This is the third part of the series, “Does Everything Happen for a reason?” To read the previous post, click here.
“What we would here and now call our ‘happiness’ is not the end God chiefly has in view: but when we are such as He can love without impediment, we shall in fact be happy.”
~ C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
When faced with incomprehensible suffering, people respond in one of the following four ways:
- Blame God.
- Dismiss God’s omnipotence
- Conclude we are subject to random chance.
- Remember this life is temporary and turn to God for comfort
Which of these four is the proper response? I like Job’s initial response when faced with devastation:
Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.
~ Job 1.21, ESV
The question in our series, “Does everything happen for a reason?” cannot be addressed with a simple one-liner unless certain assumptions are met. (As I mentioned in the first post, this statement should not thrust in the face of the grieving. Extend compassion, a shoulder, and prayer to those who suffer.)
For our discussion today, we need to look at why we are here on this earth.
Regardless of our various doctrinal views, most Christians share the following common beliefs: God exists. He is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, merciful, and loving. We confess that Jesus is His Son, the promised Messiah. We have faith that God raised Jesus from the dead, conquering death, cleansing our sin, and giving us hope for a life beyond this one. Last but not least, most of us are confident in the veracity of the historical accounts laid out in scripture.
In spite of these shared convictions, we arrive at dramatically different conclusions about the purpose of life on this earth:
- The Prosperity Gospel: God wants us to have health, wealth, and happiness, but our foibles interfere with success in this life.
- God stopped being involved in the world after the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit could no longer be given by the apostles. Our prayers only work for “spiritual things”; we cannot ask for physical things. We are now subject to random chance.
- The world is a place created for man, dominated by God, and used as a means to prepare us for eternal life (or eternal destruction).
There are, of course, innumerable variations to these views, but I think I’ve captured the core of each system.
The problem with the prosperity gospel.
I have a beef with the prosperity gospel movement. It ranks among the most insidious kind of false teaching, and this is why: It lures people to the gospel under the enticement of physical prosperity instead of salvation. When the promised prosperity fails to appear (or is snatched away), they abandon their faith, disillusioned with God. If you are only following God with the goal of “happiness”and “wealth,” I assure you, you will be grossly disappointed.
Some may ask, “What is the harm in this doctrine?”
What is the harm, indeed?
- It makes this life the end-goal instead of eternal life
- It discourages faithful people who are suffering
- It mocks the suffering of the prophets, apostles, early Christians, and martyrs
- It diminishes the value of becoming like God
Our purpose in this life isn’t to accumulate vast amounts of wealth and comfort. While we take pleasure in these things and there is nothing intrinsically wrong with acquiring money or enjoying comfort, it is not the destination. In the parable of the Rich Fool, Jesus said, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
Furthermore, if it is God’s desire to give His faithful ones physical pleasure, then answer me this:
Did the early Christians, apostles, and prophets, lack faith?
Ponder that for a moment.
You see, according to these prosperity teachers, God’s will is for us to be happy, healthy, and wealthy. The only thing standing in the way of said affluence is a lack of faith (or… something). If that is true, then why on earth did the early Christians live lives of poverty, suffering, abuse, and torturous death?! Were they somehow faithless? Maybe they just didn’t work hard enough or were financially unskilled… (feel free to look disgusted at this statement).
Were the early Christians of lesser value to God than we are, since Christians in most developed countries enjoy so much earthly abundance today?
What about present-day persecuted Christians? Christians in the middle east lose everything by declaring their faith—their families, their jobs, their homes, and (often) their lives! Do they lack some special quality that we possess? I seriously doubt it. Their faith runs deep—polished and refined by the fire they endure.
The great cloud of witnesses surrounding us discovered the ultimate secret: True happiness cannot be found in this life alone.
True happiness, the kind God desires for us, is actually found in the term ‘Joy.’ Happiness is ephemeral, Joy is eternal.
Happiness comes in bursts, rising and falls like the waves of the ocean. By contrast, Joy is a strong, steady rock. Joy is derived from knowing God, discovering the pleasure to be had in serving Him, and standing in the light of His mercy and grace. Joy is not dictated by circumstance.
Happiness is like a cheap imitation pearl. Joy, by contrast, is a priceless diamond. If we desire happiness alone, then we desire the cheap thing. God wants to give us diamonds, but we ask for mere dollar-store pearls. Stop chasing happiness and start cultivating joy.
The problem with thinking God is uninvolved
The opposite end of the spectrum is the belief that God is “hands-off” and has been since the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit were no longer given by the apostles. I addressed this in my first post under the heading, “God is involved.”
This viewpoint essentially makes us subject to “luck” and “random chance.” God may be grieved by our pain and long to erase it, but He won’t get involved until this world ends. As long as we serve Him, He’ll make sure we get a proper reward after we die. Good luck weathering the storms of life. “You’re on your own, kid.”
What a depressing view!
For some, there is comfort in thinking God is “out of the picture” so-to-speak. Trying to grapple with the idea that God allows suffering for a greater purpose is painful, especially in the midst of affliction. They ask, “Why would He allow this to happen to me? I am so faithful!” In the face of this perplexity, they arrive at the conclusion that God must not have any part in anything.
When we miscarried our first baby, I wondered why, with people aborting children right and left, God would allow our child to die. We would have loved, cared, and provided for that child. Why our baby? In essence, I was thinking, “why us and not somebody else?”
There was unhealthy pride and selfishness in my contemplations.
How could I possibly know if we would have made good parents for that particular baby? What if we had died early in that child’s life, leaving it orphaned? What if that child would have endured a very painful disease? Perhaps God was sparing that little one from suffering. I can sit here and conjure scenarios all day, but the fact is, I am not omniscient. I am not God. He may tell me the ‘why’ someday in heaven, but for now, I just have to trust in His good will.
It will be 10 years this November since we lost our unborn child; the “why” of our loss remains a mystery to me. I have accepted it and I trust God’s goodness towards me and toward my little one. I believe my small, unborn baby is safe in the arms of Jesus.
Our oldest child was born one year later on the exact same day I was told we had miscarried our first baby. Most would chock it up to coincidence. I do not.
God is involved in our lives. That confidence gives me strength in the face of suffering.
This world is a testing ground.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
~ 2 Corinthians 4.16-19, ESV
The earth is a preparation ground for eternity. God wants us to be with Him and Satan wants to hurt God by luring us away from our Creator. We, with our free will, have a choice as to whom we will serve. Unfortunately, most of us choose to serve ourselves (which ultimately feeds Satan’s purpose). There are three things at work here: Satan, Free Will, and God. God will not force us to love Him; we must choose to love or reject. God allows us to be tested just as a blacksmith tests the mettle of a sword. It has to be put in the fire, clashed with other blades, and hammered into smoothness.
We are being prepared for an eternal weight of glory.
This life is NOT all there is! There is so much more and it is far greater than our pleasures and surpasses our pain.
Some final thoughts…
Does Everything Happen for a Reason?
I believe it does.
Our failure to comprehend the ‘why’ does not negate the truth.
I could continue this series for weeks, covering all the various in’s and out’s of life, death, eternity etcetera, but those possesssed of far more eloquent intelligence have already done so. I recommend reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl and The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis for more on this topic. Over and above those reads, I recommend immersing yourself in God’s word. The Bible remains the best source of comfort and the ultimate key to knowing the Lord.
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
~ Ecclesiastes 12.13, ESV