This is going to be brief. I can’t possibly cover such complex questions in one article, nor am I qualified to do so. I just wanted to touch on a reoccurring topic that has been surrounding me lately. I’ve been in multiple conversations lately about the issue of God answering prayers and everything happening “for a reason.”
Much of this is written in the second-person perspective. Don’t be offended, or feel attacked, when I say “you.” Granted, if you do feel offended, that may be a sign.
Why Doesn’t God Answer Prayers?
First off, when people say “answer prayers,” what’s typically meant is “saying yes” to prayers. When something is asked, the answer could be: yes, no, wait, etc.. The typical “God doesn’t answer prayers” spiel really translates to “I asked God for something and he didn’t immediately do what I wanted.”
When God doesn’t immediately respond to your prayer in the way you would’ve liked, there could be something else going on. Daniel realized this with his not-yet-answered prayers, which led to what is now known as the Daniel Fast (Daniel 10:3). Daniel’s prayer went unanswered for a long time, and it was all because of things going on in the spiritual realm, behind the scenes:
“Then he said to me, ‘Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia, and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.'”Daniel 10:12-14
I’ve seen astounding prayers answers. I’ve also seen prayers that seemed legitimate, simple, and reasonable go [seemingly] unanswered. In many of those cases, I figured out that the answer came much later, so God wasn’t saying “yes” right away, but eventually. In other cases, over time, I realized that God knew what was best and not saying “yes” to the prayer at the time turned out much better than if He had.
The fact is, we usually don’t know what we need. We may think we need certain things, while God knows better. Now I’m not trying to give a cop out, and use the old “it’s all God’s will” argument, because frankly, it’s not all God’s will. We live in a fallen world, people. That leads me to my next point.
Does Everything Happen for a Reason?
“Everything happens for a reason,” is a common response when someone is going through a tough time, or when something worked out unexpectedly. But is it true? Does everything happen for a reason? Yes and no.
Sure, everything happens for a reason, because we live in a cause-and-effect world, but what people really mean when they say “everything happens for a reason,” is: everything happens for a reason that’s contributing to some sort of future good. This can also be translated to “it’s all in God’s hands,” or “everything is in God’s timing.”
But again, we live in a fallen world (Genesis 3). Everything that happens isn’t part of God’s plan. Saying that “everything happens for a reason,” in a positive sense, means that God causes things like the Holocaust, rape, and murder.
This was the same theology used in the book of Job, possibly the oldest book in the Bible, so this debate has been going for some time. All of Job’s friends had the “everything happens for a reason” mindset. It appeared that Job was being punished so he obviously did something wrong. God refutes the theology of Job’s friends, as well as Job’s theology that God caused all of the suffering. Again, like in the passage from Daniel above, there was something else going on behind the scenes — quite literally a deal with the devil, which turned out to be the only way God could prove the free willed love of the people He created. That’s something that can’t be proven with sheer power.
Some things happen for no reason at all, as far as we can tell, but there are things going on behind the scenes that we may never see. The spiritual realm is real. God doesn’t just throw around punishment in the form of earthly suffering. In fact, “the only time the Bible makes an explicit connection between divine punishment and suffering in general is to deny that such a connection can be made” (Is God to Blame?, Gregory A. Boyd, p. 85).
Now that I’ve explained my view on why I don’t think it’s healthy to say everything happens for a reason, I do think there is a healthy and true take on this, and that’s this: God can bring good from any situation, no matter how destructive or terrible the situation was. It wasn’t part of God’s plan that your baby was stillborn or that you lost a parent to cancer, but God can use the worst situations to bring out the most beautiful outcomes.
It’s important that we separate the two. If it’s sinful and destructive, that wasn’t God, but he can turn sinful and destructive things into good.