The popular phrase “everything happens for a reason” gets said a lot by Christians and non-Christians alike. When something happens to us in life, we may wonder if there is a deeper reason behind it. Most of us may have felt at times that something happened according to God’s good and gracious plans. But does the idea that everything happens for a reason align with what the Bible teaches?
God is sovereign and in control of all things. What God orchestrates and allows is meaningful, significant, and purposeful. Though everything may not happen for a reason, what we find in the Bible is that God will redeem us, restore us, help us, and cause a good outcome for those of us who love him and follow Him.
What Does “Everything Happens for a Reason” Mean?
The phrase “everything happens for a reason,” though common, is not actually found in the Bible. The verse that seems most similar to this phrase is found in Romans.
But this verse in Romans conveys an entirely different message than the phrase, “everything happens for a reason.” The Bible teaches us that as believers we can have peace and confidence in knowing that because we love God and are called according to His purpose, God will work things together for our good.
In a world where tragedies happen, we face unexpected battles, and much is out of our control, what a comfort it is to know that God is working in our lives and will make good out of every situation because we love Him and follow Him.
What Is God’s Sovereignty?
Sovereignty means supreme power or authority. When we apply that to God, the best way to understand what that means is to say that God is in control.
“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33).
“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” (Proverbs 19:21)
“I know that you can do all things, no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).
“Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all.” (1 Chronicles 29:11-12)
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. So, don’t be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31).
What we glean from Scripture is that God created all things, knows all things, has unlimited power, and is therefore in control of everything. That is what His sovereignty means. Nothing happens outside of God’s knowledge and nothing happens outside of God’s permission.
Does God Plan Everything That Happens?
From Scripture it is made abundantly clear that God is in control of all things. He is entirely sovereign. We also find in the Biblethe free will of human beings. God didn’t plan that you’d have a cup of coffee this morning—that was a result of your free will, but certainly, He has planned your days.
“Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:16).
“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).
We know that God has foreknowledge of what will happen and determines our days. Millard J. Erickson in “Introducing Christian Doctrine” clarifies God’s plans this way, “Note that God’s role is to decide that certain things will take place in our lives, not to lay down commands to act in a certain way. The plan of God does not force us to act in particular ways, but renders it certain that we will freely act in those ways. Thus, while the plan of God relates primarily to what God does, human actions are also included.”
Why Does God Let Bad Things Happen?
God created human beings with free will. Free will is why Adam and Eve were able to be deceived by the serpent in the Garden of Eden. God didn’t create us to be mindless beings that do everything He wants us to do. Rather He created us with a free will to make decisions, to choose the path we take in life, and if we will give our lives to Him. God allows the consequences of our choices, as well. Since we were created with free will, that means we have the freedom to do bad things. The Bible warns us that although we are free to do all things, we should be wise to not use our freedom for evil.
“’I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but not everything is constructive” (1 Corinthians 10:23).
Freedom is a wonderful gift given to us by God. We get to choose to believe in Him, follow Him, and be in a loving relationship with Him. God didn’t create us as puppets or robots, He created us to have a mind, a heart, and a will. But that means then that we also have the freedom to cause bad things to happen. God doesn’t cause evil things to happen, but we as human beings have the choice to use our free will for evil or for good. The promise we can trust is that God is with us in all circumstances.
What “Everything Happens for a Reason” Doesn’t Mean
It doesn’t mean we won’t experience troubles.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
When Jesus walked this earth, He didn’t ignore the harsh reality of suffering. What comfort and hope we find in the words He left with us. God isn’t numb to our pain, He recognizes our trials, and reassures us that He gives us peace to get through the storms.
We will experience troubles during life, but the Bible reminds us that God will give us the peace, wisdom, and strength to get through every situation we face because He has already overcome whatever we endure.
It doesn’t mean we can’t be sad.
The death of Lazarus happened to show the glory of God. But Jesus, who knew that Lazarus would live again, still wept. Jesus was sad and His emotion and pain reminds us that it is ok for all of us to feel sadness, disappointment, and to grieve the losses of life. Even as followers of Christ, things will happen that make us sad and frustrated, and it’s ok to have those range of emotions. But like Jesus, we can find our way through them, out of them, and keep our trust in God.
It doesn’t mean that everything that happens is good.
“For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14).
Here we find an acknowledgment in God’s word that things are good or evil. So even though we may find reason, or growth, or good that comes from a tragedy, that doesn’t mean the tragedy itself was good. It is important to recognize the difference between good and evil in the world. We can find comfort knowing that God will judge and rectify all things.
How Can We Be Comforted by This Phrase?
When you hear this phrase, let it remind you that God knows what you’ve gone through, and that He will make all things new (see: Revelation 21:5). We can experience peaceknowing that when something has happened, God understands and will faithfully guide us and provide for us what we need to persevere. God has good plans for each of us, not to do us harm, but to give us hope and a future worth looking forward to (see: Jeremiah 29:11). Ultimately, we know that God’s plan includes more than we could ever hope, ask, or imagine (see: Ephesians 3:20).
It is good to discern the deeper understanding of things we have gone through. It can be helpful to look back at life and realize that what we have gone through had a purpose, or taught us something, or that good came from it. What the Bible teaches us is that we do have the free will to make our choices, but our choices will never hinder God’s plans for humanity. Evil will never thwart the good and perfect will of God. Whatever it is we face in life, God knows, and He understands our range of emotions and responses. He is with us always and loves us unconditionally.
About the writer:
Pamela Palmer is a writer, chaplain, and the founder of upheldlife.com, the platform on which she produces weekly devotionals and faith resource articles to inspire keeping faith at the center of it all. She lives and thrives on Jesus, coffee, and music. She is in pastoral ministry and gets to share in the emotional and spiritual lives of many people, being a small piece of each journey. Pamela married the perfect man for her and they have two beautiful kiddos. She has been published on herviewfromhome.com and you can follow her at upheldlife.com, or on Facebook.com/upheldlife.