Does Everything Happen for a Reason?

everything happens for a reason

I came of age listening to Evangelical pastors who repeatedly told congregants that EVERYTHING happened for a reason. God is in control and has a purpose and plan for your life! they said. I began my official ministerial work in the spring of 1979, at the age of twenty-one. Married — all of seven months  — and with a child on the way, I believed that everything that had happened in my life up to that point occurred for a reason. I grew up in a dysfunctional Fundamentalist Christian home. My mother suffered from mental illness my entire life, ending with her successful suicide in the early 1990s. Mom had tried to commit suicide numerous times before. As a fifth-grade boy, I got off the school bus and walked in the door of our home thinking it would be just another day to play with my friends. Instead, I found my mom lying on the floor in a pool of blood. She had slit her wrists. Fortunately, Mom survived. She always survived, that is until she didn’t. A year later, Mom was raped by her brother-in-law. I was home from school sick the day of the rape. Nothing was ever done, and years later the rapist received a fine Christian funeral at a nearby Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church. He hadn’t been to church in decades, but Praise God he had walked the sawdust trail as a teen and was wondrously saved! Or so said the preacher giving his eulogy. (Please see Barbara and Dear Pastor, Do You Believe in Hell?)

Dad moved us repeatedly during my school years. New schools, new houses, new friends. I hated my dad for constantly uprooting me and forcing me to attend new schools and make new friends. The longest I attended one school was two and a half years — eighth grade to halfway through tenth grade at Findlay Junior and Senior High in Findlay, Ohio. My parents divorced in April of my ninth-grade school year. Shortly after, Dad married a nineteen-year-old girl with a toddler, and mom married her first cousin — a man who had recently been released from Huntsville Prison after serving time for robbery.

Needless to say, the first twenty-one years of my life were less than optimal. What kept me from losing my mind through all of this was the belief that everything happened for a reason. My God, the one true Christian God, was sovereign over all. He was the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the supreme ruler of Heaven and Earth. Holding the world and my life in the palm of his hand, Jesus had a perfect plan for my life. I may not have understood his plan — after all his thoughts were not my thoughts and his ways were not my ways — but I knew in my hearts of hearts that God only wanted what was best for me. I loved Jesus with my whole heart, soul, and mind. Saved at age fifteen and called to preach a short time later, I set my sights on preaching the gospel to anyone and everyone would listen. In 1976, I enrolled for classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan to train for the ministry. While there, I met my future wife, an IFB preacher’s daughter. We later married, embarking on a twenty-five-year journey that took us to churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. No matter what troubles, problems, or circumstances came our way, we believed that God had a purpose and plan for our lives, and everything that happened was for a reason.

Thinking that everything happens for a reason messes with your understanding of life. Every time something happened, good or bad, I saw God working behind the scenes. I resolutely believed that God had some sort of divine plan for my life and that everything that happened in life happened to further that plan. Even when it seemed God was shitting on my head and setting me on fire, I still humbled myself before him and trusted his divine providence. And then, one day, I stopped believing that everything happened for a reason. I was still a Christian at the time. As I pondered the arc of my life, I found it harder and harder to see God’s invisible hand working on my behalf. It seemed to me that life was an admixture of good choices, bad choices, choices made by others, luck, being at the right/wrong place at the right/wrong time, biology, environment, and psychology — to name a few.

I have made some good decisions in life, bad ones too. Now that the God who allegedly told me “everything happens for a reason” is no longer a part of my life, I am in a position to openly, honestly, and thoroughly examine my life. I can look at my parents’ lives and see how their experiences and upbringings affected me as a child. I carried these things into my own life, including my marriage. The difference now, of course, is that I no longer think that God has a purpose and plan for my life; I no longer believe that the path of my life is exactly what God has ordered for me. Making an honest accounting of life painfully leaves one with a lot of regrets. Alas, there are no do-overs in life. All any of us can do is learn from our pasts and choose to do better going forward. That’s the only plan I see for my life: striving to do better than I did yesterday.

Did you at one time believe that everything happens for a reason? How did this belief work out in your life? How did life change for you after you deconverted? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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13 Comments

  1. Brunetto Latini

    I know intellectually that there’s no supernatural reason for what happens in life. But I believed it for so long that I haven’t entirely changed my thinking. I still find myself looking at events as if an invisible hand is keeping things better than they could be. And I would rather continue thinking that way than have circumstances rid me of the delusion entirely. The goal in life is happiness, and if a psychological trick enables it, I guess I’m OK with that.

    Reply
  2. Brunetto Latini

    As an example — I fell from a ladder recently and sprained my knee. Didn’t break anything, though. I look at it as life reminding me to be careful rather than stupid, because otherwise, in just a few seconds, something that affects the rest of my life could happen. And does happen to people every day. So I guess I impressed a reason on something that had none.

    Reply
  3. Skyler

    Along these lines I remember there was a time when just seeing any bird or even bird shit would cause me to remember God knew what I was doing at all times; because Jesus says in the gospels, that not one bird falls to the ground without God knowing about it meaning if God so knows about every bird he sure knows about me. As the hymn goes “His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches me”. Also it is written somewhere in the gospels that “the very hairs of our head are numbered”. So we should just go to sleep in the back of the boat like Jesus,having faith, that God will guide us through the storm. Leaning not into our own understanding instead just keep trusting the good Shepherd. I thought like this for a long time and even now I am not that far removed from it. (As it has been mentioned before “Christianity is a hard nut to crack”.) But my mind is now opening up to the fact that shit happens and it’s not necessarily that the omnificient God is watching and controlling EVERYTHING I do. It is a liberating thought to free the mind, of this oppression.

    Reply
  4. Melissa A Montana

    I noticed some of the same Christians who say everything is part of god’s plan will nevertheless condemn you 5 minutes later for making bad choices. If everything is controlled by god, then do we really have a choice? And if we make choices, then why does god need a plan? Just more contradictions in a confused and dysfunctional religion.

    Reply
    1. Stephanie Faulkner

      Or why does one “pray” if things work out according to “god’s”)” plan anyway…..crazy….

      Reply
  5. Ami

    I was *told* that everything happens for a reason.
    The usual bs about how ‘he won’t give you anything you can’t handle’.

    I tried to believe it. I went through all the motions, sang the songs, read the verses, had the conversations.

    But it always just felt like rationalization.
    Instead of “Well, you messed up and now you’re going to see natural consequences” I was told, “He has a plan for you!”

    I’ve said before that I never actually felt the presence of any god, not once in about 20 years of being indoctrinated and forced into church and all the crazy that goes with it.

    Once I allowed myself to believe otherwise, life got a lot better.

    Reply
  6. ObstacleChick

    It’s interesting to watch people’s lives on social media (the aspects they share, that is). I have seen so many fundies and their relatives go through battles with cancer in the past couple of years. Reading posts and comments from well-meaning fundies is interesting. There’s all the “we are praying for you”, “we are invoking the power of the Great Healer”, “we know God has a plan for you”. Even up to the point of death these types of messages are going on. Then the person dies and it’s all “he/she is healed and with Jesus now, praise Jesus”, “what a blessing to know you will see him/her in heaven one day”, “God used his/her life praise be”. I guess people derive some comfort from that, but when someone has stage 4 terminal cancer and everyone is praying for healing, it just seems cruel. I did see a couple of people who actually made arrangements knowing death was inevitable, and you wonder how fundies reconcile faith and reality under their mode of religious belief.

    I despised the “God has a plan for you” teaching. I wanted to pave my own path, and for the life of me, it was nigh unto impossible to determine God’s plan anyway. But we unto you if you interpret God’s plan wrong, or worse, reject it, because you were promised a miserable life. No, I was much happier when I escaped fundamentalism and forged my own way.

    There are those who like being told what to do, and those who are drawn to systems where it’s ok to tell others what to do. I fit neither of those types and was miserable in that system.

    I am on the same page as you, Bruce, about things happening. It’s an adjustment to have to deal with reality, but it’s better than the system where “God has a plan”, but it’s hard to figure it out, and if things don’t work out it’s because you, filthy human, made a mistake or Satan got involved, but you can’t determine which. Plus, reconciling those teachings with the real universe? Forget it, they don’t align (but it’s dirty humans’ fault for not seeing how it aligns). Ugh.

    Reply
  7. Brian Vanderlip

    As not much more than a toddler I was made painfully aware of what my future was in the pit of Hell if I was not saved. This was offered in church as a ‘free gift’, this being saved and born again.
    I was kidnapped, psychologically tortured with the God book and I lived for many years as someone who praised Jesus for what he was doing in my life. The Stockholm Syndrome says it all for me. Dear sweet Jesus could never harm anybody; only help!
    I gave him my life, freely… <— Hard to believe it took me half my life to escape that gulag.

    Reply
  8. Dave

    ”God has a plan” and ”everything happens for a reason” are statements that make me want to puke every time I hear them. They are used by people who want to continue to believe in a personal, all powerful god who sits by and watches terrible things happen to his people. Even worse they are used to give this god an excuse to cause terrible things to happen as long as he has a reason. If there really was a god who uses pain and suffering to achieve a ”greater good” then he is a real dick and not worth of worship and praise. No, I am not mad at god because I realize there is no god. I am mad at people who refuse to use common sense and continue to believe in such a being

    Reply
  9. Steve Ruis

    “Everything happens for a reason” is part of a duo, its counterpart is “Life has a meaning.” Both of these conspire to spin a rational persons thinking out into the ether (yeah, that doesn’t exist either).

    These phrases are “deepities,” that is phrases which sound deep or profound but are actually what was called in the computer world “vaporware,” which was promised software that didn’t quite exist just yet.

    If you go looking outside of you for the meaning of your life, you will find a kindly neighborhood preacher there saying “I can help yo find it.” Right … looking in all of the wrong places is not a plan for creating meaning in one’s life.

    Reply
  10. Caroline

    This way of thinking reminds me of something that happened a few days after September 11, 2001. An acquaintance of mine sent a story around (this was pre FB) about how we’re always just where we’re supposed to be. There were anecdotes about how some people didn’t go to work in the twin towers for one reason or another and their lives were spared that day. It was awful and made me so angry. I responded to the person who sent it and asked her directly if the almost 3,000 who died that day were indeed where they were supposed to be that day. She didn’t understand my outrage and hardly spoke to me again. I was ok with that because I always considered her a simpleton. Very sadly, a few years later her son was in a terrible motorcycle crash. He survived but was horribly brain-damaged and isn’t able to do anything on his own and lives in a nursing home. He must be around 35 by now. I would not wish this scenario on anyone. I imagine her point of view about people being just where they’re supposed to be has changed.

    Reply
  11. fivehundredpoundpeep

    I hated that “God has a plan” garbage, and this is one reason why Christianity has become more and more the domain of the privileged in the United States because wealthier people can claim God has blessed them and look at the great “plan for their lives” it also destroys any ideas of empathy and makes sure the power structures of oppression remain in place because supposedly they are all “God’s will and plan”, see how that works?

    If something bad happens it’s your fault and God did it to you. I am so glad to be spared being in that emotional prison where I was told it was “my fault” over and over I was disabled and chronically ill and losing my hearing.

    God’s plans suck, and let’s be frank this world is such a death and suffering factory especially for people in third world nations, you would think a Celestial Sociopath was drinking human tears for his sustenance. So how many thousands died in the latest weather event? That was “his plan” too.

    Reply
  12. Karen the rock whisperer

    Yes, everything DOES happen for a reason. The reason is this: in this universe’s timeline, this is what happens.

    Tautology? of course. But it beats imagining being jerked around by a deity like some poor dog with a leash attached to a choke chain.

    Reply

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