to understand the reasons for everything, which would be a huge, tiring hole to explore at the moments you are the weakest.

Tony Huy


Tony Huy commented…

There's quite a bit I would disagree with you in this article. However, I just wanted to comment on this:

"This isn’t a heavenly insurance policy paid with faith and exempting us from anything unpleasant, but the promise that if we choose to respond to all things from a place of love and goodness; that we—not necessarily our circumstances—will be better for it."

That's a curious interpretation of Romans 8:28, as it's hard for me to see where Romans 8:28 speaks of how "we choose to respond". The verse seems to be speaking specifically about how God responds. In fact, that whole section of Romans 8 seems to be speaking of what God is doing in our lives.


Kara T.


Kara T. commented…

I was just having a conversation with a friend about this today. We were talking about whether God makes babies with mental disabilities, or if it is a consequence of living in a broken world.

We have a God of law and order. He set the earth in motion, He created the laws of physics. There is a law to sin too. That law was set in motion when Eve chose to eat the fruit. It has caused mankind to have a sinful nature, and it has caused disease and tragedy to rule over our world.

God does not cause the tragedies. He doesn't justify them. He uses them. He shows his love and strength by finding ways to bless us despite our circumstances. Some circumstances never change. They never get better, but God blesses us all the same.

Yes, Ecclesiastes 3 says there is a time for tragedy and sadness - because we live in a broken world and we will not be able to escape that in this life.

Yes, God allowed Job to be tempted and tried and tragedy befell him - He allowed Jesus to be crucified and yes God hardened Pharaoh's heart, so that he would not let his people go until after the passover. I don't look at these as the rule however, I look at these as the exception.

There are mysteries about God we will not understand - maybe ever. But to say that God is the one that casts burdens and tragedy on us is out of his character. To say it is for our betterment that puts us in scary or bad situations is not in his character. It is in our character. Don't blame God for your problems. Thank him for his mercy.

Loise Kinuthia


Loise Kinuthia commented…

I have believed that phrase for a long time,,, but then again i just still don't get it, then why do things happens the way they do,, and at one point am forced to go back and think about the suffering and the poor,, where Carl Max says Religion is the opium of the people. So do we just try to find reason for the happenings in our lives whether good or bad. We believe God does not cause misery but we suffer that the fact, but why does he allow us to suffer to such great extent. For his name to be glorified? in our suffering, sometimes trying to understand religion leave alone Christianity just leaves you with more questions than answers, so you just leave it as it is and hope and pray to God when you get there, He will give you the answers you are looking for.

Christopher Ripley


Christopher Ripley commented…

As someone who has endured much pain and questioned Gods love, I find this perspective helpful. This is an age of over analyzation, and Christians certainly love to challenge anyone who dares voice an opinion. I chose to take what will help me and discard what won't. I support and applaud those who are working to understand their faith and their God, and aren't afraid to make it public.

Jeff Meyer


Jeff Meyer commented…

As someone who has endured pain and still don't question God's love, this article peddles hopelessness and a God who is impotent.

One example - my wife miscarried - if my only hope in that is "life sucks, bad things happen, it happened for no reason, the only thing that matters is how you get past it", then God is impotent and random crap destroys lives.

Another example - friends had a child born with Trisomy 18. He lived for a few weeks. Their only hope was in God who purposed that for a reason. In fact, they even proclaimed that to their unbelieving family - "If God doesn't have a purpose for this, then it's pointless."

The purpose of God, no matter what it is, ought to bring Christians the most hope in the world, no matter how "bad" it seems at the time.

Romans 8 is ALWAYS true. Everything that happens to those who love God happens for a good reason.

I wonder how this pastor comforts people who have lost a loved one? "Well Billy, I know you loved your mother, but crap happens, and random acts of purposeless hopelessness destroy lives. What matters is not God's purpose, which obviously wasn't his plan for this, but how you respond to random acts of hopelessness. Find hope in the hopelessness even though God is powerless to stop it."

No thanks. I'd rather believe what God has said about Himself.

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