Question: "Is it true that everything happens for a reason?"
Answer: Does everything happen for a reason? There are several known factors that help us to answer this question: the law of cause and effect, the law of grace, and the doctrine of the providence of God. These factors demonstrate that everything does happen for a reason, not just by happenstance or by random chance.
First, there is the natural law of cause and effect, also known as the law of sowing and reaping. Paul said, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7–8). This means that in every action we take or word we utter, whether good or evil, there are certain inevitable results that follow (Colossians 3:23–25).
All that we do is geared toward one of two things—an investment in the flesh or an investment in the Spirit. We shall reap whatever we have sown, and we shall reap in proportion to how we have sown. Paul cautioned us, “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (2 Corinthians 9:6). The believer who walks in the Spirit and “sows” in the Spirit is going to reap a spiritual harvest. If his sowing has been generous, the harvest will be bountiful, if not in this life, certainly in the life to come.
And, conversely, those who “sow” to the flesh are going to reap a life without the full blessings of God, both in this life and the life to come (Jeremiah 18:10; 2 Peter 2:10–12).
Jesus makes it clear that God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). In other words, God reveals His undiscriminating love (Romans 2:11) to everyone in allowing the sun to rise and rain to fall on both the evil and the good, the righteous and the unrighteous. Though this passage refers to physical blessings on earth, not spiritual, those blessings are given without respect to merit. If they were merit-based, no one would receive them. This is called the law of common grace, meaning that God is indiscriminate in His benevolence. His divine love and providence in some ways benefit everyone, even those who rebel against Him or deny His existence.
The psalmist tells us, “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations. The LORD is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made. The LORD upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing” (Psalm 145:13–16). This is why we sometimes see good things happen to bad people and bad things to good people. Asaph addresses this seeming injustice in the 73rd Psalm.
However, the psalmist continues: “The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them. The LORD watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy” (Psalm 145:18–20). While God is indiscriminate in the common grace He bestows upon all, we must realize that God will curse those who disobey His commands (Deuteronomy 11:26–28). We reap God’s reward for obedience or His curses for disobedience, both now and hereafter.
Then we have what is called the providence of God. The doctrine of providence holds that God quietly works through the law of cause and effect in the natural world to manage events. The miracles of God differ from His providence in that God’s miracles exceed the boundaries of known natural laws, e.g., instantaneous healings, raising of the dead, etc. Such miracles ceased at the end of the apostolic era and are no longer evident today.
Providence, on the other hand, is a term theologians use to express the conviction that God works out His purposes through natural processes in the physical and social universe. Every effect can be traced back to a natural cause. Within this law of cause and effect there is no hint of miracles. The best that man can do to explain the reason why things happen in the course of natural events is to point to “coincidence.”
However, believers proclaim that God not only intervened in, but arranged these “coincidences.” The unbeliever derides such ideas because he believes each event can be traced back to natural causes that “fully explain” what happened without reference to God. Yet followers of Christ are wholly assured of this one profound truth: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
The book of Esther vividly illustrates the truth of divine providence by identifying “coincidences” which led to the deliverance of the Jewish people from a plot to exterminate them. Although this is a book about providence, God is not mentioned. Yet the string of coincidences, leading so naturally to the deliverance, is so striking that God’s work in the story’s outcome is obvious.
We also learn from the book of Esther that God is always at work in the lives of His people. The “coincidences” that define our lives are not simply products of cause and effect or of random chance. The coincidences that mark our lives are ordained by God and are intended for our good. It was only when looking back that Esther and Mordecai could clearly see the hand of God in what had happened to them. We often fail to sense God’s hidden guidance or protection as events in our lives unfold. But when we look back, we are able to see His hand more clearly, even in those times when such events or circumstances appeared as tragedies in our lives.
In looking back and studying those coincidences that changed the course of our lives, we discover that God has been right there all along. As believers, it behooves us to examine those incidents and realize that God was at work in each one; even those which brought us suffering, including what we thought were unanswered prayers. The doctrine of providence tells us that God is at work in the life of His people. Though His activity may be hidden, it is very real. In retrospect, we invariably discover that God is working for us right this very moment, right where we are. But, more importantly, we uncover the glorious confirmation of His unending love (Romans 8:38–39).