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. phnxrth

    "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."

    This is all belief. Yes, we abandoned God. And we're taught Jesus died for our sins and some of us are taught that we should just wait, that Jesus' redemption will somehow set things aright.

    This conveniently absolves us of the need to address the matter at the individual level. It's a cop out.

    What if we're all pretty satanic? What if that's the true, simple answer to the question of why we suffer? What if it's really just a matter of too few people having thus far successfully grappled with that point, including religionists?

    That is the answer, whether anyone likes it or not. The question as to why wrong results occur can be approached from a scientific basis of natural law, or from a moral basis of divine/satanic. Exactly the same conclusion will be arrived at either way.

    There's plenty each person can do about it and there is a price to be paid in real time for the failure to do so.

    August 5, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • Todd in DC

      Or maybe the answer is, "because hsit happens"

      August 5, 2012 at 10:17 am |
  2. PC3

    Religion is like a drug; it causes the release of the same chemicals in the brain that come from antidepressants. So, religious people are self-medicating for the lack of seratonin in their systems. Additionally, some people are programmed to be followers because prehistoric man benefited from staying in large groups with a chosen leader. There also had to be a leader, so some of us who didn't inherit the need to follow. I don't need seratonin or to follow and I don't need blind faith or fear of an invisible being to get me through the day.

    August 5, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • Dan

      You cannot reduce all human behavior to mere chemical responses. People are much. much more complicated than that.

      August 5, 2012 at 10:25 am |
  3. Dr.Greenthumb

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

    Suffering never ends until the day you die. It doesn't matter if you believe in god or not.

    August 5, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • Dan

      But it can affect the way you deal with suffering.

      August 5, 2012 at 10:26 am |
  4. Steven Huff

    The answer to Why me? is "chance" or "probability". Anything can happen to anybody at any time. But it doesn't always. The answer to "why"something happens is complex but the answer to "why me" is simply chance or probability. Even if you think you know why it happened, some situation or decision perhaps, then ask why would i have made that decision or why was i in that situation. Eventually you will get back to the original conclusion that everything is originally due to probability, the luck or unluck of the draw. Unfortunately it still happens. It's not unfair and it can happen to any of us at any time. So there's the lesson we should take away. To make everyday the very best day you can because we never know what tomorrow may bring to us.

    August 5, 2012 at 10:14 am |
  5. Fia

    "Suffering and death seem random..." The simplest explanation is that it is random, gog or no god. If there is a god, it allows random events. If there is no god, random events occur. Not confusing at all, really

    August 5, 2012 at 10:14 am |
    • NoTheism

      Indeed, Ockham's razor.

      August 5, 2012 at 10:16 am |
    • quid

      "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."

      Yes it does – for the most part. Oxytocin, a hormone in the brain, controls our morality and social behavior. No god needed at all.

      August 5, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • Mhg

      This is BS. Just another rich pastor believing that he got saved because somehow he is chosen. There is no God and everyone knows it they're just too scared to admit it.

      August 5, 2012 at 10:21 am |
  6. sn0wb0arder

    with the myriad of deities, religions and doctrines that exist today and have existed in the past one thing is certain. man is very adept at creating god.

    August 5, 2012 at 10:13 am |
  7. Briana

    this is not news. this is ridiculous crap. spewing of nonsense. newsflash: there is no god.

    "Once you assume a creator and a plan, it makes humans objects in a cruel experiment whereby we are created to be sick and commanded to be well." - Christopher Hitchens

    August 5, 2012 at 10:13 am |
  8. Rod

    Very good

    August 5, 2012 at 10:13 am |
  9. newshater421

    God is Santa Claus for adults...forgives you for your sins and gives you a place to go when you die.

    August 5, 2012 at 10:12 am |
  10. Jon

    The world would be a much better place if people didn't think they knew the mind of God. The bible is certainly not "His" word but the word of Bronze Age men. We decide what is right and wrong and don't need to rely on some invisible deity to tell us so. We learned long before we invented religion and God that it is better to get along than to go kill each other but there will always be death and suffering. We may be human but we are still animals.

    August 5, 2012 at 10:12 am |
  11. Highly Motivated

    Excuse me, but if there is a god, there is only one god so with so many different religions and beliefs we should be asking "who is right and who is wrong". I am sorry but I don't believe any of you.

    August 5, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • quid

      Most gods are dead – assigned to history, and yet at one time people believed in them just as strongly as in Christian god, and many people were sacrificed in their names. And now they are all dead!

      August 5, 2012 at 10:14 am |
  12. quid

    One answer: oxytocin. It 's a "sociall" hormone that influences our brain to care for each other. The levels rises, for example, when a mother bears a child. It also rises when we give each other a hug.

    No god needed at all. And guess what – only mammals have it. The fish does not!

    August 5, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • NoTheism

      @quid, I'm on the same page, but here's a question: how do you know what level is appropriate?
      Wouldn't that determine how much we care for one another? If so, you still don't really have a functioning ethical framework.

      August 5, 2012 at 10:13 am |
    • quid

      Let me put it this way – serial killers have very low level or no detectable level.

      August 5, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • NoTheism

      ok, but I suppose I mean how much is too much rather than the opposite...

      August 5, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • quid

      How much is too much? When your cry about someone (a fake actor) on TV. I'd say you've been over stimulated.

      August 5, 2012 at 10:22 am |
  13. Matt

    God can stop the suffering any time he pleases, but he allows it. There is a big differences in causing something and allowing it. Why does he allow suffering. It is the issue of universal sovereignty. Man, since the rebellion in Eden has tried to rule, but has failed. God is allowing this to happen to prove that his ruler-ship is what mankind needs and he has allowed enough time to pass for man to try all forms of government , but all have failed to really meet the needs of human kind. But he has now put into place a heavenly government with his appointed king Jesus Christ. According to Daniel 2:44 this kingdom would be established while the human governments would still be ruling on the earth. The kings mentioned here are the current major world powers who claim to be God's chosen nation, such as Britain, the USA and also The UN. But these human governments will soon be crushed. Human governments or kingdom and human ruler-ship will be gone for ever. This heavenly government with Jesus as it king will correct all the injustices that have been committed over the 6000 years of failure of human government and just like Job those who have proved faithful through out human history will have also proved that they recognize the right of God to rule the universe. God justice is perfect. Everything will be corrected and human rulership will be recognized as the failure it has been, and Satan has used it to try and further draw all people away form God to him/

    August 5, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • sn0wb0arder

      that is just plain nonsense.

      August 5, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • quid

      Nonsense. see above.

      August 5, 2012 at 10:12 am |
    • Dyslexic doG

      LOLOLOLOL ... good one ... thanks, I needed that. 🙂

      August 5, 2012 at 10:13 am |
  14. dotdashx4


    August 5, 2012 at 10:10 am |
  15. Dyslexic doG

    Christianity: a religion based on an invisible sky daddy that impregnated another mans virgin wife to recreate itself then "sacrifice" itself to itself to atone for a faulty creation it made but knew full well before hand that it's creation would be faulty.

    You couldn't pitch this ludicrous story to a B grade hollywood studio. What a laugh!

    August 5, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • lilyq

      Dyslexic doG: A human created in God's image and given free will to do and be whatever he wishes but because he is separated from his Creator by unforgiven sin, pride and arrogance, cannot know who his Creator is and cannot fathom that anyone else possibly can.

      August 5, 2012 at 10:13 am |
    • Mike

      From 1Corinthians 1:18-21:

      For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

      For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart."

      Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

      For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.

      I will be steady praying for you, friend. These boastful words you've responded with will be the farthest thing from your mind when you come face-to-face with a holy God who will simply remind you that He died for you, yet you would not receive His gift because you were too prideful. You will curse your pride on the day you are thrown into eternal flaming agony. You can escape this if you will admit to God that it frightens you to consider the reality of hell, and ask Him to save you based on what Christ has done for you--suffering the wrath that was intended for you.

      Lastly, friend....it's really okay to confess to God that you simultaneously think the Christian story is goofy and unbelievable, and yet, that you are frightened of going to hell for eternity--from which there is never an escape. God will honor a prayer that is sincere. He's not looking for 'Holy' prayers--just honest ones that indicate the fact that you'd like to know Him, but are skeptical or half-hearted, or whatever. Don't think that you're wiser than God-–He will crush your wisdom like it is nothing. That might be a good thing, actually. Our pride only stands in the way of a perfect relationship with God. It's the chief reason Jesus had to come and die for our sins. Dyslexic doG, the only reason you have life and breath, right now, as you read this, is because God is gracious enough to extend it to you. He could take it from you at any moment, at His own choosing. Do you think it's wise to be so hatefully biting the hand that is holding you up? You already know the answer, my friend, because Romans 1:19-32 says you, and everyone who thinks and talks like you knows. The problem is not that you don't know it-–God made all people with the knowledge that He exists-–it's that you do everything you can to suppress the truth that's in your very soul. What an exhausting life you must live, I mean trying so hard to block God and Christ out of your thinking. How do you do it? I already know the answer: You don't.

      Stop acting like a big shot, admit to God that you fear Him at some level, and He will begin to show you some incredible things! The truth I'm giving you is not just for you, but for all who lie to themselves about 'following their heart.' If we all followed our heart for real, we'd follow what God placed in all of us, which is the knowledge that He simply IS. My work here, in responding to your foolish remarks (I can call them foolish because I, too once had your mindset; and, because they ARE foolish, considering that they're primarily directed at God), is to do whatever I have to do to keep you from going over the edge of the cliff that you, my friend, are rapidly approaching. THIS is what it means to love someone. I know the cure for your cancer-–do you not want to know how to be well again? What you experience here and now is quite temporary, though it may feel like forever.....eternity, on the other hand: ABSOLUTELY FOREVER, AND ABSOLUTELY UNCHANGEABLE ONCE YOU'VE ENTERED IT. Please ask Christ for His help. He will never refuse anyone who comes to Him, period. You, Dyslexic doG, included.

      August 5, 2012 at 10:57 am |
  16. Theamologist

    The Decisions of God and the Decisions of Man

    If God exists, we can see God's nature by observing the Decisions of God. We can see that She continues to create children and entrust them to us. We can see that She is not required to do this, but She does so anyway. Is this decision of God an indication of benevolence, malevolence, or ambivalence?

    Whatever your answer, you have learned a truth about God, without a Bible, Quran, or Torah, or any other writing of man. You observed the creation and you learned this without even a single word from God.

    God is beautiful, we can see this with our own eyes, our ancestors were mistaken in the scriptures they wrote. God is not a creator of hell, She creates this exquisite universe as a most suitable place for man and then she bestows children upon us, trusting us to raise them. And then we can see from this that indeed, She gives us to each other, trusting us to bless and keep ourselves as beloved to each other as we were beheld in God's eyes when She created us.

    We were never evicted from this garden She created. We eat of the tree of life every day in our every embrace and we eat of the knowledge of good and evil when we see that we can respond to the decisions of God by living as repositories of trust for one another, or, sadly, as something less than that. She does not forbid this, She grants us the power and the will to make the Decisions of Man, to decide to live as ones who are like She who created us, as lovers of the generations of Man.

    We are beautiful. We are the children of God. And as we live we are being rewarded with a new generation of Man, spectacular in its beauty. Shall we love them? Shall we raise them to love each other? Or shall we instead force them to believe the ancient opinions of our ancestors who were driven by fear to conclude that God is angry and punishes forever the believers in other faiths?

    Our ancestors were mistaken and we are mistaken to blindly believe them. And if they live on in an afterlife and can observe us, they are in anguish because they can see they have entrapped us. We are entrapped in fear to question the things that they wrote, the things that were never the word of God but only the opinions of man. We can end their anguish, we can make the Decisions of Man, we can stand in courage to correct their mistakes, to free ourselves from this trap and to hear the heavens resounding in applause.

    August 5, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • pearl

      So you alone seem to have all the answers if you believe what you say where is this other proof?

      August 5, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • Mike


      August 5, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • ma

      This is beautiful. Thank you!

      August 5, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • ma

      pearl; no, this person is not alone in understanding this, nor claims to be so. And if proof is what you are looking for, then you are in the wrong field of inquiry. If you understood what was being said, then you would also understand that it is beyond the realm of proof, which is wholly of a linear nature, and squarely in the realm of the created. This is about something which only finds it's totality beyond that limited construct.

      August 5, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
  17. Anti-Christ

    Believing the religion "fad" is why they failed in life

    August 5, 2012 at 10:09 am |
  18. jorgath

    I sigh because your theology is flawed and Christian-centered, and is paying attention only to Calvinist doctrine. To read Augustine, "Evil has no substance." Evil is not a thing. It is the lack of a thing. Evil is not-goodness, the absence-of-good, not an opposite and equal thing. Furthermore, the explanation is free will. You have to CHOOSE goodness. And that choice is meaningless unless you can choose to NOT do good – to do evil. That's it.

    But logically, an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God can't make an imperfection. So why was Adam given the free will to choose to not do good?

    Because of two things. Firstly, good and evil are limiting concepts. Limiting HUMAN concepts. An infinite, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, unlimited, perfect God is beyond your petty ideas of what is good and evil, or good and not-good. Secondly, if such a God is all of those things, and there is evil, then he must allow it, which is a non-good act itself. Therefore, on those grounds, either God is not all-powerful, or God is not all-good. I choose to believe the latter: that God is beyond good and evil. God does what God wants.

    August 5, 2012 at 10:08 am |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      You don't always get to choose cancer.

      August 5, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • Anti-Christ

      G. Zeus Kreiszchte
      You don't always get to choose cancer.

      Yes you can if you stay outside getting your sun tan or maybe working close towards radiation

      August 5, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      Notice I said you don't always get to..... meaning that in some cases (like when kids get it) cancer happens because of no fault of your own.

      August 5, 2012 at 10:12 am |
    • Mike

      With all humility, it's rather difficult to trust in the logic of someone who, at the first speaks so confidently of 'freewill,' as though man is the originator of his own line of thought, and yet, culminates his very weak argument with 'God does what God wants.' You cannot ascribe the absolute freedom of the Creator (which He certainly possesses), and simultaneously ascribe freedom of will to that which He creates. I speak as a Christian, yes, but one need only rely on feeble science in order to draw this very obvious conclusion. We must think before our emotional, traditional platforms make us look rather foolish. I have also suffered from this malady, friend, so I speak to you as one who has been there, and, because we all are quite faulty as a result of sin, could easily get there again, if not careful.


      August 5, 2012 at 11:14 am |
  19. Who me?

    I believe the last paragraph sums it up quite nicely.You need to act like a child to believe in god.Perfect.

    August 5, 2012 at 10:07 am |
  20. jas

    Religious faith is nothing more than vanity disguised as piousness and virtue.

    August 5, 2012 at 10:06 am |
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