It was not until she was diagnosed with terminal cancer that Kate Bowler realized that some of the leaders she had been following were not telling the truth about what really mattered most to her. Like the lie in the title of her book – Everything Happens For A Reason.
She wanted to believe that along with other mistruths – as in her subtitle – And Other Lies I’ve Loved. She had hoped that the power of positive thinking and her faith would cure the cancer.
Now in her late 30’s Nate Bowler teaches the history of Christianity to students preparing for ministry at Duke Divinity School. Her continuing battle with cancer has convinced her that leaders, especially religious leaders, should tell the truth about the life and death issues we all face.
She would like to enjoy a long life, loved by her husband, see her daughter grow up and fulfill her calling. Right now she can’t count on any of that.
Like the biblical Job, who learned that he had done nothing to cause his misfortune nor could he do anything to reverse it, she came to understand that she had done nothing to cause her cancer nor could she cure it other than to pursue the best treatment available to her.
However, her attitude and faith can and do contribute to how she thrives with unanswerable questions including the uncertainty of life itself.
Her 2013 book, Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel received widespread media attention as the first history of the movement based on divine promises of health, wealth, and happiness.
Even though not from a prosperity gospel tradition she had absorbed some of its misguided assumptions – found in both secular and religious thought.
During my own recent diagnosis and treatment for lymphoma (now in remission) I have faced similar questions. Too many of my good friends, men and women with strong faith, have died from cancer before their time for me to think it would or will be different for me.
And as I look back on my life as a ministry leader I wonder. What did I say in hospital rooms and even at gravesites?
Did I tell the truth? Did I offer false hopes?
Did I help people develop a faith that would provide the strength needed in their time of struggle, even death itself?
I hope so.