Monday, June 09, 2014

Newspaper Column

Twas my turn this week.  This was the third attempt.  I still don' really like it....

Does Everything Happen for a Reason?

Short answer....NO. There may be a cause, but that is different from a reason that gives it meaning.

I had a plan for this column. I was going to talk about how communities of faith have helped build Grande Prairie over the last 100 years, and muse about how communities of faith can help Grade Prairie develop into the future. But then 5 families in our city lost their homes to fire. Then 3 RCMP officers were gunned down in Moncton. And then there was a shooting at Seattle Pacific University. And I remembered the old saying of Karl Barth that we preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. And I remembered a question I was asked to preach about last November.

There are certain phrases that probably should be stricken from our repetoire. And the irony is that many people use them in a desire/attempt to be comforting.

"God must have needed another angel"
"God never closes a door without opening a window"
"God never gives us more than we can handle"
"Time heals all wounds"
"It must be God's will"
Everything happens for a reason"

To be frank most people find these statements, when offered in the face of tragedy, generally unhelpful and sometimes downright infuriating.

One of the most perplexing questions in Christian theology is "Why do bad things happen?" [often with the add-on "to good people" and the corresponding "why do good things happen to bad people?"]

If God is in control then why do young children die of illness or accident or willful action? Why do people get cancer? Why does a person have to watch his/her life partner descend into dementia? Why do we see (over and over again) reports of "ethnic cleansing" and genocide? If God is in control, if God is all-loving and all-knowing and all-powerful why do terrible things happen? Is it all part of a grand plan? Does everything happen for a reason?

To make it a more difficult discussion, it is fairly clear that much of the Scripture witness supports the idea that God is in control, that there is a plan, that things do happen for a reason. And the only appropriate response in the minds of some people of faith is to say "it is all a mystery". [Or as I have been known to say, “if there is a plan it is poorly communicated and the implementation needs some work”.]

But what if God is not in control? What if God is not in fact all-powerful? Then what?

That is where I have come to. I don't think everything happens for some deep philosophical reason. I think life is just like that. This I think is what the writer of Ecclesiastes is referring to in chapter 3 “To everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven”. (As it happens, my Hebrew Scripture professor once suggested that this passage is a little bit depressing and fatalistic.)

So then what do we make of Romans 8:28 "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose."?

That verse could easily support the idea that everything happens for a reason, that there is a plan, that "it will all turn out for the best". OR. Or it could mean that the same God who turned the tragedy of the cross into the victory of Easter is willing to transform things. Not to take away the pain, or the tragedy, or the rampant unfairness of life. Just to, as the saying goes, make the best of a bad situation. So things don't happen according to the plan, they happen and we adjust the plan in light of new information.

Does God want houses to burn? Does God let random acts of violence shatter people's lives? Does God plan that girls are abducted from a school with promises to sell them into “marriage”?

No. These things happen because life is not perfect. These things happen because life is not fair. But even in the unfairness and imperfection God is there to help us live through the tragedy. God has a hope. God has a vision. God has a promise of what the world could be. And we will get there someday. As Dame Julian of Norwich (who lived in a violent, unjust, imperfect world) said “all will be well, all will be well, all will be well someday”.

Not a reason for all the stuff that happens, but instead a promise of support and presence. And a promise that some time we will get to a time when life will be better. God is good. Thanks be to God.

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