A terminal disease.  The death of a child.  A freak accident that takes the life of a loved one or friend.  The painful loss of a job.  A broken marriage.  A fractured friendship.  A miscarriage.  Bankruptcy.  Mental illness.  Birth defects.  A church split.  A stock market crash.  A lawsuit.   

As people struggle through such difficulties and hardships and seek solace in the midst of life’s storms, they will sometimes say (or someone will say to them), “I believe that everything happens for a reason.  God is in control.  I just have to accept His will in this.”  As Biblical support for their outlook, they will reference passages like Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”  I fully believe in the truth and power of that verse, but I believe that there are some things that it affirms and some things that it does not.

Scripture does not teach fatalism, determinism, or a micro-managed predestination in which God manipulates outcomes and purposefully moves lives and events around like pieces on a chessboard.  Romans 8:28 does not state that “God causes all things.”  While life and history may be said to unfold within the boundaries of God’s “permissive will,” that does not mean that every success or failure, victory or defeat is the result of His “explicit will.”  He permits every man, woman, and child created in His image to make their own choices.  He has placed us in a world governed and ordered by natural, physical laws that most often bless us, but have the potential to harm or kill us. 

So, Romans 8:28 doesn’t teach that everything happens for a reason, or that sense can somehow be made out of senseless events.  But what it does affirm is that our sovereign God is so powerful that He can take any single tragedy in our lives or any imaginable combination and succession of tragedies and use them for the purposes of good and blessing, both for ourselves and for others.  That is an amazing God!  A lesser god would wield his will like a club, enforce conformity, and only then could he accomplish his purposes.  The God of Heaven says, “Give me any set of negative circumstances, whether brought about by yourself, or created by forces and influences beyond your control, and I will find a way for it to result in blessing and the accomplishment of My will for your life.” 

Joseph is a classic example of such workings of God’s providential will.  God did not make Joseph’s brothers despise him with a jealous hatred.  That was wrong.  He did not make them sell their own flesh and blood like a common slave.  That was unimaginably inhumane.  He did not make Potiphar’s wife lust for him, repeatedly try to seduce him, and then falsely accuse him of attempted rape.  That was entirely sinful.  He did not cause Pharaoh’s cupbearer to forget about him and leave him in prison for another two years.  That was a tragic oversight.  God allowed all of those individuals to make their choices and enact their own will, and still He used those events for the blessing of Joseph, the preservation of Jacob’s entire family, and the sustaining of life in the entire region of Egypt during seven years of famine.  In that sense, Joseph could say to his brothers that, even though they sold him, it was God who had sent him to Egypt (Gen. 45:5).  They had “meant it for evil against him, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Gen. 50:20).

Our son Coleman wasn’t born with Dubowitz Syndrome and autism for some “reason” or just so that some “greater good” could be served.  Yet, God has graciously brought about incalculable good and innumerable blessings for him, us, and a whole multitude of people throughout his life.  God hasn’t done this so that we would now understand the reason “why.”  There is no such reason.  Our loving Father simply took something that was broken and made it beautiful.  He took a circumstance that was senseless and gave it meaning and significance.  Such is the power and grace of our God!