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

It’s Not Just about the Money

Dear Christian Counselor,

I’ve been married 26 years. I’ve always handled the finances with very little input from my husband. I’ve quit my job to take care of my Gma full time, his idea, and am not receiving a paycheck. Our daughter is ready for college, but he refuses to sit down and talk about anything to do with money. He’s out of town during the week and comes home on the weekends. He’s been helping his brother with our money but finally quit that. He loves to play the slots and scratch offs. I keep telling him we do not have money to spend like that. He went and got two loans for cash 6 months ago and I found out by accident. The non-communication is killing our marriage. I feel like I don’t have a choice cuz he’s the only one with money coming in. I feel like he does and says what he wants cuz he knows there’s not a thing I can do. Help!

 


Dear No Choice,

How exhausting! You have so much happening all at once. It is heartbreaking to read. The first thing I wondered when reading your question was, “Does she have any type of support system?” This is certainly a time to rely on your friends, relatives, and church group for prayer, emotional support, and help navigating these issues. This is not a road to walk alone.

I also highly recommend counseling, even if your husband will not attend with you. Your questions highlight sadness, worry, frustration, loneliness, and feeling helpless. It would be beneficial for a counselor to screen you for anxiety and/or depression. I also wonder if your husband is struggling with an addiction given what you’ve said about disconnection, taking out cash loans, and lottery tickets.

Money is one of the largest topics of dispute among married couples. Because the deeper nature of this dispute is less about money and more about anxiety and control, it is easy to see why couples disagree. Money is never just about money. It is both sad and hopeful to point out that financial issues are merely the tip of the iceberg. My guess is that there is much more happening beneath the surface for you both. A counselor can help you explore the history of your marriage, your personal histories, and how you two took on the roles that you are currently playing in your relationship.

Lastly, there are some red flags in your letter that concern me. If you were my client, I would advise you to consider talking with a financial manager. It might also be a good idea to consider meeting with a social worker who can help you make decisions about your daughter’s education and your grandmother’s health. Alleviating some of these stressors might give you more space to heal as you address the aforementioned marital problems.

This is probably not an easy response to receive. Let me encourage you in the promise of hope. The Gospel teaches that no pain is ever wasted and nothing is beyond God’s redemption. May you know the shepherding presence of Jesus as you walk this valley and may you know a marriage better than what you could dream of.

— Jessica

Old Habits

Conquering Addiction One Step at a Time


Syringe and drugs with out of focus female addict

Dear Christian Counselor,

 

I’ve asked Jesus to be my Savior, and I have the Holy Spirit in my heart. But I still give in to my addictions daily. Is it possible to be a Christian and a drug addict?

 

Bird


Dear Bird,

 

I am not at all surprised to hear that as a new believer you are giving in to your addictions. I did. It is a process, and being born again is just the beginning. You already are a new creation in Christ, and now you are in the process of living that out. Jesus Christ is a joy greater than our addictions. He is our Creator, our redeemer, someone who, by living in us, makes us righteous. He has already started you on this path. He is our greater desire, and He is able and faithful to give us what we need. As humans we were created to be dependent so that we would become attached to God. However we settle for lesser gods that do not satisfy or have the power to deliver. Ed Welch says in his addiction workbook called Crossroads, “Addicts know the deeper reality that life is set up according to kingdoms. Addicts know that there isn’t one square inch of neutral territory. Everyone is on their way to one kingdom or the other: for God or against Him. The central question is, Who will I worship? Who will I bow to?” Romans 6:19 says, “I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness.”

 

Change will come, and you may be tempted to give up. If you take yourself out of the battle, the addiction will win. So start asking for help. Find someone in the body of Christ who can disciple you or a good Christian counselor who understands addictions. Find a group like Celebrate Recovery where you will find an accepting community of fellow strugglers. I’d also recommend reading the first nine chapters of Proverbs. We all will continue to sin as believers; however, God is doing a new work in you, changing the desires of your heart toward Him and not toward your addiction.

 

I personally know this road well and know how hard it can be; but I also testify that every inch moved in the direction of Christ is so very worth it. You will find the satisfaction and purpose in life with the Lord that you are looking for.

 

~Karen


Related Articles:

On Being a Struggler

Why Christians Make Miserable Addicts –Huffington Post

Our Free Handout, “What Do I Do Now?”