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.
Events happen in the world because of random coincidences or other events happen in the correct order to yield the result we see. Its pretty simple folks. Stop making it so complicated
In other words .. Shlt just happens. I agree
True freedom, happiness and love can only be found when you shed the pavlovian fear conditioned response of indoctrinated religion. The freedom to be a good, moral, ethical and loving human without the threat of eternal punishment will bring true and honest happiness.
Can I get an "Amen!"?
Since Christianity is still around today and the Bible is as old as it is, one of two things must be true (Keep in mind that Jesus truly existed. The problem with the unbelieving, though, is that he was God and man): Either Jesus was the greatest liar of all-time and his body was hidden after he died, or Christianity is true.
Logic like that is what's sooo scary about un-nonbelievers like you.
Your Jesus man was a liar
Jesus lived, people killed him, now he's DEAD. That's the same as every other human who lived and died,
MAYBE HE'S BURIED WITH JIMMY HOFFA
The world is spilt into 3. People who hate God, People who love God, People who are confused. For those hateful people who post here, nothing can be done. They are a minority constantly looking for any article about God and try to put their two cent in to prove that they are way more in this world. I had a discussion with an atheist person who is actually a very smart guy as far as computers go and I really thought he was brilliant, till he started to argue that it is a published fact that there are more atheist in this world than all religions put together. He didnt even want to show me proof. After much discussion he logged in, searched and searched, and every site said that majority of the people in this world belive in God. He was really shocked. It makes me think..they are driven by the hatred for God, not about facts. They speak whatever comes to their mind. I am not saying that majority of peole in this world truly believe in God. But atleast look at what they profess and the facts. Then I realized, these people who dont believe in God, are actually really really really fools. they may be in welfare or they may be billionares..still they lack wisdom of any sort
There are 10 types of people in the world. Those that understand binary and those that don't.
To 'hate god', one would have to profess a belief in a deity, so your initial sentence trying to categorize atheists as people who hate god, renders the rest of your post meaningless. What atheists hate, is people who try to force their own agendas under the guise of 'religion'. Also, they're not too fond of the brainwashing, the attempts to codify this silliness into law books, coverups by the church, etc. Additionally, they think if you didn't waste so much time on the scare tactics and such, we'd probably end up in a better place.
You can't hate what is not there.
You spoke to one atheist and concluded that atheists hate God and aren't very smart?
I haven't read many of the posts here yet but I'll take your word they are hateful. This is today's fad which is pounced upon by people of faith, people without faith, conservatives, and liberals alike. Bashing the other person rudely has replaced respectful debate and discussion – it's sad.
But I also take offense at your comments about atheists. I can assure you that you do not understand those who do not believe in God.
There is a fourth kind who neither hates nor loves god, because it is impossible to do it for a non existent thing, and there in absolutely no confusion about it.
Atheists are in larger number in some enlightened countries in Europe, it is a natural progression of human intellect. Americans will be there someday as well.
I can appreciate the good reverend attempting to give solace to those who have endured a tragedy with the penning of this article, however, this article falls terribly short of giving any real insight or explanation of theodicy. Dr. King and Nietzsche are the not be all and end all of philosophy, and the overriding problem of the reverend's logic is that it attempts to draw mutual inclusivity between the value of law and the existence of a god. Laws are the result of ethical values that have been developed over the course of human history. Many of those ethical values have migrated their way into religious dogma, however, it is religious dogma that greatly has been shaped by ethical valuations, not vice versa. The existence and value of ethics is not dependent on the existence of god since ethics is a moral philosophy grounded in logic and not blind faith in a deity. To those who lost loved ones, I would tell you that the existence or nonexistence of god is irrelevant to what has happened. When you accept the notion that senseless death and destruction is a fact of life that cannot be attributed to any supernatural force, you are taking the right step in the direction of healing. The meaning and value of your relationship with another person is dictated by the value, love and attention you give it. Rather than trying to seek meaning in the paranormal to reconcile the loss of your loved one, accept the fact that the universe and by extension nature is chaotic. Tragedies sometimes occur outside the realm of our control, but the love and value you have for lost one is not inconsequential and what you do in this life to honor their memory is all that matters.
Excellent response. I too was going to point out the common yet ridiculous claim that ethics couldn't exist in the absence of a deity.
That was Exactly what I needed to read (hear) today at this moment. Your view touched the path that I will now take. It wasn't the path I needed to identify, it was the knowledge I needed.
Thank you. I will now be able to walk much taller from here on out.
Just duck your head when you go through the doorway.
>> 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.
so, an almighty, all knowing, omnipresent, all loving god may not be able to provide answers in a way that a finite brain may comprehend?
God had given each of us free will, the will to love him by being a loving unselfish person or shunning God by being selfish and acting as if you are God. There is no place in the heavenly afterlife for the unrepentant selfish person, for he/she chooses to shun God.
I feel privileged to explain my perspective to readers due to the fact that I believe in God and Jesus Christ but I've also studied Philosophy during my college years. Therefore I've developed a blended view on topics such as these. With response to the comment about why an all powerful, omnipresent God can't explain certain things to a finite mind... There is a flaw in your philosophical trap of reasoning. Since we both agree that God is all powerful, God has the power of choice. What I mean by this is that God can decide what we can and can't understand but also what he wants us to understand. Now on a different note, God has tried explaining answers through the old testament and when that didn't work he came to earth as Jesus Christ and when that didn't work we have the new testament. God could force all of us to believe the same, but then what would be the value of the relationship we have with him? The gift of free will is a concept that our finite minds can barely grasp in its entirety. The ability to choose what we believe what we say do or think. This is the gift that an all powerful, loving and wise God bestows upon us... What we do with this gift of choice is up to us, will you follow, trust and love or pull away, and withdraw? The decision isn't an easy one and something I struggle with everyday, so perhaps you're somewhere in the middle like me, amd that's okay too. Thank you for reading this, my heart goes out to all of those around the world suffering and dealing with hardships, this too shall pass and a brighter day is yet to come.
If people prayed to spiderman they would get amazingly similar results.
I think it was George Carlin that said something similar about Joe Pesci.
I'd expect more from Joe.
No one can begin to understand the infinite wisdom and mystery of God. Yes, God does indeed allow tragedy,sickness, and heartache but that doesn't mean he doesn't love and care for His people. Look what His son had to endure leading up to his crucifixtion on the cross. The only flawless, perfect human being free from sin who died in our place endure unbelievable suffering. Did He deserve such a outcome? In His word God never says life will be easy. It's tough but God is with us all through our trials and tribulations. He promises to never leave us nor forsake us!!
@Jillian Hicks, are you familiar with the problem of evil? No? Ok, here it is:
God is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good.
A perfectly good being would want to prevent all evils.
An omniscient being knows every way in which evils can come into existence.
An omnipotent being, who knows every way in which an evil can come into existence, has the power to prevent that evil from coming into existence.
A being who knows every way in which an evil can come into existence, who is able to prevent that evil from coming into existence, and who wants to do so, would prevent the existence of that evil.
If there exists an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good being, then no evil exists.
Evil exists (LOGICAL CONTRADICTION).
Prometheus suffered a thousand years chained to a rock with an eagle eating his liver every day.
He suffered for man like no god has since.
I am certainly aware of the fact sin has been a part of the human condition since time began.The effects are catastrophic causing physical, emotional, and mental deterioration.Striving to make healthy choices that will enhance our overall quality of life is our responsibility.
Without the existence of evil, good would not exist... Everything would simply "be". Take this for example... Our minds are able to interpret colors based on the shade of other colors similar to that color. If you apply this though to good act and evil acts you will quickly realize that there are varying levels of good as well as varying levels of evil which allow for our minds to understand what is truly good or evil. If all was good we would have no concept of evil. The sad can be said if all were evil we would have no concept of good. That is one reason why God allows the existence of bot in this world so that we can understand good.
What is suffering? A consequence. We are responsible for our actions, regardless of religion. Therefore consider your consequence of what you think, speak, and act. All religions DO teach that and no individual religion has a superior connection with God as implied in the article. This implication creates separation from the original message, God is Love. It seems the division or separation people feel is the consequence, one of which is violence in our world. Religious leaders need to be teaching Love not religious superiority.
There is no god. There is only you and me, getting through this life. Make sense and make this life count because as much as you like to make fun of the 7 virgins awaiting in heaven, there is no St. Peter awaiting your arrival.
There is only dirt and worms for all.
If there are gods I hope they have a sense of humor. I think they would find these debates hilarious. You never know what the religious will say next.
Apparently some people feel they can get someone to believe ( or not believe ) in God through a CNN comment section.
Would you go to church if you wanted to be convinced it was all bunk?
Obviously, Logic is not a requirement for a Divinity degree.
I have always believed in God even though I was raised in a family of atheists and agnostics. Always. As a small child I had conversations with God and Angels. However all my life I have sought to 'understand' God, life and why we don't live eternally or if that even matters. One thing though has NEVER been a doubt in my mind, though it is something my sister cries out when someone sickens or dies... why does God allow such suffering? I ALWAYS knew the answer... it isn't something God wants, it is our free will that gets us in trouble (in many cases). Other times human suffering is allowed because others can grow and learn from that suffering. What other reasons can there be for human suffering and death? I do not know, I am a human being and not God. Like all humans I stand in the murky slime filled ditch below the stairway while GOD is at the top of the stairway. I can see only the first step, and everything below that. God can see ALL. I rest in the confidence He knows all and I do not. As Chapman sang: Only God is God. Does this all mean I believe in Heaven? Well I certainly believe in HELL and if there is the negative there most likely is the positive. But as for Heaven I take it on faith. But that being said why rage when someone dies young? Either they are in heaven, waiting till Jesus returns to join him in Heaven or they are no longer existing. In ANY case (except for the negative one, burning in hell) they are at peace. I accept that as Truth.
The 'murky slime'? What a sad life you must lead ( and what a lot of rationalization). Try enjoying your time on earth. There ain't any magical place you're heading to afterwards. Hot or not.
You might just need to adjust your meds. Many anthropologist belief that religion originated with drugs. If they are wrong, then it originated with mental illness/delusions or twisted perception. You can get help
" So abandoning belief in God doesn’t help with the problem of suffering at all." That is an actual sentence, floating off on all its own as a separate paragraph in this article about the suffering caused by asking 'How could God allow suffering."
"Most people are asking the question, "How could God allow this" the wrong way, is the tag line on the front page. Obviously, mentioning God in the question is the wrong way. If you abandon a belief in God, it brings an end to that part of one's suffering. That's just logic. Abandoning a belief in God will cause some resentment towards those who have been telling you about God, sharing the idea of "God" with you, and participating in "church" or "prayer." Parents, friends and especially clergy seem to be people that you just can't trust. Then one comes to realize, they were victims of the same brainwashing you are now throwing off of you, and you accept and forgive. Freedom from believing in god is a wonderful liberating experience. It creates a BIGGER BELIEF IN YOURSELF, A GREATER CARING FOR OTHERS, A GREATER APPRECIATION FOR THE WONDER OF LIVING. The old saying "There but for the grace of God go I" comes to mind, it just changes to "There but for the grace of my intellect and education go I, like those poor souls clinging to irrational thought." All the atheists out there need to remember this process. We don't taunt the mentally ill, but we taunt believers by (correctly) labeling them as mentally ill. Evolution takes time. Most atheists out there had to overcome some sort of religious upbringing, and come to their faith in logic through suffering and education. The author of this article obviously has some flawed logic. The atheists organizations are full of people who used to be clergy and pastors. There's hope for "Pastor" Timothy Keller yet.
Your belief system won't take you through ANY hard times, as I've seen from my siblings and mother's lives... no God? no peace, everything hinges on what YOU can do, but it is hubris to suggest you control or have a role in EVERYthing that happens to you. I needn't spell that out, YOU know that is true. Look at the world around you. From an atheistic perspective humankind is nothing more than a parasite on the earth's skin and 'evolution' created all life here on earth. From my perspective, everything is created by Divine Design... that is a clear to me today in my 60s as it was when I was 5 and a small sparrow landed in my hand, in the dead of winter, and I gently encircled its body with my hand and warmed it. I did not think of myself as God nor did I think the bird thought I was 'god', but I KNEW that God had created both the bird and me and I was grateful to be able to help the smaller creature. Don't reply to me, I heard it all then (whatever you might say in retort) from my atheist father.
What a crock!
So the answer to the question is "don't worry your pretty little head about it"?
Just nod your head and pass the plate.
Exactly. Don't sweat the petty stuff and don't pet the sweaty stuff!
From the Buddhist perspective, the entire question is absurd. Everything in the universe is the Absolute (call it God if you like) in form. The form changes constantly, but the Absolute, which we are in essence one with, is timeless and eternal. There is no "me" to ask the question "why?" ME is a creation of mind/ego and suffering is caused by identification with form that will inevitably decay. When we identify with the Absolute and not the changing form, we awaken from the dream that we are separate individuals in a world of separate objects.
good point, glad someone mentioned this.
Here we go again.
"God did not create a world with death and evil in it." True, since no human-shaped all powerful old white guy with a beard created the universe to begin with.
Right. He is more pasta shaped with meatbally eyes.
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