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.
It is because of uninformed gibberish like this article, and the guys who know nothing about the Bible who call themselves "pastors, ministers, or priests" that Christianity has been given a bad name. The Bible clearly explains why there is suffering, and death, and also explains God's plans to do something about it : I have copied a small section from an article:
1. How did evil start?
Evil began on earth when Satan told the first lie. Satan was not evil when he was created. He was a perfect angel, but he “did not stand fast in the truth.” (John 8:44) He developed a desire for worship that rightly belongs only to God. Satan lied to the first woman, Eve, and persuaded her to obey him instead of God. Adam joined Eve in disobeying God. Adam’s decision resulted in suffering and death.—Read Genesis 3:1-6, 17-19.
When Satan suggested that Eve disobey God, he was mounting a rebellion against God’s sovereignty. The majority of mankind have joined Satan in rejecting God as Ruler. Satan has thus become “the ruler of the world.”—Read John 14:30; Revelation 12:9.
2. Was God’s creation defective?
The humans and angels whom God created were perfectly capable of obeying God’s requirements. (Deuteronomy 32:5) God created us with the freedom to choose between doing good and doing evil. That freedom gives us a way to express love for God.—Read James 1:13-15; 1 John 5:3.
3. Why has God allowed suffering?
For a time, Jehovah has tolerated rebellion against his sovereignty. Why? To show that no effort to rule without him benefits people. (Jeremiah 10:23) After 6,000 years of human history, the issue has been settled. Human rulers have failed to eliminate war, crime, injustice, and disease.—Read Ecclesiastes 7:29; 8:9; Romans 9:17.
By contrast, those who accept God as their Ruler benefit themselves. (Isaiah 48:17, 18) Soon, Jehovah will bring all human governments to an end. Only people who choose to be ruled by God will inhabit the earth.—Isaiah 2:3, 4; 11:9; read Daniel 2:44.
4. What opportunity does God’s patience provide?
Satan claimed that Jehovah cannot win the loyal obedience of anyone. God’s patience allows all of us opportunity to show whether we favor rule by God or rule by man. We indicate our choice by the way we live.—Read Job 1:8-11; Proverbs 27:11.
"and Hermione Granger used the healing power of the dittany to heal ron from the splinching and she was great."
Lexe, why are you quoting phrases from a bronze age story book as if any of those things actually happened?
Well, you can do all the mental gymnastics you want: the whole "god exists, is omnipotent, and benevolent" is easily disproved in a basic logic or philosophy class. If god exists and is omnipotent, then god can create a universe without evil or suffering. Which of course the religious people exclaim "god created evil and suffering, so that we have free choice!!" Being omnipotent, god would be fully capable of creating a world where we have free choice without evil and suffering. Therefore god either doesn't exist, or god isn't omnipotent (which says all the writings about god are incorrect and invalid since said writings always claim god is omnipotent), or god is not benevolent: meaning at best if there is a god, god is indifferent to humanity, or at worst, straight up doesn't like humanity. Start taking responsibility for your own life instead of depending on god to tell you what's wrong or right, or how to live your life. I don't need the threat of hell or the promise of heaven to treat other people decently, I just figure it's a good thing to do. If you need hell or heaven to make your life decisions, then you're completely missing the point.
Believe me, dude, Christianity had a bad name way before Tim Keller came along.
Wow ....so hav you ever read the three little pigs? Just thought you might enjoy somthng on the lighter side of reading. I hope your not one of those people who blame God...well for just about everything under the Sun. Start making those around you more accountable for ther actions including yourself, you might enjoy there company. Actually take a look in the mirror and realize you can make better choices yourself. Why isn't it on the Best seller list...relax only kidding!
Let's assume there are 100.000 species in the world
And let's further assume that each is made up of 10,000 different types of cells
That equals 1,000,000,000 different types of cells...is that reasonable to you?
There are millions of species. What's your point?
SHAME SHAME CNN There is so much flawed logic in this article, that as a news organization in the business of using language, you should be more severely chastised. Religion is full of child abuse these days, and this article is just getting the poorly educated religious all stirred up without any reason. They have had a hard few weeks with the Chick fil A mess, the theater massacre, on and on. This is abuse of the weak minded.
This pastor is a lost soul. He needs to read the book of Job.
Since cancer is just what happens when DNA gets damaged, and a cell divides before the body gets a chance to repair that damage, cancer is said the be the inevitable end for all human life. That is, if you live long enough (avoiding other killers, like heart attacks, murder, suicide, etc.), then you WILL die of cancer. Period!
Furthermore, all matter in the universe is subject to change. All matter changes state, rusts, decays, decomposes, etc. Why should the matter that comprises your body be any different? Big deal. So you die. You can't escape the laws of the universe that govern the fate of all matter, whether alive or not.
Why does there have to be purpose to your pathetic life?
Thank you for infusing a little logic and common sense into the mix this morning. At times I am, by turns, amazed and aghast at the silliness, self-involvement and arrogance of people, particularly the "deeply religious" types who think they have a "personal relationship with God".
For one person to be wondering why he or she was inflicted with this or that out of billions of beings on this planet, let alone in the Universe is, to me, the height of cheek and extremely ridiculous. It's the lottery, Folks. The lottery of probabilities, of genetics, of time and space trying to be occupied at the same time by two cars at an intersection, because everything in the Universe is on a track and will be somewhere, doing something, eating something, being exposed to something, making decisions about something that lead us down that ever narrowing path.
There are no unicorns, no hobbits, no Jesus in the French Toast. All the magical thinking in the world isn't going to alter the fact that you are going to randomly come into this world, randomly live and then randomly die at various points on the continuum.
Can I get an Amen?
All I know is I am going to pray for so many lost. For a long time I have believed so many were saved and were not lost, but now every christian article proves to me that 90% or more of people on earth are lost. And it hurts me to know that. So many who wont believe because of THEIR logic. Oh how i will pray for them.
Amen....James. I only read a few comments to this article and was appalled. I agree with you. People seem so lost and in denial for their need for a loving God in their lives. Prayer is the answer for a lost and dying world. Thank you for sharing some common and Biblical sense. 🙂 God bless you.
Your life, James. Waste it any way you want, just so you're not making OTHER people's miserable.
Hehe dont matter wath we need face death up
After my mother being murdered when I was a child and then watching my father rot away from cancer when I was in college I have come to accept that the "Why?" of the pain in my life is not very important, knowing the answer to the question would not make the pain any less real. What is important is that I have found a companion to walk with me through the pain, someone to cry with, someone to heal with. Jesus suffered loss too and empathizes with our losses. I have found him present in my times of grief in a way I cannot fully describe. This is not an easy revelation, but it has given me peace and strength to move. I have chosen to continue trusting God because he has come to me in my grief and brought healing that I thought was impossible.
The real question is "Why do such self-centered fools get publicity at all?"
How pretentious of you to believe this – it is idiocy to think that yours is the only way.
"I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God." – George Bush.
When the President says something like this, you know the nuttiness has gone too far.
When his son George W Bush starts the Iraq war for "Gog and Magog" to prepare for the second coming of Christ (ask French President Jacques Chirac), you know the nuttiness has gone too far.
I thought that "news" was supposed to be a quest for truth. This is a news organization isn't it? I can BELIEVE that the sun revolves around the sun all day long. It still does not make it true.
It's becasue God intended you to get more sun exposure – He did not expect you to start using sunscreen and avoiding mid-day sun. Vitamin D from the sun (or suppliments) can reduce incidence of breast and colon cancer by as much as 75%! See Grassrootshealth.net
"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."
By this logic, we should all believe in my new boutique religion, "Morminanity" which promises you your own planet if you suffer, with bigger planets going to bigger sufferers. Because if you reject that idea, you are only acquiescing to more senselessness for your suffering.
Making stuff up to feel better is not a strong basis for a belief system.
So let me get this straight. God did all that to Job (including killing his family) just to prove a point to Satan...what a royal jerk.
Yeah, ever notice how the Christians all say "Oh, p00r Job", when it was the miserable schmucks AROUND him who were on the receiving end of most of the crap raining down from the 2 ghoulish gamblers in the sky?
Well he can do all the mental gymnastics he wants, the whole god exists, is omnipotent, and benevolent is easily disproved in a basic logic or philosophy class. If god exists and is omnipotent, then god can create a universe without evil or suffering. Which of course the religious people exclaim "god created evil and suffering, so that we have free choice!!" Well being omnipotent, god would be fully capable of creating a world where we have free choice without evil and suffering. Therefore god either doesn't exist, or god isn't omnipotent (which says all the writings about god are incorrect and invalid since said writings always claim god is omnipotent), or god is not benevolent: meaning at best if there is a god, god is indifferent to humanity, or straight up doesn't like humanity. Start taking responsibility for your own lives instead of depending on god to tell you what's wrong or right, or how to live your life. I don't need the threat of hell or the promise of heaven to treat other people decently, I just figure it's a good thing to do. If you need hell or heaven to make your life decisions, then you're completely missing the point.
Yep...this exactly my point of view. It's what we make of it, right now here on earth. Be decent just because it what you wish for your children and loved ones. Mistakes will be and if the effort to learn from yours and others well that just makes you a better person. People dying from disease can be timing location of discovery cryin out loud or where the gun was pointed in a split second. Believe if you want, its a cruch some of us must lean on.
Pastor Keller believes in God because he doesn't have the capacity to grasp the alternative. HIs writings are an attempt, in the face of evidence to the contrary, to convince himself that what he believes is true. It is obvious that the question at hand is a serious threat to his own faith and that he continues to struggle with it. Rightly so!
More to the point, it's a threat to his income.
God is the king of here life its how u maked if u tink there is no god wait for the final of this earth will one day end
You can sit around waiting for the end. I'm going to enjoy the one life we have. We'll see who made the right choice.
The bible is like a "Nigerian Email" from the bronze-age.
BRilliant! I will have to steal that witticism. Well done.
Well put. I needed this today. God bless.