It is a lie.
A very popular lie.
And a very dangerous one at that.
It seems to be rampant everywhere. It appears on T-shirts and wall art, Justin Bieber says it, and American idol stars cite it when they get knocked out of the competition.
Problem is, if we really do believe it, it has serious consequences about how we think about God. If everything happens for a reason, suddenly God caused the tsunami to occur in Japan and robs children of food to eat in war-torn Somalia because "he has a reason" to do it. That is neither the God I know nor worship.
I think that we wish that this cliche was true. It gives us reassurance that there is a "reason" for our sufferings. It makes sense of why we endure evil. However, this reassurance is superficial. While it may make us feel better about suffering, it completely strips away God's goodness. Why should we be comforted by a reason for evil if it completely distorts God's holiness and goodness?
Bad things happen as a result of a sinful world, not because God makes them happen. ALL of creation is marred from God's original intent, from human relationships to catastrophic weather patterns. It is a major flaw in reformed theology's view of God's sovereignty to think that God causes every bad thing for a purpose. Just because God can do anything does not mean that He chooses to do it. Is God capable of micromanaging every situation, including the tornadoes that recently rampaged my area? Yes. But that doesn't mean that he chooses to. God has freedom of choice as well.
This cliche is a gross misunderstanding of what Paul was talking about in Romans 8:28. "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him," he writes, "who have been called according to his purpose." This does not mean that God causes bad things to happen. This means that God is a master redeemer and he can transform the fallenness of our world into something beautiful.
Further, Romans 8:28 needs to be read in light of the context of the chapter. The "and we know" is a cue that this is a continuation of what Paul was talking about. The "and we know" parallels the "we know" in v. 22, where Paul talks about God's plan to redeem creation. Thus, just as God wants to redeem creation and bring it under his control, so he also wants to redeem our lives. Romans 8:28 is not about God turning our "lemons into lemonade" but is about God changing us to reflect Christ's image. God loves us the way we are, but he loves us so much that he does not want us to stay that way. He will even use ALL situations (good and bad) to make us into the person he created us to be!
Sometimes, there simply is no soveriegn "reason" for bad things. Some of my friend's parents are going through a divorce. There is no reason for broken relationships to happen. Period. The tornadoes that hit my area did not occur for a divine reason. Period. Bad things just happen as a result of our sin. It's not God's fault; it's my fault.
But the separated couple can be shaped into the image and likeness of God if they respond to his redemptive activity. The people who lost their homes in the tornadoes can be shaped into grateful, humble, and compassionate people. God may not have caused these horrific situations, but he can use them to bring about good. That's the beauty of the God we serve. He is so holy that He is incredibly separate from evil and does not cause evil, yet He is so gracious that He chooses to interact with evil to bring about good.
We should not be confident in the face of evil because there is a "reason" for it. We should be confident in the face of evil because God is faithful and will make us more like Christ, but only if we allow Him to.
Photo credit: "Everything Happens for a Reason" by TheLoveShop