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Friday, January 19, 2018

"Everything Happens for a Reason" (Kate Bowler)

TITLE: Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I've Loved
AUTHOR: Kate Bowler
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Random House, 2018, (208 pages).

Is it true that God rewards the good when they do good and punish them when they do bad? Is it also true that there is absolutely a reason for everything that happens to us? Must well-meaning Christians always do something for those who are going through tough times? What about things such as as direct blessings or curses? Is it true that God blesses us when we are good and curses us when we are bad? By the way, is there a cancer cure for those who seek God hard enough, or when we pray fervently enough? Having gone through personal struggles and doubts over past pet beliefs, author Kate Bowler emphatically says no. In a nutshell, there is no such thing of a spiritual guarantee for some earthly cure from heavenly realms. Having written "Blessed," one of the most in-depth studies and research on the prosperity gospel, Bowler shares her inner thoughts and feelings about the promises and perils of believing in the prosperity gospel in the midst of extreme pain and cancer. In a frank and open manner, Bowler reveals how her stomach pains and frequent discomfort led to a shocking diagnosis of an advanced stage of colon cancer.

Chapter after chapter, she wrestles and questions the state she is in and reflections on what should or not be done for people who are terminally ill. She dispels simplistic beliefs and spiritual guarantees that sound good on the outside but feels empty on the inside. At the same time, she shares about her yearning for the promises to be true, even as she struggles with her own physical condition. Her own body had become an object lesson of what works and what doesn't. Ultimately, the prosperity gospel is essentially about positive thinking. The chapter on "Seasons" show forth her ups and downs with baby Zach tilting the balance firmly toward "Blessed." The chapter on "Surrender" is perhaps one of the most profound in the book as Bowler goes beyond her specialized training in history and teaches us a lot about being sensitive to a person struggling with an advanced stage of cancer. Pastors and caregivers have a few lessons to learn. Reflecting on Christmas, Bowler contemplates the notion of waiting. Is she waiting for the inevitable to happen or some miracle to occur? She appreciates the professional and genuine care at cancer clinics. Positivity works for a while reality knocks one back like a coiled spring. Toward the end of the book, there is a sense of surrender and a boldness to deal with the fear of uncertainty.

At times, she writes with flashes of candor like Anne Lamott; the wit of Lauren Winner; and some profound insights like Joni Eareckson Tada.  Yet, there is something truly personal and heartbreaking as she wrestles with a search for hope in all directions, frequently referring back to the promises of the prosperity gospel. Balancing scepticism and hope, she concludes that there are many things Christians have deceived themselves, something she had also done. Like a jilted lover longing hopelessly for a return to the romance of yesterday, she details the struggles of today while seeking out a more hopeful tomorrow. What I appreciate most about this book is the honesty and amazing use of her own story as a continuation of the prosperity gospel project. In this manner, the book is not merely a biography of her journey through cancer but works as a testimony of the strengths and weaknesses of the health and wealth gospel. The Appendix at the end of the book is a useful reference to caregivers on what things to avoid saying to sick people. She ends with this very witty quip about the gulf between reality and false promises: "Just remember that if cancer or divorce or tragedies of all kinds don’t kill you, people’s good intentions will."

Kate Bowler is Assistant Professor at Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina. Originally from the Canadian prairie city of Winnipeg, she first shot to fame with her book "Blessed"on prosperity gospel.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Random House and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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