Tony Rossi, Director of Communications, The Christophers
Finding God in the Darkness
At age 35, Kate Bowler’s life seemed blessed. She had a loving husband and newborn son, she’d
written a successful book exploring the prosperity gospel, and she worked as a professor at Duke
Divinity School. Then, she was diagnosed with incurable stage four colon cancer. The news challenged
Kate’s spiritual beliefs that she could control her life through sheer determination and faith. She eventually came to a new understanding and experience of God’s love in the midst of pain and brokenness. She shares her thoughts in the Christopher Award-winning memoir “Everything Happens For a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved” – and she joined me recently on “Christopher Closeup” to discuss the book.
Parts of Kate’s story hinge on her study of the prosperity gospel, an American religious movement which believes that if your Christian faith is true and deep, God will make you healthy and even wealthy. Kate had always seen herself as an objective historian at prosperity gospel mega-churches, which she attended to write “a careful and compassionate history” of the movement. Having been raised around Mennonites and having attended a Catholic school as a child, she never explicitly believed the prosperity gospel herself. Or so she thought until she received her diagnosis.
Kate was understandably “horrified” at the news, but upon self-reflection, she realized, “I had such a deep prosperity gospel in me that I believed I could use my own faith to make sure that my life would always work out.”
Many of the people around her believed the same thing, though she understands they did so out of love. But their expectations made her situation more challenging. “I would be at a healing rally or at a worship service,” Kate recalled, “and anyone who knew that I was sick wanted me to take control of my illness by speaking and believing the right positive words and assuming that I could, through God’s power, heal myself.” When she wasn’t healed, she felt like a failure.
Kate noted that she loves Catholics because they are “wonderful at being sad.” That appreciation has only grown in the past few years. She said, “A Catholic cross has a suffering Jesus up there to remind us that we’re in our bodies, Jesus was in his body, and that our suffering is not an affront to God. And that, I think, is really important and beautiful, especially when you’re off in Protestant land with very bare crosses, very few reminders that the world isn’t as it should be.”
Kate has come to a new understanding of Easter, as well. She used to view life as something where “you love all the right people, do the right things, and, in a way, you don’t really need the Kingdom Come…That’s why Good Friday [and] the Easter story [are] so important. First, the world has come apart and only God can put it together. And then in Easter, we’re supposed to be hungry for the fact that God’s going to come back and that there will be a new kingdom and a new earth. Before, I didn’t really need a new kingdom. Now, I definitely do.”
Though doctors initially predicted Kate would die quickly, she remains alive several years later because of an experimental treatment with immunotherapy drugs. During that extra time, her perception of God has changed. She concludes, “I mostly think of God as overwhelming love, where even in the midst of the worst moments, I felt the sweetness of God’s love.”
For free copies of the Christopher News Note FINDING CHRIST IN COMMUNITY, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: email@example.com