Christian Clichés Sermon Series- Everything Happens for a Reason

Biblical text

Romans 8:18-28 Contemporary English Version

18 I am sure that what we are suffering now cannot compare with the glory that will be shown to us. 19 In fact, all creation is eagerly waiting for God to show who his children are. 20 Meanwhile, creation is confused, but not because it wants to be confused. God made it this way in the hope 21 that creation would be set free from decay and would share in the glorious freedom of his children. 22 We know that all creation is still groaning and is in pain, like a woman about to give birth.

23 The Spirit makes us sure about what we will be in the future. But now we groan silently, while we wait for God to show that we are his children] This means that our bodies will also be set free. 24 And this hope is what saves us. But if we already have what we hope for, there is no need to keep on hoping. 25 However, we hope for something we have not yet seen, and we patiently wait for it.

26 In certain ways we are weak, but the Spirit is here to help us. For example, when we don’t know what to pray for, the Spirit prays for us in ways that cannot be put into words. 27 All of our thoughts are known to God. He can understand what is in the mind of the Spirit, as the Spirit prays for God’s people. 28 We know that God is always at work for the good of everyone who loves him. They are the ones God has chosen for his purpose.

             We have so many clichés that roll of the tongue: 

Absence makes the heart grow fonder. All’s fair in love and war. Don’t paint yourself into a corner. Cat got your tongue? Avoid that like the plague.

             Some clichés can be useful. For example, Lydia wanted a new Playstation and begged her father for it saying, “All my friends have one.”  

             Dad responded, “If all your friends jumped off a bridge would you follow them?”  

             Lydia solemnly said, “No,” but followed it up with a smile, “because then I could get one of their Playstations!”

             Clichés do not always communicate authentically. 

They can be overused, stale, and trite.

             Christian clichés are common also and are too often misused because many people think they come from the Bible. Or they have been passed down through the years so people think they must be true. These clichés for good or ill shape our faith and our image of God.

             It is not necessarily wrong to use them but it may not be helpful to do so. Christian clichés are used when we do not have the right words. They are used to provide an explanation when there often is no explanation.  

             Today we will focus on one of the most beloved and for me one of the most troubling clichés, “Everything happens for a reason.” Many, many people say it regularly. Does it bring comfort to them or to the one they say it to?

             Dr. James Nestigen is a Professor Emeritus at Luther Seminary. I heard him tell his students the story of a young man whose brother died in a boating accident. At the visitation event in a funeral home the day before the funeral a pastor approached the bereaved brother and said, “Everything happens for a reason.” That brother hit that pastor hard across the face and knocked him flat. 

             Another man told me that that people had said that to him all the time when they knew his daughter was being treated for a brain tumor. His expressed thoughts on that were, “I want to knock them out!”

             If your friend is mugged and beaten, what possible reason could God have for sending that? Yes, that is the question, isn’t it because behind this cliché is an image of a morally ambivalent or even malevolent God.

             Pastor Peter Marty in a column in The Lutheran (January 2014) wrote the following:

While visiting a city church a few years ago, I picked up a history of the congregation. From the booklet, I learned that the congregation’s previous sanctuary burned to the ground. “No doubt, to train his people for great things,” the account read, “It pleased the Lord to reduce this splendid edifice of worship to a gutted, smoldering ruin by a disastrous fire on Dec. 3, 1903.” Really? I bet you didn’t know God delights in burning down churches. 

From where does this folly come? Several sources. God gets blamed for all kinds of outlandish things, mostly because we don’t like to feel out of control in a chaotic universe. If we position God to assume that blame, or credit, for an inexplicable situation, suddenly it sounds more reasonable. Many people don’t like the idea of no one being responsible for a perplexing event. This God becomes the handy arranger when one needs a cause for that flat tire, in the desert, or for that stillborn child who had been the sparkle in a hope-filled couple’s eyes.

There is another reason why seemingly intelligent people tend to make God responsible for all kinds of ridiculous circumstances. Such theology works extremely well when things turn out to benefit us. An egocentricity permeates a lot of chatter about God having a personal plan for my life. Theological narcissism cleverly places “me” at the center of the universe.

             Do you see it? My prayers were answered but his were not. Someone was looking out for me when the tornado struck. Hmm, but what about your prayerful neighbor whose house was flattened to rubble?

             Everything happens for a reason. Really? Does that statement communicate anything? Why? 

Who made it happen? What is the reason behind it? One pastor said it was the “quasi-spiritual version of saying, “Oh well.”

             My husband has Parkinson’s Disease. There is no good reason for this to have happened to him. None. 

Biologically, he has an inherited form of the disease from his grandmother and great grandfather. Parkinson’s has come to him as the consequence of his DNA, not for any reason from a loving God. Many terrible things just happen, don’t they?

             The notion that bad things happened to bad people and good things to good people still exists, too, in our world. Some call it karma. But that notion is overturned in the Bible by stories such as that of Job who lost everything—work, riches, family—and his friends said it was God doing that do him. No, said Job, as did God by the end of that story.

             In Romans chapter 8, St. Paul tells us that creation has been cursed and therefore we live in a world where bad things happen. A very bad thing happened to the man who was God in the flesh. Oh, I can see it in your eyes, that God had a reason for that! You say it was God’s plan. Yet Leslie Weatherhead way back in the 1940’s in his excellent little book, The Will of God, introduced the very helpful concepts of God’s Original Will, Circumstantial Will, and Ultimate Will. God’s Orginal will for Jesus was for people to be transformed by following Jesus and thus healing and salvation for the world would have flowed out from person to person like ripples in a pond. However, under the “circumstances” of Jesus’ trial and death, God’s intention changed to resurrection in order to bring about salvation for the world. Hence, Weatherhead posits that God’s Ultimate Will is now prevailing in the lives and actions of the followers of Jesus.

             Paul told his readers in verse 28 that God is always at work for the good of those who love him. I understand this to mean that God does not cause bad situations, but that God can work within the circumstances of life’s unexpected heartaches for our good.  

             Can I trust that God is bringing about good for my husband and me as we face his inevitable decline? I try to every day. The reason for my trust is that I have based my life on the reality that God is love.

  Scripture taken from the Contemporary English Version © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society, Used by Permission

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