This is the reason for everything, past, present, and future. When we look at past events in both in world and our own history, we can see that every event had things that lead to it being inevitable. Just as those past causes lead to those inevitable event, other events lead to this very moment where you are now reading this. Future events will also have their causes, some of those causes may have already happened, some cause may be happening now, yet more causes are still to happen including the cause that triggered the final event.
I believe that we do not have actual free will but just implied free will. If we had actual free will, then at a point of decision, we could make any choice we wanted. What we actually have is implied free will. This is where, though we may be shown other choices, there was only one choice we would have made, so the rest might as well have not been there in the first place. I like to use this example:
Your at a crossroads. In front of you lies four roads. Thing is, only one of those roads takes you where you think you want to go. The other three were never going to be chosen. If you were never going to choose them, does it matter that they are there? The reason(s) why you were always going to pick the road are factors of the past. Seeing that the past is basically written in stone, it can not be changed so your choice at that moment, based on those fixed events, was also written in stone before you arrived at the cross roads. Because you arrived at the crossroads with only one viable option, you never had an actual choice on what road to take. This means you did not have actual free will.
Don't get me wrong. I am not about to say that we should not punish criminals because they never had an actual choice. This is because the threat of punishment was a factor in the inevitable choice they made, and it is part of their inevitable future should the be found guilty. For them, it was inevitable that they spend time behind bars.
As far as their being a plan, this is where I disagree with Steffon. Though the plans of other people did, are, and will effect your future, there is no master plan made by some deity, as the simply do not exist. Our path, though set in stone, was carved out by others, ourselves, and the world around us. Though "the world around us" could imply nature, nature does not have what we would see as a consciousness, at least when it come to us. The rain does not fall so that you will be late for the meeting nor does the animal crossing the road plan to have you swerve your car so that you end up in the hospital.
If everything happens for a reason then everything happens according to A plan. If everything happens according to a plan then we do what we do because god planned for us to do it and not because we chose to do it. If we have free will then things happen for our reasons which arent hardly ever good reasons so the saying offers no comfort. You have to be saying when you say this that everything happens for gods reasons. But if thats the case we are not in control. If every single thing we do we do because god wants us to it how can we have free will.
Who's "free will"? I assume you mean the "self". What constitutes the "self"? Physical substance, mental substance, other, some combination of the above? If just physical substance then we still need to know what counts as being the "self" for the purpose of the question.
Even with an answer you can likely point to a number of uses of the word "self" that clearly would be referring to it in another way.
One could say that everything that caused one's self to be one's self is part of one's self and then everyone would always have free will if you use that definition. Even if one didn't think or feel like they did they would still have free will, and in fact would've willed themselves to have the illusion of not having free will.
If you insist that everything is physical and also hold that if any physical thing or combination of things results in the self's actions that that would mean the self doesn't have "free will" then you would effectively be saying that the "self" doesn't exist. And accordingly one's will would neither be free or determined, but rather nonexistent.
As "self" as a word, and as a concept as well as "will" are used in everyday society and in our own thoughts then defining "self" in a way that makes it nonexistent doesn't make sense.
So then if you hold that everything is physical you must define "self" as a physical entity of some sort and I can't think of any better way that to just say that it includes every physical event leading up to the self's thoughts, emotions, and identity. Each physical event all by itself is not the self but together they form the self.
There's no denying that we have free will. We may be influenced by others, sure, but we can ultimately decide to do whatever we want in most situations. I don't think God controls everything we do, but rather, he knows every decision we'll make. He's already seen the end of the world, he's seen our future, past, and present. Time does not exist for God, while us humans cannot imagine life without the passage of time. We live our lives within our given time span on earth, while God simply is and always will be.
Everything happens for a reason, and we can ignore that or embrace it. If something happens for a reason, it's our job to figure out what that reason is and decide what needs to be done. People really can do whatever they want when faced with a choice, but good things can happen when the correct path is chosen.
"Everything happens for a reason," taken it philosophical terms, is kind of like what you're saying. Everything is the result of some grand plan. But in reality, that's not what this phrase says. It basically just points out a cause-effect relationship. If I push a ball down a hill, the "reason" it rolls is because I pushed it, and because of gravity. Not because God nitpicking-ly and painstakingly planned for the ball to roll down the hill at hat precise moment.
So, in this way, the phrase doesn't even relate to free will, much less contradicts it.
However, let's look at what Stephen Hawking says about free will. To shorten down his lengthy quote, he says that everything that we do is part of that cause-effect relationship, the reason being certain patterns of neurons firing in our brains. In theory, because "everything happens for a reason," it is possible to create a model that can exactly predict the behavior of any human based on the constant cause-effect within their bodies. However, he also says that such a model would be so incredibly and impossibly complex that we might as well just call it free will.
God has a high plan, a perfect plan that he wishes to happen, but he has given us free will. We either have the opportunity to follow this plan exactly how we want, or just ignore it. In other words Christians misuse this saying. Everything does not happen for a reason, God does have a plan for us but we have a will so we do not have to follow it.