“Is It Genuine or Generic?”
I find the marketing ingenuity of off-brand products humorous. Instead of Cheerios, there are Crispy Oats. Instead of Superman, there is Specialman. Instead of Dr. Pepper, there is Dr. Perky. Instead of Rice Crispy Treats, there are Crispy Rice Treats. They get as close to the genuine article as possible without infringing on the trademark, perhaps to dupe undiscerning shoppers.
We have a tendency to do the same thing with Scripture. There are phrases which sound quasi-Christian, which seem to have a similar flavor as the real thing but are, in actuality, knock-offs. As Christians, we must be careful not to trade God’s genuine promises for generic sentiments. Removing a verse from its context removes part of what that verse means. Or worse, we may change the wording of a verse altogether so that what we end up with is a generic, spiritual-sounding sentiment which lacks the power and applicability of God’s word. Are you rooting your faith in God’s genuine promises or are you settling for generic religious-sounding sentiments? Here is an example of such a sentiment.
“Everything happens for a reason.” We use this phrase to bring comfort to people who have gone through some bad experience. Their experience will turn out alright in the end because, we say, “everything happens for a reason.” The bad will lead to good because God is in control of the situation. Between the lines of such a sentiment is the belief that everything that happens happens according to God’s plan. But this is not necessarily true and the Bible will not allow us to hold such a view.
There are many things which happen that are opposed to God’s will and are not according to his plan. Slavery, child-trafficking, prostitution, wars, murders, pandemics, etc. all lie outside of God’s expressed will. To be fair, God permits these things to happen and will, in the fulness of time, bring them to a final end in the Judgment. But not everything that happens is because God would have it so. There is a difference between God’s desired will (what he wants [1 Tim. 2:4]) and his permissive will (what he allows [Acts 14:16]). But God does have a fixed will, an eternal and unchanging purpose.
The phrase “everything happens for a reason” is really a generic parody of Paul’s teaching in Romans 8:28, which says “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” This says something quite different than “everything happens for a reason.”
In the book of Romans, Paul outlines God’s eternal plan to justify Jews and Gentiles by faith in Christ and unite them into one multi-ethnic, new covenant family. Paul spends time in his letter to the Romans explaining that the law of Moses was an important part of God’s “purpose” but it wasn’t the key because it depended on our “flesh,” which is weak. Rather, it was always God’s plan to keep his promises through Jesus, who would fulfill the law, justify those who have faith in him and give them life by his Spirit.
That’s why “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Although God doesn’t cause everything to happen, nothing that does happen takes him by surprise or catches him unprepared or is able to thwart his eternal “purpose.” God is able to hijack “all things,” even evil, terrible, and sad things, and work them “together for good.” But for whose good? “For those who love God… who are called according to his purpose.” (see Gen. 50:20)
God’s plan is to “conform” us “to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29-30ff). So, while everything that happens is not good, God will bring good from everything that happens “to those who love him.” He can use every situation to make us more like Jesus which is God’s purpose for us. Let’s not settle for generic, religious-sounding phrases but rest our hope fully in the genuine word of God!