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.
(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.
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.
You don't have to believe in a God or Gods to be a good person that believes in ethical thinking. People have died of cancer for millions of years, people have died from plagues for millions of years, people have died for religious wars for millions of years..............nothing new. Females died in childbirth at an alarming rate only 60-70 years ago.
Wake up people ...THERE IS NO GOD! God is an imaginary friend of the intellectually challenged!
And, apparently, the enemy of "free thinkers." Why is that?
You say this because you think we got here by the childish belief in the religious dogma of science called evolution.
I find it particularly concerning that a news organization would allow this to be on their page. True, it is clearly stated that these are solely the authors beliefs, but why does he have a platform on your organization's website? There is evidence through surveys and studies that many people, specifically religious people, trust child molestors more than atheists. CNN then allows an article on their website in the wake of a tragedy which represents atheism from the view point of "how magnificent!" in reference to cancer or the Aurora shootings. Shame on you CNN for continuing to perpetuate negative stereotypes. There are plenty of atheists who are grieving alongside the victims and families of Aurora, or who are trying to overcome battles with cancer and grief in families with love. Perhaps CNN should seek out some voices to add to the conversation that can show having morals and showing love to the people around you isn't something contingent on being a part of an organized religion or having a faith in a god.
The article is exactly the opposite, it tries to defend the Judeo-Christian god with a bad attempt to answering the problem of evil... I'm not sure where you're getting your ideas from.
@NoTheism – The use of Nietzsche in a way that portrays people who don't believe in a god as people who willingly accept, embrace and take joy in suffering and violence. It is a crude argument that has no backing and paints atheists in an uncaring, unempathetic light.
This is so full of false premises and syllogisms it would take a week to cover it all. One example is this reliance on MLK's statement "that if there was no higher divine law, there would be no way to tell if any particular human law was unjust." The false premise is that, if there even were a god, one could know what his "divine" laws actually are. “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear."Deuteronomy 21:18-21. This is supposedly one of god's "divine" laws. Is that the standard for human law? Not in any civilized society. They still do this type of thing in some places as to women who "stray" from their parents religious notions. How about another "divine" law: the Golden Rule, supposedly created by jesus around 32ACE. He was supposedly god (still can't wrap my brain around that whole trinity thing) so this would be one of god's "divine" laws. Problem is that Confucious said the same thing at least 500 years earlier, and others had said the same thing long before jesus/god did. My point is that god and his "divine" law is a false premise to the conclusion that such is necessary in order to determine whether or not a human law is unjust.
Jesus specifically said that he didn't come to teach anything new, but to draw people to repentance. Your assertion that Jesus couldn't be God because Confucius said something similar (as did several other Jews before the time of Christ) has no bearing. Jesus pointed out that they had the law and the prophets, but only lacked himself, the blood sacrifice that would cover their sin.
The Trinity is a myth, do not give it a second thought. If you want the answer to other questions, just think it to yourself and watch what happens.
Very clearly and eloquently stated. Thank you.
all is revealed when you ask a theist the following question:
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 young 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.
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.
Dan, I did not assert that jesus couldn't be god because Confucius said something before he did. I only used that as an example of the falseness of the author's assertion that we need so-called "divine" law in order to determine the justness of human law. This "law" of the golden rule does not have "divine" origins, unless you are willing to concede that Confucius and many others before jesus were mouthpieces of god or divinely inspired, even though they were either non-theists, polytheiests, and otherwise did not subscribe to judeo/christianity. In which case, then we must consider the author's premise false. That was my only point.
What a bunch of absolute nonsense. Gotta sell those books, I guess...love how every one of this belief authors have a book to sell...
It's good to be skeptical of people in cases like this. Well done.
The author observes: "Suffering and death seem random, senseless."
Duh. That's because they ARE! For this you need a degree in divinity?
I KNOW, Richard! He bypasses the most obvious reason for this...that there is no God in the equation of our world.
I hate that logic that the supposedly intellectual and intelligent use to dismiss God. Let's talk about the intellectual and intelligent neuroscientist who killed all of these people. Why is it all of a sudden God's fault? Did God put us on the earth with guns and weapons in our hands? Does God force us to smoke when it causes 85% of lung cancers? Does God force us to use birth control when one of the side effects is endometrial and ovarian cancers? Did you not hear the story of the woman who held pressure on her friend's bleeding carotid and saved her life? Thank God that she is probably someone who believes that she is not better than everyone else like yourself and she had the selflessness to act on her friend's behalf. Who can ever explain these events and why someone so sick in the head was allowed to function in our supposedly intellectual and intelligent society. It will be belief in God and that there is a better place than this very intelligent society that we live amongst that gets most of these survivors through such a horrific event. When you have all the answers go ahead and write your book idiot. I'll be watching for it.
It doesn't take logic to dismiss any god.
We are all born without the knowledge in any god and despite social influences remain in default mode.
Religion has been around long enuf that it's already heard all the possible questions and so has come up with answers to them. Yes, it's true. Religion really DOES have all the answers. It's just that most of them are wrong!
And it's not necessary that anybody else have the right one to be able to point that out. For example, I have no idea what the cube root of 1234567890 is, but I don't NEED to know to be able to say you're wrong if you claim it's 2.
Let's talk about the fact that Atheists are NOT blaming God for this. That would imply that God exists, which is exactly what Atheists do not believe.
So let's go through your list...
Did God put us on the earth with guns and weapons in our hands? NO, God didn't have anything to do with it because God doesn't exist.
Does God force us to smoke when it causes 85% of lung cancers? NO, God doesn't have anything to do with it because God doesn't exist.
Does God force us to use birth control when one of the side effects is endometrial and ovarian cancers? NO, God doesn't have anything to do with it because God doesn't exist. BUT, at least we DO have birth control and the vast majority of people who use it suffer no ill side effects. Soooo...what's your point?
Did you not hear the story of the woman who held pressure on her friend's bleeding carotid and saved her life? You're right...God didn't do this...SHE did. And that's the whole point of Atheism...don't pray for her to survice...DO SOMETHING to make it turn out the way you want it to turn out.
Even when the plain truth is staring them right in the eyes, they will continue on with this delusion of lying to themselves to make the world make sense, and so that death isn't the end for them. Sad really.
The only danger is coming to your senses and realizing there's no imaginary friend in the sky.
Whether God is real or not, a lot of people will be in for a horrifying surprise after their death.......
If no god exists, what would one have to be surprised about?
Also, it seems that you're trying to go for Pascal's wager... which is just bad reasoning.
Not so, God does not torture people for trillions of years, he is not sadistic, he is love. Stop spreading that horrible lie.
Article was well written, but two huge mistakes, one, GOD did not come to earth, he sent is son John 3:16, two, we do know why he allows suffering, and he will soon do away with it completely. Rev" 21:3 and 4.
You aren't kidding when you say a LOT of people, either. According to the BIble, only 144,000 people are going to get into heaven. My guess is that it'll be entirely innocent infants who died shortly after birth. Where will the rest of the billions — including people like you, so smugly assured that you're among the elect — end up, according to your Big Book o'Horrors?
There is no basis for expecting any surprises, or anything else, after death.
The meek shall inherit the earth, men were not made for the heavens.
Odd that you should focus on one sect which is outside of Christianity (denying the divinity of Christ) and choose 144,000 as the number that "get in" to heaven. Read it again. The 144,000 are the witnesses fro Christ who bring Israel to salvation. Daniel said that "innumerable" crowds of people would stand before God.
Dan, the meek shall inherit the earth.
"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.
Google Oxytocin, the morality hormone.
But you don't explain why evolution would need to give us Oxytocin to regulate our behavior, if there is no need for morality in a world without God.
Are you for real???? Do you really think God assigns cancer to some people and not others? We need the Annunaki to return.
Christians: think about how you feel about Allah, Buddha, any of the Hindus' 330 million deities, Thor, Zeus et al. Then know that that is how I feel about your God too. We're all Athiests, I am just an Athiest of one more god than you.
(with my apologies to Christopher Hitchens)
The sad part is that you allow Hitchens to ffeed u a contorted Xtian Theology then claim u have a better one. A Christian does not believe other "gods" do not exist but that they are manifestations of evil spirits. This is so simple that I wonder how u confuse the two! Oh I forgot Prophet Hitchens
And so why is YOUR God not an evil spirit as well? (and you can't rely on any old musty books written by ghost authors for your response)
When the author says...
"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."
...he utterly avoids the issue. When theists feel that god has done something that makes sense, they use that as evidence of his existence and benevolence. But when god does something incomprehensible (e.g. Aurora), they DO NOT see that as evidence against god. Indeed, they see it as just another example of god's "mysterious" ways. When ANY evidence, no matter how self-contradictory, can be twisted to support the SAME preconceived notion, this is PROOF that the believer is being IRRATIONAL. Any assertion (i.e. "god exists") that cannot, BY DEFINITION, be disproven with ANY AMOUNT of contradictory evidence is not a rational assertion, and does not need to be disproven.
Fortunately, as we can observe, each of us have erred. That's not God's fault. The rest is a matter of our subserivance to creation than of worship to God. We object to the consequences of our sin; rather we should see the answer God has given by sending His Son to pay the price of death and conquer it for us.
This guy's logic is disgusting. At almost every critical point in this article, he avoids truly considering deeper questions because of his "belief" in his religion. For example, "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." Instead of explaining (as any logical, rational person would) why, how, or that God exists, he just assumes He does. He completely glosses over one of the most controversial, undecided-upon questions in human history; is there a God?
Mr. Keller is just a religious tool whose number one priority in life is to create more religious tools.
thats why the church has such an issue with birth control, they see it as future church members...
Your logic is equally fallible - or, in your elegant words, "disgusting." Of course he assumes there's a God - or, begins with that presupposition - as obviously you do not. So what does that prove? It proves that presuppositions exist and that equal treatment of them - whether it's belief or nonbelief as a starting point - must be considered. It's a silly straw man to think: "Oh he begins with a belief in God...how irrational." The same can be set of your non-belief.
I would encourage you to read and listen to Keller in depth. Keep in mind that this is a brief article, not a robust theology of suffering. But, if you read and listen to Keller, he tackles tough issues such as this one. You might find other things to accuse Keller of, but skirting around tough subjects is not one of them.
DJay, you overlook one salient point. The result of the theist's belief is a contradiction; the result of the atheist's absence of belief is not.
...and you assume that God doesn't exist, so your logic is equally flawed.
umm, no. To not believe something (especially something that tries to dictate almost every aspect of your life) until you at least have some sound basis of its truth is called being rational and responsible. Not every presupposition or assumption is equally valid. That's ridiculous. If I said to you, Dennis Rodman is God, believe in him unquestioningly, with everything you are and die your hair green or you're going to hell, would you think that deserved as much respect as any other idea?
Theists and atheists = both illogical beings. Nobody knows anything about "god." Period.
Immmanuel Kant did a good job of defining the limits of logic in "knowing" god. In short – he said that logic can not prove or disprove anything about our SUpreme Being AKA God.
But we can know something about what's CLAIMED about God by his PR agents. For example, they claim he's all-powerful and all-loving. Evidence and logic demonstrate that one or the other of those HAS to be wrong. My money's on BOTH of them being lies.
Not so, you know a GREAT deal about him, look in the mirror, your eyes, ears, brain, heart, lungs, vascular system, immune system, tastes buds, spinal cord, digestive system, they are all evidence of design.
nearly three thousand years ago Zeno of Elia demonstrated that human logic can lead to false conclusions. Conversely, someone with poor logic skills may come to the right conclusion. I love how you atheists come here claiming that religious beliefs defy logic, yet have no idea what logic is or how to construct a logical argument.
But the Atheist admits as much by saying there are simply things in the universe we don't yet understand.
Dan, how did you come to your belief in God and the Bible (Koran, etc.)?
like on some other stories, where's the button i can hit that says: "this doesn't belong on CNN." again, this is not news. this is nonsense.
It's an opinion piece, what makes you believe that CNN cannot have such articles on THEIR site?
I don't really know who doesn't have them, these days..
.CNN posts a religious article every Sunday morning to allow non-believers to shoot fish in a barrel.This is becoming a gathering place for atheists once a week, while the faithful head out for their weekly self-righteous bible reinforcement.
Many people think that journalism means “news” and nothing else. In fact, it also encompasses features, sports (a particular type of news, ’tis true), opinion (from both editors and readers), analysis, humor (including comics), and advertising. Done properly, it’s like a buffet with a little something for everyone.
The same self serving statements, over and over and over and over again.
It is a wonderful life knowing God through Jesus Christ. He gives infinite purpose to all my joys, and has enabled me through some tragedies I have experienced. He has helped me love others not in agreement with me and especially people in need that I can help in some way. the author is right; nobody "understands it all," Christian or not.
It's easy to let something else be accountable for the good things............. and bad things.
And I've managed to do the same without jesus or god. I guess that means one doesn't really need such things. Ah, the sublime cut of Occam's razor.
Given: Faith + Comfort = Comfort
Solve for Faith.
Raoul Duke, Jr. we might imagine that we have achieved anything without a creator, but the foundation of anything we are or accomplish is possible because he gave us the gifts to do these things, acknowledged or not.
Irrefutable evidence of that exists just in the fact that you read this, the brain is a miracle of design.
If it makes people uncomfortable to call him God due to the massive fraud perpetrated by those who falsely claim to be his spokesmen or followers, that is ok, just call him the greatest scientist, physicist, chemist, artist, astronomer and so on, that exists in the universe.
If we adroitly sidestep by saying, "that is silly, stupid, we do so perhaps to our OWN detriment, regardless of what others might believe, we are responsible for our own thoughts and actions.
Know this, even if there is no creator, EVOLUTION is not the answer to how we got here, it is silly and very unscientific. It is pushed by "religious zealots" that in most cases call themselves scientists, they are preachers who use the same methods as these so called "reps" of God, you are STUPID if you do not believe; "How do we know better than you?
Because we have degrees, we regurgitate what other degree holders tell us"> By the way, few if any of them could build a simple birdhouse, yet they tell us this MASSIVE body of life got here easily...just happened, you must have....FAITH....to believe.
I know I'm not the only one who thinks this man is anything but a fraud, right? He bought an education from some theology school, where what? He learned the bible? You can do that on the toilet at home dropping a deuce. You took some history lessons? I mean, Christian history lessons? Sure as heck didn't study Islam or the other hundreds of current or previously existing religions, and this makes you an expert on god? You tell us it's too much for our feeble minds, but yet, what you're really doing is explaining god, apparently. God is so snooty he made a religion so ambiguous to follow we need Jesus degree men to explain it to us? Ludicrous
There's no difference between him and a 15 year old that can reference any passage in every Harry Potter book.
I'd love to see where you "bought" your academic lightweight degree. Your clumsy, ad hominem rant suggests the University of the Cretin, perhaps?
Jay. typical christian MO. nothing to say so you resort to insults and hate.