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Does Everything Happen For a Reason?

• Greg Boyd

How do we understand the problem of evil and its relationship to God’s work in the world? The common perspective is that God causes evil, but Greg offers an alternative view.

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This sermon addresses the question of why awful things occur to us in this life, or what is officially called “the problem of evil.” If God is personal and loving, why do we experience so much pain and suffering? Many Christian teachers have taught that such things happen because God wants to teach us a lesson or because God is sovereign and his ways are higher than our ways. But for many, this kind of answer is a reason why they have walked away from the faith. This sermon offers a different perspective.

Tragedies occur in this life. And most, if not all, of us have heard that God is in control of all things and that we cannot understand why things occur as they do.  If this is true, then “good” and “bad” have lost all meaning.

Jesus spent his entire ministry dealing with people who were suffering and never once does he attribute their suffering to his Father’s will. To the contrary, Jesus uniformly manifested the Father’s will by having compassion on people and relieving these people of their suffering. Throughout the New Testament, all physical and spiritual suffering is directly or indirectly attributed not to God, but to Satan and other demonic entities. The thief comes only to kill, steal and destroy. The God whom Jesus reveals comes only to give abundant life.

Jesus sometimes said things that directly contradict the common suggestion that we can discern God’s hand behind life’s tragedies. This is seen in Luke 13:1-5, quoted above. If we take all of our cues about what God is like from Jesus, we shouldn’t be suspecting that God is behind things like political leaders murdering people, or towers randomly collapsing on people, or people getting sick, or people experiencing some kind of tragedy. God is not controlling everything, which means that he is not the cause behind the pain and suffering in the world. But this often causes people to question whether God has the ability to win in the end. Greg addresses this by offering four points.

First, God created humans beings as free agents and gave us moral responsibility. In Deuteronomy 30:19, we read, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live…” Yahweh says: you can choose life by following my precepts or you can choose death by disobeying. People have the freedom to choose and their choices are not controlled or coerced by God.

Secondly, God does not always get his way. Because humans are free agents and they can make choices, they can sin, which is not according to God’s will. Rebellious choices reflect human will, not God’s.

Thirdly, humans are not the only free agents. Scripture speaks of angels, various categories of principalities and powers, and Satan. Like everything and everyone else these cosmic agents sinned by rebelling against God and have now made themselves evil. These agents were given something like free will. Just as the earth and animal kingdom suffer when humans rebel, so there are aspects of nature that have now become corrupted by these rebel cosmic powers.

Finally, in the end, God in his perfect love wins! God wins not because he controls all things, but because God is so smart. He has the infinite ability to respond wisely to every choice of humans and cosmic agents in such a way that he can bring good out of evil. God is a genius who is always working with us to bring good out of evil.  Not everything happens for the better, but God works with us to turn all suffering to our advantage. If we’ll yield to the Spirit, God will use everything to further our character development and to further his Kingdom.

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Topics: Pain & Suffering, Problem of Evil, Satan

Sermon Series: Unraveling Truth

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The MuseCast: March 21

Focus Scripture:

  • Luke 13:1-5

    At that very time there were some present who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you, but unless you repent you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the other people living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you, but unless you repent you will all perish just as they did.”

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3 thoughts on “Does Everything Happen For a Reason?

  1. Jan says:

    This is such a great series — and today’s sermon! Thank you. God’s not the author of evil in history. Agreed also that God’s character for perfect love is best conveyed by the cross of Christ, not ongoing historical review.

    Evil and hatred is freely chosen by God’s created beings, just as we can choose love and goodness instead (to the best of our perfectly imperfect ability).

    Indeed, something so lovely as “ekklesia” of us “called out” to use our God-given free will to follow Jesus would inherently draw the ire of demonic powers and principalities aka evil spirits. Scripture supports this (even if the gates of hell will not ultimately prevail).

    Always glad when Greg points out that it’s not just Christianity which posits the existence of evil spirits — they’re still considered a part of life in many worldwide cultures. Those beliefs may be one reason the overseas mission fields in less developed areas tend to have better success than in the U.S. with the Holy Spirit’s healing to cast out dark forces.

    Although I do not see God as initiating or intervening ever to plan or cause horror, harm and suffering, sometimes I’ve experienced what looks retrospectively like God’s intervention for good (or to bring the least worst out of bad that’s been put in play by evil forces) — to the extent God could intervene to the extent of available divine resources without revocation of free will.

    This is a reason for us to pray when we’re in the worst of situations, and also to pray for what looks awful in the world. God who can see all the possible permutations of an unfolding historical course or cause of evil can, perhaps, work with us who pray about the peril to collaborate in relationship with us for relative good.

    Personally a recent example would be when a giant semi truck came barreling from around a corner without slowing or yielding into a roadway where I was driving. We should have collided in the ordinary course. My much smaller car and I would have been toast. If that had happened, it wouldn’t be that God authored the evil, or that it was my time to be dead or in traction. It would have been the sad result of human driving error, maybe the trucker’s use of pills to stay awake long distance (and I had a part in that I might have slowed down at that corner too but was hurriedly in the range of likely collision instead). Instead I metaphorically leapt into God’s lap the first split-second I saw the huge truck, and braked the car. In that still space the truck shooshed on by.

    It hadn’t gone so well 12 years ago when I suffered a work-related injury from the inadvertence of multiple parties. Do I blame God? No. Humanity’s fallen nature and a drunk contractor’s inadvertently set hazard weren’t God’s fault.

    Less personally, I recall reading about the U.S. paratroopers whose successful mission made the WWII Normandy invasion possible and without which military historians believe Hitler would have won that war. (Never a fan of war, but when they happen, always best to see the initial aggressors stopped.) God didn’t start that war. And when the leader of the paratroopers on the transit flight took a bad shrapnel hit from aerial combat, God didn’t do that either. The young man was a devout Christian and even though hit (and expecting to die), he prayed that God would give him courage to lead his team and make the jump onto the Normandy beach even if mortally injured. God granted his prayer. The man died as he expected from the violence God did not cause, but not until completing the mission according to his prayer.

    Not that God wants war, suffering or any violence, or intervenes to revoke free will. But once free-will factors are in play, as viewed in my long life and by reliable history, when human beings are caught up in the violence of evil God does not cause, sometimes God within the free-will boundaries can connect with those who pray to bring the least worst out of what’s bad and point us back to what’s good. Always for love.

    Not trusting this might induce people to despair and pray less when things look dire. God cannot always intervene to answer these prayers within God’s own parameters for voluntarily chosen loving relationship but, not being God who sees all the free-willed possibilities, we never know until we pray in the worst of times. We are likely, even if the result remains sad, to feel at least a sense of inner peace and greater comfort.

    She doesn’t get much credit but the prayers of Constance, the wife of Alaskan husky sled-dog breeder and handler Leonhard Seppala, may have been the tipping point in the successful 1925 diphtheria serum run to Nome that by laws of weather and physics should never have worked. (For inspiration see the 2019 Disney film named for Seppala’s heroic lead sled dog, Togo.)

    Thanks again for today’s wonderful worship music and message. Love to all!

    1. Jerry says:

      Touching thank you!

  2. Jan says:

    Kind of you to say so, Jerry — thanks!

    Usually when there’s not an edit button I look back at something heartfelt my fingers tapped out quickly and go “oops, redundant, or unclear (or whatever self-critical thought comes to mind)” — then there’s someone like you with kind feedback to reinforce that what matters is communication, willingness and gratitude to be among the perfectly imperfect people who, as God’s created humans, have unsurpassable worth.

    Love to all!

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"Thank you all the way from Oregon. I deeply appreciate being shepherded by Pastor Greg and everyone else on the panels. You are a rare find in the church nowadays. Tackling tough questions with humility and a kingdom perspective. It has been life changing for me in such tumultuous times."

– Heather, from Oregon