Stop Saying “Everything Happens for a Reason”

Stop saying “everything happens for a reason.”

It’s bad theology.

Why?

First, because you surely do not mean everything. What you mean to say is, “bad things happen for a reason.”

For example, when I ace an interview and get the job that I hoped for, no one shrugs and sighs, “Well, everything happens for a reason.” On bubblegum days, when I get up early, sail through easy traffic, find a great parking space, and rock an especially good hair day, no one pats my back and smiles glumly, “Just so you know, everything happens for a reason.”

The truth is that “everything happens for a reason” is never used in the context of good fortune! Instead, we cry, “Congratulations! Felicitations!” “Well done!” “Right ho!” “Lucky you!” “Bless your heart!” or “Praise the Lord!”

So if instead of “everything happens for a reason” we rather mean “bad things happen for a reason,” is that clarification good enough? Is that statement true?

No, it’s not, if only for the reason that it’s non-specific. (For example, what kind of bad things? Do you mean all bad things?)

I’m aware that people of different religious traditions may hold this view, but it always surprises me when I hear Christians saying it. I would like to point out how this idea does not flow from the Scriptural sources that many believe it does.

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The poor Christian expositors among us will point us to a verse generally taken out of context, Romans 8:28, to support the popular saying: “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.” Poorly-read Christian expositors will use this verse to mean that any sort of inconvenience is God-ordained, imbued with some sort of Magic, a promise that your stubbed toe really did mean something, that Martha snubbing you actually has cosmic significance, that your nasty paper cut has particular meaning. (For example, perhaps the paper cut caused you to pause in the hallway, and had you been further along in the hallway [not thinking about your paper cut] you would have been run over in an untimely accident by the copier repairman who was wheeling out a 10-year-old 500 pound copier. I think. Is how the story normally goes.)

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But is that what Romans 8:28 actually means? No, it doesn’t, and an elementary reading of that verse in context teaches us that “all things” surely does not mean “inconvenient body pain” or botched copier machine accidents, but rather the “things” referenced earlier in the chapter—that is, the multiple ways in which the Holy Spirit works to free us from the corruption of sin. “Sufferings” surely are mentioned, but they are specific sufferings, the sufferings that the whole creation experiences, that is, the “bondage of corruption.” Paul spends nearly thirty verses carefully teaching about the bondage of living “to the flesh” and about how the Holy Spirit is the one who helps us in our weakness (“weakness” being that which God calls sin). Readers of Romans chapter 8 learn that:

  • God sent Jesus to condemn sin in the flesh and to allow us to break free from fleshly living in order to live by the Spirit (“He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” 8:3-4)
  • We live in the Spirit by setting our minds on the things of the Spirit (“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” 8:5)
  • Doing so brings life and peace (“For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” 8:6)
  • If the Spirit is in us, God will give life to our mortal bodies (“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” 8:11)
  • It is by the Spirit of God that we put to death the misdeeds (or sins) of the body (that suffering that Romans 8 talks about) (“For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” 8:13)
  • Those led by the Spirit are sons of God, adopted into His family, and we get to have such a close relationship that we can actually call God “Daddy” (the Greek actually says this!) (“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 8:14-15)
  • Our suffering of putting to death the misdeeds (or the sin) of the body is a suffering that we share with Christ. We are called co-sons of God with Christ. (How in the world we’re so near to the same level with Jesus is beyond me!) (“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” 8:16-17)
  • Our sufferings against the deathly deeds inside of us are NOTHING compared to the glory that God plans to put into us through His Spirit. (Good. I could do with a little more Christian character!) (“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” 8:18)
  • We are weak when it comes to living according to God’s Spirit, but the Spirit of God actually searches our hearts and prays (or intercedes) to God for us. (“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” 8:26-27)

It is this context when we get the verse “all things work together for good.” Readers who treat Scripture authentically must recognize that the context is that the Spirit plans to put God’s glory in us while He also rids us of sin.

To use Romans 8:28 to say that “bad things happen for a reason” is simply bad scholarship. Romans chapter 8 gives us rich teachings about suffering, but it is about a particular kind of suffering, the kind of suffering that happens when I feel the tension between my fleshly self and that which God wants (sin versus the Spirit).

But let’s get back to “bad things happen for a reason.” If we can’t use Romans 8:28 to support this idea Biblically, can we use any other Scripture to support this view? Perhaps some Christians will point to other passages from Paul. I suppose if you must use the writings of Paul for support, then you might have better luck using the book of James: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (1:2-4). I would be interested in hearing what kind of “trials,” though, readers perceive these trials “of various kinds” to be. I imagine, still, for it to be something larger than Paper Cut of Apocalypsia, based on the fact that these trials test your faith. Inconveniences such as stubbed toes do not “test one’s faith,” as it were. (I suppose they could “tempt” me to participate in the sins of bitterness, though, or of using foul language, dadblamit.) However, it seems that the trials that Paul speaks of are earth-shattering enough to “test” your faith in God. And these trials are the sort of thing that either make you or break you, in a spiritual sense. Will you steadfastly trust God through this trial? Or will you break faith with Him? If you stand fast, then you will have formed spiritual muscle through perseverance.

But we don’t need to guess, because the later in the passage, the trials are defined for us! Trials are… temptation! And it is the temptation of our own fleshly desires to sin, so clearly stated in verse 14. Fleshly desires multiply like rabbits, the Bible says, and the bastard children of these fleshly desires are sins. Their grandchild? Death and hell.

I think the clearer, more specific cliché that we want to say when we say “everything happens for a reason” (and a more honest and truer restating of God’s Word, a Christian theology) would say, “Trials that test your faith in God are the trials of temptation, and overcoming temptation has a specific purpose, and that purpose is to, by the Spirit, put to death the sins of the body, resulting in God’s glorious character reigning in us.”

Or, the short version, “Trials which tempt you toward sin develop the character of God in you.”

Say that to your friend the next time he responds in anger at a smashed finger or complains in untrusting disbelief because he didn’t get the call back.

But maybe you won’t.

Because we don’t want clichés to be about us and our imperfections being sawed off by a really decent carpenter. We’d rather a distant cosmos to be kind-of-ish ruling in our favor. We rather like the lack of clarity of theology like “everything happens for a reason.”

It’s useful to support each other.

No matter that it’s weak, vague, and untrue.

 

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Empowering Single Women as Leaders in the Home

My pet discussion topic this summer has been about women’s issues, and in June I enjoyed essentially a two-week conversation with my parents about how headship is or isn’t experienced by single women, if all women must submit to all men (or not) according to Scripture, the fact that Mary and Martha learned from Jesus himself (and not through their brother Lazarus) and what this means for women and their ability to understand and teach theology, whether men can learn from women or not, and the fact that *most men* aren’t called into the ministry either.

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Some of the driving factors of our discussion were this book and an excerpt from Tertullian (155-240 A.D.), an early church father, on the veiling of virgins.

My recent tour with Oasis Chorale also prompted several conversations about single living and the roles of single women in the church, and in one conversation, I mentioned how Tertullian himself recognizes the fact that some of the headship principles of I Corinthians 11 seem to be speaking to *married* women and men, and he admits that “covered” and “uncovered” virgins were regularly admitted to communion in second century churches. (Check your ESV Bibles; this is how it’s translated!) However, Tertullian indeed offers extensive logical arguments for the veiling of virgins, all of which can be read here. (Another note: Tertullian points out that the exception was Corinth, where virtually all virgins covered their heads.)

It is clear, however, that Tertullian imagines “covered” virgins in a temporary light, and that he expects that virgins eventually marry. He doesn’t really know what to do with, or what to call, a woman who does not foresee marriage, suggesting that a permanent unmarried virgin would have to be some strange third class, or “third generic class.” (It sure feels like that sometimes, buddy.) (Warning: reading Tertullian causes extreme dissociation because he cannot begin to comprehend the possibility of single living for females.)

Which brings me to my question: what is headship, exactly, and how does it apply to single women? (I’m really quite uninterested in reading your opinions; rather, I’m looking for academic, historical, and theological sources on the topic.)

In her book, No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God, Byrd offers that headship is connected to household management and then poses this interesting question: “If headship is connected to household management, are all men to have authority over all women? And what are the responsibilities of heads of households?”

Perhaps you disagree that headship is related household management, yet I would like to offer this opinion: the modern “experience” and the “practice” of headship for single females is something quite very different from a stated belief in it, especially when it feels like our culture expects young women to soon get “married off” and then we don’t have to worry about it, do we? (A little sarcasm for your afternoon reading.)

All of THIS to say, currently, I am my own household manager as I am living by myself for the first time, and I’ve been thinking a lot this summer about how I want to build a Christian home as a single person. (In some ways, I feel like marriage is closely connected to identity and household management, where young people say, “This is who I am, this is who we are, and this is the kind of life we’ll build together.” When is the time for single people to make such assertions?)

Living by myself for the last year, I noticed that I’ve developed some bad habits. I haven’t been very intentional about what I’ve allowed into my home. How do I spend my time? What kind of person do I want to become, and how does the management of my home affect the future me?

As a single woman with no roommates, I am the leader of my home, yet since “leadership” in certain pockets of Christianity is a particularly male trait, I’m coming up short on resources for how to effectively build a Christian home, apart from a traditional family structure. (I may ask here, are we doing ourselves a disservice in positing men (or fathers) only as “leaders” for the home? Does this do a disservice for single women living on their own, single mothers, single men, people living with or without roommates? Aren’t we ALL called to be leaders in the home? What does this look like to manage a household well?)

I suggest that all household managers are leaders, whether they are male or female, and ought to follow their head which is Christ.

Since I haven’t found a lot of sources about how I as a single woman can be a leader in the home (as I don’t have children or a husband), I’m creating my own source here. Here are some practical things to think about if you are a single woman wanting to build a Christian home, following your head which, for lack of a husband, is Christ.

Building a Godly Home

1. Build a Godly home as a single by seeking emotional health.

Many of the sources that I’ve read on the topic of household management and male leadership relate to nurturing love and relationship inside the home. Obviously, this is where the household of a single, childless person diverges from the traditional family structure, creating its own set of emotional issues that merit discussion. Peter Scazzero, in his Christianity Today article “The Road to Emotional Health,” offers four characteristics of emotionally unhealthy leaders which I think are important points of consideration for those wanting to maintain Godly single households. He contends that a lack of emotional health is apparent in the following ways: (1) low self-awareness, (2) prioritizing ministry over marriage or singleness, (3) doing more activity for God than their relationship with God can sustain, (4) lacking a work/Sabbath rhythm.

Regarding low self-awareness, Scazzero says, “Emotionally unhealthy leaders tend to be unaware of what is going on inside them. And even when they recognize a strong emotion such as anger, they fail to process or express it honestly and appropriately. They ignore emotion-related messages their body may send—fatigue, stress-induced illness, weight gain, ulcers, headaches, or depression. They avoid reflecting on their fears, sadness, or anger.” How singles may choose to process their emotions in healthy ways (both personally, and in the community of relationship) is a topic all its own, but I think a place to start is at least with self-inventory. I, for one, have been recognizing the negative pattern of bottling things up, choosing “not to go there,” quite simply because of the pain I would find there. However, I’m learning that I can’t be afraid of my emotions. My helplessness, at times, is the place where God meets me, and where He quietly asks for trust.

Regarding prioritizing ministry over singleness, Scazzero says, “Emotionally unhealthy leaders tend to compartmentalize their married or single life, separating it from both their leadership and their relationship with Jesus. For example, they might make significant leadership decisions without thinking through the long-term impact those decisions could have on the quality and integrity of their single or married life. They dedicate their best energy, thought, and creative efforts to leading others, and they fail to invest in a rich and full married or single life.

I visibly started when I read this. A “rich and full” single life? This is not language we are used to! (For example, one article I found about cultivating a healthy single home was signed, “Single and Surviving.” I’m not sure that that is the same language as is used in articles about marriage. Don’t we have some work to do here? Why is the stereotype of singlehood so negative? We need to change the language.) And, just how one “invests” in a rich, full single life is a topic that is open for discussion, as always, on this blog.

To sum up, singles ought to press in to emotional health by sorting through their emotions and by creatively pursuing an understanding of what a rich and full single life looks like.

2. Build a Godly home by leading spiritually.

Set a sure foundation. A wise (wo)man builds her/his house upon a rock. What strides are you making to set a spiritual tone in your home? Are you reading the Word of God and praying on a daily basis? Jesus sets a standard for Godly homes in the Gospels by quoting from the Deuteronomy 6 passage: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” My next few points are borrowed from the article “How Does a Husband Lead His Family?” from covenantkeepers.org, in which we are reminded, “When you sit at the dinner table, or drive in your car, or at bed time, share what God has taught you from your devotional time in the Scriptures that day. If God has planted His Words in your heart, share them with your wife and children.” Granted, you may not have a spouse and children, but the question can be asked, what are you doing/reading/watching during dinner time? Who/what are you listening to in your car? What takes up your time right before bed? How does Scripture intersect with those you invite or host in your home? Be sure that the Word of God has a prominent place in your home.

3. Build a Godly home by leading morally.

Covenantkeepers.org asks, “Are your moral decisions based upon your own selfish desires or are they based upon God’s truth? Is your life an example of moral compromise or of the godly standards that you declare to your wife and children? Do you speak the truth in love or do you shade the truth when it suits you?” For single people, it is quite easy to live with a lack of accountability. This leads to moral compromise. I challenge single women: do you have a stated morality on the following issues: church attendance, service to the local church, sex (including masturbation and pornography), finances, food, alcohol, social media (what accounts you follow/don’t follow and why), TV and movies, reading material, pride and vanity in personal appearance (Tertullian would roll over in his grave at our modern society’s “see and be seen” social media culture), gossip, loyalty, the study of theology (so that one can make wise and discerning choices in the first place), etc. Be a female leader by taking a stand for moral decisions.

3. Lead by managing.

Be responsible for the details of your home management. Be a responsible renter, home-owner, housekeeper. (I’m sorry, Mr. Landlord, that I didn’t empty the dumpster, but there was a foot of snow and #winter.)

4. Build a Godly home by leading in decision-making.

For some reason, this is one that single women dread the most. However, wisdom is not a trait reserved only for males, and the Proverbs 12:15 offers us this key: “The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.” (An important reminder for female AND male decision-makers!)

5. Build a Godly home by leading in reconciliation and conflict-resolving.

Chances are, you are connected to family life in some way. It is possible that you are living in a satellite home of sorts, still in some way connected to your first home. Make sure that the reception between your satellite home and your first home is clear and without the static of discord. As conflict naturally arises in relationship, be sure that you are following the Biblical command for all Christians, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). Resist the urge to use manipulation, control, and emotional vomiting with your first family. As a single person, you may also have close friendships with other singles, or other families. Keep Romans 12 in mind as you navigate those relationships.

6. Finally, build a Godly home by being a leader of example.

Can you say to your spiritual children, “I want you to follow my example as I follow Christ”? (If you’re not sure who your spiritual children are, you may want to reassess your stated morality of church attendance, service to the local church, and accountability.) In Bible times, there was a stereotype for single women (in the case of young widows) of becoming idle, and of becoming busybodies. What can be said of the godliness of your speech, your maturation in the fruit of the Spirit (patience, kindness, self-control), your purity, your pursuit of God, personal discipline, and your commitment to moral principles? All of these flow out of the way that you understand your leadership and management and its connection to your head, which is Christ.

Reflecting on these haphazard thoughts, I realize that there is a great need to study even deeper into the Biblical meaning of a “home” and to reflect more fully on the meaning of a home for single women. Had I more time, I would also sift through a lot more Scripture focusing on the more traditionally-thought-to-be-female aspects of household management of hospitality and relationship. Obviously, my list here is incomplete, but it’s a start. Blessings as you ponder.