[This is the second of a two-part review of Bowler’s Everything Happens For A Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved (Random House, 2018), an account of her diagnosis with cancer against the backdrop of the prosperity Gospel, about which she had previously written. See my June 22, 2018 blog for Part I.]
What Life Lessons Did Bowler Receive?
- Minimizers told her she shouldn’t feel so upset (e.g., dying before her son grows up), because, as one woman in the prime of her youth writes, “It doesn’t matter, in the End, whether we are ‘here’ or ‘there.’ It’s all the same.” Heaven, of course, Bowler comments, is the Christian’s true home.
- Teachers (not the professionals) focused on how Bowler’s cancer should be “an education in mind, body, and spirit.” “I suppose that this is the ultimate test of faith for you,” writes one man, hoping “ I will have the good sense to accept God’s will.” He will pray for her remission, he reassures her, “and if you die that your suffering will be minimal.” Thanks, Joe from Indiana, she writes. Another Teacher hopes, “you have a Job experience.” Bowler can think of nothing worse, losing everything, including one’s children. “Do I need to lose something more to learn God’s character?”
- Solutions People taught the hardest lessons. “Keep smiling! Your attitude determines your destiny!” says Jane from Idaho. These are people who, by the weight of a solution-focused theology (e.g., prosperity gospel), have been unable to grieve…A bitter seed has been planted in a young father who must take his brain-dead child off life support while his extended family, steeped in prosperity theology, rails against him for his inability to prevent his child’s death” (116-119).
Such people accept no disappointment, defeat, or death. Their answers for every setback: “You didn’t have enough faith” or “God has a better plan.” They provide easy answers to imponderable life dilemmas. They fail to read the whole book of Job, who did nothing wrong, and whom God led through a long process of facing his negative emotions and transformed with a new perspective. This I detail in Tragedy Transformed How Job’s Recovery Can Provide Hope For Yours(2015). They also seem to skip the cross of Jesus, whom they profess as Lord. Where do today’s persecuted believers around the world fit?
A Grain Of Truth?
The prosperity gospel does, however, contain a grain of truth: If you expect miracles, you will experience them; but, of course, not all the time. Christians who exercise believing prayer for God to heal often receive healings; but, of course, not all the time. Expectation for the God of Hope to act in His sovereign will sometimes lead to unusual blessing, but, of course, not all the time. How to negotiate great faith without confusing our will for God’s challenges us all. The book of Job was written to deal with this very issue–the exceptions, when, in spite of doing everything right, life goes against us.
What (Not) To Say
In two appendices, Bowler explains things we should not say (to those in tragedy) and things we may want to. As one example of “Absolutely never say this to people experiencing terrible times, a short list: Well, at least…” to which she replies, “Whoa. Hold up there. Were you about to make a comparison? At least it’s not…what? Stage V cancer? Don’t minimize.” As an example of “Give this a go, see how it works, a short list: I’d love to bring you a meal this week. Can I email you about it?” To which she replies, “Oh, thank goodness. I am starving, but mostly I can never figure out something to tell people I need, even if I need it. But really, bring me anything. Chocolate. A potted plant. A set of weird erasers…”
I cannot recommend Everything Happens highly enough. Bowler’s book is worth more than one read; I’ve just begun my second.
Questions to Ponder
- What has been your experience with people Bowler describes as believers in the “Prosperity Gospel”?
- How do you deal with life’s exceptions, when in spite of your best, godly efforts, circumstances go against you or your loved ones?
- How would you respond to a friend or relative who, in tragedy, questioned God?