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My Faith: The danger of asking God ‘Why me?'
August 4th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

My Faith: The danger of asking God ‘Why me?'

Editor’s note: Timothy Keller is senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York and author of The New York Times best-selling book "The Reason for God." His book for church leaders, "Center Church," will be published in September.

By Timothy Keller, Special to CNN

(CNN)–When I was diagnosed with cancer, the question “Why me?” was a natural one.

Later, when I survived but others with the same kind of cancer died, I also had to ask, “Why me?”

Suffering and death seem random, senseless.

The recent Aurora, Colorado, shootings — in which some people were spared and others lost — is the latest, vivid example of this, but there are plenty of others every day: from casualties in the Syria uprising to victims of accidents on American roads. Tsunamis, tornadoes, household accidents - the list is long.

As a minister, I’ve spent countless hours with suffering people crying: “Why did God let this happen?” In general I hear four answers to this question. Each is wrong, or at least inadequate.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

The first answer is “I guess this proves there is no God.” The problem with this thinking is that the problem of senseless suffering does not go away if you abandon belief in God.

In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said that if there was no higher divine law, there would be no way to tell if any particular human law was unjust. Likewise, if there is no God, then why do we have a sense of outrage and horror when suffering and tragedy occur? The strong eat the weak, there is no meaning, so why not?

Friedrich Nietzsche exemplified that idea. When the atheist Nietzsche heard that a natural disaster had destroyed Java in 1883, he wrote a friend: “Two-hundred-thousand wiped out at a stroke—how magnificent!”

Because there is no God, Nietzsche said, all value judgments are arbitrary. All definitions of justice are just the results of your culture or temperament.

My Take: This is where God was in Aurora

As different as they were, King and Nietzsche agreed on this point. If there is no God or higher divine law then violence is perfectly natural.

So abandoning belief in God doesn’t help with the problem of suffering at all.

The second response to suffering is: “While there is a God, he’s not completely in control of everything. He couldn’t stop this.”

But that kind of God doesn’t really fit our definition of “God.” So that thinking hardly helps us with reconciling God and suffering.

The third answer to the worst kind of suffering – seemingly senseless death – is: “God saves some people and lets others die because he favors and rewards good people.”

But the Bible forcefully rejects the idea that people who suffer more are worse people than those who are spared suffering.

This was the self-righteous premise of Job’s friends in that great Old Testament book. They sat around Job, who was experiencing one sorrow after another, and said “The reason this is happening to you and not us is because we are living right and you are not.”

At the end of the book, God expresses his fury at Job’s ”miserable comforters.” The world is too fallen and deeply broken to fall into neat patterns of good people having good lives and bad people having bad lives.

The fourth answer to suffering in the face of an all-powerful God is that God knows what he’s doing, so be quiet and trust him.

This is partly right, but inadequate. It is inadequate because it is cold and because the Bible gives us more with which to face the terrors of life.

God did not create a world with death and evil in it. It is the result of humankind turning away from him. We were put into this world to live wholly for him, and when instead we began to live for ourselves everything in our created reality began to fall apart, physically, socially and spiritually. Everything became subject to decay.

But God did not abandon us. Only Christianity of all the world’s major religions teaches that God came to Earth in Jesus Christ and became subject to suffering and death himself, dying on the cross to take the punishment our sins deserved, so that someday he can return to Earth to end all suffering without ending us.

Do you see what this means? We don’t know the reason God allows evil and suffering to continue, or why it is so random, but now at least we know what the reason isn’t, what it can’t be.

It can’t be that he doesn’t love us. It can’t be that he doesn’t care. He is so committed to our ultimate happiness that he was willing to plunge into the greatest depths of suffering himself.

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Someone might say, “But that’s only half an answer to the question ‘Why?'” Yes, but it is the half that we need. If God actually explained all the reasons why he allows things to happen as they do, it would be too much for our finite brains.

What we truly need is what little children need. They can’t understand most of what their parents allow and disallow for them. They need to know their parents love them and can be trusted. We need to know the same thing about God.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Timothy Keller.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • God

soundoff (3,664 Responses)
  1. Sebs | MaximizingMarriage.com

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  5. tuvia

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    September 10, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • toad

      To put things in perspective, please realize that this fucker is from Galveston Texas. He is not a lifelong student of the Torah and Talmud from some Orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem. Israel claims him because some what he stole was stolen for Israel.

      September 10, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
  8. Roger Tharpe

    It starts first with a foundational relationship. God reveals himself and those with ears to hear will respond. Once a response is made then relationship building may begin. Take for instance http://www.healthyrelationshipblog.com is a response to relationships, men, women, and teens face.

    August 23, 2012 at 7:59 am |
  9. Paul

    You ask for evidence of a God outside of the Bible!
    I have said it is all around you with design of nature. Obviously this is not clear enough for you, so I will get more specific. There are two out of the millions I will use as witnesses to complex design in need of a designer.
    1. The chicken and the egg is one example. Evolution cannot get an answer. But the truth is that the chicken came first. An egg cannot survive outside a chook. The common chook was designed with the ability to lay eggs which it incubates by sitting on it for many weeks. It does what it was designed to do. The result is more chooks and eggs for breakfast.
    2. Metamorphism. The turning of a grub into a beautiful butterfly. This is an amazing process and design; there can be no other answer. Unless you would like to explain this away with evolution?

    August 15, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      "There can be no other answer." Aahhhahhahhahhaha. Says who ? YOU? Please. You have no idea what other 'answers' might be possible, you idiot.

      August 15, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
    • Rufus T. Firefly

      Chickens lay eggs. What's up with that? I have no clue whatsoever. Therefore....God! Next?

      Sure am glad we're not relying on Paul to find answers to the world's problems.

      August 15, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
    • Paul

      Laugh if you like, I don't need another answer. But I notice you offer no alternative. MMmmmm I wonder who the idiot is? I got a pretty good idea and it's not me.

      The answer is so simple you fail to see it, as you are blinded by your own self importance.

      August 16, 2012 at 2:20 am |
    • Rufus T. Firefly

      The egg, Paul. Sorry, I forget that sometimes even the silliest questions are being asked sincerely. The egg came first.

      Animals have been laying hard-shelled eggs for at least 140 million years. Chickens were domesticated (evolved through artificial selection) about 6 thousand years ago in Asia. So, eggs are at least 23,000 times older than chickens.

      Seems like maybe your reasoning was muddled by the assumption that both chickens and eggs were simply "poofed" into existence not all that long ago.

      August 16, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • Paul

      How can the egg come first if it needs incubated?

      August 18, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • Paul

      I notice you have kept off the subject of Metamorphism.?

      I think you guys could hold a good comedian show. Your reasonings would be a good laugh, don't you think. I know I had a good laugh. Thanks for that.

      August 18, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      @ Paul

      Why is it that your god's existence is so illusory that you find it necessary to get into stupid discussions that expose your ignorance of scientific fact? Nobody is debating the existence of gravity, or the effectiveness of math, or chemistry. Hmmmm.. Why is that? A christian snake handler and a muslim terrorist MUST use the same math and chemistry and follow the obvious laws of physics–like gravity. And yet they can believe anything that they want to about any type of god.

      Why is your god so stupid that the best he can do is you–arguing about eggs needing incubation and such nonsense? Why isn't he and his nature as obvious and knowable as math or chemistry?

      August 18, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Paul burps: "Needs incubated."

      It's "needs TO BE INCUBATED", you country bumpkin.

      August 18, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
    • Really-O?

      @Rufus T. Firefly -

      I enjoy your posts and respect your reason and knowledge; however, with regard to "the chicken or the egg", I must dissent. As genetic variations that result in evolutionary changes must occur before birth, clearly the first egg from which a modern chicken hatched was produced by a non-modern chicken; therefore, the egg clearly came before the chicken.

      August 18, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
    • Really-O?

      @Rufus T. Firefly -

      Sorry about that...for the life of me I don't know why I read more carefully after I post. You clearly stated that the egg came first.

      Cheers

      August 18, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      I think the "'to be' omission" to be slightly-slangish in an old english way, but not necessarily grammatically incorrect, Tom.

      August 18, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Nope. Sorry. It's wrong. Saying that your hair "needs cut" is incorrect. This is no different.

      August 18, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
    • Webster

      Tom, Tom and Moby,

      Here's a nice article on the great "needs washed" (etc.) debate.
      http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/needs-washed.aspx

      Me: I'm agin it :)

      August 18, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Thanks, Webster. That was fun to read. I'm "agin it" as well (and I grew up in Central PA and used to SAY it!).

      August 18, 2012 at 11:51 pm |
    • Paul

      Just as I thought, No sensible answer from our critics,apart from name calling.

      Design is the only logical answer. Therefore a designer whom we call God, his name if you are interested is Jehovah.

      Jehovah has a purpose if you want to be a part of it. Your choice of course as Jehovah does not force anyone.

      August 20, 2012 at 1:54 am |
  10. KAS860

    @Paul

    Science is built on finding the absolutes. Mathmatics is an absolute science for example. I agree with Tom, no one cares that you believe, thats fine by me, but when you try to envelope your religious beliefs into government/lawmaking/schooling, you cross a line, the Taliban runs their government with a strict religious core and thats working out great for those under their law, isn't it?

    August 15, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • Paul

      And you are trying to tell me that atheists don't do that? It could be said you cross the line by teaching evolution in schools.

      August 15, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Evolution happens whether or not you believe in it. That's why it's a science, and not a "faith." It's why you need a new flu shot every year. We watch it happen in the lab. Any by the way, most christians "believe" in evolution in much the same way that they "believe" in math–they understand how the process works. It's only morons who don't understand how evolution works that disbelieve it. It'd be like you not believing in German just because you can't speak it. How stupid, right?

      August 18, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Paul, you are unbelievably ignorant. Evolution is accepted almost universally by scientists. It isn't some crazy idea that has no scientific basis.

      Get a friggin' clue, you boob.

      August 18, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
      • accuracy50

        Seems Paul is right, that name calling is your only defense. And I don't personally know a lot of Christians who accept evolution as fact. I know there are many scientists, Christian and non-Christian, who do not accept evolution as fact. And the reference to a flu shot which implies that influenza evolves is incorrect. It adapts, and I do believe Christians can see and believe in adaptation as it occurs every day, but is entirely different from billions or millions of years of one species evolving into another, with a supposed start of a non-living or non-traceable thing. Big difference in evolution and adaptation. And saying that eggs needs incubated the way that Paul used it is proper English. So, no name calling, please. Really?

        February 10, 2014 at 11:20 am |
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    August 15, 2012 at 8:22 am |
  12. Paul

    Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son said “It's also not a proven fact that there isn't an Easter Bunny.”
    They very ones who teach that Easter Bunny exists admit it is a made up story. Mum and Dad tell their kids that Easter Bunny gives them eggs yet knowing it is them that buy them and deliver them. When the kids grow up they admit it was a lie.
    So is it a proven fact that Easter Bunny does not exist? If the ones who promote it say it is a lie, I think that is evidence enough.
    But the existence of God is another story. True Christians have never denied his existence, in fact believe it so much they are prepared to die for their faith in God. Vastly different to the Easter Bunny my friend Tom Tom.

    August 15, 2012 at 2:54 am |
    • tallulah13

      Every true believer of every god ever worshiped was willing to die for their gods. For instance, many vikings were killed because their leaders wished them to convert to christianity, but they refused. I guess by the standard you put forth, Odin and Thor are real, too.

      August 15, 2012 at 3:06 am |
    • Simran

      "in fact believe it so much they are prepared to die for their faith in God." Please also add, even prepared to kill.

      August 15, 2012 at 3:12 am |
    • 2357

      Tom Tom is a bitter soul, full of remorse. She has double affliction of the demon of contention. Silence is the best blessing you can give her, what she needs most. May the Lord grant her peace.

      August 15, 2012 at 6:38 am |
  13. Paul

    tallulah13 said Hiltler was a believer.
    Hitler like any politician used religion, but was not a true Christian. True Christians exposed him for what he was, a Satanic worshipper and did the works of this one. The Christians that exposed Hilter were persecuted along with the Jews.
    The Catholic church was the main supporter of Hitler. But the Catholic church is not a worshipper of the true god in the heavens. They misrepresent the God of the Bible and as such have committed atrocities against mankind which has lead people to blame God for these atrocities and have become atheists. For this reason the Bible talks about how Jehovah is going to judge religion for misrepresenting him and destroy her.

    August 15, 2012 at 2:34 am |
    • tallulah13

      Perhaps you just don't want to admit he was a christian because you are uncomfortable when christians do bad things. A lot of christians think it's up to them to decide who is a christian or who is not, but by Hitler's own words, he was doing "god's work". By his own words, Hitler certainly thought he was a christian.

      August 15, 2012 at 3:02 am |
    • Simran

      The Catholics here have been saying the same thing about other Churches. Now please give us atheists a break and first decide amongst yourself who is THE CHRISTIAN.
      Wait, but you have been trying to figure this out ever since Christianity began, and still continue...

      August 15, 2012 at 3:09 am |
  14. Jesus is the most powerful figure known to mankind (Fact)

    John 8:47-"He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God."

    John 3:18-"He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God."

    John 8:44-"You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies."

    Matthew 13:38-"The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one,

    John 3:16-"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

    2 Corinthians 4:3-4-"And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God."

    It is very simple unbelievers do not belong to GOD. I know it sucks really really bad but this is the reality of truth. Now atheist you understand why it is impossible for you to believe, it is because you are already condemned. You are blinded by your father. You are not of GOD but of the devil, and the devil along with his seed shall perish forever according to the word of GOD Almighty.

    P.S. “I would rather live my life as if there is a god and die to find out there isn't, than live my life as if there isn't and die to find out there is.” Albert Camus

    August 14, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
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      August 14, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      *yawn*

      August 14, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
    • Gabriel Malakh

      @Moby Schtick

      Is it a proven fact that God and satan does not exist, or, is that what you've been trained in school to say?

      Sociologist Rodney Stark is quoted in Scientific America as saying: "There's been 200 years of marketing that if you want to be a scientific person you've got to keep your mind free of the fetters of religion."

      August 15, 2012 at 1:23 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Oh, brother. No, it's not a "proven fact that God and satan does not exist." It's also not a proven fact that there isn't an Easter Bunny.

      Do you really want to do this hokey-pokey yet again?

      August 15, 2012 at 1:27 am |
    • Simran

      Wow, this god really seems full of vengeance. And I was wondering why atheists make such a ruccus with billboards.
      Dear Sir, respect is commanded not demanded.

      August 15, 2012 at 2:48 am |
    • KAS860

      Your last comment in your post shows the unfortunate mindstate of many christians,"I'm gonna try to be decent just in case someone is watching" that does not make you a decent person, it makes you sneaky

      August 15, 2012 at 11:09 am |
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  16. KAS860

    @Paul
    What is the ABSOLUTE proof of existence? And don't say the bible, the bible has been warped and edited since its conception (i.e the Gnostic Gospels exclusion), what SCIENTIFIC facts are there?

    August 14, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • Just the facts mam

      I think, therefore I am.

      August 14, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • ptemple2k

      God is–always was, always is and always will be. Science cannot explain the beginnings of the universe and there are many scientists who believe in Intelligent Design.

      Archeology has confirmed many things reported in the Bible.

      Do I need scientific proof to prove unexplainable? Science is objective and subjective, it is subject to errors, bias.

      Why me? Well, why not me? I have a relationship with God; I trust Him-He is faithful and trustworthy. He is loving. Bad things happen–sometimes as a result of someone else's choice and innocent people get involved. It does not mean that God is not unhappy about what has happened. Why me? Because I know that I am not alone through the mess whatever it be-I continue to pray for His will, for His plan to be carried out in my life–sometimes that means loss, grieving, pain, etc. It does not mean that when those things are experienced that I have been abandoned by God! He is with me through the rough and ugly times. It is character building–God is interested in character. What I suffer may help me help someone else; it may help me understand that sometimes there are no answers to my questions–that sometimes the answer I seek might be more harmful than what I am going through. But I can trust God to be God–He is always there! Always–when family and friends don't know what to say God is there.

      It has been said that Satan is not interested in atheists and people who do not believe in God–they are already his captives. Satan is interested in turning believers from God, creating doubt.

      August 14, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      God is a character of myth.

      Science tells us much about the beginning of the universe, but will probably never have the answer to all our questions about our origins. But just because science has current limitations and does not know all does not have anything to do with whether or not god exists. Science explains the processes of our universe, but it's not science's job to explain why we are here or why we feel as if we want there to be a larger "purpose."

      There are very few scientists who believe in Intelligent Design. Very few. "Intelligent Design" is a CONCLUSION, anyway, so it's not even an ongoing science that has any testable hypotheses or verifiable data from experimentation. It's still an answer to the philosophical "why," rather than an option within the scientifically logical "how."

      Archeology has confirmed certain geographical and historical facts, but it in no way validates the bible or "proves" it's worthiness as a holy text from god. That's just stupid.

      Yep, science makes mistakes. Science rewards those who diligently find scientist mistakes, though. It's how it makes better and better predictions which lead to MRI machines and powerful lasers and and the incredible electronics of your computer. But yeah, it messes up sometimes, just like everything else man makes–like religious myths with stupid stuff like the "sun standing still in the sky."

      Satan does not exist.

      August 14, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
    • jim

      The absolute proof of the existence of God? You will have to find that for yourself. If you don't seek, you won't find. If you seek, you will find and even when the evidence convinces you 100%, there will be those who say you don't have any evidence. To this, I say "So what? I don't need evidence that will convince you before I can be convinced myself." That's just the way it is; God has hidden from science because if you were able to find him that way, you'd take credit for it. He can be revealed in so many ways, but can only be 'found' by searching with the heart.

      August 14, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
    • Paul

      Everything around you shows signs of design and purpose and leaves me with awe and wonder at our wonderful creator.

      August 15, 2012 at 1:14 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I would far rather understand facts than simply gaze around me in a stupor. "Oooh, lookit dah purty flower! Gawd must have made it." Why is it any less amazing to know the reality than to stumble about in ignorance?

      August 15, 2012 at 1:31 am |
    • Gabriel Malakh

      What proof you or Science have been able to produce to show that there is no God?

      August 15, 2012 at 1:36 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      How fvcking stupid are you? I haven't said that there isn't a god. I said there is no evidence for the existence of one. If you insist there is one, the burden is on you to prove it if you want anyone else to concur.

      I can no more "prove" there's no god than I can "prove" there are no leprechauns. What part of that can you not comprehend? It's been explained to you and every other believer in every other post here.

      August 15, 2012 at 1:44 am |
    • Paul

      So too, it has been explained to you Tom Tom that design is proof of a designer. It is you who fail to accept this fact and conclusive evidence. Everything gives evidence of design and purpose. I find it incredible you fail to see the obvious.

      August 15, 2012 at 2:42 am |
    • Simran

      @Paul,
      Well, I cant see the obvious too. Coz I have been blinded by 30yrs of scientific teachings and practice.

      But one question, why did god only choose about a 25% of the World's human population (and let's not even talk about other forms of life) to be given his message? Are the rest of the 75% (who donot follow Christianity) the followers of Satan? That God did not create the earth is also stated in some religions, and probably those with the most peaceful history. Now, let us even assume that the 25% of you are truly blessed, and we are not, let us look at how much harm these 25% have caused to humanity – often in the name of God (need I talk about Crusades, witch hunts, child molestation by church, oppression of females etc etc).
      Yes one can argue that others have done the same things. But then, my question is how are true followers any different than non-followers when it comes to moral values?

      August 15, 2012 at 3:39 am |
    • jim

      @ Simran: "why did god only choose about a 25% of the World's human population (and let's not even talk about other forms of life) to be given his message?"

      The whole world is being exposed to God's message of eternal life, there for the asking, without measuring up or meeting some kind of impossible criterion (Grace is unmerited favor with God), just as you are. It's not even by your own faith that you have to have to receive it; the faith it takes to obtain this is a gift from God, as it says in the bible. Billy Graham can tell you this.

      August 15, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • kenrick Benjamin

      KAS860- There is a scientific and Mathematic solution at present that speaks of 3 Zeros, Nothing (0) + Eternity (0) = God(0). I suggest you look into it.

      February 24, 2013 at 7:47 am |
  17. myfamilyneedsamiracle

    God bless you all. Please read our story and help if you can. I have a medically needy daughter and I don't know where else to turn.

    http://www.myfamilyneedsamiracle.wordpress.com

    August 14, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • Dieudonné Biabak

      Just turn to Jesus, and belive; that all

      August 20, 2012 at 9:35 am |
  18. US Infidel

    If these are Mr. Keller's answers to the questions, it is no wonder why atheism is growing in America and most of all all over the world.
    I would think he could do better than give playskool answers to serious heavy duty questions.

    I'll stick with REALITY based reason, than stick my head in the dirt in hopes that a sky-daddy will one day return.

    August 14, 2012 at 9:55 am |
    • DPA SEER

      I may not like your name selection but I agree with your staements.
      DPA SEER

      August 14, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.