There must be a reason for it all

There must be a reason for it all (from a song by Alison Krauss). A reflection by Stephen Nicholls

It would seem that the recent release of confidential files related to the assassination of President Kennedy (JFK) in November 1963 has not provided much extra fuel for the many conspiracy theories surrounding his murder.


One writer in the Los Angeles Times says ‘For the greatest crime of 20th century, we demand a conspiracy of equal magnitude. The real answer lies in the demented mind of a wretched little man who was driven by anger, grudges and delusion’.

Writing in the Financial Times, Henry Mance suggests ‘It would be a funny thing: the realisation that world events are determined not by the power of those in the shadows, but by the unexpected actions of unexceptional people’

There is an example of the Bible of a similar random event when King Ahab is killed in battle by a soldier drawing his bow and firing at random (1 Kings 22 vs 34). Little did he know he was accomplishing God’s purposes of judgement on Ahab as he fired into the air.

Do we have a problem with seeming chance events by ‘unexceptional people’ having worldwide significance? Do we have to look for some covert power influencing the key events of human history? Does there have to be a reason for it all?

And what about seemingly random and painful events in our own lives. We could be swept away by a tsunami (unlikely), be mown down by a drunk driver, betrayed by a close friend, cheated on by a spouse, be attacked and robbed by a stranger – all events that we have no control over and seem arbitrary and without purpose.

John Calvin, 16th Century Reformer, writing on providence, uses passages that say that ‘every hair on our head is numbered and every tiny bird fed by God’s hand’ to show that nothing , absolutely nothing happens by chance but ‘God so attends to the regulation of individual events, and they all proceed from his set plan, that nothing takes place by chance.’

Joseph in the Old Testament must also have wondered what was going on in his life when he ended up stuck in prison through no fault of his own. In the 2000 animated film ‘Joseph – King of Dreams!’ and reflecting on his life thus far Joseph sings in prison.

For, You know better than I
You know the way
I’ve let go the need to know why
For You know better than I

Although that song is not in the Bible, the sentiment Joseph expresses at the end of it all to his brothers ‘… you meant it for evil… but God meant it for good’ shows that Joseph had come to the conclusion that all those experiences he had were part of God’s plan for ultimate good and not arbitrary twists of fate.

Oh what a comfort, if we can take it and believe it, that all happenings in the world at large or in our individual lives are superintended by a God who is ‘for us’ in Christ. But how hard to let go of the need to know why and say ‘You know better than I’.

The final word on this goes to the eighteenth century writer and reformer Hannah More ‘The world which clouds thy souls with doubt, IS but a carpet inside out’.



  1. Well put! Was saying something like that this morning to a Christian sister worried about her exchange date for moving house.

    The phrase “the devil is in the detail” is absolutley not true!! In fact it could nto be further from the truth.

    God is in the detail and his aways are perfect! Steve

    • thanks Steve. John Calvin has about 50 pages on God’s providence in the Institutes. It’s all great stuff and he basically says if we don’t have certainty about God’s providence in the detail of our lives, life is a miserable game of chance. Speaking personally though I sometimes find it hard to trust in it when things are tough but then that’s when we need it most!

  2. This is helpful Steve – I do indeed struggle to let go of the “Why” and say “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right”

  3. One of my favourite Shakespeare quotes is:

    “There is a power which shapes our ends – rough-hew them though we will.”

  4. Reading these comment, I was reminded about a book by Isobel Kuhn – Green leaf in drought. I was very moved and enlightened by this when I first read it many years ago. A young China Inland Mission couple with a baby daughter go far into inland China to take over from an older couple. When they arrive, they find that they are confined and isolated and have to live through many bad circumstances, with no contact with the people they went to serve. The book is about their struggle to understand “Why”; which is only resolved when they came to understand, and accept with faith and joy, the ‘determinate counsel and foreknowledge’ of God. Only years later do they know the answer to their original question. (I have a copy which I could lend if asked).

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