Everything Happens For A Reason (Doesn’t It?)

Book Review: Kate Bowler, Everything Happens For A Reason And Other Lies I’ve Loved, Random House, 2018.

Against the backdrop of the American prosperity gospel, about which she wrote a history (Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel, Oxford, 2013), in Everything Happen For A Reason Bowler details how, at 35, thriving in her seminary teaching, married to her high school sweetheart, and with the birth of her son, she struggles with a stage IV colon cancer diagnosis.

Televangelists, with whom she had talked, “claimed spiritual guarantees for how to receive divine money. I held hands with people in wheelchairs praying at the altar to be cured.” She tried “to understand, how millions of North Americans had started asking God for more” (xii). But she also saw something else. “Believers wanted escape from poverty, failing health, and the feeling that their lives were leaky buckets” (xiii). People with “bleak medical diagnoses…broken teen agers or misfiring marriages” sought salvation, rescue, and “a modicum of power over things that ripped their lives apart at the seams” (xiii).

What is a Theodicy?

That movement, she says, is “a theodicy, an explanation for the problem of evil. It is an answer to the questions that take our lives apart: Why do some people get healed and some people don’t? Why do some people leap and land on their feet, while others tumble all the way down? Why do some babies die in their cribs and some bitter souls live to see their great-grandchildren. The prosperity gospel looks at the world as it is and promises a solution. It guarantees that faith will always make a way” (xiii).

Her research led her to look beyond the false promises of the movements’ leaders into her own heart. Bowler found alluring “the promise that I could curate my life, minimize my losses, and stand on my successes…I had my own prosperity gospel, a flowering weed grown in with all the rest” (xiii-xiv).

Why, God?

Reporting her cancer diagnosis, Bowler describes her plea to God for life with three simple questions: “Why? God, are you here? What does this suffering mean?” At first, she reports, “I could hear Him. I could almost make out an answer. But then it was drowned out by what I’ve now heard a thousand times. “Everything happens for a reason” or “God is writing a better story.”

Bowler’s well-written Preface leads the reader through her equally well-written journey, from the anxiety of her cancer diagnosis through the news that she might have a rare form of cancer with excellent prognosis. But what most galls Bowler is how people treat her. Instead of living with her in the moment of her anguish, she finds “three life lessons people try to teach me that, frankly, sometimes feels worse than the cancer itself.”

Life Lessons?

What three lessons do you believe people want to share with Bowler? What lesson(s) would you want to share with her? In my next blog I will reveal Bowler’s three Life Lessons well-wishers seek to teach her.


About Grose

Gordon Grose loves most to write, speak, and preach on the message of hope from the book of Job. Using drama, video, and PowerPoint, he has preached and presented this message of hope to churches around the country. Grose pastored three congregations 25 years, then served 12 years as a pastoral counselor in a Portland, Oregon counseling clinic. He now serves with Good Samaritan Counseling Services, Beaverton, OR. A graduate of Wheaton College (IL), Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Brandeis University, and Boston University, he comes from a rich and varied background in theological and counseling training. In 2015, Gordon published Tragedy Transformed: How Job's Recovery Can Provide Hope For Yours, a book about turning to Job for hope after tragedy. If you have experienced life challenges or personal tragedy, visit his Transforming Tragedy (gordongrose.com) blog to learn more. TragedyTransformed.com provides a sample of Gordon's speaking as well as an opportunity to purchase copies of his book.
This entry was posted in Death and Dying, Religon, The Sufferer. Bookmark the permalink.