Everything happens for a reason | Stuff the Bible doesn't say
In small, daily life mishaps like your car breaking down, not getting the job after an interview, failing a test, or forgetting to renew your driver's license (maybe that one is just a me thing...) you might share about an inconvenient circumstance and hear from a friend, "everything happens for a reason!"
Later, when you meet someone really cool in line at the DMV or you get the perfect job a few months later, or you bless the mechanic who worked on your car with a tip you think...
it's true! Everything does happen for a reason.
But when greater tragedy strikes and you lose a loved one, or you're wronged in a way so severe that "everything happens for a reason" feels hurtful and even suggests that God intended for something horrible to happen to you, this quick phrase becomes problematic theologically.
God is in control but...
When Christians say "everything happens for a reason" they generally intend to say God is always in control. Even when it feels like the odds are stacked up against us in massive ways, God is always in control. This is true; but that doesn't mean God is a puppeteer pulling the strings to some massive wild story full of destruction and hurt.
God is in control but we live in a fallen world, where fallen people are continually making choices as a result of our sinful flesh. This affects all of us; sometimes in large ways and sometimes in small ways. My husband and I received the news that one of our cars was having problems. Instead of fixing it when warned, we waited. Eventually, it broke down while I was driving it leaving me stranded on a busy road.
Did God intend for this to happen as part of a big master plan? I don't think so, it was just a result of a bad decision we made because we were busy and distracted.
Proverbs 19:20 says, "Listen to counsel, receive instruction, and accept correction, That you may be wise in the time to come."
God is in control, but we have to listen, receive, and accept. When we don't, we end up in situations God never originally intended for us.
Redemption isn't a Reason
Maybe, you relate to one of those less severe mishaps and have had one of those moments where you ended up in a tough situation but then felt or saw the presence of God in that situation. The "everything happens for a reason" theology comes from these moments.
When you end up in a tough situation, sometimes it makes a lot of sense later because you met someone who you know you were meant to meet, or it led to an incredible moment of encounter with God later on. This is redemption, not to be confused with a reason.
Just because God redeems everything (Romans 8:28) doesn't mean God wanted it to happen for that reason. God will redeem our circumstances and broken situations, but seeing His hand of redemption on our lives doesn't mean that He caused the circumstances.
The devil causes destructive circumstances (John 10:10). Seeing a redemptive moment in a hardship doesn't mean God reasoned for it to happen, it just demonstrates His goodness and kindness towards us.
Some Suffering is Senseless
Jesus was continually correcting this bad theology: sin caused your suffering.
In Luke 13:1-5 Jesus corrects this thinking:
"'Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans because they have suffered in this way? I tell you, no; but unless you repent [change your old way of thinking, turn from your sinful ways and live changed lives], you will all likewise perish. Or do you assume that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed were worse sinners than all the others who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent [change your old way of thinking, turn from your sinful ways and live changed lives], you will all likewise perish.”
When someone is suffering, it's usually unhelpful to suggest why. Job's friends continually told him that he probably had some sin in his life that resulted in his suffering, when we read that the devil was causing it (Job 1:12).
In the passage in Luke when Jesus is approached with a story of suffering, He doesn't explain why it's happening. Instead, He shares that their suffering isn't a result of worse sin, and refocuses the physical suffering to the spiritual reality.
He calls them to live holy lives, lives that are ruled by the Spirit.
Saying everything happens for a reason isn't accurate, and implying God had some secret reason can become especially confusing in the midst of suffering. Instead, focus on sharing the entirely true promise God gave us as Jesus did; when we turn from our old ways and rely on Jesus as Lord we will live changed lives.