Our current sermon series is based on the assertions made in Rev. Adam Hamilton’s book, “Half Truths: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves and Other Things the Bible Doesn’t Say.” They are simple phrases. They sound Christian – like something you might even find in the Bible:
▪ Everything happens for a reason
▪ God helps those who help themselves
▪ God won’t give you more than you can handle
▪ God said it, I believe it, that settles it
▪ Love the sinner, hate the sin
We’ve all heard these words. Maybe we’ve said them. They capture some element of truth – yet they also miss the point in very important ways.
We’ll be taking one saying per week through the month of January and into February and learning about why they are only half-true.
Join us each week! If you have to miss, be sure to read the Midweek Missive during the following week. Order the book here.
“Everything Happens for a Reason”
I entered the waiting room and looked around for the woman I had come to see, whose daughter had just died in an accident. I was introduced as the Chaplain for the hospital and I sat down next to her.
She let out a long, weak wail that ended with, “Why?” Her wail voiced an immeasurable amount of pain, and the “Why” spoke volumes: anger, shock, disbelief. She wanted to make sense of the sudden death of her daughter, and wanted to know what to tell her granddaughters, who did not yet know that their mother had died.
Because of my training, I just sat in silence with her and held her sobbing body. I listened to her crying, which grew louder and louder, and heard her questions, silently praying for her as I listened.
What I didn’t say, and what I would never say, is “Everything happens for a reason.”
I didn’t say it because it would not have been helpful at the time, and because it is not a biblical statement.
The common saying, “Everything happens for a reason,” is what the Reverend Adam Hamilton calls a “Half-Truth.” It’s something Christians say often, particularly in times of crisis and tragedy. We say it because we are trying to assign meaning or reason to something awful that has happened.
And there is truth to this saying, because there is a natural cause and effect to everything. If you put your hand on a hot burner you’ll get burned. If you do not dress appropriately when the weather is below freezing, you’ll get frost bite. Cause and effect. It’s natural and inevitable.
But when Christians say “Everything happens for a reason” they are typically implying something more like “This is all in God’s plan for you,” or “God has willed this to happen.”
And that sounds okay if you don’t really think about it. But if someone commits an awful crime, you would never allow them to get away with it by saying, “It was all in God’s plan.” For if we say that God wills every one of our choices and actions, where is the personal culpability for sin?
And when tragedy strikes — say the Sandyhook shooting, 9/11, a horrific car accident with multiple deaths, or even a massive hurricane or tornado — I can’t imagine God willed those things to happen. How do we explain that some people’s lives are utterly destroyed and some are left completely unscathed?
Why do I think we have the will to make our own mistakes? I hear it repeatedly in scripture. At the very beginning of our story, God said “Don’t eat of the fruit of that tree.” Adam and Eve chose to eat the fruit anyway. Did God cause them to make that choice? No! And God still gives humanity the choice between right and wrong.
Our reading for Sunday from Deuteronomy 30 said, “Then Moses said to the Israelites, ‘I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days.'” (18-19a)
God generously grants us each the choice between life and death, blessings and curses. This is scriptural. God is not a puppet master, pulling our strings and causing our every choice and action.
Be assured that this does not limit or confine the power and breadth of God. Because YES! God has a plan for us. In Jeremiah 29:11 we hear God, through the voice of the prophet Jeremiah, tell the nation Israel, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” If you interpret this on a personal level, you hear that God has plans, and they are for your welfare and not for your harm. God plans good things for us; not harm. God wants us to have a future with hope.
And in the midst of tragedy, when sin seems to have won the day, or when a natural disaster or illness has taken away all whispers of hope, we have to trust that God is with us in our suffering. We have to trust that God can take every awful thing that happens and transform it into something with meaning and relevance and hope.
God with us. Emmanuel.
We see this illustrated the best in our story of the crucifixion. How could it be that something as awful as a public and humiliating death on the cross could be transformed into something as glorious as the empty tomb? Yet every Sunday we proclaim and celebrate the Resurrection — the new day!
I want you to think this through now — before tragedy strikes or before you find yourself about to tell someone “Everything happens for a reason.” Think it through, wrestle with these complex questions, and I pray you will come out knowing that whatever happens, God will be with you.
Back to that moment in the trauma center, with the mother who was weeping and questioning. She eventually voiced the question that causes my heart to ache: “Why did God take her away from me?”
I’ve heard this repeatedly in my work as a chaplain, and even in the pastorate. And every time I’ve heard it, I have actually felt physical pain that they would feel God has taken someone away from them.
My answer to that, in prayer, is something like this, “We thank you, O God our Creator, that you have not taken our beloved away from us; rather, you have already received her into your loving and eternal arms. And although we may never understand ‘why,’ we can be assured that you are walking with us in our pain and grief. Amen.”
May your questioning and searching minds come to know and trust the peace of a God who gives us choices to make mistakes that were never a part of God’s plan; who gives us guidance to make good choices when we seek that guidance; and who promises to be with us, Emmanuel, in everything that happens.
With Assurance and Hope,
During our recent Extravagant Generosity Stewardship Campaign, I asked those in attendance to write down the reasons why they support CEH through their gifts of time, talent, and/or treasure. We had so many wonderful responses! I’ll be featuring them over the next month or so. I hope you enjoy reading the reasons why people attend and support CEH:
I am thankful for all God has provided to me. Giving to CEH allows me to give back to God. I feel cared about and loved here. I want to share that with others by giving back (and forward!)
To give back to the Community of Christ
All Glory and Honor be to God, our Saviour.
I give to my family to assure their well-being as my parents gave to me. I would like to give more to the church but am not sure what to do.
I have been craving a welcoming community and a loving church family. Yesterday (Saturday) the Holy Spirit prompted me over and over to come here today (Sunday). I listened. Glory to God. Can’t wait to voyage onward with you all.
We want to give back because of our blessings in life. I will do some serving and cooking and help in the kitchen and I will continue to meet with jail inmates in Grand County and other venues.
I’m a behind the scenes person, helping serve meals at memorials, etc. I always feel very satisfied after an event.
I like to care for people and make them feel loved and valued. I can do this through CEH and I do it. I am recharged by Pastor Paula’s sermon and her example in living a positive life. I don’t think I can live without Paula’s leadership. I wish I had more talents to contribute.