Everything Happens for a Reason and 7 Other Myths

Two women were praying one day.

One cried out to God, “Oh God, you love me and you love my unborn baby. Please have mercy on us and help me to find a job that will enable me to keep my baby; to feed her, clothe her, and keep her forever.”

Elsewhere a second woman cried out to God. “Oh God, I am unable to have children. Please speed up my adoption process and bring me a child quickly. Fill this empty hole in my heart with a baby who needs my help.”

One year later, a woman was proudly introducing her daughter to her loved ones. “Isn’t she beautiful? For this child, I prayed and prayed. God answered my prayers. It was God’s will that she would be in my arms.”

Elsewhere, a woman sat on a bench with empty arms, listening to a friend,

“God must have better plans for you.”

“Everything happens for a reason.”

“God shut those doors. It wasn’t supposed to happen.”

Seeking God’s will used to be so simple in my mind.

It was so simple that these pithy, reductionist sayings didn’t seem bizarre to me at all.

But when we choose to see God’s will in everything, while ignoring the futility and despair of this life, we miss God’s will entirely and we lose sight of the hope of the gospel itself.

These are eight myths that I have identified in my life about God’s will and God’s involvement:

1. High school students should know what God’s will is for their lives and choose a college major accordingly.

The decisions we make during our early adulthood (career, marriage, etc.) alter the courses of our lives. But to expect that an 18-year-old would have the perfect life mapped out for himself/herself places too much responsibility, expectations, and false hopes on a young student, setting him/her up for failure and disappointment.

Those dreams look different in ten years, for better or for worse. And there is nothing sacred about the age of 18 in the determination of one’s destiny. Mostly likely, the 18-year-old will get it wrong a few times.

2. God’s plan for me is my vocation.

God’s will is about loving God and loving others. Only in a position of privilege can a person have the notion that work should be some romantic expression of his/her gifts and talents.

3. If you are bored with your job, it must not be your calling, or God’s will for your life.

The gospel does not promise the actualization of our full potential. Many martyrs have died without being able to make a living performing in a band or writing a ground-breaking novel.

We tend to believe the myth that our fulfillment in life involves labor which is creative, stimulating, and success-generating. But the idea that God’s will must involve following one’s dreams contradicts Scripture and disrespects the millions of impoverished people around the world who labor in harsh circumstances every day to provide for their families.

4. Some people have high callings.

God’s will does not have a front row and a back row. Missionary martyr is not first place; suburban housewife or husband is not number 53.

Finding wholeness and love in this life is all there is. There isn’t a bonus level with ninja powers.

5. If God does not want me to do something, God will close the door.

If God always were to “shut doors” on disobedience, then there would be no abuse, no lies, no bank robberies, or littering. God does not close doors to prevent all bad things from happening.

And the converse is also a myth: If all the doors are opening for me, it must be God’s will. Shouldn’t we beware of the illusion of orchestration through circumstances? Sometimes the best things are ruined and all the doors are shut in our faces. Sometimes the worst things open up for us with ease.

6. If something goes wrong, what you are doing must not be God’s will.

Resistance is not an appropriate gauge of the righteousness of a decision, nor is a “sense of peace”. Sometimes resistance proves to us that we are following Jesus. And sometimes resistance happens because this planet is a tough place to live.

7. Everything that happens to me is part of God’s plan.

Things happen to us that are contrary to God’s will. A person neglects or abuses a child. A drunk driver has an accident. God does not cause these things. What if you were supposed to get that job and someone lost the paperwork because this world is a dark place? What if your child was supposed to thrive at birth, but humans don’t always do their jobs perfectly?

What if what happened wasn’t truly meant to be? Is that okay? Can futile, awful things happen in this world?

8. Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.

Why don’t we put our faith in the Holy Spirit working within us much more than the signs and wonders without? Why do we look for confirmation of God’s will in tealeaves and toast crumbs? Are we really going to take this or that highway because someone had a bumper sticker that seemed like a “God thing”? Why does this seem more like voodoo and less like faith?

One of the most amazing, gospelly books in the Bible, Ecclesiastes, sets us free from the pursuit of meaning in all things. Nothing is new under the sun. Everything is a chasing after the wind. The wisdom in this poetry can set us free from seeing our lives through a Jesus-crystal ball. Sometimes bad things happen and that’s the way this world works. This fallen, dark, corrupt world gets it wrong. Why does that surprise us? Why do we need to explain it away?

The answer I have found to all of these myths is in one statement: This too shall be redeemed.

We do not have to find meaning in every event, every change, every decision, every slight, every loss, every win. We find meaning in watching it all be redeemed in time.

Eventually. Perhaps at the end of all things when things are made whole again.

Elsewhere, a woman sat on a bench with empty arms, listening to a friend, 

“God must have better plans for you.”

“Everything happens for a reason.”

“God shut those doors. It wasn’t supposed to happen.”

She looked up at this friend and said with sadness and peace, “No, I’m not sure it was supposed to be this way. But this too shall be redeemed.”

 

12 comments

  1. Thank you for making this post. It’s contrary to what I’ve believed for years, but I am not upset about it or anything. :) It’s so good to have my beliefs (and the beliefs of others), examined and questioned. I haven’t questioned them enough and now you have me thinking about that. Thank you. :)

  2. Mandy….you already know I’m grateful for you and your writing. This is another thoughtful piece that challenges the simplistic, bumper-sticker faith that lacks the nuance and complexity of real life with a real God. I especially appreciate #8.

    I’d be interested in the “longer” version of this where you dug into scripture with each idea, where possible. I’d also be interested in your perspective on the POSITIVE side of God’s involvement in the circumstances of life.

    Gonna stop sounding like I’m your professor, correcting a paper, now… :)

  3. Wow, this makes me want to cry. You are right. I spent most of my 20s, which were fraught with a lot of uncertainty, thinking “this is how God wants it to be” and that is the wrong mentality.

  4. I needed this perspective this week. I have spent the whole week struggling with a young man I have watched grow up in our church being arrested for robbing a gas station at gun point, a kid, a kid I was talking to just a Sunday ago. I found peace in this… I don’ t have to find the meaning…it will be redeemed…in GOD’S time.

  5. Reading just this morning in 2 Corinthians 2 that God opened a door for Paul in one area but he didn’t have peace about staying there there so he moved on to Macedonia. It is not one straight set course in life, but a faithful and responsive meandering.

  6. Coming back to this… when you end with empty arm woman’s comment, “supposed to” – or the job “supposed to” get and child “supposed to” thrive… are your supposed to’s synonymous with God’s will? I agree with you & the tea leave kind of faith. But I can also think of references to God closing & opening wombs, hardening Phararoh’s heart, allowing Satan to take from Job, and

    1. … sovereignty. I guess as I look back on the bad things, bad decisions, and use the plithy “everything happens for a reason” I mean – He’s got this. He didn’t close His eyes or turn away for a second or fall asleep at the wheel. I got the tapestry analogy, I see the back, God is working on the front. And for me, I guess, this equates to, “This too shall be redeemed.” He will repay for what the locust have stolen. And the “Flair” button from your Facebook wall circa 2008: “It will all be okay in the end. If its not okay, its not the end.” And perhaps that will be at the end of things, as you wrote.

      Otherwise, I especially agree with #1-6. Two greatest commands are Love God, Love others. Keep it simple! Thanks Mandy!

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