Everything Happens for a Reason? Really? What the Bible really says about making all things good. (September 22, 2019)

Everything Happens for a Reason? Really?

Jeff: Back in the day when I was a trial lawyer, I took a lot of depositions.

A deposition is an opportunity to ask questions of a witness or party to a lawsuit while they are under oath.

You depose someone to learn everything the person knows about the events and circumstances surrounding the lawsuit.

Most witnesses are really trying to be honest and helpful.

But you have to listen carefully to what the witness says.

Sometimes they answer questions using terms and phrases that really aren’t very helpful to someone who is trying to be thorough.

Here is an example.

One time I was taking the deposition of a doctor.

I wanted to know what was said and what was done during an appointment the plaintiff had with the doctor.

As I asked him questions, he continuously ended his sentences with the phrase, “and so on.”

“I looked at the chart, and so on.”

 “We talked about her symptoms, and so on …”

“I performed a physical examination, and so on …”

This went on for a few questions.

Finally, I asked him what all was included in his that phrase, “and so on”?

By attaching “and so on” to the end of each answer he was clearly implying that there was more left unsaid.

I wanted to know what that was.

The doctor was actually stumped, and seriously tried to think of more things that were said and done when there really were none.

I don’t think he was trying to be deceptive.

I think he was trying to be comprehensive and helpful.

But he wasn’t.

The problem is that the phrase, “and so on”, in those circumstances, was not helpful.

That is what happens when you start to take apart vague figures of speech that seem to say something helpful, but when taken apart … well … don’t and aren’t.

That came to mind when I read Kate Bowler’s book, “Everything Happens for a Reason, and Other Lies I’ve Loved”.

For those of you who have not read the book, it is an autobiographical account of Dr. Bowler’s diagnosis of stage 4 colon cancer at the age of 35.

Bowler also wrote a great article in the New York Times where she describes this event:

A neighbor came to the house to offer condolences and after a brief discussion with Bowler’s husband, Tobin, said to him:

“Everything happens for a reason.”

For those who have not read the article and did not read the spoiler in this week’s Sunshine, what do you think Tobin’s answer was?

Thanks?

I feel so much better now?

No.

Tobin said:

 “I’d love to hear it.”

Bowler said the woman was startled.

“Pardon?” she said.

“I’d love to hear the reason my wife is dying,” Tobin said.

Basically, Tobin was questioning this woman about the meaning of her words.

What about that statement is helpful?

Comforting?

Why might someone say such a thing to a grieving husband?

How would we like it if after every prayed concern we raised on Sundays our response was, “everything happens for a reason”?

Why would we say that?

Bowler says this:

My neighbor wasn’t trying to sell him a spiritual guarantee. But there was a reason she wanted to fill that silence around why some people die young and others grow old and fussy about their lawns. She wanted some kind of order behind this chaos. Because the opposite of #blessed is leaving a husband and a toddler behind, and people can’t quite let themselves say it: “Wow. That’s awful.” There has to be a reason, because without one we are left as helpless and possibly as unlucky as everyone else.

We want there to be a reason for everything and we want it to be a good one.

And because God is all powerful and all good, God makes everything happen for a good reason.

So, things aren’t so bad, right?

That’s what the Bible says, right?

News flash … it doesn’t.

Matt: Sure, it does!

Romans 8: 28

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 

Everything happens for God’s good reason.

And God makes even the bad stuff turn out good.

Everything does happen for a reason, though only God knows the reason, and because God is sovereign, it is a good reason!

Just because we don’t know what the reason is, we know it is a good one and that should give us hope and comfort.

I don’t have to cross examine God to have hope and comfort.

Jeff: OK Matt.

Let’s take a look at Romans 8: 28 in context and see if it says what you think it says.

Romans 8: 26-39

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;
   we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’
37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

One of the challenges when reading the Bible is that every phrase needs to be understood in its context.

The Bible can’t be reduced to vague overgeneralizations based on single verses.

We can make the Bible say just about anything if we do that.

We need to sort of question scripture, kind of like deposing the Bible, so that we can fully understand what it is saying to us.

We can’t just pluck out v. 28 and say, “This is what the Bible says!”

So, let’s take a look at v. 28.

If we say that v. 28 means that when some horrible tragedy comes our way, God will take that tragedy and turn it into something good, we are misrepresenting Paul at the risk of turning someone against God!

“Tell me the reason my wife, who loves God, has cancer.”

“Tell me what God’s purpose is.”

“Tell me the good that will come from that.”

Like the doctor at the deposition, you have no answer for that.

You used the phrase more to comfort yourself.

To find meaning in something awful.

To fill a gap in your understanding.

To understand v. 28, we need to remember that this is Paul.

Paul is making an argument that actually starts way back at Chapter 5.

Paul assumes that you have read everything in this letter that precedes v. 28 and would not just pluck it out and use it as a catch phrase for some out of context purpose.

Let’s put it in context.

A very simple summary of Romans 5-8 looks like this:

What God has done in Jesus, and what God continues to do through the Spirit, guarantees that we who believe in the Gospel are assured of our final glorification.

Glorification is when we are finally conformed to the image of Jesus which only happens in the presence of God.

And it is guaranteed because God’s love for us is unshakable.

But until then, life is often messy, dangerous and hard.

Our text today is the conclusion of all that.

What is Paul saying in today’s text?

We are not yet glorified and continue to live in the broken world.

A dangerous place with much pain and suffering.

We want to cry out to God, but we can’t even choke out any words.

We don’t know what to say.

We don’t know what to ask.

But the Spirit knows our pain and so groans our prayers to God who hears and understands.

Why does God not give us relief?

God does.

The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary puts it this way:

The intercession spoken of in v. 26 will be heard and answered in ways that, though we cannot at present see them or even conceive them, will turn out to be that which our groaning prayers have been yearning. “All things” … the entire range of experiences and events that may face God’s people … are taken care of by the creator God who is planning to renew the whole creation, and us along with it.

 In other words, God will make all things new and good.

God will not take a tragedy and make something good happen from it.

God takes all things, good and bad, and remakes creation good.

Until that happens, we continue to live in a disordered world that often throws tragedy and suffering into our lives.

Is there comfort here somewhere?

You bet.

Paul says this:

31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? …

God is for us.

35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? …

37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We are inseparable from God’s love.

And God calls all things God loves into God’s presence.

And that includes us.

Of course, the problem with Paul is that his letters don’t easily roll off the tongue while you are standing at a sick friend’s door with a lasagna in your hand.

You want to say something.

Bowler makes some suggestion in an appendix to her book.

I’d love to bring you a meal this week.

Small gifts are good.

But don’t ask your friend to come up with a plan.

They have enough on their minds.

Tell them what you are going to do and just do it.

You are a beautiful person.

Complements go a long way.

Folks need to be told that just because things are bad in their lives, they are not tainted or tarnished.

I want you to know I’m on your team.

You can tell them that no matter what you are praying for them and hoping for the best.

You don’t need to know the details.

You just want to be there for them.

Can I give you a hug?

Touch is important.

It means that you are not afraid of them just because they are sick, and you probably won’t catch what they have anyway.

That must be awful!

Some folks do want to vent, so let them and listen.

Don’t be squeamish when the really bad stuff pours out.

Don’t try to minimize or explain.

You can’t change their minds.

If they think it’s awful, it is.

Say nothing.

Just sit – “show up and shut up”.

I had a friend who died of cancer at age 23.

When I would visit him in the hospital, it was clear that we did not know what to say to each other.

So, he turned on the TV and we watched MASH.

We were just present with each other.

Of course, the Bible does not say any of those things either, but Jesus did and said things like that when caring for folks.

So, what does the Bible say?

That God is for us.

That God is with us.

That God loves us.

Even when life … well … sucks.

And in the end, God will make all things new and good.

Including us.

That’s comforting.

That is what the Bible says.

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