Everything happens for a reason.
AIDS infected Africa, the killing fields of Cambodia, ethnic cleansing in Rwanda and Darfur, cancer, chronic illness, miscarriage, depression, car crashes, schizophrenia, sexual/physical/emotional abuse, the list is endless. It seems utterly ridiculous to me to suggest that behind each of these there would be a reason for their happening, especially a reason that justfies the gravity of the tragedy experienced. It begs the question of whether or not there is always cosmic purpose driving seemingly senseless circumstances.
The God I serve made a good creation. Evil enters the scene apart from God, with disobedience on the part of Adam and Eve who responded to the tempting of the serpent. Within the pages of Scripture it does not suggest that God prompted the serpent to test his creatures so that they could be strengthened in their resolve to God. He did not, according to Scripture, have a part in the act of defiance - apart from previously setting the Tree as off limits. Yes, he did make that tree in the garden, the one that Adam and Eve were to avoid - in essence, he created the opportunity for evil to pervade his creation. Why did he do it? Could he just not have bothered with the fated Tree altogether? It would be lovely, but God gave Adam and Eve free will and in order to give them the opportunity to express their free will it was necessary for them to face a moral dilemma in which they had to choose. In the choosing against God, Adam and Eve disrupted the created order...the good order...and invited into the human experience an array of ills. I firmly believe that the chaos we experience today is not related directly to God's purposing, but instead to this defiant act of our ancestors.
When everything happens for a reason is spouted, it implies then that God is behind everything. If that were true it would seem likely that he would have chosen to intervene in the whole Tree fiasco in the first place. It implies that the free will God gave us isn't very free. It would suggest that we are more like pawns than people with the power to choose. It implies that the horrific ills that plague us are ordained at the prompting of God. I am confident that God is present in everything, that even in the darkest of times and in the midst of the most vile acts that the Lord is present. But his presence doesn't imply his purpose.
Forgive me for getting riled up at the mention of these five simple words, but this seemingly innocent statement carries deep theological implications and I will not for a moment join in and agree with any ounce of my being that the good God I serve is the driving force behind suffering.
The death of a young mother, hungry and orphaned children combing dirty streets, broken families, empty arms and aching hearts - I don't think they're purposed. Redeemed? Definitely. Opportunities to experience the Lord's nearness in a way that might not have happened otherwise? For sure. God is in the business of redeeming and restoring. In clothing Adam and Eve as he sent them out of Eden he shows that he is still caring for them. There is a rupture in relationship, but he is present in their circumstance and is working within it. I think he works within the ruptures that sin has brought into the created order today, too.
So before everything happens for a reason slips out of your lips, I offer you an alternative. It's shorter, simpler, and far more catchy. And I think that it's a much more theologically sound alternative that leaves the character of God intact.