When you hear the words, “Everything happens for a reason,” do you think about the true implications of that statement? This Sunday in the Sanctuary at 9:30 and 11:00 am we will consider the next question in my “Questions We Should Answer” series: “Does Everything Really Happen for a Reason?” I think this is especially appropriate on the 15th anniversary of 9/11.
After every natural disaster, it seems that there is some preacher who will cite the wrath of God as the reason for it. (It also does not escape my notice that God always seems to be angry about the very same things that anger that preacher!) This notion becomes even more personal when, in the face of the unanswerable “Why?”, someone tries to figure out the reason for a loved one’s devastating diagnosis or death or injury in a car wreck.
Do we really believe that God causes tragedy? Does everything really happen for “a reason?”
When some people told Jesus the news of a tragic event that had just reached them — people from Galilee who were offering sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem and Pontius Pilate had killed them, cutting their lives short while they were in the very act of worship — Jesus’ reply came in the form of two questions:
“Do you think the suffering of these Galileans proves that they were more sinful than all the other Galileans?”
“What about those eighteen people who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them? Do you think that they were more guilty of wrongdoing than everyone else who lives in Jerusalem?”
With Jesus’ answers to those questions — a definite no — came a call to a changed life as he dispelled this notion that “everything happens for a reason.” No, they weren’t more sinful. No, they weren’t guiltier of wrongdoing than everyone else. Using those tragedies in their own day as examples, the answer wasn’t comfortable for those looking for a reason that these people — and not some other people — died in this way. (See Luke 13:1-5)
Everything happens for a reason. The implications of that statement are very troubling when we stop and think for a moment. Did the 2010 Haiti earthquake happen for a reason? Did the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami or the 2011 Japan tsunami happen for a reason? Did Hurricane Katrina happen for a reason? Plate tectonics or tropical weather patterns aside, was there really a reason for all that suffering and destruction? Were those who died in the 9/11 attacks more sinful or guiltier of wrongdoing than those who didn’t?
Of course not. If we stop and think about it, we know that at least in the sense of God causing everything in order to make a point or to provide a learning opportunity — or to reward or punish — just isn’t so. Yet, the idea persists. I believe that rather than causing the tragedy or the suffering — or choosing who will be the victims and who will be spared — God is present with us through the tragedies and in the suffering, providing, as we say in our affirmation of faith, “strength and help in time of need.” As Rev. William Sloane Coffin said at his son’s funeral 10 days after he died in a car accident, “God provides minimum protection and maximum support.”
Life is fragile. Things happen. And, while sometimes there is a cause for tragedy (such as those plate tectonics and weather patterns), Jesus tells us that the reason isn’t some capricious whim of God. The good news of our faith is that whatever happens, God is with us. Whatever happens, “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” Isn’t that much more helpful than “everything happens for a reason?”
I look forward to exploring this idea further with you this Sunday in the Sanctuary.
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster