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.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

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Purpose–and Inspiration–in Pain

I wanted to entertain a bored grandson when I thought of the movie. The boy was intrigued because I said the football scenes were actual footage from Penn State’s games in the early 1970s.
Before long the story grabbed him. The movie, like all sports movies, wasn’t about a game as much as it was about something much larger. Character, sacrifice, love, family, and even suffering.
The movie was Something for Joey, the story of John Cappelletti’s quest to be the first Penn State football player to win the Heisman Trophy. But, as I said, it’s more than that. Continue reading “Purpose–and Inspiration–in Pain”