It’s been almost 3 years since I read Kate Bowler’s New York Times op-ed, Death, the Prosperity Gospel and Me and I haven’t stopped thinking about it. At the age of 35, professionally successful, in a loving marriage and the mother of a toddler, Kate was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer. She is the person who had written the book on the Prosperity Gospel, Blessed. The basic premise of the Prosperity Gospel is that God grants health and wealth to the people with the right kind of faith. If you’re not getting the life you want, you’re just not praying hard enough. In the midst of her physical and emotional pain, the irony wasn’t lost on Kate. And she did something about it. She shared what she was feeling and what she was fearing; through articles, blogs, podcasts, and a new book.
That book, which I just finished listening to as an audiobook with her narration, is Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved. It is a gut punch, dragging us into her new world, learning to live with the immediate prospect of death. The utter unfairness, the effect on all around her, the shattering and reformulation of her relationship with God stirred up for me deeply disturbing Theodicy questions; questions which I rationalize, inauthentically.
For me, the God I struggle to relate to, who I show up 3 times a day to pray to, has given me a very good life. My head wants to connect the dots. I pray, I do mitzvot, I learn, I work, I contribute. Ergo, I am blessed.
My heart knows better. My heart owns my fear and understands that it can all change like THAT. What I really can’t fathom, what I worry about is, in the eventuality of disaster, how my faith will deal with the challenge to my previous blessed state. There, but for the grace of God, maybe…
In the meantime, thank you Kate Bowler for continuing to stir my heart, for bringing light into the darkness, and for exposing us to the goodness that people can bring to unexplainable suffering.