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Does Everything Happen for a Reason?

everything happens for a reason 2

Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Muslim, and Mormon churches, along with many new-agers and spiritual people, believe EVERYTHING happens for a reason. They all believe that God or the Universe or some sort of divine energy/consciousness orchestrates our lives and that nothing happens by chance, accident, or luck

According to people who think like this, everything that happens in our lives is part of a bigger purpose or plan. No matter what happens to us, it happens because it was meant to happen.  In keeping with this way of thinking, the irresponsible, dumb-ass, youthful driver who pulled out to pass a slow-moving truck on a double yellow line and missed hitting Polly and me head-on by a few feet was acting according to some greater purpose or plan. If he had hit us, our deaths would have happened for a reason.

As I think back through my life, my mom’s suicide at age 54, my dad’s death from surgery complications at age 49, my sister-in-law’s death from a motorcycle accident, my wife’s favorite uncle’s death at age 51 from a rare heart virus, these all-too-soon tragic deaths had no positive effect on those left behind, and their deaths certainly, outside of releasing several of them from pain, had no positive effect on them. If these deaths had some greater cosmic purpose, I’d sure love to know what it is.

When Polly’s sister was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2005, several family members suggested that if one soul got saved through Kathy’s death then her demise would not have been in vain. While I still a Christian at the time, I made it clear to everyone standing there that if the choice was between Kathy still being alive and someone getting saved and avoiding Hell, I’d choose Kathy living every time.

everything happens for a reason

As I look at the world, I see pain, suffering, and death. I see hunger and thirst. I see violence and deprivation. I see poverty, animal abuse, and environmental degradation. Yet, I am told that all these things happen for a reason. Pray tell, what is the bigger purpose or plan for these things? What reason could there be for children starving, a woman being raped, a family having no means of support?

Years ago, a horrific, violent storm ripped through northwest Ohio. People and animals were killed, buildings and trees were destroyed, and millions of people were left without electricity for days, all during a time when temperatures were setting new record highs. Again, what is the bigger purpose or plan for these things? To increase generator sales?

War rages across the globe. The United States has troops stationed all over the world and is currently waging war in numerous countries. U.S troops, bombs, and bullets are responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths of innocent civilian men, women, and children, along with enemy combatants. Again, what is the bigger purpose or plan for these things?

It is not enough to say that the Christians God has a perfect plan and we must not question him. It is not enough to quote Romans 9:20:

Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?

Or Romans 8:28:

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

I not only question this God, I charge him with gross negligence and malfeasance. Any human acting as this God does would be considered a manic, cruel, serial abuser of his fellow human beings. Such a God we would or should not want as family or friend, yet billions claim this God as their friend, confidant, family member, and lover. They fawn over and worship this God who is so inept that he can’t even feed a starving girl in Africa or quench the thirst of a homeless family in India. While this God always seems to come through for Granny when she can’t find her car keys, he is AWOL when it comes to relieving his creation from pain, suffering, and death. Forgive me for saying this, but this God is not worthy of obeisance and worship. If I’m going to worship anyone, it is going to be my fellow humans who devote their lives to reducing the suffering of others. They are the gods who are worthy of worship.

I prefer the agnostic/atheist/deist way of looking at life. Shit happens. Good and bad happens to one and all, and often what comes our way has no purpose or reason. It just h-a-p-p-e-n-s.

This does not mean that I cannot learn from the bad things that happen in my life. My own physical debility and chronic pain have been quite instructive. My past experiences have indeed helped to make me into the man I am today (good and bad).

But, to suggest that God or the universe or some divine energy/consciousness is behind how my life has turned out?  I reject any such notion. I gladly embrace what my life is and all that helped to make it what it is, but I have no place in my life for some sort of divine puppeteer pulling the strings of my life. Twelve years ago, I reached up and cut the puppeteer’s strings, and from that day forward my life has been my own.  It is an admixture of my own choices, the choices of others, genetics, and random events and circumstances.  I need no other explanation, nor do I need a God to make my life more palatable. It is what it is until it isn’t.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

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  1. Avatar
    Daniel Wilcox

    I agree with your powerful article. Even during the many years I was a committed Christian, I, too, hated when Christian leaders would claim some horrific tragedy was part of God’s great plan, and that we needed to accept suffering and evil in our lives, just knowing that it was all meant for good.

    Such obscene reasoning! But at least the many Christians who supported it, based their belief on a God who loved everyone, every single human and opposed the deaths and the evil.

    No doubt you saw the posts several years back where John Piper, wrote the opposite! Even before loved ones could bury their 80 some family members in the Midwest slaughtered by tornadoes, Piper
    got on his theological high horse (thanks for the loan of the word:-)
    and claimed
    that those winds were Jesus’ winds, that the tornado funnels were God’s fingers reaching down to kill us.

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    I’m hoping you can shed some light on one of the most abhorrent forms of theology I know – Calvinism. From reading many of your previous posts I understand you adhered to it. First let me say how I tend to see things in my continued life of faith.
    From my understanding, this world is in chaos and out of control. Bad things happen a lot, and not always with a purpose or a plan. Bad things happen to good people. Good things happen to bad people. Life is not fair. Sometimes God intervenes, many times he does not. At this point in my faith, I am okay with that.
    However, what I don’t understand is the deterministic philosophy of 5 point Calvinism that says God has planned and predestined everything. Each one of those things is part of a divine plan he wrote before time began. Some of the most outspoken pro-life people are Calvinists…but didn’t God plan for those abortions? Some of the most outspoken anti-LGBT people are Calvinists…but didn’t God predestine the sexuality of those people? In fact, isn’t here found a great irony – you aren’t born gay, you choose it? So God predestines everything but your sexuality and in that you have free will? In fact, I’m not sure why Calvinists evangelize or even bother to protest and speak against things they disagree with because it is all God’s will and plan. When I come under attack by a Calvinist I tell them to not get so mad at me because obviously god predestined me to not be a Calvinist.

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      Calvinism is one of the biggest pieces of bullshit ever invented. The whole notion of Substitutionary Atonement was invented by John Calvin in the 1500s. It did not exist as belief, theology, or doctrine anywhere in the Christian world prior to his time. But Calvinism is a great racket too: “I just killed 200,000,000 people. Oh well, I am off the hook because God surely preordained it.

      Of course, if you were to kidnap a Presbyterian preacher and put a gun to his head, I sincerely believe this is the answer you would hear about Calvinism and predestination:

      “Now be careful with that gun and try to calm down. Please. Predestination is just our unique “gimmick” to differentiate our churches from all the other churches. You cannot go through this world and be successful without a gimmick, you know, a special hook to draw people in. All the advertising agencies on Madison Avenue know about these gimmicks. There is even a formal name for it. It’s called “branding,” Everybody does it. Predestination was just John Calvin’s attempt to uniquely brand his new churches. That’s all. Such a small thing. Such a common thing. Nothing to get all upset about and kill a person. Can I go please?”

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    Daniel Wilcox

    You also asked, “What reason could there be for children starving, a woman being raped, and a family having no means of support?”

    I realize that you are using that rhetorically, but I need to respond.

    But, of course so many Christian leaders claim that every evil horrific tragedy, even the Holocaust by the Nazis ultimately only happens for
    God’s glory.

    If I hadn’t read and heard this repeatedly in the last 10-20 years, I wouldn’t believe any human could concoct such an abhorrent belief.

    “So the Bible is teaching that these evil monsters were actually created by Jesus, FOR Jesus; to show God’s glory to the universe. (This is brought out wonderfully in John Piper’s Spectacular Sins and their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ.”
    The first way evil ultimately glorifies God is by providing a reference point , or point of comparison, to highlight God’s excellencies. Evil exists to show what God is not. This way we appreciate more fully what God IS. When we see evil, we can know what God is not like. God’s gloriousness is more fully known because we have something to compare him to.

    Even hell glorifies God! The existence of hell (and the sinners who will be punished there forever with the devil and his angels) will eternally show the attribute of God’s wrath; his extreme and just hatred of sin.”
    Minister Cary Cox, The Church at Meadowlake

    So yous see, Bruce, now we know why those tragedies happened to your loved ones and why billions of us will be tortured for ever and ever–because before time began, God wanted more glory so…

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    Thinking everything happens for a reason is just a coping mechanism when tragidy hits close to home. Pinning it on God is much what people did long ago before the Bible was written. It’s what they used to “blame” others for their shortcomings. I’m okay with thinking some are dealt a better card than others, it’s what you do with it that counts. Sometimes life sucks, sometimes things go well. You can easily find the positive in the negative without God if you look hard enough.

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    As an independent Christian, I have never believed that God has planned every split second of the happenings in the universe or the moments in peoples’ lives. The thing that has been hardest for me to understand is how so many Christians take comfort (apparently) in the notion that God planned and orchestrated the auto accident that killed four teens on high school graduation night. If you go to the funeral home a couple of days later, some old lady with white hair is always going around to every family member to say: “God took these four boys. It was just their time. You can be comforted in knowing that.” Sometimes, I would just like to haul off and slug her. Whether you believe in God or not, I just think it is wrong to blame all the events in the universe on one entity—especially when that entity is supposed to be kind and loving. This is a universe that is very random in many ways, and only statistics can account for some of it. Or, as Bruce so accurately said: “Shit happens.”

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    Karen the rock whisperer

    The notion that things happen for A Reason is, in a way, breathtakingly arrogant. We are a dominant species, true, but just a species; others came before us and others will come after us. We’re located on a backwater planet in a middling galaxy in this vast universe, and our time on this planet is finite. That something should happen to each individual one of us, for a reason, is kind of mind-boggling. That, coupled with the fact that God’s Plan often makes no sense at all, should really make one question the whole thing.

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    Aussie Kath

    I was in a parish that had a wonderfully refreshing parish priest, who would say things that drew gasps from the congregation and letters to the Archbishop. One particular comment that stood out to me was when he said that God had bigger things to worry about than looking for your lost keys or helping you pass an exam. It was up to us to look after ourselves and look to God for guidance in what to do, and then do it.

    He also hated being told by “well meaning ” people that it was God calling people to heaven when they died. Especially young people and children. He was a priest who was down to earth and didn’t bullshit with pleasantries and overworn phrases that mean nothing. Of course, he was both loved and hated. But he was genuine. Since moving a long way away, I have never been able to meet his equal in theology, common sense and pragmatism.

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    Brian Vanderlip

    Evangeical belief is suppression of Reason in the service of feelings. Because of the conviction, the real, somatic feeling, the belief system chooses to deny Reason as necessity, must do so and makes it a secondary matter to suppress and deny.
    This dovetails beautifully with original sin teachings and demonstrates how clever the business is, convincing people that they are born evil and need to feel saved. Only through abandoning Reason can feelings be the basis and Bingo! Belief fills the bill. We are humans and feelings are real… and often not subject to reasonable explanation.
    I had a similar experience related above by Aussie Kath. I too was quite pleased with a certain Anglican priest who did his masses but also lived in the real world, not carrying a lot of patience for nonsense woo-woo. Interesting that we admired men who demonstrated valuable human traits that rejected woo-woo even though they did their regular mass. Somehow they seemed to me to represent the human conundrum, our life. These days, I am more content to hold to Reason even when my feelings say OW!

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    I hated hearing that too. I think there is a lot of privilege in Christian circles, and this is why the churches were filled with people lacking empathy because their lives followed the script which made the above believable in the first place. That’s one thing I noticed, no one was living in apartments struggling with paying for food or bills in my conservative or fundamentalist churches. Oh don’t miss the obvious even with the theocrats who tried to storm our Capitol, notice they had good middle class and above jobs to be fired from. Those arsenals and bunkers don’t come cheap.

    There was a point where I had seen too much crap happen. God frankly if he existed was utter useless. The kind and caring died young and suffered. The worse and most evil people always got their way. Some suffered their entire lives with absolutely NO resolution. Just look at worse suffering in the world. Children being bombed, people starving, and worse. I get the feeling if there is a God as Christians tell us, there’s far more evidence it loves to drink human tears and feed off human suffering and really puts a lot of energy into how to make us suffer.

    Even trying to help others who had lives on the incredibly hard setting I met online, I realized prayer was utterly useless. Some faced abuse, homelessness and more. Nothing got better. I had few resources to help them. Too many people die young, and of monsterous things.Some live their entire lives with no love or acceptance. I do online writing in the adult children of narcissists world and when I went no contact with abusive people, I realized Yahweh acted just like the narcissists and abusers I walked from. Full of threats, full of false promises, desiring worship and glory every second–we are supposed to bow to it for eternity–imagine that, threatening people with wrath, treating his own “son” like absolute garbage. The brutality of Christianity and it’s love for oppression [there’s a reason democracy is hated by God’s most avid Dominionists] made me arrive at the conclusion none of this is true, and I am done, and I had drank the fundamentalist Kool-Aid for 14 years.

    Once I was at a Christian book club and this woman in her early 50s with terminal cancer who did die very soon, told the group, that God had given her cancer and that it was a gift and repeating everything has a reason to happen. She was a kind woman but I was horrified. I got angry, and this is when a crack formed leading to my later deconversion and I said “If God is responsible for me having 30 years of chronic illness, than that would be an evil God!” The women turned towards me and looked at me with horror.

    I got tired of the excuses being made and the cognitive dissonance I was expected to immire myself in for the “do nothing” God of Christianity.

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    Randy, i’m guessing you are Christian. your bible declares that people are just playthings of this god. Paul and Jesus are quite certain that this god only allows some to be able to accept it, damning the rest. Matthew 13 and Romans 9. We also have your god using mind control so it has an excuse for genocide, Joshua 11, not to mention Exodus. That you are “okay” with this is disturbing.

    Sucks to be the person when this god’s mind wanders.

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    Calvinsim aka predestination is all through the bible. It wasn’t just made up in the 1500s. Matthew 13, romans 9, Joshua 11, Exodus are all evidence of this god constantly interfering with humans.

    Christianity, all of it, is entirely bullshit.

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    Charles, you’ve made up your own Christianity like every other Christian. You want to absolve your god and cling to it. You are as ridiculous as those Christians who believe in “God’s Will” controlling everything.

    There is nothing “kind” or “loving” about the Christian god. It wants obedience, nothing more. Happily, it is entirely imaginary.

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    quite a way to make up christianity by stealing the entirely non-christian claim that this god helps those who help themselves.

    Pragmatic means not believing in the nonsense in the bible and inventing a way around it.

  14. Avatar
    Steve Ruis

    Re “Romans 9:20: Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?”

    Typical god talk. Backtalk results in threats of violence. The slightest infractions of god’s rules results in death, death, death and since you died a sinner, Christians would bring your case back up after they created Hell and get you transferred out of Sheol and into Hell.

    Not nice people, not nice at all. Their god is worse. God of love my ass. (How many gods of love do you know that “bring a sword” and tell their followers to scrape up the wherewithal to go buy one?)

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    I come at this from a slightly different angle. When something unfortunate happens people will make the best of it, including accepting reality, getting on with their lives, and so on. Then later they’ll gaze back in wonderment saying ‘isn’t it funny how things always work out’? I usually just nod in agreement but really I’m wanting to say no they didn’t just work out, you made them work. Of course this also ignores those whose lives are totally destroyed by tragedy, or even just misfortune, and who never recover happiness.

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    Some things happen for a reason, if I or someone else does something for a reason. I have control over how I choose to handle things I didn’t cause. But I don’t believe in a deity or cosmic force with a plan for how things are going to happen.

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    Brian Vanderlip

    Accepting the simple unfolding of any average day and what it possibly includes for me is nigh on impossible. I must reduce the endless chaos of possibilities to those I am able to embrace when I wake from a night of dreams into the day. First, I pee, (therefore I am) and then I stoke the wood stove and prepare a coffee. Everything happens for a reason unless it doesn’t. Almost all reasoned action unfolds to reveal unintended results but how horrible must the great gulf of possibilities be to abdicate the human heart and say, Give it to God… the fellow doesn’t even have a last name!
    Well, Iguess that’s kind of what I do, give it to the Nothing, let it go in all its black hole bigness. Then I can focus on getting out to check the mail, walk with Sky (my dog), chop some firewood… Putting The All into a container, my Godbage can, I can choose pragmatically what my day requires… that reminds me, I must return that call from the dentist.

  18. Avatar

    I believe that everything happens for a reason. Like perhaps the reason some people are prone to putting faith in superstition, myth, or hearsay, is caused by some yet-to-be-identified genetic sequencing of their DNA. Or, perhaps it’s due to environmental and societal factors affecting their neural networks in such a way that simplistic reasoning and easy answers become acceptable to them. Not sure of the exact reason but I believe there is one. 🙂

  19. Avatar

    Although I am now agnostic, I grew up in the Lutheran Church, went to a Lutheran college and had a Lutheran Pastor as a father. I was never taught that everything happens for a reason. So your initial statement isn’t necessarily true. Our faith was there to support us through difficult times that happen and if we messed up God loved and forgave us. But prayer didn’t guarantee results and there was no God pulling puppet strings,

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      Thanks for commenting.

      Martin Luther said:

      “It is, then, fundamentally necessary and wholesome for Christians to know that God foreknows nothing contingently, but that He foresees, purposes, and does all things according to His own immutable, eternal, and infallible will.”

      When it comes to God’s sovereignty, there’s very little difference between Lutherans and Calvinists. (I’ve actually read Bondage of the Will.) This is the official doctrine of Lutheranism. As with all sects, what is believed and practiced by individual Lutheran churches, pastors, and congregants varies.

      Generally, Christians of all sects believe that God is in control of everything; that he has a purpose and plan for everything. Only Christians who believe people have libertarian free will would object to these statements.


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Bruce Gerencser