Review of Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved, by Kate Bowler

Everything Happens for a Reason

And Other Lies I’ve Loved

by Kate Bowler

Random House, 2018. 178 pages.

I approached this book with some trepidation. Although I do not, in fact, believe that “everything happens for a reason” – I do believe that “All things work for the good of those who love God.” I believe tthat God can and will bring good out of even terrible things. So would my faith be shaken by reading this book?

No, my faith was not shaken. But I got a lesson in what not to say to someone going through a terrible trial.

Kate Bowler wrote this book while undergoing treatments for stage IV colon cancer at thirty-five years old. She was supposed to die very soon after diagnosis – but ended up in the 3% who have a type that was being studied for a new treatment. (I checked – She is still alive in August 2018. Though she does say that the doctors were not expecting to cure her.)

Kate is a historian who studies the prosperity gospel in America. So she has a lot to say about getting cancer in that setting.

She takes the reader with her on her journey of trying to live with this. I liked the part where she explained that she took up swearing for Lent. She tells what various people say to her – most of it unhelpful but also about friends who come alongside.

I also liked the part where she explained that at the worst time, she felt God’s presence.

It seemed too odd and too simplistic to say what I knew to be true – that when I was sure I was going to die, I didn’t feel angry. I felt loved.

Reading this, I was struck that we each have our own story. Yes, we can find meaning in our story – but we’re being presumptuous to try to explain to someone else the meaning in their story.

Her two appendices in the back are especially helpful. The first is things not to say to people experiencing terrible times. The second is things you might try saying (such as, May I bring you a meal?). Here’s how she feels about being told, “Everything happens for a reason”:

The only thing worse than saying this is pretending that you know the reason. I’ve had hundreds of people tell me the reason for my cancer. Because of my sin. Because of my unfaithfulness. Because God is fair. Because God is unfair. Because of my aversion to Brussel sprouts. I mean, no one is short of reasons. So if people tell you this, make sure you are there when they go through the cruelest moments of their lives, and start offering your own. When someone is drowning, the only thing worse than failing to throw them a life preserver is handing them a reason.

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