The Wrong Way to Read Romans 8:28

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Something frustrating, confusing, unthinkable happened. Something that turned my stomach inside out. Something that burdened me like an elephant resting on each shoulder. At the news, the number one thing I heard over and over and over was: “Everything happens for a reason.”

I grew more and more disheartened with each time someone relayed to me that phrase. I know they were well meaning, I know they had no malice in their hearts when they said it. I know it was their loving attempt to say something encouraging, something to uphold my weary head. Nevertheless, it didn’t sit well with me. It didn’t seem true and I couldn’t bring myself to believe it.

So, while at dinner I looked over to my husband and asked him, “Do you think everything happens for a reason?” He was a bit caught off guard by the question, but it opened up a door for us to think through the phrase biblically, together. I laid out my thoughts and he laid out his, concluding the short answer to be “no.”

If you’re a student of scripture memory, you more than likely are familiar with Romans 8:28. It is the verse often used to comfort the grieving, assure the confused, and encourage the lowly. This verse reminds us of God’s sovereignty and dispels all thoughts that He is inactive in our lives. It’s a verse that has upheld me, personally, many times. And that’s why this question had come up for me in the first place. Doesn’t Romans 8:28 indicate that everything happens for a reason?

“We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

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To believe that Romans 8:28 indicates that everything happens for a reason would be misinformed, and perhaps reading one’s own predispositions into the text. Rather than saying that “everything happens for a reason” Scripture tells us “God gives reason to everything that happens.”Can you see the difference in these statements? By believing this trope, there is an assertion of cause, suggesting God to be the cause of evil and sin. In reality, God is not the cause of evil, sin, or misfortune. Our own sinfulness and fumbling through life is.

To say that everything happens for a reason suddenly depicts God as an inaccurate caricature, leading us to believe that He is a tyrant who doles out suffering for suffering’s sake. To believe that everything happens for a reason makes malice out of God’s grace and makes suffering a plague rather than a blessing.

But to say that God gives reason to everything that happens testifies of God’s deliverance and providence. Instead of booby-trapping our lives, God providentially purposes our lives. He gives reason to the absurdity of life. He makes the nonsensical have a tangible, eternal impact on our souls.He sees the evil, injustice, and suffering and says, “I am going to use that.” He purposes the bad things in our lives for our own benefit. He takes what the world makes so wrong and he rights it, not just making things ok but making things good.

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To say reject the saying that everything happens for a reason is not to reject God’s sovereignty or foreknowledge. Instead, it emphasizes it. God’s sovereignty is altogether good, and particularly good for us. His sovereignty is not a threat but saying “everything happens for a reason” depicts God’s sovereignty as threatening. If we posture ourselves with this concept, we set ourselves up to look around every corner of life in fear, wondering if God has set-up a very difficult set of circumstances for the sake of it.

Let me be clear: I’m not saying that God doesn’t often give us circumstances that refine us through fire. Not all suffering is a spiritual affront. However, discernment is a necessary precept in looking at our circumstances and begging the question, “is this a God-given challenge of refinement or is this a consequence of sin?” If we always fall back on the idea that all things happen for a reason, we deny our own culpability of action or inaction. Our actions and the actions of others have consequence, be they positive or negative. But if we declare that all things happen for a reason, we dispel the responsibility of our actions and place the blame of our indiscretion of God.

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Our words are incredibly important as are our thoughts about God and His Word. We are bred in a culture that is steeped in pseudo-Christianity—things that we just assume are Christian but actually aren’t. To all the tropes and phrases, we’ve heard throughout our lives, we must lend an ear to hear and an eye to read what the Bible says about it. There’s a watching and listening world around us, gaining information from the words we say. Let’s make sure what we say is precise, accurate, and true.

Sarah Morrison is a staff writer for The Daily Grace Co.

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