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.

How to Replace a Mother

Dear Christian Counselor,

Why is it that a woman who is already a grandmother still has such an overwhelming desire to know how it would feel to be loved, cared for and be given attention by a mom that wanted me? It makes me have a deep pain in my soul, and sometimes I cry myself to sleep. I can even remember being a teenager and doing stupid things to try and get attention from older mother figures in the church. I DEPISE that part of me!!!

How do you get a hug from God when you just are feeling like you can’t make it ?? (a sweet mom could if I had one). How can you look in God’s eyes and see that everything will be okay? (a sweet mom could if I had one).

alone, scared and silent


Dear Alone,

God doesn’t despise the unloved child inside you, and neither do I. Perhaps you could try having some compassion for her, too – that would be a good start toward helping her feel better.

It has taken you a lifetime to accumulate the pain you feel, and it will probably take some time to reduce it. But the good news is that you can begin any time, and you really can get better. If you know Christ as your Lord and Savior, you will be the complete, confident, joyful self you would like to be when you see Him face to face. But every minute between now and then is an opportunity for God’s grace to start that work right now. I say this because you should expect this to take some effort on your part, and you need to be confident (not in yourself, but in God) that it can be done.

  1. Start by reading A Father’s Love Letter as your devotional every morning. This simple document combines multiple Scriptures describing God’s love for you. 
  2. A second step to repairing a damaged childhood is to surround yourself with a strong and compassionate community. No one can fully take the place of your mother, but a lot of caring friends can help fill in the cracks. If you don’t have a church home, take the next month to visit several and then make a commitment to attend. After that, you need to find a small group within the church, a study, a ministry or a social group, where you can go deeper with others. 
  3. Finally, begin interacting with God in a mutual relationship. He speaks to you through Scripture, spiritual friends and His Holy Spirit in your heart. Listen! And then talk to Him about everything, even your anger. Write Him notes, comment on the Scriptures you are reading, sing Christian music around the house as your worship, thank Him for blessings large and small. I once set myself the goal of telling God I loved Him every hour. I won’t say I ever did it perfectly, but I do find myself more aware of His presence than I was before.

I’m so sorry you had such a painful childhood. I wish I could undo it. Fortunately, God is in the business of healing wounds and redeeming the broken things in our lives. I hope you will embark on that journey with determination and optimism. God really wants to give you the love you need, but you do have to come to Him in faith in order to begin to receive it. May God grant you that trust and courage.


Related Material:

The Mother Love of God

Mother-Shaped Holes