Everyday Grace

Searching for goodness in the ordinary

Day 11: Everything Happens for a Reason (And Other Lies) // 31 Days of Hope in Brokenness


photo: Craig Dennis

Hi there! This is day 11 of a series I’m writing this October called 31 Days of Hope in Brokenness. You can find the entire series here: 31 Days of Hope in Brokenness.

“God will never give you more than you can handle.”

“God just needed another angel, so He took him/her to heaven.”

“The Lord helps those who help themselves.”

“Everything happens for a reason.”

Horsecrappery. All of it. I cringe when I hear someone say these things to people who are hurting. These statements can be found in the Bible in the book of Nowhere, chapter nope, verses eleventy-nine – seven hundred and never. They’re not in there. Don’t be fooled. These are mostly made-up phrases that get recycled a lot by well-meaning people. At first, it’s nice to think that everything happens for a reason, right? It can give us comfort in situations where we don’t understand why something hasn’t gone our way in life. We don’t get the job, break up with someone, or miss out on an opportunity and someone says, “Everything happens for a reason,” genuinely trying to help. So what’s the big deal? 

Well, what happens when you apply that same statement to a woman who has been raped? What about a woman who has miscarried her child, or someone whose loved one has passed away unexpectedly, or someone who is dealing with cancer? Please tell me the reason for those things. I’ll wait.

It is ridiculous to suggest that God would want a child to be sexually abused, or purposefully orchestrate someone having to be in the hospital for the better part of each year as they battle chronic illness. Would you tell either of those people that God caused this to happen to them because He wants them to learn something?

That phrase kind of sucks in that context, right? It can actually end up driving a wedge between us and God as we begin to resent Him for allowing – or even willing – horrible things to happen to us.

This is what happened to Job in the Bible. His friends thought surely Job had screwed up and done something to make God mad, and that’s why awful things were happening to him. But instead, what was actually happening was that the enemy was trying to mess with him to see if he would walk away from the Lord. In the end, God tells Job’s friends to step off with their arrogance because Job being a good or bad person had nothing to do with it. Sometimes rotten things just happen. 

And guys, God does sometimes give you more than you can handle. He does it all the time. I’ve been through more situations like that than I can count on all my fingers and all my toes, and I can tell you that there have been times when the only reason I made it was Jesus, not my own ability to handle anything. I am all for throwing my hair up in a messy bun and putting on some gangsta rap and HANDLING IT, ladies, but when our ability to handle it evaporates, thank heaven we have a mighty God who can step in and stand in the gap. Where did we get these sayings, and why haven’t we retired them yet? It’s time, y’all.

When I was around middle school age, I remember a story we read called “The Monkey’s Paw.” In it, there is a magical monkey’s paw that can grant wishes, but you have to be careful what you wish for, because the paw will take your wish and add a mean twist. For example, if you wish for $10,000, you’ll get it, but it will come as a life insurance payment following the death of a loved one. I think we fear that God is like this. “Everything happens for a reason” implies that God teaches us life lessons through inflicting pain and suffering. But I think this is a dangerous lie.

The truth is everything doesn’t happen for a reason. Sometimes things just happen. Now, some things happen for this reason: we humans sure do know how to mess things up. We are sinful and broken and can be so mean and awful to each other. Sometimes things happen not because of God willing them, but because a human exercised their free will and made a really bad decision.

God is not the reason 1 in 6 women in the United States have experienced sexual assault.

God did not will that there are now 13.5 million Syrians requiring humanitarian assistance, and that 11 million of those are currently displaced refugees both inside and outside Syria.

God did not inflict the bombings in Yemen, the factory collapse in Bangladesh, or the numerous mass shootings in the US that continue to take place every year.

God is not the author of homelessness, of human trafficking, of your partner choosing to have an affair, or your father beating you while drunk.

Humans did those things. Broken humans. We can be beyond messed up. Those things happened for no other reason than human failure, sin, and terrible decisions.

But on the other side of the coin, I believe God is also not the reason my mother had cancer.

He did not engineer that a hurricane would ravage your neighborhood and leave you with a home full of water, barely standing, just so that you would learn something.

God did not make your parents fall into substance abuse and cause you to be raised in the foster care system.

God did not cause the death of your loved one to teach you some kind of lesson.

Sometimes when ugly things happen, there is no apparent reason. God is not in the business of inflicting pain to teach us something. What He does do is repurpose what the enemy meant for evil into something good. He sometimes seems to allow certain things to happen to us for reasons we don’t always understand, as He did with Job, but God is not the author of your pain. Sometimes awful things just happen to us, and I don’t know why, but I know God can and does absolutely turn our mourning into dancing and our ashes into beauty. Romans 8:28 assures us, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” God did not do this to you – whatever your “this” is – but He can redeem every hurt and every heartbreak. I know without a doubt that Jesus is there with us in the middle of the unspeakable. I know this because I have walked with Him through my own moments of utter despair. Even when it felt like He was nowhere to be found, He was there. Just as He wept with friends and family over the death of His friend Lazarus, He weeps over our pain, too.

The truth is, dear one, God did not hurt you. Whatever harm came to you did not come from Him. God is not the monkey’s paw from that soul-scarring story I heard as a middle school kid – He does not take your prayers and give you a twisted version of what you ask for. He is good. He desires to heal you of all the brokenness holding you back. Listen, everything may not happen for a reason because the world is a chaotic and broken place. But He is able and steady. Let Him in. Don’t be afraid, you can trust Him. He can take every hurt and every harm and make it into something beautiful and useful for His Kingdom.

And please, for the love, stop telling hurting people things you find embroidered on pillows. “Everything happens for a reason” is officially dead, I’ve just decided. Please let it die. Better alternatives to this bucket of nonsense:

“Can I come over and do some dishes/laundry/bring you a meal?”

“I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this. Let me know if there’s anything you need.”

“Praying so hard for you guys. If you want to come over and watch Netflix/drink wine/talk/just sit and not have to say anything, I’m your girl.”

Or if you are super married to the original phrasing, try:

“Every margarita happens for a reason.” I know I will need one after this post goes live. Jesus be a fence around the comments. Amen! I sure do love y’all.


4 Responses to Day 11: Everything Happens for a Reason (And Other Lies) // 31 Days of Hope in Brokenness

  1. Hi Cattie! Like you I cringe when people offer empty platitudes. But I also empathise with them. Life is hard for everyone, but some people have not experienced your particular brand of hard-ness, they don’t know what to say, and so they offer a cliche. Sometimes I really have to remember that it (normally) comes from a place of love and they’re not trying to dismiss or reduce my pain. But it’s so difficult at times.
    I believe everything does happen for a reason, because I don’t think Satan surprises God. But neither is God the author of evil. I took talk for ages on the topic of pain and suffering and Christ – that’s why I blog about it, haha – but I’ll stop now! Thanks again for a thought provoking post!

    • I do think it’s coming from a kind place. But I also believe in being intentional about our words (they can make a big impact) and challenging others to do the same. I also don’t think Satan surprises God either, but that is a very different thing from God willing and wanting Satan to cause us harm. 💛 Thank you for your thoughts and I’m glad you’re part of this conversation as we wrestle out hard stuff together!

  2. Well said, actually perfectly said. I have walked through things far more than God would put on me – I’m afraid in our humanness we blame God for that thing He tried so hard to warn us against in a Garden long time ago. FREE WILL. Both Eve AND THE MAN WITH HER took the bait of satan and now choice resulted and we (I) have made some dumb choices. Of course after that dumb choice comes painful consequences. Oh my! I have a family member right now that is suffering, and I mean suffering from really bad choices made 4 years ago – he asks me to pray that God would take it away – that isn’t possible but I can be present and listen. Oh that we could fly away on the wings of doves. Amen?

    • Amen Susan. Oh friend, I know this pain. I wish I could rescue every suffering person AND I’ve been on the other side wishing someone would rescue me. The best we can do is love each other the very hardest. Goodbye to lazy cliches and hello to intentional and tangible love. If we can’t do that, we find some way to show up – prayer, sitting and holding space, a phone call. There’s always a way to be kind and authentic. I want to inhabit that space. Thanks for contributing your voice here!

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