Does everything happen for a reason? The short answer is “yes”; because God is sovereign, there are no random, out-of-control happenings. God’s purposes may be hidden from us, but we can be assured that every event has a reason behind it.
There was a reason for the blindness of the man in John 9, although the disciples misidentified the reason (John 9:1–3). There was a reason for Joseph’s mistreatment, although his brothers’ purpose in what they did to him was very different from God’s purpose in allowing it (Genesis 50:20). There was a reason for Jesus’ death—the authorities in Jerusalem had their reasons, based on evil intent, and God had His, based on righteousness. God’s sovereignty extends even to the lowliest of creatures: “Not one [sparrow] falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will” (Matthew 10:29, NET).
Several factors help us know that everything happens for a reason: the law of cause and effect, the doctrine of original sin, and the providence of God. All these 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 says, “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). Someone may ask, “Why am I in jail? Is there a reason for this?” and the answer may be, “Because you robbed your neighbor’s house and got caught.” That’s cause and effect.
All that we do is either 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. “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. 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).
The reason some things happen can often be traced back to original sin in the Garden of Eden. The Bible is clear that the world is under a curse (Genesis 3:17), which has resulted in infirmities, diseases, natural disasters, and death. All these things, although under God’s ultimate control, are sometimes used by Satan to inflict misery upon people (see Job 1–2; Luke 9:37–42; 13:16). Someone may ask, “Why did I contract this illness? Is there a reason for it?” and the answer may be one or more of the following: 1) “Because you live in a fallen world, and we are all subject to illness”; 2) “Because God is testing you and strengthening your faith”; or 3) “Because, in love, God is disciplining you according to Hebrews 12:7–13 and 1 Corinthians 11:29–30.”
Then we have what is called the providence of God. The doctrine of providence holds that God quietly and invisibly works through the natural world to manage events. God, in His providence, works out His purposes through natural processes in the physical and social universe. Every effect can be traced back to a natural cause, and there is no hint of the miraculous. The best that man can do to explain the reason why things happen in the course of natural events is to point to “coincidence.”
Believers proclaim that God arranges the coincidences. The unbeliever derides such ideas because he believes natural causes can fully explain each event without reference to God. Yet followers of Christ are wholly assured of this 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 shows divine providence at work. The banishment of Vashti, the selection of Esther, the plot of the assassins, the pride of Haman, the courage of Mordecai, the insomnia of the king, the bloodlust of Zeresh, and the reading of the scroll—everything in the book happens, like cogs in a well-oiled machine, to bring about the deliverance of God’s people. Although God is never mentioned in Esther, His providence, working through “coincidence,” is plain to see.
God is always at work in the lives of His people, and in His goodness will bring them to a good end (see Philippians 1:6). The events that define our lives are not simply products of natural causes or random chance. They are ordained by God and are intended for our good. We often fail to sense God’s hidden guidance or protection as events in our lives unfold. But, when we look back at past events, we are able to see His hand more clearly, even in times of tragedy.