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. Me

    So why not say "Why me?" and throw a religious slant to every bad thing that happens to a person? I'm sure there are people who will try to explain bad events using religious explanations, such as "God thought you were worthy of a challenge" or "This is being done to you to show you how strong you are." Likewise some will say, "There is no god, so don't bother asking why." There's no reason to bring religion into the picture. Bad *and* good things happen to people regardless of whether they believe in 0 deities or 100 of them.

    August 5, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      Unfortunately many humans are so weak minded that they cannot accept a life without assigning some "meaning" to it. Coincidence or accident are not good enough explanations for them. (Not that I am one of those, mind you).

      August 5, 2012 at 10:39 am |
    • longshot

      "I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours" – s roberts

      August 5, 2012 at 10:46 am |
  2. rafael

    And the answer is...don't worry your finite little head. Just mindlessly continue like little religious zombies to contribute to our coffers for providing you nothing of value in return.

    August 5, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      Indeed, for (the love of) money to be the root of all evil, "god" sure needs a lot of it! Sure, "god" hates money, but will accept as much as anyone is willing to give. Ha ha ha ha!

      August 5, 2012 at 10:40 am |
  3. ridiculous

    This religion thing gets more laughable with each passing day. If you believe in it, you are an infant

    August 5, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • rafael

      Which is exactly what this guy says in the end.

      August 5, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  4. balee5

    Why is this stupid mumbo jumbo, circle talking article on the homepage of CNN?

    August 5, 2012 at 10:35 am |
  5. mitch

    Very flawed reasoning Pastor Kellor, I can not imagine how dumb your congregation must be to keep on attending your church and contributing their money.

    August 5, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • RichardSRussell

      You know how 1st-year teachers do it, don't you? They only have to stay a chapter ahead of the kids.

      August 5, 2012 at 10:46 am |
  6. longshot

    like most right-wingers, he lets his ideology determine the facts, instead of the other way around. that, in a nutshell, is the difference between right-wingers and liberals.

    August 5, 2012 at 10:35 am |
  7. Dyslexic doG

    enjoy it while it lasts Christians. Another 10 or 20 generations and the human race will look on your God and Jesus the same way as we look on Zeus and Thor and Ra (and santa claus and the tooth fairy) today. What a giggle!

    August 5, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      I hope allah is included in that, but it will probably take muslims a lot longer to let go.

      August 5, 2012 at 10:42 am |
  8. News

    "God did not create a world with death and evil in it"

    I seem to remember that in the fairy tale of Adam and Eve, in the garden of Eden, there was a tree with forbidden fruit, long before the humans choose to eat from it. God provided this because why? Because he's a sick b@st@rd

    August 5, 2012 at 10:34 am |
  9. Nietodarwin

    The end of the article states " 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."
    THIS JUST CUTS IT. This man needs to take biology 101 at a community college. Forcing a child into a RELIGION IS CHILD ABUSE. Making this statement is just ADULT ABUSE to those vulnerable to buy into it. SHAME SHAME

    August 5, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • Dyslexic doG

      well said!

      August 5, 2012 at 10:36 am |
    • KAS860

      Child Abuse?? I'm no bible thumper but thats a little extreme

      August 13, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  10. DD

    Everything happens for a reason. Otherwise, you go crazy.

    August 5, 2012 at 10:34 am |
  11. marshall

    Finally, an article which I can relate to and grow as a Christian, thanks CNN, its about time....

    August 5, 2012 at 10:34 am |
  12. ArthurP

    Why you? Because chemical reactions whether they are in someones body (cancer et al) or brain (mental imbalance) do not have a conscience. That is why.

    August 5, 2012 at 10:34 am |
  13. Cane

    I am very interested to know why a bunch of non believers is even here talking about this article???Why are you you so concerned? If you dont believe in God thats your deal, but it sure seems like since you dont believe you would not be wasting your time on this blog? Why are are you working so hard to dis a god you dont even believe in??

    August 5, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • Blame the deserving

      It is odd, how atheists are a single digit minority, yet represent over half the posts on religion related stories. They are far more zealous in jamming their views down others throats than the religious.

      August 5, 2012 at 10:38 am |
    • balee5

      Go to school and learn before you make comments for so many to see. Start with English 101

      August 5, 2012 at 10:39 am |
    • Dyslexic doG

      because people who believe in your god are getting into power in the USA and changing the rules to oppress my family. Religion in schools teaches this hogwash to children who should be learning real science to have a chance at succeeding in this world. My gay friends can't get married. My female friends can't get an abortion if they need one. The list goes on and on. Your nonsense is affecting my life and my family's lives.

      August 5, 2012 at 10:39 am |
    • rafael

      Because those who believe in that god work to control our secular society to the extent they can, *despite* what their prophet taught.

      August 5, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • longshot

      Why are non-believers here talking about this? Because you christians are forcing your irrational beliefs on everyone through Christian Sharia law. Your bible based koch-funded ideology has lead you to pass laws across this nation, in the US Congress and to have POTUS candidate that is anti-science, anti-women, anti-gay, anti-environment, anti-poor, anti-healthcare, anti-middle class.

      August 5, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • Rich

      That, my friend, is a very good question.

      August 5, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  14. ange

    Tim Keller is the poop.

    August 5, 2012 at 10:32 am |
  15. longshot

    god is make believe. seriously, people, it's 2012, grow up. there is no such thing as god, face it.

    August 5, 2012 at 10:32 am |
  16. Derek Sutherland

    "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?" I'm confused, how does this justify the policy of social darwinism so popular in the Republican Party? Also, why do we have a sense of outrage and horror when suffering and tragedy occur? From what I can tell, many atheists seem to be perfectly humane and helpful in moments of tragedy and suffering. How about we ask the question of the suffering and tragedy that has been induced by religion across the board? And don't pull the, man did that, it wasn't God argument. If man is acting in the name of God and causing death and suffering for religion X, if that God exists and is all powerful, would this be allowed to happen?

    August 5, 2012 at 10:31 am |
  17. Pat H.

    "Gods will"ill is our common consensus of our common will and what we concede is justice for all. Our best judgement with the knowledge we have at any moment in time. We are slowly, ever so slowly becoming better at it. So do not challenge us with your claim you got it from a higher authority! Even if you did it is only hearsay and rumor!!!

    August 5, 2012 at 10:30 am |
  18. Al Sargent

    Retarded childish nonsense.

    August 5, 2012 at 10:30 am |
  19. francis

    Ofcourse he's got to convince people to believe there is a God. He is a pastor. He'd be in the unemployment line if he did not!

    August 5, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • DPGW

      Got a couple of books to sell as well...

      August 5, 2012 at 10:33 am |
  20. Bill

    Wow, now that I've read the article, I just can't believe that someone would put this sort of drivel on what's supposed to be a news website.

    August 5, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • NoTheism

      it's an opinion piece....

      August 5, 2012 at 10:32 am |
    • Nii

      CNN BELIEF BLOG! Are u dyslexic?

      August 5, 2012 at 10:36 am |
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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.