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.
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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.
Pain and suffering is a consequence of free will. Free will was granted by God. Only free humans can choose or reject God. I'm guessing God wanted it that way. Just a guess though, I'll ask him when I see him in person.
So why do atheists even care what others believe? And what is their moral code? Is it naturally good or are they selfish just trying to manipulate the system for their own benefit? If good, why? At least Christians have a belief and a direction. Atheists don't even have that.
False premises, loaded questions, straw mans... horrible reasoning all around.
There are many, many moral theories and the vast majority of them have no need to appeal to supernatural beings.
Since you're so.. uninformed in the matter, here's something you can start with: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTKf5cCm-9g
Not the best but it's a start.
I'm happy to read/view anything you wish but please send your best. Otherwise, you are wasting my time.
"Pain and suffering is a consequence of free will. "
How in the f*uck do you come to that totally absurd premise? Do you really believe that makes sense? I guess you do or you wouldn't have posted it. GROW A BRAIN
..if you were serious about answering these questions,you would take the time to investigate outside of a CNN comment page.There are plenty of books and debates readily available on the inter webs.Fill your boots with some real information,if you dare..go with an open mind,but be prepared to allow some doubt in your faith..
The whole CNN belief Blog is just a TROLL to raise the CNN News web site hit rate for the recruitment of more advertising. 5% read the news. 50% love to post religious drivel.
Excellent Marketing Strategy.
The believers need a dose of reality from us nonbelievers.
There is absolutely no danger in asking why God allows suffering.
There is no danger in questioning the existence of invisible super friends...
There is no danger in learning and educating oneself, to leave behind false history and beliefs. In fact, it's living!
I agree. It is perfectly acceptable to question God's existence. He certainly didn't make us robots without thought or freewill.
To my faithful friends here...
How did you arrive at your belief in God and the Bible (Koran, etc.)?
Almost without fail, the response will center on either an event in their life...typically something traumatic...or it's what they were taught as a child. Importantly, their belief has a basis in psychology and philosophy, not any science, logic, or other "hard" science. This is the first step in working with a theist.... recognize you're facing a psychological challenge, not a rational one.
One way to approach this is to get people thinking about religious claims in the same way they already know they should approach claims made by used car salesmen, door-to-door solicitors, and politicians. Ideally, it shouldn’t matter whether a claim occurs in the arena of religion, politics, consumer products, or anything else — we should approach them all in the a fundamentally skeptical, critical manner. Why are fundies so quick to ignore skepticism when it comes to religion?
If religion really is a crutch as many atheists like me believe, then it is unreasonable to imagine that you’ll accomplish much by trying to kick the crutch out from under someone. A wiser course of action is to get people to realize that they don’t need that crutch after all. They’ll never truly be rid of that crutch unless they toss it aside themselves.
yet, logic is not mutually exclusive to psychology or philosophy... I would hope.
"How did you arrive at your belief in God and the Bible (Koran, etc.)?"
After searching, reading and much thought. There was nothing irrational in my coming to believe. I understand your skepticism, because I also felt that way at one time. Religion is not a "crutch" for me. And why would you even want for someone to get rid of their beliefs? That truly sounds like a personal issue that you and many other atheists need to deal with.
There's two forms of logic...hard and soft. Mathematics is hard logic. Almost everything else is soft logic, defined by our limited knowledge of the universe.
Choosing to believe nothing is still a choice. I believe because of the fulfillment of prophecy. I don't take the Bible literally because the human authors are flawed. But being courageous enough to decide, I chose based on the partial evidence at hand and rely on faith to bridge the gap.
PS. We all have faith in something we can't explain. It's just the something is different.
I want you to get rid of it as a crutch because I want you to change your focus from satisfying some fantastical being to helping and supporting your fellow humans. I want you to believe in the goodness in yourself, and that YOU have the power to shun alcoholism, to shun self-destructive behaviors, and to not act on impulses that might harm those around you. YOU don't require forgiveness, you simply need to realize your choices are yours, and you need to make better choices that don't require forgiveness in their wake. I want you to be responsible and accountable for your actions, and not believe in some cosmic "Get out of Jail" card to be played every Sunday. I want you to feel and act as you are in control of your life, and you CAN make it better. It's not God's will, it is YOUR will. Make it count.
WorkInProgress, I want you to get rid of it as a crutch because I want you to change your focus from satisfying some fantastical being to helping and supporting your fellow humans. I want you to believe in the goodness in yourself, and that YOU have the power to shun alcoholism, to shun self-destructive behaviors, and to not act on impulses that might harm those around you. YOU don't require forgiveness, you simply need to realize your choices are yours, and you need to make better choices that don't require forgiveness in their wake. I want you to be responsible and accountable for your actions, and not believe in some cosmic "Get out of Jail" card to be played every Sunday. I want you to feel and act as you are in control of your life, and you CAN make it better. It's not God's will, it is YOUR will. Make it count.
First, crutches usually allow us to do what we want. Religious conviction usually makes us do what we don't want.
Second, I'm a believer... and an engineer... and a mathematician (just for the record)
Because you have chosen not to believe does not mean that God does not exist. I am a good person, but I am also a sinner, just as everyone else. I do everything I can to support and help others and many other Christians feel the same way. Otherwise, there would not be so many Christian charities that help others. I am definitely responsible for my choices and the consequences that follow. God has given everybody free will to make their own choices. I only hope to live how God would like me to live and if everybody lived that way this world would be a much better place.
I agree (although I think I too hold psychology in higher regard than you). And most people are pretty eager to embrace skeptical thinking or critical thinking skills with regard to every day decision-making. Skeptical thinking involves objectively weighing the evidence for or against a claim, questioning the assumptions, asking yourself the possible motives of the person making that claim, and asking yourself what biases you might have in evaluating that claim. It isn't as easy as it sounds, and actually requires some conscious effort.
The problem is that most of us consider religious claims to be exempt from critical thinking. Many religions have built-in safeguards against skepticism (e.g., questioning is sin, faith is noble, doubts are the devil whispering in your ear, etc.). Further, we have acquiesced that it is simply rude to think critically about religious claims. Why?
I would argue that the first step in understanding religion is to stop thinking of it as being above question, and to question it just as vigorously, if not more vigorously, than we would the claims of salesman. After all, if you honestly are interested in finding out the truth about the universe, wouldn't you really want to know what is real?
It is amazing that my thoughtful response was censored. I will post it again,
1. How did evil start?
Evil began on earth when Satan told the first lie. Satan was not evil when he was created. He was a perfect angel, but he “did not stand fast in the truth.” (John 8:44) He developed a desire for worship that rightly belongs only to God. Satan lied to the first woman, Eve, and persuaded her to obey him instead of God. Adam joined Eve in disobeying God. Adam’s decision resulted in suffering and death.—Read Genesis 3:1-6, 17-19.
When Satan suggested that Eve disobey God, he was mounting a rebellion against God’s sovereignty. The majority of mankind have joined Satan in rejecting God as Ruler. Satan has thus become “the ruler of the world.”—Read John 14:30; Revelation 12:9.
2. Was God’s creation defective?
The humans and angels whom God created were perfectly capable of obeying God’s requirements. (Deuteronomy 32:5) God created us with the freedom to choose between doing good and doing evil. That freedom gives us a way to express love for God.—Read James 1:13-15; 1 John 5:3.
3. Why has God allowed suffering?
For a time, Jehovah has tolerated rebellion against his sovereignty. Why? To show that no effort to rule without him benefits people. (Jeremiah 10:23) After 6,000 years of human history, the issue has been settled. Human rulers have failed to eliminate war, crime, injustice, and disease.—Read Ecclesiastes 7:29; 8:9; Romans 9:17.
By contrast, those who accept God as their Ruler benefit themselves. (Isaiah 48:17, 18) Soon, Jehovah will bring all human governments to an end. Only people who choose to be ruled by God will inhabit the earth.—Isaiah 2:3, 4; 11:9; read Daniel 2:44.
4. What opportunity does God’s patience provide?
Satan claimed that Jehovah cannot win the loyal obedience of anyone. God’s patience allows all of us opportunity to show whether we favor rule by God or rule by man. We indicate our choice by the way we live.—Read Job 1:8-11; Proverbs 27:11.
OR, it's all just a silly load of man-made snake oil that you're taking in. Which one is more likely?
Calling that thoughful is blasphemy of the ninth commandment.
Don't feel bad that your original comment didn't get posted. It was almost surely nothing you did yourself. CNN uses a computerized algorithm — a nannybot — to scan submitted comments for "naughty" character strings (like t¡t or s¢x or cµm), which can be hidden innocently in the middle of words like Const¡tution or accµmulate. When it finds them, it unceremoniously runs your thotful little essay straight off to the circular repository, never to be seen again. After awhile, you pick up tricks for circµmventing these traps, but it's kind of a PITA to have to resort to them. Idiot nannybot!
So how do I have compassion yet I am an aetheist? The sad fact is that by stating that without god violence is natural is that we supposedly have god, yet violence naturally occurs. It also reveals a deep, unsettling lack of trust in humanity – without a god to guide us we are all doomed to kill one another with indifference. I feel bad for you, to have such little faith in fellow man that you must turn to imaginary deities for comfort.
My self-conversion to atheism started because my Sunday School Teachers wouldn't or couldn't ever give sensible, believable answers to obvious simple questions.
Like the difference between parting the Red Sea for one non-Christian race and the drowning of 100,000's of innocents in Tsunamis.
Standard answer: There are no answers just faith. Yeah right, BS!
Thatzz very very good cabrones the Cnn is given u the answer of all this world
A moving and deeply meaningful answer to this question, so ancient and so contemporary. Thank you, Reverend, from a practicing Catholic.
And just as likely, not.
It is NEVER dangerous to ask questions!!! That's how you end up in a very bad place... This view also seems to be against freedom of the press – very disappointed to see this promoted on the CNN website!
Did I miss something?
Same old story–another apologist for The Almighty. The "good" that God "does" is immediately understood as evidence of his his existence and requires no further explanation, but since God is assumed to be all good then religions are cast into the role of having to provide tongue-twisting nonsensical philosophical justifications for the seeming lack of intervention of their all-perfect sky wizard to, for example, prevent a 6 year old girl from being slaughtered in a theater. This is why the 18th century Deists–who by the way included our founding fathers, believed that if there is a god he simply set the universe in motion and then divorced himself from it–how's that for an explanation of evil, Reverend? Mostly I love when God's apologists try to rationalize away Isaiah 45:7
I am the Lord. I create light and darkness. I create Good and I create Evil: I am the Lord.
And by the way, don't bother arguing about the translations for evil–it comes over from both the Hebrew Bible and the Septuagint perfectly although in many recent sanitized versions it incorrectly reads as "discord".
:Let's resolve the issue by bringing our minds out of the Bronze and Iron Ages and the ludicrous notion that a perfect blood sacrifice was necessary to wash away our "sins".
Well put. Also, if you look at many so called 'primitive' religious traditions, you will see that more often than not, the Great Creator God is seen as being far removed from creation, or at least from the part of creation we reside in. Makes a boat load more sense than the religious beliefes of the Bram Brats (followers of the Abrahamaic religions) as my friend calls them.
UOTE from the article: "If there is no God or higher divine law then violence is perfectly natural." HEY! The BIBLE is filled with violence, murder, mass killings, genocide, child abuse, murder of millions of children, r ape, etc. I'm assuming "God existed" during all these Biblical events, right? Looks like the BIBLE offers proof that "violence is perfectly natural" even WITH GOD.
this is actually proof that evil existed and men are sinners
@WorkInProgress, and based on your theory, your god created man.. Therefore, your god created sinners.
Disease is perfectly natural, too. It's MEDICINE that's man-made. In fact, the only good that befalls you in life is what you get from your fellow human beings.
"God did not create a world with death and evil in it."
I assume this was before god murdered men, women, children, and babies by the thousands in the bible, yes?
Thousands? Try BILLIONS! Ever hear the story of the Great Flood? Christians are actually PROUD of it! Sickos!
Im 100000000000% Lucifer to the bone my neqro
So his explanation for suffering is that "we don't know." We also don't know if there really is a God or not.
If you cannot prove there is a god then there is none.
VoiceOfReason, I subscribe to your conclusion but not to your logic. Up until recently, we couldn't prove the Higgs boson existed; that didn't mean it didn't.
Of course, we can always fall back on what I consider to be a pretty convincing argument that doesn't const¡tute a PROOF but seems pretty persuasive to me: If there really WERE a God, wouldn't it be immediately obvious to everyone? I mean, even BLIND people can tell when the Sun is out.
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.
He fails on his very first point. Let's turn it around. Senseless suffering does not go away when you START believing in God, and It actually makes less sense if you do. It proves prayer is pointless. If you believe in God and still suffer, then God either a) can't do anything about it, b) actually causes the suffering himself, or c) he doesn't give a sheet. Life is easier to accept if you look for a scientific explanation rather than trying to understand why God is impotent or evil.
Everyone Should Ask!!!
"God did not create a world with death and evil in it. It is the result of humankind turning away from him." This is practically the "free-will" response.
Is God perfection? Many theists wold argue yes. Can imperfection come out of perfection? Logically, the answer is no. So then how did God, a perfect being, create imperfect and faulty humans? Humans could have still been created with free will, but not have a strong desire to "sin". How can humans "create" evil and suffering by simply denying God? God may have given humans free will, but has also allowed for evil to exist (as an option of choice). Yet, humans are so vulnerable... It is like leaving a loaded shotgun in a baby's crib.
Many theists argue that we must choose to have a relationship with God. Very much like a relationship between a couple. However, if a partner breaks up the relationship, the other must learn to accept it. Would it be right for a guy to stalk his ex-girlfriend? To torture her and punish her? Of course not. There is no need to allow for, or to invoke, physical suffering and pain. Much worse to hurt her physically and then accuse her for for it simply because she left the relationship.
Waste of time. Got cancer then deal with it. God , which does not exist, has nothing to do with it. You and i are negligible to the things that it may be working on. Notice I used it.
I am not going to apologize for my condescending remarks about Mr. Keller's opinion, for I think what he is doing (promoting some unproven nonsense) is an abomination against reason and logic. He brazenly dismisses our natural world, randomness, causal effect and an array of other phenomena we know to exist.
Utilizing freedom of speech is a right? A right or a privilege? In either case, this freedom of speech is dangerous, deceptive and derogatory. It is counterproductive for the betterment of humanity. Stop the nonsense now!
Would you like to end his right to free speech that you so much enjoy? How is it dangerous to preach the gospel? We already know that there will be those who will not believe. Apparently, you have heard the gospel and still do not believe. Why not allow others to make the choice for themselves. You will not be able to silence those who believe.
Believing in something that doesn't exist is not healthy. Why is not healthy you ask? So, your free speech spouts bigotry, hate and damnation. Not good stuff to propose to susceptible individuals and small children. No, I think you people should be banned.
It doesn't exist to you because you have chosen not to believe. You cannot prove that God neither exists or does not. I have chosen to believe and it is perfectly healthy for me to do so. Why are you so intent on ridding others of their beliefs? I believe in Christ, I believe in loving my neighbors and my enemies, and helping others. However, I have seen you spout bigotry and hate. That's quite hypocritical.
I am at the end of my rope with people like you. You feel you need some crazy azz philosophy that doesn't have any substance. We do not need this so called religion and god to be good people, what don't you get about that? Your thought processes are dangerous and take away freedoms. I lived as a believer for a very long time, I'm probably older than you and know more about the bible then you do. It's all a bunch of nonsense, it's useless and extremely dangerous.
Then may your rope be longer and I'm sorry you feel that way. It seems as though you would find no problem at all in taking away the freedoms of believers as you are accusing us of doing. Do you not see the hypocrisy?
Listen worky jerky, you people are the epitome of hypocrisy :the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one's own behavior does not conform; pretense.
"Listen worky jerky, you people are the epitome of hypocrisy :the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one's own behavior does not conform; pretense."
And please provide evidence of your claims. I have stated that I am a sinner. Though I am a good person, I am far from perfect. I make mistakes. Have I ever claimed otherwise? You have accused believers of hatred and bigotry and then practice the same yourself. Is that not also the epitome of hypocrisy?
Whatever, really? You are the people, okay maybe not you but the god you represents is a bigot, right? I am not going to stand by and let you people spout-off discrimination against free speech when you are promoting wrong values and morals. Hate begets hate, your ilk started it.
I love life and everything in it EXCEPT lies and unproven dangerous ideals. You people really need to get a life and go away.
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.