Part 1 of this mini-series ended with a discussion of God not being the only agent of choice in the world. God has given the power of choice to angels and humans, with man being made, as Scripture says, “a little lower than the angels” (Psalm 8).
Part 1 referred to James 1:13-14, a passage that I want to mention briefly here once more. In the passage we see that some who are tempted are quick to say, “I am tempted of God.” And James disagrees. He says that the temptation comes not from God, but from us. In other words, God does not tempt you because God does not design temptation with a purpose.
Temptation doesn’t come from God, it comes from us, it comes from Satan. But it does NOT come from God. And so, temptation doesn’t have a divine reason or design.
So, when we say that “Everything happens for a reason,” we’re including that “temptation happens for a reason.” Perhaps there is a human reason to every temptation — but there is no divine reason for temptation. God doesn’t tempt any man, He Himself cannot be tempted, and so, there is no divine reason for temptation. If we say that temptation has a divine reason, then we’re going against the words of James 1:13-14 and we’re wrong, not James. God’s Word doesn’t err, we do.
The word “everything” is starting to look as if it’s going too far in its affirmation. The reason? Because “everything” is stating too much and including falsehood.
In today’s post, we are going to approach two examples of suffering and tragedy that are without divine reason: that is, there is no divine reason to these things that happen; they were not caused by God’s own hand. They did not happen because of God’s righteous judgment upon wicked sinners, and the victims in question were not worse than anyone else living in their day. They didn’t deserve the tragedies that happened to them, and they were innocent victims of random suffering.
You will find Calvinists holding to John Calvin’s theology who will say, “There’s no such thing in the Bible.” You may be a Calvinist skeptical of the words that follow. But before you rule me out, give Scripture a chance to speak for itself.
Luke 13:1-5, NKJV
There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? 3 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”
There are two examples here that demonstrate that not everything happens for a divine reason. First is the example of the Galileans “whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.” How did these Galileans’ blood end up in the sacrifices? Jesus doesn’t give a reason. He was told this “by some,” the text says. We don’t know who told Jesus.
We don’t know the nature of what they said to Jesus. Scripture doesn’t allow us to be privy to their conversation. Were these Galileans gored to death by live animals? Were these men killed by the same sword that butchered animals? Were the sacrifices offered by those who killed the same animals that gored these Galilean victims?
We don’t know the circumstances surrounding why these Galileans died. We have no information in the text other than what Jesus says. But what our Lord says about these Galileans is significant. What does Jesus say? “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things?” (Luke 13:2)
Just like Job’s friends, these Galileans presumed that people only died from tragedies because they were wicked and deserving of God’s righteous judgment. In this mindset, no one died apart from the wrath of God — and only sinners deserved God’s wrath. So, to them, no righteous person could die in such a tragic accident.
And yet, Jesus refutes this notion: “Do you suppose these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things?” Jesus asks the question and then says, “I tell you no” (Luke 13:3). Jesus’ response, “I tell you no,” is a clear refutation and disagreement with the common perspective of His day. According to Jesus, these Galileans didn’t find their blood mingled with animal sacrifices because they were the worst sinners in their day.
They weren’t necessarily wicked people deserving of God’s wrath. To be sure, there’s a human reason why these Galileans were killed and their blood mingled with the sacrifices (perhaps someone wanted them dead and killed them for that reason), but there is no divine reason. God didn’t want them to die, in other words. And Jesus tells us this in the few words, “I tell you, no.”
These Galileans weren’t any more deserving of death than any other Galilean. So why did they die? Jesus never says. It leads us to think that their deaths were intentional by humans, though they could have been a mere accident. There is a human reason, as I’ve said above, but there’s no divine reason why they died. So, does “everything,” including this human slaughtering, happen for a divine reason? Not if we’re reading and paying attention to the words of Jesus.
Let’s look at the next example Jesus provides:
4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:4-5)
In this second example, there were 18 people standing around near the Tower in Siloam. The tower fell, killing them. A tragic accident, no doubt. Why did they die? Jesus says “I tell you, no” in response to His question. “Do you think they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem?” In other words, Jesus is saying that these 18 people didn’t die because they were the worse sinners in Jerusalem. They didn’t deserve to die, any more than any other person in Jerusalem.
So they died unjustly, then. We can glean that from the text. In other words, it was a wrongful death. They died without cause. They just happened to be standing around that Tower on the wrong day and time when it collapsed. The worst circumstances combined to kill these innocent bystanders.
It may be hard to accept theologically, but evil things happen even to righteous, godly people.
Two tragedies, no divine reason behind them
Notice that the blood of Galileans mingled with sacrifices and the deaths of the 18 Tower victims have no divine reason. God did not orchestrate them, nor did He cause them, nor did He use these tragedies to “repay” the 18 victims for their own wickedness. They didn’t die because they deserved it. They didn’t die because they were “getting what’s owed to them” or their just desserts.
And unfortunately, the words of John Calvin (for whom Calvinism is named) completely contradict the words of Jesus about these two tragedies. Here’s what John Calvin says in his Institutes of the Christian Religion about tragedies such as these:
If one falls among robbers, or ravenous beasts; if a sudden gust of wind at sea causes shipwreck; if one is struck down by the fall of a house or a tree; if another, when wandering through desert paths, meets with deliverance; or, after being tossed by the waves, arrives in port, and makes some wondrous hair-breadth escape from death – all these occurrences, prosperous as well as adverse, carnal sense will attribute to fortune. But whose has learned from the mouth of Christ that all the hairs of his head are numbered (Mt. 10:30), will look farther for the cause, and hold that all events whatsoever are governed by the secret counsel of God. With regard to inanimate objects again we must hold that though each is possessed of its peculiar properties, yet all of them exert their force only in so far as directed by the immediate hand of God. Hence they are merely instruments, into which God constantly infuses what energy he sees meet, and turns and converts to any purpose at his pleasure.John Calvin, Institutes of the christian religion, book 1, Chapter 16, “The world created by god, still cherished and protected by him, each and all of its parts governed by his providence”
For what seems more attributable to chance than the branch which falls from a tree, and kills the passing traveller? But the Lord sees very differently, and declares that He delivered him into the hand of the slayer (Exod. 21:13). In like manners who does not attribute the lot to the blindness of Fortune? Not so the Lord, who claims the decision for himself (Prov. 16:33).Institutes of the christian religion, book 1, chapter 16
Why does the branch fall from the tree, strike the traveler, and kill him? Some would say it’s an unfortunate act, an act of misfortune. Calvin says, “No; it’s due to God’s own secret counsel. God purposed the traveler to die. God had a secret purpose known only to Him why He allowed the traveler to die.” This same John Calvin would’ve said, “The events of Luke 13, the deaths of Galileans and their blood being mingled, and the deaths of the 18 tower victims were due not to misfortune, but rather, the secret counsel of God.”
Why does the house or tree fall? We would say misfortune, but John Calvin would say that it’s due to divine design. God designed the tragedy to happen the way it did because God is meticulously sovereign: everything that happens in this world is designed by God to happen the precise way it does. What about the Fall of man? John Calvin would say that God, foreknowing all things, designed the Fall to happen precisely the way it did.
Step back now and imagine the scene: How can God justly and rightfully condemn Adam and Eve’s sin when, in John Calvin’s perspective, God was the one who set up the whole sting operation in the first place?
Is John Calvin not clearly disagreeing with Jesus Christ here? There’s really no way to avoid that the words of Calvin clearly and directly contradict the words of our Lord. In Luke 13, Jesus tells those standing around to focus on their own sin and repentance instead of consuming themselves with trying to figure out why these victims died wrongful deaths.
Surely, if God’s righteous judgment didn’t kill these victims, they didn’t die because of God’s wrath. Calvin says that if the branch falls and kills the traveler, God designed it to do so. If these victims died due to slaughtering and the fall of the tower, then God designed it to be. Jesus says otherwise.
So whose report do you believe: Jesus Christ or John Calvin?
does everything happen for a reason? What luke 13 teaches us about the statement
Does everything happen for a divine reason? Calvinists would say there’s a divine reason to everything. Jesus clearly says “no” in Luke 13. So now, it’s time for you to decide how to proceed.
When we read this statement or hear this statement from now on, how will we respond? What should we think, say, or do? We should point people to Luke 13:1-5 and let those who say it wrestle with Jesus’s own words on the matter. Jesus tells us in clear language that there are victims of tragedy who do not die because of wickedness, nor because of divine design. Yet Calvin says that nothing happens apart from God’s design. And those who profess the theology of John Calvin need to know how contra-Scripture it truly is.
“Everything happens for a reason” doesn’t seem so true at this point, at least not without qualification.