When We Don’t Understand Why


“God, are you here?

“What does this suffering mean?

“At first those questions had enormous weight and urgency. 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.’ . . .

“The world of certainty had ended and so many people seemed to know why” (xv-xvi). Cancer was happening to Kate Bowler, a young wife and new mother, and she did not know why.

In Bowler’s Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved, the author provides wisdom, wit, and rawness to guide us through her story of dealing with terminal cancer–all without dragging us down.

Bowler has spent her career as an academic studying the Christian prosperity gospel–the view that all will be well. She and her husband endured the brutal uncertainty of infertility–until their son finally arrived and all, indeed, appeared well.

But then came the horrible diagnosis of terminal cancer. Doctors gave her no hope, but hope was all she yearned for.

“The prosperity gospel 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 others don’t? . . . The prosperity gospel looks at the world as it is and promises a solution. It guarantees that faith will always make a way” (xiii).

The philosophy of the prosperity gospel, she says, was “painfully sweet. . . . And no matter how many times I rolled my eyes at the creed’s outrageous certainties, I craved them just the same” (xiv).

Certainty is something we all crave in life. We seek financial security, good health, and we pray for the provision of health, wealth, and safety for ourselves and those we love.

But we never know what any day may bring. And many times, when the tests come, we don’t understand their purposes.

Bowler’s book is, at times, a rant, not at God, but at the thoughtless among us who don’t know how to avoid saying the most hurtful thing. It is, at times, a grand celebration of life. And it is, at times, a plumbing of the reality many of us will face–a physical decline toward the end.

Yet as she navigates her darkest days, she manages to uplift us. Even to make us laugh. And to help us live in the moment we have–to live in today.

It’s something we strive for–to live in the moment. To deal with the past and leave it behind. To live in the now instead of the not yet.

And we hope it won’t take bad news from a medical team to teach us to dwell in today–something Bowler thought she was doing.

She had spent her life, she believed, “in the center” between the past and the future.

But “I rarely let my feet rest on solid ground, rooting me in the present. My eyes shifted to look for that thing just beyond, the next deadline, the next hurdle, the next plan. . . . As [my husband and I] walked through the tall Carolina oaks on a fall trail dusted with Technicolor leaves, my mind hummed with possible futures. Always. If I were to invent a sin to describe what that was–for how I lived–I would not say it was simply that I didn’t stop to smell the roses. It was the sin of arrogance, of becoming impervious to life itself. I failed to love what was present and decided to love what was possible instead” (154-56).

Bowler’s book is a gentle, well-crafted reminder to love what is present–to be present in today for today is all we can hold.

And today is enough.

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25 Replies to “When We Don’t Understand Why”

  1. I have often questioned “why” when life gets rough. I know God has a plan and everything will workout according to His plan. I am thankful that even though the answer to “why” might not come in this life, God loves me and holds me in His loving arms.

  2. “I failed to love what was present and decided to love what was possible instead.” A powerful thought from Bowler. And is the plight we so often face. Always looking to the next thing, almost wishing our lives away.

    I’ve never been a fan of the prosperity gospel. While it claims what we all hope for, I don’t believe it’s based in the gospel truth. Jesus, nor His followers during His time on earth had prosperity in every area of life. And we aren’t promised that either!

    Sounds like a wonderful book.

  3. Today is enough, great words. I get caught in the cycle of wishing my days away, I.e. I wish my birthday would get here, I wish it was Friday, etc. so often I miss the blessings of the day in wanting a future event to happen. Thanks for reminding me that today is enough and to enjoy the moments..

  4. Yes. Thank you, as always, Nancy. The stuff we don’t want to talk about is generally the stuff God wants us to talk about. And if we’re honest we usually end up talking about individual journeys rather than catch-all solutions.

    P.S. I’d love to do a Feature Blogger post on you, but don’t see anything like a Reblog button. Is there a way to do that?

  5. The thought of being ‘becoming impervious to life itself.’ is so thought-provoking! I often fall into the trap of yearning for more, but not in the sense of yearning for eternity, but rather a better temporary experience. The tendency to be unsettled for me falls under ingratitude and the need for more. You’re so right, today IS enough!

  6. The thought of just living in the moment is so peaceful. It is sad to think that it may take a tragedy, illness, loss to truly embrace this idea. We need to plan but we need to just be, too. It’s a difficult tension to straddle. Thought provoking post!

  7. Thanks for the review, Nancy. Since I’ve suffered a fair bit in my life, this sounds like a good read. I’ve been on a similar bent lately, diving into the Present instead of longing for the Future. What a good line–the Present is all we can hold. I’m going to hold onto THAT. Thanks!

  8. Great review. Flows very well!

    Minor edit- Should it be thoughtful thing or things?

    On one level, everything happens for a reason–the law of cause of effect. A causes B which causes C…

    On another level, everything happens for a divine reason. God is sovereign.

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