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)

Kate Bowler has cancer—stage IV colon cancer to be precise. A theology professor, a church historian, a wife, and the mother of a baby boy, she reels from her unexpected diagnosis. As she puts it in her memoir Everything Happens for a Reason (and Other Lies I’ve Loved), “One moment I was a regular person with regular problems. And the next, I was someone with cancer.” She goes on to share that her first response was to plead daily with God to save her: “a God of Maybe, who may or may not let me collect more years. It is a God I love, and a God that breaks my heart.” 

Kate the human being is honest about her questions, her anger, and her fears. But this is not a book meant to provoke only our tears of sympathy; it will also provoke our tears of laughter. The author’s honest account of the reactions of others and their well-meaning words and prayers, as well as her stories of the amazing and clumsy things people do to support her, invite us to laugh along with her even as our hearts ache for her.

More importantly, Kate the theologian struggles with her—and our—desire, as people who believe in a loving and omnipotent God, to find a “good” reason for the tragedies in our lives. As a scholar of the prosperity gospel, she realizes that all of us want to claim just a slice of that same gospel; we want to know there is a holy and hidden logic behind this horrible thing that is happening to us. The heart of this book is about that struggle, and her conclusion is that there is no “good” reason for why bad stuff happens to us—that’s a lie, a lie we love to believe. God is not using us to prove anything.

There is no miraculous healing in this book; Kate ends her story not knowing what will happen next. All she knows is that “I will die, yes, but not today.” This book is for those of us who know someone with cancer and for those of us who don’t. This is a book for all of us who struggle with understanding why bad things happen to good people. This is a book that will make you cry and laugh in the same breath. This is a book for all of us who will die—just not today. (Random House)

About the Author

Thea Leunk is a pastor at Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich.

See comments (1)


I do not have cancer, or at least, I'm not aware of it right now.  The closest i came to it some years ago was a biopsy of one of my breasts.  I don't even remember which, and the verdict was calcifications which were removed at the time of the biopsy.  My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, and the tumor was so tiny the radiology department had to put a marker on her breast so the surgeon would not miss it.  After the operation, she was allowed to heal for some time, then underwent a series of radio-therapy to eradicate anything else that might remain.  (Chemo was not an option because of her chronic heart condition.)

But I have lived with schizophrenia for longer than I had lived without it, and when I think about why I had such a "light" form of it, I suspect that it was so I could speak on behalf of those who can't tell what it,s like to live with this illness.  People for whom medications don't really control their symptoms, or who need such strong doses that they live in a fog and cannot think coherently.  Or others so debilitated by their illness that they think they are animals and do their business on the floors of the institutions where they live because they can't function anywhere else.  That was the sort of cases my mother encountered as a social worker in a psychiatric institution, and it was the only sort of cases she knew about, so when i was diagnosed with that illness, she had a hard time accepting it.  Then I began to educate myself about this illness, and as I shared what I learned she was able to come to terms with it.  She realized that all illneses have more or less an axis of severity from lesser to worst, and that on that continuum I was at the lesser end of it.  

I think that one of the reasons people look for reasons for individuals to develop an illness or have a tragic accident is to find a pattern or meaning where there is often only bad luck, as if that pattern made sense in the context of the life of the individual so afflicted to see if they could avoid it by doing something different.  Well, you might be able to avoid cancer if you're lucky and nobody in your family has a genetic predisposition to it.  But avoiding disease and accidents when everybody is born with a best before date is dicey.  No matter what we do, or how well we eat and exercise, we will all die--unless Christ returns before that happens.

Also, some people like to second-guess God, so they come up with all sorts of suppositions as to why He might allow some people to have bad things happen to them while others seem to go through life without even getting a headache or a common cold.  I'm not sure that being sheltered from hardship is such a blessing.  It might seem to be for that person, but i was told or i read somewhere that we should be suspicious of people who have never suffered, probably because they lack empathy for those who do.  There are actually people who think that those who sit in hospital emergency rooms do so because they like it or have nothing better to do with their time.  And when I looked at the people who wanted to repeal Obamacare last fall, I suspected there must have been quite a few of those "fortunte" ones among the members of Congress.  If they are blessed with good health, nobody else is by the decisions they make based on that good fortune of theirs.