This book is worthy of every rave review it has already received. Everything Happens For a Reason by Kate Bowler, who wrote the first history of the prosperity gospel, is a captivating memoir of one women’s bitterly ironic journey with her faith and health. (Many thanks to Random House for sending me a copy to review.)
As of this post’s publication, the book is climbing Amazon’s charts (at #27 in print best sellers overall; #8 in Religion and Spirituality). Bowler writes beautifully, in a voice completely her own. She will make you laugh when you feel like you shouldn’t be laughing and she will carry you into the darkness she has faced until you feel its weight. Most of all, she will offer you hope. “Joy persists somehow and I soak it in,” she writes. “The horror of cancer has made everything seem like it is painted in bright colors. I think the same thoughts again and again: Life is so beautiful. Life is so hard” (p. 123).
The book is a journey. Bowler’s struggles with various health issues — ultimately, cancer — are set in contrast as she visits congregations where health issues are a sign of bad faith. We are introduced to doctors who should not be allowed to interact with people and to family and friends who should teach those doctors how to interact with people. All along the way, we walk delicately on the line between hope and despair.
Bowler’s journey leads her to ask a simple question and to offer a profound conclusion. “What if being people of “the gospel” meant that we are simply people with good news? God is here. We are loved. It is enough” (p. 21). This simple conclusion challenges the core of the prosperity gospel and, frankly, much of American Christianity’s functional theology.
Someone looking for a definitive response to the question, “Does everything happen for a reason?” will not find it here. What one will find, instead, is sage pastoral advice: leave your platitudes at home. Bowler recounts an interaction between her husband and a well-meaning visitor. “A neighbor came to the door and told my husband that everything happens for a reason. ‘I’d love to hear it,’ he replied. ‘Pardon?’ she said, startled. ‘The reason my wife is dying’” (p. 113). This exchange highlights why, when interacting with the grieving, it is often better to say nothing more than, “I’m so sorry.” By the way, kudos to her husband for his gutsy reply.
If I were #blessed with a lot of money, I would send a copy of this book to every medical professional, clergy person, and counselor I know. I would even send a few copies to writing instructors, because Bowler might teach them a thing or two. The book would be an excellent point of conversation for students in classes on ethics and pastoral care. Certainly pastors would benefit from reading it, but it is written for popular audiences. Why not have a book study with your congregation?
We’re all on a journey like Professor Bowler’s, one that slams us against realities we’d rather not face. Our hardest realities might not be cancer. They’ll still be hard. We will still need to face them. The gift of Bowler’s book is that it gives us, or at least it gives me, the courage to face those realities honestly. “God is here. We are loved. It is enough.”