“Everything happens for a reason” is a statement I’m sure you’ve heard dozens if not hundreds of times in your life. And for most of us believers, the statement is assumed without question or dispute. We seem to believe that, bc God is in control, nothing happens without divine purpose.
But it can be said that, on the flip side of things, our willingness to assume that there’s a divine purpose to everything means that evil, taken in this perspective, comes from the same God who created good and who commands man to do what is right. Some don’t know what to make of Arminianism and simply choose to become Calvinist because it is the theologically trending system of the day. Calvinists hold to the theology of John Calvin and they believe that, as Calvin has said, the leaf doesn’t fall from the tree unless God determines it to die.
Arminians believe that man has some measure of free will in the universe and that not every decision made has a divine purpose. Evil actions and decisions are due to the will of the individual and not God Himself. So with that said, a portion of Arminians hold to a concept called gratuitous evil — that is, God doesn’t create evil, He doesn’t endorse or ordain evil, but He does allow the free will actions of individuals to remain in the universe.
Every time man makes a bad decision, God does not step in to reverse it because free will is in effect. God has created free will and He honors it; thus, some decisions, though not His specific will, remain because they are the free will decisions of individuals. God has given free will; if He were to take it back, He would cease to honor His commitment and would renege on His gift to humanity. God doesn’t give salvation and take it back; the same can be said for free will.
Thus, for some, gratuitous evil exists and is real because it takes into account that there’s “free evil” in the world — evil caused by the “free” will decisions of mankind and not God Himself. And it explains how a good God can allow such evil to exist, knowing that it is at odds with the way He designed and purposed mankind and the universe.
And yet, what about the statement, “Everything happens for a reason?” Well, it’s having some major issues.
Everything happens for a reason: what’s wrong with the statement
What’s wrong with “everything happens for a reason?” Well, think about it: if everything happens for a reason, then nothing happens apart from a motive. In this case, the “reason” refers to whatever motive God purposed for allowing actions to occur. This makes sense until you consider that evil actions are thrown into the mix: that is, just as good actions happen for a divine reason or purpose, so do evil actions.
So every evil action or deed happens for a divine reason?
We’re making a mistake with this idea for one major reason: it presumes that 1) every evil action happens for a divine reason, which means that God created the evil action and then gave it a purpose for existing. Sure, in Calvinist theology, God appears sovereign because “nothing, not even evil, happens apart from God’s determination,” but this puts God in a terrible spot because God is now the author of not only good but also evil.
And yet, we know Scripture says that God is not the author of sin and evil: “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed” (James 1:13-14, NKJV).
So according to Scripture, God does not tempt anyone with evil, nor is He tempted by evil. God does not tempt anyone; rather, they are tempted by their own evil actions and decisions/choices. So, what this means is that, though God is sovereign and has all power, and nothing happens apart from His knowledge, evil occurs because of the evil deeds of human beings.
Yes, it may sound strange to some, but God doesn’t treat us like automatons because He’s the Sovereign of the entire universe. Instead, He has shared power with humanity in such a way that mankind can make decisions — though no decision is so great that God cannot alter it or eliminate it. God could erase decisions, I believe, if He chose to. He doesn’t because it would violate His decision to grant decision-making power to mankind.
Thus, when we say that “everything happens for a reason,” we’re saying that God has a purpose for evil, that evil “goes back to God.” That is terrible theology, and a terrible thing to say. Evil can never go back to God because God didn’t create it. God doesn’t ordain it.
If God is the source or author of sin and evil, then God is wrong to condemn evil because it comes from Him. After all, God does not punish for good deeds; why punish for evil if, like good, evil comes from God, God does it Himself, and God creates humans to commit evil acts?
There are those who endorse the view that evil goes back to God and so, evil has been “designed with a purpose,” but again, it’s making God the Author of sin and evil when James 1:13-14 says that He is not.
God as perpetrator
A perpetrator, or “perp,” as has been said on Law & Order: SVU, is someone who commits a crime. The person who designs the crime, plans everything including the getaway, and then commits the act. The perpetrator may have been the one holding the gun when he or she is caught; they may be the person to drive the getaway car, or the person who sits behind a computer screen and sends criminals to commit crimes all over the city.
They may have decided to rob a bank and walk in and hold a gun to employees’ heads, demanding they hand over the money “or else.” The perpetrator or the perp is the mastermind behind the crime or terrible deed.
So with this said, if God is the perpetrator of evil because “everything happens for a reason” and God “designed a reason for evil,” then God is the perpetrator. And God, as Perpetrator, is just as guilty as any human perpetrator. The Lord who has told us not to commit murder, wouldn’t do the same. The same Lord who told us not to steal doesn’t steal.
In fact, the Bible goes so far as to tell us that God is unlike man in that He doesn’t lie: “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Numbers 23:19-20)
There it is. God does not lie, and God does not repent or renege on what He says. Why? Because He’s not like man. Why does God not perpetrate evil and design it with purpose? Because of the same reason: He is not like man that He needs evil to accomplish His purposes. He is God. He can do whatever He pleases, however He pleases.
The only reason why humans commit evil is because they cannot achieve something they want by ethical means. God doesn’t have to commit evil because His plans are not blocked by the decisions of man. God achieves His purposes through the actions of man; He doesn’t sit back and say, “I cannot achieve my purposes because man makes choices.” Man may work to block the divine will, but man cannot.
And, in the case of Joseph’s brothers, though their evil actions put Joseph in Egyptian slavery and incarceration, God used their evil actions to elevate Joseph to second in command in Egypt — and his brothers, who set him up for destruction and death, in the end, needed Joseph to save them from death: the famine in Israel and Egypt.
They meant to kill him (as indicated by the staged coat of many colors being dipped in blood), but the Lord used their evil actions to do just the opposite in Joseph’s life. What they meant to humiliate him, God used to exalt him.
But, don’t you understand, this is how our Sovereign God works!
God is not the only agent of choice in the universe
If God is the Author of Sin and Evil, and sin and evil have a purpose that is given by God (hence, “everything,” good and bad, “happens for a reason”), then God is the only one that can commit actions in the universe. But this isn’t true. God is not the only agent of choice in the universe.
We know this simply by looking at Scripture. How did the Fall of man happen? Well, there was the serpent, whom Scripture says is none other than Satan himself (Revelation 12:9; 20:2). Satan went to Adam and Eve and told them that God’s warning of punishment for eating the forbidden fruit was nothing but a lie (Genesis 3:4-5).
After being tempted by Satan, Adam and Eve sinned and the fall of man happened. Suddenly, the first couple knew they were naked and tried to cover their nakedness. But in the perfect innocence state, they didn’t realize they were naked. They wanted to eat from the Tree of “Knowledge of Good and Evil,” but to know good was also to know evil. The moment they ate, evil entered God’s perfect creation and stained it.
So, as we can see in the Fall of man in the Garden of Eden, there are three agents of choice: 1) God, who chose to kill animals to clothe them with animal skins and punished all the guilty parties; 2) Satan, who had already fallen to the earth because of His rebellion in Heaven (see Revelation 12:7-12); and 3) Adam and Eve, who were given a choice to obey or sin and chose to sin voluntarily.
Outside of the Garden of Eden, there are the angels, who also have free will. There’s obviously Satan, who rebelled in Heaven and took a third of “the stars of Heaven,” that is, angels, with him (Revelation 12:4).
The tail of the dragon, the dragon being Satan, drew one-third of the stars or angels from Heaven. In the Great Rebellion against God, the Lord of Hosts, Satan led one-third of the angels God created to rebel with Him. And when God, Michael the archangel, and the holy angels won the battle, Satan and the fallen angels who rebelled were kicked out of Heaven:
“And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, 8 but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. 9 So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” (Revelation 12:7-9).
There you go. “The dragon,” that being Satan, and “his angels,” the one-third of God’s angels that rebelled with him, lost the Great Rebellion War and were kicked out of Heaven. So Satan, the fallen angels, Michael and the holy angels, and God were all agents of choice in the Great Rebellion. And Adam and Eve were agents of choice in the Garden, as was Satan (who had already lost one of the greatest cosmic wars he’d ever fight). What the Scriptures teach us is that there are multiple agents of choice in the world.
So how can we, in all logic, assess that God is responsible for the choices and decisions of agents who can choose what they do or not do?
god’s presumed connection to evil
Some say that, while it is true that God is not the Author of sin and evil, He does allow sin and evil to happen. He has foreknowledge, exhaustive foreknowledge of all that will happen. So when something happens, God “can step in and stop it but He fails to do so.” Does that make God guilty? No, not at all. The reason? God can’t step in and make those choices or reverse those choices because He has given that decision-making power to humans and angelic beings.
God has given man and angels the right to make choices. In giving man the power to make choices, man must be able to choose the alternative of good. So, with that said, God can’t logically give choice and then say “but you can only choose to do what is right.” That is illogical when you consider the logic of our God who created the heavens and the earth and ordered the animal kingdom, sun, moon, stars, and seasons to their respective places (see Genesis 1-2).
If God stepped in to undo someone’s tragic choice, He would be guilty of reneging or going back on His Word. And God is not a man who would ever renege on His promise or His Word. What makes God God is that He does not change.
He remains the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). The Bible says that even if we become faithless and cease believing, God remains faithful to Himself because “He cannot deny Himself.”
And the text tells us this after it says that “If we deny Him, He will deny us” (2 Timothy 2:12), a clear statement to the fact that God doesn’t give us Heaven if we, like Judas, depart from the truth and give ourselves over to Satan. The “us” in 2 Timothy 2 is not to the world in general but to believers in particular, Christians who follow Christ.
Contrary to what many have been told by Calvinism indoctrination, believers can apostatize and depart from Jesus — and, in the end, they will be judged. Jesus says it best when He says that branches (believers) that refuse to bear fruit are broken from the vine (that is, Jesus Himself), tossed into the fire, and are burned (John 15:1-6).
So how does God deal with this presumed connection to evil? He foreknows every evil decision, yet He doesn’t step in to stop the evil. What else can God do?
He can punish the evil, as the Just Judge of all the earth (Genesis 18:25). And this is what God does: He punishes the guilty and the wicked and holds them accountable for their evil deeds. This is what a righteous judge does, and God is indeed a righteous judge, as Scripture attests (John 5:30; Acts 17:31; 2 Timothy 4:8; 1 Peter 2:23; Revelation 16:5; 19:2, 11).
The same God who punished Adam, Eve, and the serpent in the Garden of Eden, the same God who punished the wicked world by sending a flood to wipe life from the face of the earth (except for those life forms in the Ark), is the same God who judges sin today and will do so on Judgment Day.
Does Everything Happen For A Divine Reason?
“Everything happens for a reason” is a statement that needs further probing. As we’ve seen in this post, those who make this statement often believe that there’s a divine reason to everything that happens. Unfortunately to assume this is to make God the Author of Sin and Evil.
And, as Scripture has said in the Book of James, God does not tempt anyone with evil. Men sin and commit evil because of “their own lusts” and enticements. They choose to be led astray by their lusts and enticed. It is a personal decision, a decision made because of the power God has given man as an agent of choice in the universe.
No one gets to turn back and blame God for their temptation as if God’s foreknowledge makes Him responsible. Foreknowledge is not causal, saints; it’s simply knowledge of what happens beforehand. God is no more responsible for what we do anymore than He was responsible for what Adam and Eve did.
But what if there’s a tragedy in the Bible that doesn’t fall in the category of “divine purpose” or “human purpose”? What if I could show you a tragedy that is neither divinely caused nor humanly caused, a tragedy that was caused by mysterious circumstances?
That is what we will tackle in Part 2, the next post. Stay tuned.