Is it just me and the people around me, or is pretty much
everyone having kind of a tough time lately?
The economy is part of it, of course. A lot of people are
losing jobs, losing income, losing homes, losing retirement
accounts, etc. But it's more than that. For some reason, it
just seems like more and more of my friends are facing crises
of various sorts. Right now I have two friends with cancer,
one with a baby in ICU and another facing the abrupt end of
her only three-month-old marriage. And that's before I even
mention all of the friends with ill or dying parents, friends
with money problems, and friends facing other various and
sundry life-altering situations. I've faced a few significant
challenges of my own in the past month or so, the details of
which I may share at some point. But right now I have a
different point to make.
In the midst of all of these various crises, I have heard so
many people attempt to console me, or themselves, or each
other, by saying "Oh, well, everything happens for a reason."
Or "things happen the way they're supposed to happen." Or
something like that.
And I want to ask, "Really? Was the Holocaust 'supposed' to
happen? Does a deadly earthquake happen 'for a reason'?"
Seriously, I know people who say these kinds of things mean
well, and there's a sense in which they're recognizing
something that is very true and very important. But it just
isn't as simple as "everything happens for a reason."
I think people tend to look back on bad or difficult things
that have happened in their lives, and in hindsight they find
they can say, "Well, if that hadn't happened, then this other
good thing wouldn't have happened." They recognize the good
that came out of a bad situation, which makes them almost
grateful that the bad thing happened. They credit God (or The
Universe, whoever that is) for looking out for them, and
figure the whole thing must've been part of The Big Plan -
that God directed the bad thing to happen because it was
"supposed" to happen, to bring the good thing about or to
make them stronger people or whatever.
The problem with this kind of thinking is that it implies we
live in a pre-ordained world, where God is up there busily
directing what is "supposed" to happen and we really have
very little say or control. We're kind of like chess pawns in
the great game of "What's Supposed To Happen."
And that's not the way it is.
The thing is, we have free will. Which means that things
don't generally happen because God ordains them to happen.
They happen because of the free choices of men. What happens
isn't necessarily what God wants to happen. When people
disobey His will, when they make bad or cruel or evil
decisions, they are actually thwarting what God wants to
This, if we want to get theological, is the difference
between God's active will and God's passive will. God's
active will is what He wants to happen, the way He wants
things to be. God's passive will constitutes all of the
things He allows to happen - even if He doesn't like them -
because of the free will He granted to us.
That isn't to say God isn't active in the daily affairs of
man. I believe He is. But not in overriding free will to
orchestrate our lives. It's in reacting to man's free will.
Of course, the term "reacting" is a little simplistic because
God, being outside of time, isn't waiting to see what happens
so that He knows what move to make next. God already knew,
from the beginning of time, what choices we would all be
making over all of these years. So He could "pre-act," if
that's a word. He doesn't necessarily want bad things to
happen to us. He doesn't want other people to make decisions
that will leave us hurt or disappointed or worse. And He
certainly doesn't want us to make those kinds of decisions.
But He, in His infinite wisdom and love, has been spending
eternity weaving the problems, challenges and downright
catastrophes that we face into opportunities of one sort or
One of my favorite sayings is that "God writes straight with
crooked lines." God didn't necessarily want the lines to be
crooked. It's the choices of men, and the nature of a fallen
world, that messes up the lines in our lives. But God meets
us where we are, and where our lives have taken us. And He
brings good out of those crooked lines, sometimes for
purposes only He can see.
The important thing to remember is that God has different
priorities than we do. To us, our immediate problems are the
most important things in our lives. God cares about those
things, for sure, but He cares much more about the Big
Picture - our eternal destiny. He wants us in Heaven forever
with Him. So when He's reworking those lines, that's the goal
He's working toward. And He knows, in ways we couldn't
possibly understand, what will benefit us and how it will
So next time you're in a tough spot, remember that God is
indeed in charge, in a way that goes far beyond a simple case
of "this is supposed to happen." And instead of thinking "Why
did God let this happen to me?" start thinking in terms of
"What good is God going to bring out of this for me?" Look
for that. Believe in that. Trust in that.
"We know that all things work together for good to those who
love God" (Rom 8:28).
Bonacci is a syndicated columnist based in Denver and the
author of We're On a Mission from God and Real Love.