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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.

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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.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • God

soundoff (3,664 Responses)
  1. tony

    Well. One good thing thing the Belief Blog has taught me is that the various religious postings a, more than I ever realized before, complete nonsense, repeated over and over, as if that somehow improves their credibility.

    This must be producing masses of new adult atheists every day.

    August 5, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      what 'nonsense' are you referring to? please be specific.

      August 5, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
    • exlonghorn

      Agreed. this is giving me a whole new appreciation for exactly how faulty theists are in their thinking.

      August 5, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      Booty, I'm not sure what in particular Tony had in mind, but for my part I'd point you to any of the pointless copy-and-paste Bible verses from John the 16th, the incoherent ravings of Mr. Filthy Hindu Jew, or the inane, repet¡tious 3-word lie from "Atheism Is Not yada yada yada". These are not necessarily typical of theistic postings, of course, but you'd be hard pressed to find many counterparts from the atheist PoV.

      August 5, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
    • heavenSnot

      Education and the information age, I believe, along with the world being more and more a melting pot, have contributed to the rise of reason and the decay of make-believe.

      August 5, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • mitch

      It is just a matter of time before life, no matter how simple, will be found on another place other than earth. The religious myths will all have to explain away why they got it wrong. Of course there still is a flat earth society and of course the earth is the center of the universe, isn't it?

      August 5, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
  2. David

    Samuel 12:11: "...I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the light of this sun."

    I wonder how many of my neighbors are Christian? I can't wait to see the look on their faces.

    August 5, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
  3. Bootyfunk

    why is it dangerous to ask "Why?"

    because if you follow logic to it's conclusion, you'll come up with the simple and satisfying answer:
    God does not exist

    August 5, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
  4. exlonghorn

    Why do humans need a God?

    August 5, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      only cult members need a god.

      August 5, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      Nobody NEEDS a god. Many people get by just fine without one.

      August 5, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
  5. John 14:6

    Must see. Your eternal life could depend upon it.

    http://paultarnow.blogspot.com/2011/04/you-are-in-danger.html

    August 5, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      the bible is repulsive:

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vkXOwBIRX7Y&w=640&h=360]

      August 5, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      "Eternal" life? Did you exist before you were born?

      August 5, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
  6. Bootyfunk

    Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
    Then he is not omnipotent.
    Is he able, but not willing?
    Then he is malevolent.
    Is he both able and willing?
    Then whence cometh evil?
    Is he neither able nor willing?
    Then why call him God?
    - Epicurus

    August 5, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
  7. G. Zeus Kreiszchte

    Many sick people have always been among the poetizers and God-cravers; furiously they hate the lover of knowledge and that youngest among the virtues, which is called “honesty.” They always look backward toward the dark ages; then, indeed, delusion and faith were another matter: the rage of reason was godlikeness, and doubt was sin.

    Behold the superfluous! They are always sick; they vomit their gall and call it a newspaper. They devour each other and cannot even digest themselves.

    S-ex: only for the wilted, a sweet poison; for the lionhearted, however, the great invigoration of the heart and the reverently reserved wine of wines.

    [God] was equivocal. He was also indistinct. How angry he got with us, this wrath-snorter, because we understood him badly. But why did he not speak more cleanly? And if it was the fault of our ears, why did he give us ears that heard him badly? If there was mud in our ears—well, who put it there? He bungled too much, this potter who had never finished his apprenticeship. But that he wreaked revenge on his pots and creations for having bungled them himself, that was a sin against good taste.

    Nietzsche

    August 5, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • David

      Thank you for being the first one to actually do Nietzsche a bit of justice.

      August 5, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • Nobody

      Indeed, thanks.

      August 5, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
  8. Steve Chenoy

    The Pastors comment that sums up turning your mind away from science and towards a fairy tale delusion is: “.... 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.

    LOL. Beautiful. Some brains are apparently more finite then others.

    August 5, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • jake

      you must be so smart. your words drip with arrogance and ignorance.

      August 5, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
  9. 2357

    Debating God's existence is futile because he is the father, or source, of all that is called existence. He speaks into being creatures both spiritual and material, as well as time, space matter and energy. He spoke mathematical order into being, as well as language and understanding. All the while YHWH God is himself no thing, not to be confused with nothing or nobody. Eternity is eternal not because it's a very loooong time. Eternity is merely existence removed from the time-space continuum. That's where he is YHWH. And He suffered the pain of watching his son be murdered, just so he can lovingly reply to our question thus: "I know how if feels, I've felt the pain" Cursed is every man who hangs on a tree. YHWH God killed his son Jesus Christ to show the horror of sin to angels, demons, humans and all creation. He then took Jesus out of hell, clothed him in glorious new flesh of the kingdom to come, and invites us all with open arms to get the same upgrade. He knows the moment and manner of your death. Between now and then, whom will you say that he is?

    August 5, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • Bishop Hairy Palms

      Nutty post.

      August 5, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • David

      Sorry, bud, not my cup of tea.

      It sounds to me like god needs some serious meds.

      August 5, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      I notice that your initial idea, that debating God's existence is futile, didn't stop you from doing it anyway.

      August 5, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
  10. Tom

    After reading that blog, I just want to say a few things.

    Putting all religion aside, all beliefs aside, politics etc...we can all agree that there is something greater than us out there. I have struggled my entire life going from one religion to another. Believing in somethings so strongly, and then being let down. I find myself, especially during times of turmoil find that I pray more and seek guidance from "some divine force". Death has always puzzled me I find myself asking the same question as this blog points out? WHY THAT PERSON? or in certain situations not related to death, WHY ME? WHY THE PEOPLE OF COLORADO? I dont think will ever find the answer to our question(s). We as a society need the art of debating to fulfill our greater purpose. My parents were immigrants (first generation) and never took opinion to things like politics, but they forever held onto their core believe in God and christianity. They will take their belief to the grave, and I will live on carrying that eternal flame of wonder with me until my day of death. I have accepted that. Moving Forward. Live humble, Try to find Happiness in subtle things and LOVE. (GOD = LOVE)

    August 5, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • David

      I agree that there is something greater than myself, and that something (to quote Jack Kavorkian) is:

      Bach

      August 5, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      You start out with "Putting all religion aside" and then immediately launch into "we can all agree that there is something greater than us out there", something which is blatantly and patently religious. Why should we bother reading any further, since you are so obviously lying?

      August 5, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • save the world and slap some sense into a christard today!

      Well I do like the way you summed things up, Tom. But as for the statement "we can all agree that there is something greater than us out there", I would say not really. Or I might agree if we are talking about other intelligent lifeforms that are real and not spiritual. Even the concept that another life form planted a seed in our species long ago that makes us special on this planet is a better concept for me than the concepts from any of the religions that man has created.

      August 5, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      tom

      god drowned babies in his great flood. BABIES.

      you call that love?

      August 5, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
    • david

      Jack Kavorkian: now there is a guy I want hear philosophical insights from.

      August 5, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
  11. mitch

    How lucky we are, think of the odds, it would be like winning the jackpot of every lottery in the world for a whole year. We reside in a galaxy with 400 billion stars or so, many of those stars have multiple planets and our universe has billions of galaxies and yet god after waiting 13 billion years or so, picked our little rock to create man. Praise the lord for he watches over each and every one of us, hold on, I meant he looks after the 2 billion people that believe in that version of god, the other 5 billion are just hanging around to spend eternity in hell. Such is the insanity of religious belief, get over your god complexes, that is the true hell in this world.

    August 5, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • save the world and slap some sense into a christard today!

      Darn. I was having a good time remembering that song from the end of The Meaning of Life as I read your post until I got to the "Praise the Lord" part.

      August 5, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
  12. Fernando Esperanza

    God lives the whole world and wants them to repent and believe in him.
    If you turn from your sin and believe that Jesus died to pay the penalty for your
    sin you will be saved and spend eternity in heaven. If you don't then Gods word says
    that you will suffer for eternity. Please, please BELIEVE IN HIM! And you will live.
    Don't bet against Gods word.

    August 5, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • Bishop Hairy Palms

      Remember children, Jeebus loves you so much that if you don't make the choices he wants you to make, he'll torture you in a lake of eternal fire.

      Check please!

      August 5, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      You mean don't bet against the words of some ancient, goat-herding dolts who claim that the words they wrote down are in fact the words of some "god"?

      August 5, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      Yeah , what was that bit about "free choice"? If we're told there is only one way to do things?

      August 5, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • David

      If Jesus was crucified to pay the penalty for my sin, then he's getting royally scre.wed by god. I've made my share of mistakes, but I would humbly suggest that none of them deserve to result in crucifixion.

      Plus, I'm not really comfortable with someone else having to to be punished for my actions. Unlike you spineless Xtians, I'l man up and take responsibility for my own deeds, rather than see an innocent carpenter suffer for them.

      What do you say? Let's stand up to this a -hole god and defend Jesus against injustice.

      August 5, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      I choose to turn away from God's sin — the sin of tormenting billions of perfectly ordinary people forever in the pits of Hell. How can you possibly find that admirable? Yet you practically gloat over the prospect.

      August 5, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • Good movie

      The Rapture, it is about a carnal sl*ut, much like HeavenSent, that when she passes gets invited into the kingdom of heaven and tells god to pi*ss off, check it out, really intresting. (much more to the plot, watch it yourself)

      August 5, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
  13. Enoch

    Just amazing circular rationalizations. Amazing.

    August 5, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
  14. My2Sense

    Why do so many people hate the idea of God? Because they live their sin.

    August 5, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • Bishop Hairy Palms

      What is sin Skippy?

      August 5, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • David

      At least we can agree that god is only an idea.

      .

      August 5, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      Wrong question: "Why do so many people hate the idea of God?"

      Right question: "Why don't nearly enuf people hate the idea of God?"

      August 5, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • Nobody

      @David, "God" is not an idea, at least not a coherent one. It is a colossus of ignorance, a monument to human suffering, and an inversion of human frailty.

      August 5, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  15. My2Sense

    For all their raving, ranting, and name-calling, these atheists will stand before God one day–and they will exist for eternity, though sadly they will be separated from God unless they repent and receive the free gift of salvation.

    August 5, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      yakkety yak! You don't think everyone on the planet has already heard this tripe?

      August 5, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • Bishop Hairy Palms

      Really?

      Can you prove this with anything else but references to a crusty old book written by a bunch of bronze age goat herders who believed the earth was flat?

      No?

      Thought so.

      August 5, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • Bishop Hairy Palms

      Your two cents isn't worth two cents.

      August 5, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      and you'll have to answer to santa claus one day! were you naughty? or were you nice? he's checking his list - and checking it twice!

      August 5, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      2¢?

      Insist on change.

      August 5, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • tallulah13

      2sense:

      There is not a shred of evidence to support the existence of your god, or any god, heaven, hell or the devil. There is not a single rational reason to believe that existence continues at all after physical death. In fact, it sounds rather like something someone made up to tell a child who was afraid.

      August 5, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • whatdidyousay?

      ...and as he prepares to cast me down into the pits of hell, my parting words to him will be that I certainly don't wish to be part of a heaven ruled by a being who allows six year olds to be slaughtered while watching a movie. Then I'll ask him for directions to the elevator...

      August 5, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • ArthurP

      And they will be accepted into Big People Heaven as opposed to all the religious right & fundamentalists who get sent to kiddy heaven.

      August 5, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  16. Bishop Hairy Palms

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DqKArHLX0VE&w=640&h=360]

    August 5, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
  17. My2Sense

    If I did not believe in God, I should still want my doctor, my lawyer and my banker to do so."
        Author: G.K. Chesterton

    August 5, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • David

      Would you prefer a Muslim doctor, like Richard the Lion-Heart?

      August 5, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      I keep hearing on this board from Christians who are convinced that the only thing that keeps people from raping, stealing, murdering, arson, rioting, etc. is belief in God. I assume they're speaking from deep within their own hearts, so I really, really, really, really hope they keep believing in God.

      August 5, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      i wouldn't. i would rather they think rationally and logically.

      August 5, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      In all honesty, Booty, so would I, but the chance of that happening is akin to the chance that they'd REALLY engage in wanton mayhem if suddenly deprived of the restraints of their irrational superst¡tions. We're both just wishing, and we know how likely THAT is to produce results.

      August 5, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • save the world and slap some sense into a christard today!

      Wow – this dude looks like he hung out a lot at Duck Liver pat-A

      August 5, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
  18. My2Sense

    If there were no God, there would be no atheists.
        Author: G.K. Chesterton

    August 5, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      all humans are born atheists.

      August 5, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      Close. If there were no RELIGION there would be no atheists.

      August 5, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      The conclusion of your statement does not follow. If there were no people who claimed they believe in "god" then there would not need to be anyone claiming there is no "god". So then, the question is who committed the first offense? Obviously the offensive position is the one in which people claim there is a "god," particularly one who purports to eternally torture those who don't believe.

      August 5, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
    • David

      If there were no god, there would still be Christians.

      August 5, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • therealpeace2all

      @My2Sense

      "If there were no God, there would be no atheists."
      Author: G.K. Chesterton

      If... there were no atheists, then... there would be no god.

      Peace...

      August 5, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Was that quote supposed to be profound?

      August 5, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
  19. My2Sense

    Epitath: Here lies an atheist; all dressed up and no place to go.

       

    August 5, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      LOL!
      i'm an atheist and that is my new favorite atheist joke.

      August 5, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • A dose of reality

      Here lies a christian.....yea, Lies. Nuff sed.

      August 5, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • david

      I'm good with just the first clause.

      August 5, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
    • tallulah13

      2Sense. That sentiment applies to everything that ever lived. There is no proof whatsoever that there is any continued existence after physical death. I guess an appropriate epitaph for a christian would be "They wore their Sunday best, but god stood them up."

      August 5, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
  20. Theamologist

    '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.'

    They were both wrong. In the animal kingdom, when there is a bone of contention, violence is the norm. Humans are different. We are thinkers. We are equipped with a brain that uses logic and from this we naturally derive a sense of justice and fairness. Children have this. We see it in their behaviour in their quest for fairness amongst their siblings.

    We learn the meaning of good and evil when we regret something that we did and then we seek to make amends, to no longer repeat the behavior.

    We never needed the Bible or the Quran or the Torah or any other opinion of man to learn this. We do not needd a single word from God to learn this. We are born with this capacity to understand that we can be repositories of trust for one another, or something less than that.

    We don't need the story of Cain and Abel to know that we can be our borther's keeper. We don't even need God for that.
    But if one is to make the decision to believe that God exists, how can one not be his brother's keeper?

    So, in any universe, created or not, we all see the same objective moral tenet in the answer to the question, 'Am I my brother's keeper?'

    August 5, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • JFM

      Logic doesnt just come with birth, logic is reasoning, and reasoning has to be based on something – faith, beliefs, morals, values – all of which we are taught, not born with.

      August 5, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • JFM

      The comments on stories about religilious beliefs always amuse me. If you are a believer why do you argue? The Bible even tells you that God's existence is beyond the comprehension of man, and that NO ONE will ever be argued or reasoned into heaven. If you are a true atheist why does it bother you that someone else believes in God? If you don't think you should believe, why does it bother you that someone else thinks you should?

      August 5, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      JFM, if you don't think we should care, why does it bother you that we do?

      Answer that question, and you've answered you own.

      August 5, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
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About this blog

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.