Everything Happens to Everyone

Duke Divinity Professor and public Christian, Kate Bowler, was only thirty-five years old and a new mother when doctors made the terrifying discovery that she had Stage IV colon cancer spreading through her abdomen. When she published an account of her faith and ongoing medical battles in The New York Times, she received responses telling her, among other things, that her cancer was caused by unconfessed sin or that acai berries would cure her. Her book, Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I Have Loved, is her attempt to answer those well-meaning critics, to answer that universal, human question when faced with tragedy: Why? Kate Bowler’s answer is that there is no why, there is no order or reason, and we had better put our energies toward enjoying the good we have today.

While I sympathize with her response, and I agree with her outlook on present blessings, I have another perspective, forged in a similar fire: everything happens to everyone, and it happens for a reason.

No, I don’t mean every tragedy and every blessing possible happens to each and every person on the planet. What I mean is that you cannot single out Christians and say they get more blessings (or curses) in their lives than the average Joe. Just look around you. Christians and non-Christians get cancer in the same proportion as everyone else (though outcomes may be slightly better). They lose children in the same proportion as everyone else. They get divorced in the same proportion as everyone else, and that’s a behavior-related problem! If they didn’t then someone would have noticed, and surely everyone on the planet would be calling themselves a true believer. Christians also get rich, attain their dreams and live long lives in approximately the same proportions as everyone else. You cannot look at a person or their beliefs and predict or explain what happens to them. Everything happens to everyone. 

In contrast to Dr. Bowler, however, I believe these statistically random events do happen for a reason. I can’t tell you that reason, not beyond a generic response such as, “for God’s glory.” And I suspect the individual reasons may be many and varied. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t one. We can examine any story in the Bible and find there are reasons for the tragedies therein. Joseph was sold into slavery and accused of a crime he did not commit so as to put him in the right place at the right time. Jonah was nearly drowned because of his disobedience (there’s a behavior-related problem for you). Mary and Martha grieved the death of their brother so the faith of many, including Mary and Martha, would be supernaturally strengthened. Paul and Barnabas had a bitter fight so that many more churches could be planted and discipled. Jesus died on the cross, an innocent man crucified like the lowest of criminals, so that all His brothers and sisters could live forever.

To all who struggle and hurt, who crave answers, who might even be willing to suffer if you knew it meant something, here is what Scripture says to you:

  1. God is in control. I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the LORD, who does all these things (Is. 45:6,7).
  2. God has His purposes. I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose, calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.’ (Is. 46:9-11) 
  3. For you who love the Lord, those purposes are good. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28).

Because we can’t, at times, understand the last point, we tend to doubt the others. Some might even call it heresy, profaning God, to say that a young mother with cancer could, in any sense, be good. I don’t pretend to understand it, either, and I am not trying to give you the answer. I am just repeating God’s assertion that there IS an answer. If God could take the greatest disaster that ever occurred (the murder of His only Son) and turn it into the greatest good that ever happened (the eternal salvation of all who believe), then, surely, He can do that for our little tragedies, too.

Most of the time we must wait our turn for a personal audience before we can “know as we are known,” but occasionally, we do get glimpses of God’s glory shining through the darkness. In my own case, if I had to do it all again, to live through years of cancerous gloom in order to get to the place of faith and ministry where He has brought me today, I would do it willingly, gladly. I truly believe there is a similar happy ending to all the stories, even the ones where young mothers aren’t healed, but faith means believing that without seeing it.

We serve a God who does not discriminate in the gifts and catastrophes He allows upon the earth during our era of brokenness. But we also serve a God who controls the sparrow in the sky and the hairs on our head with love and with purpose. Everything happens to everyone – and it happens for a reason.


Related Material:

Why Me? – Dear Christian Counselor
When God’s Sovereignty Scares You – The Gospel Coalition
On God’s Sovereignty in Painful Times – John Piper
A Few Examples of Reasons We Suffer – Focus on the Family
Kate Bowler’s Original Article – New York Times

Transient Global Amnesia

My husband drove me to the airport last week where I passed through security (with some extra attention due to my artificial leg), found my gate and boarded a plane to visit my daughter, something I have done routinely for several years now. However, one thing wasn’t routine this time: I don’t remember any of it. From a particular point on our half-hour drive to the airport until the plane landed in Pittsburgh four hours later I have virtually no memory of anything that happened. My husband said I was acting strangely. For instance, I packed my travel mug containing the dregs of a just-finished cup of coffee, despite his puzzled inquiries. And I complained of some vertigo, apparently. But I am not a morning person, so I guess it didn’t look that different from my normal 6 a.m. muddle.

The next thing I knew, I woke as from a deep sleep (which may actually have been a deep sleep – I am not sure) as the plane bumped along the tarmac toward the terminal. The hours and stories of those I encountered along my twilight journey are lost, presumably forever. My seatmate seemed in a hurry to exit. A few items like my book and my boarding pass, appeared to be awol, but I found most of them tucked neatly into my backpack under the seat in front of me. My boarding pass was gone, but my id, cash, phone and credit cards were all where they should have been. From the moment I awoke, I was increasingly myself and have felt perfectly fine ever since. It was much like coming out of anesthesia after a minor medical procedure. I would pay a lot of money to have a video of my trip through the airport and onto the plane, because it is a miracle that I got uneventfully to my destination under the circumstances.

My family and I have considered multiple causes for this bizarre occurrence: sleep-walking, reaction to medication, seizure, mini-stroke… but (best of all possibilities), I believe I experienced an episode of Transient Global Amnesia, something I had never even heard of before. It may be related to migraine headaches in some way, and I am a life-long migraine sufferer. According to the Mayo clinic, this rare problem is unlikely to recur or to have any long-term effects.

While it relieves a burden of worry to know that this is a benign condition, my biggest emotion about the whole episode is gratitude. God cares for His helpless ones, and there is no better illustration of that for me. I spend most of my days believing that I am in control, that I can handle the small, easy things in life without resorting to prayer or any other conscious dependence upon God. I spend most of the rest of my time worrying about the ‘big’ things I’m afraid I have to manage. But it is all a trick of this fallen world, an illusion of control we maintain to allay our fears, an unfortunate barrier which keeps us at a distance from our Provider. Are we ever really any more in control of our journey, our well-being or our destination than I was at the airport last week? I think not. I can’t even control my own brain. The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs His steps (Prov. 16:9).

I don’t believe this experience will forever cure all my anxiety or rebellious independence, but I do hope it will serve as a touchstone and a reminder for me when I am tempted to forget that God cares for His helpless ones.

And that includes all of us, all the time.


If you or anyone you know has experienced Transient Global Amnesia, please reply to this post. I would love to hear about it!


Related Content:

Another lesson in control and trust from John Piper.
Scriptures about anxiety and God’s faithfulness by Lesli White.
A prayer about feeling out of control from Scotty Smith.

The Power of the Resurrection

… that I may know him and the power of his resurrection (Philippians 3:10a)

According to news sources, David Hall lived with his girlfriend for over a month after her death, lighting candles and opening windows in the middle of a Michigan winter to counteract the odor. Police do not suspect foul play. It seems the man simply couldn’t live without her. Some would say – have said – that’s what the Apostles did after Jesus was buried: they stole the body of a dead felon and lived with a lie because they couldn’t live without Him.

Death is the ultimate separation, the final humiliation and the greatest expression of our human weakness. For Christ, who gave up His heavenly glory to wash the feet of a few fickle friends, death meant all those things – separation from those He loved, the humiliation of the grave, the ultimate defeat. I imagine the disciples were deep in discussions about how they might learn to live without Him when the resurrection stunningly revealed they would never have to. The resurrection disclosed something in Jesus of which they had only seen a glimpse. It revealed His power.

Power for the King

  • Death is defeated. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him (Rom. 6:9). And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent (Col. 1:18).
  • The King is exalted. After the resurrection Peter says of Christ that He has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him (1 Peter 3:22). The king’s right hand is the hand of power, the hand which bestows, the position of honor. In taking this place, Christ assumed His rightful dignity as heir to all God possesses.
  • The Ruler reigns. In His life and death, Christ laid down His power. At the resurrection He took it up again. This is the beginning of the rule and reign of Christ and His people which will culminate in the judgment of the earth and the condemnation of Satan and his minions. The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever (Rev. 11:15).

Power for Us

  • Eternal life. As when an ambassador negotiates a treaty, what is given to the representative belongs to his people. What He gets, we get. By the death of Christ our sins were forgiven – by His resurrection, we receive eternal life. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead (I Cor. 15:21). And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power (I Cor 6:14). I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die (John 11:25-26).
  • The indwelling Spirit. The Holy Spirit inspired the prophets and heroes of the Old Testament, but He did not live with and within God’s people. King Jesus sent Him to us to reveal His completed mission and empower us for His service. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you (John 16:7).
  • Christ’s intercession. The power of Christ is no far-away promise to be enjoyed at a later date, but it is a living and active power which works on our behalf because of His love for us. He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them (Heb. 7:25).
  • Overcoming sin. We have inherited the righteousness of Christ as a result of His death, but as a result of His resurrection power, we are now able to live in ways that please God. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him (Rom. 6:7,8). Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom. 7:24-25).
  • Overcoming trials. “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
  • Overcoming the evil one. Little children, you are from God and have overcome [evil], for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).
  • The power to hope. That you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come (Eph. 1:18-21).
  • His unifying power. The most diverse people around the world and throughout history now have the most important thing in common. “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:22-23). 
  • The power to preach. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). 

Power for the world

  • The Church is empowered to serve. Only through the resurrection of Christ is the power of God available to the Church. Christ’s return to Heaven allowed Him to send us the gifts and the Spirit which make our work effective in the world. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men” (Eph. 4:7-8).
  • The Gospel goes forth. Christ was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations (Rom. 1:4-5).
  • All things made new. And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5).

Our Jesus is not a dead body to be mourned eternally. He is the living One in Whom all things hold together (Col 1:17). Jesus Christ our Lord, raised from the dead, declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead (Rom. 1:4) – because we can’t live without Him and we don’t have to.