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Everything Happens for a Reason

Oftentimes when something terrible happens, such as a young parent gets inoperable brain cancer, a child is cruelly assaulted and murdered, or a famine or tsunami kills tens of thousands of innocent people in Africa or Asia, some people will say, “Everything happens for a reason.”

The implication is that God, in his infinite wisdom, sometimes has inscrutable reasons for terrible events that just don’t make sense to mere humans and, ultimately, everything that happens serves a greater purpose known only to God.

If it is true that everything that happens occurs because God wills it to happen, then the additional implication is that God necessarily controls everything that happens.  And, if that is true, then humans do not have any free will.

For example, if everything, quite literally, has a reason and if that reason is rooted in God’s will, then the pedophile who assaults, tortures, and murders a little girl cannot help but do what he did because it was God’s will that he assaulted, tortured, and killed a little girl.  If a murderous pedophile’s conduct is not God’s will (and the pedophile, instead, had free will to choose to do or not do what he did), then it is illogical to say, “Everything happens for a reason” that is based on God’s will.

So, is it not true that either (A) everything has a reason based on God’s will (including every horrible event that has ever happened to humans) and humans, therefore, have no free will or (B) humans have free will, things will happen that God does not want to have happen, and everything does not happen for a reason?

For those who believe in an all-powerful God, is there a third alternative?

My sense is that people say, “Everything has a reason” because it is often too unbearable to think that something terrible can happen to an innocent person without there being a good, but hidden, reason for that happening but that, logically, they don’t think through the necessary implications of that statement.

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4 thoughts on “Everything Happens for a Reason

  1. Hello. This is a very interesting scenario you have set up; however your premises do not follow to your conclusion. Just because God wills something, it doesn’t take choice away from individuals. Let’s say you have a friend who is a master manipulator. One day she tells you that another person was saying bad things about you. Because you think this is true you begin to avoid her. In avoiding that person, you meet a third person whom you eventually begin to like and become friends with…playing into your manipulator’s hand! Now all of this was the will of your friend, but does it follow that you had no free will of your own? Had you become a robot? Or did all of your desires and the interplay of them come from you? The only difference is that a certain piece of information was kept from you. You may have made a different choice given an altered scenario but the choice still came from you I’d say.

  2. I’m not sure I’m following your analogy. But, I would like to modify my thumbnail-sketch analysis of the phrase “Everything happens for a reason.”

    Technically, everything actually does happen for a reason. The reason, however, may be as simple as a random occurrence of specific circumstances, such as someone fiddling with his car radio and, in that moment, not seeing a small child run in front of his car resulting in him hitting and killing the child. The reason is inattention, or negligence, or just bad luck.

    But that kind of “reason” is not the kind of reason implied by the statement “Everything happens for a reason.” The kind of reason usually implied by that statement would require the full statement to read as follows: “Everything happens for a reason, and that reason is God’s will.”

    That fuller expression of the statement is meant to give a grieving person a sense that God has some wise and loving purpose for everything that happens and we mere humans just do not have the capacity for understanding that purpose. Instead of losing a child in a car accident due to random events (which is hard for people to accept), the “Everything happens for a reason” statement is generally intended to reassure a survivor that we are not victims of cold and unthinking bad luck and that, instead, there is a wise and loving God who has everything under control.

    This is true for many kinds of misfortunes: Someone diagnosed with untreatable and terminal cancer; or a high school kid dying suddenly from a burst blood vessel in the brain; or a kid drowning because a parent’s attention was momentarily diverted. We want things to happen for a purposeful reason (as opposed to a random reason). If a friend gets struck and killed by a random flash of lightning, it doesn’t feel good to think that we live in a world that where bad things just happen. We want to be able to identify a purposeful agent as the cause of that misfortune (either someone who is ungraspably good and wise – God – or someone who is evil – either another person or the Devil). For many people, it’s just too hard to accept that something terrible may happen simply because of random circumstances.

  3. RUTH MILLAR says:

    Brockmollett@. You didn’t answer the specific question about paedophiles? How are their actions explained?

  4. RUTH MILLAR says:

    Following on from the last comment, I suppose those living in worn torn countries and religiously devout are not looking for any “reason” but already know why they suffer so much.

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