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.
CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories
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.
Follow the CNN Belief Blog on Twitter
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.
"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."
Did he even think before writing those lines ? Absence of God explains the suffering. Suffering is part of the natural world and there is no God to stop it. The same fire that burns a deer cleans the forest for new growth. The human capacity to kill other humans is part of our species. Under the 'right' conditions we are capable of obliterating 140,000 civilians with a single bomb. Death is a neccessary component of evolution and re-birth.
U pepole are crazy u tink god is coming back if they do alot of shiet to him and when u die no body cares
God does not cause suffering but he allows suffering in this wicked system of things. When someone says, "God took him or her", is an incorrect way to think. Time and unforseen occurence befall us all. – Eccl. 9:11 Wrong place, wrong time.
Karl Marx ... that's what it comes down to? Communist agenda I see. Thanks for warning me. 🙂
It is just baffling to me that it is 2012, and Christians believe in an imaginary being while trying to explain to their kids how Santa Claus doesn't exist when they come of age. How can it be that easy for people to ignore that it's obviously make believe?
Actually, most kids figure out the deal with Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy on their own, and their parents then admit that it was all make-believe. But let the very same kid use the very same logic operating in the very same brain to come to the very same conclusion about the very same KIND of imaginary benefactor, only in this case God, and the parents recoil in horror and insist that the kid must be possessed by Satan or something. The kids are actually smarter than the parents, just not as powerful.
Inspirational thought on the existence of man and humankind's perception. I never understood this dilemma myself until I opened my mind and began searching the Scriptures for myself. I figured I needed to go to the source and do some soul searching. I had a lot of questions and I could read. So I started to read about the life of Christ and something began to change inside my being. I didn't understand but I was being drawn by something and I delved in because hope began to arise in what I call my spirit. I was raised Catholic and never read the Bible and Jesus to me was a sad figure hanging on the cross raised high in the echoing cathedrals of my church. "Who was this guy, anyway?" I really didn't know. Who did he say he is? What's his connection and God? A lot of questions inside. And I simply took him at his word because he is the only son of God, fully man and fully God, sent by his father to make a way that you and I can have a relationship with God. He's not hanging that cross, the tomb he was laid in after he was crucified for humankind's sin was empty. Death could not take him. He did the thing God sent him to do for you and me and all humankind. And after I believed on him, all those Scriptures began to make sense, as if those words became alive and still are. "You must be born again," Jesus tells Nicodemus, a religious leader who came to Jesus in the night so he would not be seen to ask Jesus about who he really was, "How can a man be born again?" Seemed ridiculous and impossible but Jesus was speaking about the spirit not the body. We are natural Man and do not understand spiritual things until we are born of the spirit. So how are we born again? By a saving faith and resting in the words that Jesus spoke and the claims of being the divine son of God. By telling God you are open to him. By telling on yourself that you are filled with a lot bad experiences and are not proud of many things you've said or done thus far in your life. By letting him take it all off your shoulders, the weight, the heaviness, the burden you feel everyday, the guilt, and replacing all that with supernatural joy and peace. Even in the midst of bad things going on in your life. Yes, this world is a fallen environment and finite and slowly terminating but eternity is forever and never ends. It is not the will of God that any one should perish for eternity but that we each would have eternal life and a good life while here on planet earth. So I see it's all about experiencing God's amazing love and forgiveness now while we have the chance. We have nothing to lose and heaven to gain. For whatever it's worth to you, investigate Jesus. Have a conversation with God. Go to the source of the Christian faith, the Bible and check it out for yourself. It would be foolish to ignor such a claim and someday too late.
Because of religion our children have a world to loose. The obvious answer to environmental problems is population control and religion the biggest obstacle to population control
Statistics don't show up any different group of humans that benefit more than others from "experiencing god's love". Otherwise the Insurance companies would have separate categories.
But no religious person can accept obvious factual stuff like this. They'd rather bask in their "warm glow" of "personal experience"
Throw out your 2000 year old book,then let us know how any of your claims have any validity.Thanks for ending your boring,clique filled rant, with the usual threat of eternal damnation.Classic religious fear mongering.Thanks again.
" And I simply took him at his word because he is the only son of God, fully man and fully God, sent by his father to make a way that you and I can have a relationship with God. "
And you simply took him at his word? FAIL!
barbara, you've reinforced my hypothesis that people come to their belief in God in two ways...traumatic experience or childhood indoctrination. Sounds like you were mostly the latter, but it took a while to really sink it's teeth into you.
unless you there and can prove otherwise, you have to remember the bible was written by man.
written by man... about 200 years afterwards, hobbled together by editors with agendas, filling in gaps with speculation based off loose oral history. But you can't argue facts with people that don't need them to believe......
A whole bunch of men...writing it after the fact...from memory...where they were not always present. (was someone present at Christ's removing the boulder in front of his tomb?)
Jesus rose from the dead? Why doesn't anyone mention the fact that Jesus is a zombie?
It is just so incredibly illogical for these people to believe this nonsense BUT they are so darn adamant that it is the truth it creates a sense of hopeless frustration for the nonbelievers. It gets to the point where you just want to choke the life out of them.
This life is a place where both good and bad can happen to people, and therefore will happen. Regardless of time and place, humans were able to find both the good and the bad in their lives and couldn't escape either. Being thankful in either case helps man enjoy the good and cope with the bad.
I wonder how many people would believe in God if there was no financial or other gain for him in it? Many people believe because they think they can have an advantage over their fellow humans if they do.
This real church who loves and knows Jesus doesn't do things to gain financially......We longsuffer and pray and wait at the Lords feet......and he provides everything.....Because he so Good!
Trying to prove a hypothesis is dangerous, and nothing more than confirmation bias an selective perception. You should attempt to disprove your theory with the simplest, most elegant solution, which is in this case that we live in a universe that is completely disinterested in us, and we are nowhere near being point of it, nor at the center. One might suggest the strongest course of action for the human race is to retire such archaic notions that are far too deeply personally held to be of use to us, and come together as human beings, realizing the only thing we truly know for sure is that we have each other.
To me, that's the real point of Atheism. It's not about proving God doesn't exist. It's about being indifferent to the existence of any supreme being, and finding comfort, support, love, and joy in each other and in ourselves.
It's a rabbit hole talking about "lack of faith" to someone who only understands "faith". Religious people think that atheism is an active belief, when it's an absence of any belief. I think the best way to relate that is that they aren't believing in an invisible floating tiger next to them, because there is so presumptive reason to belief that. There ya go... But when you talk "faith", you don't have to play by the rules of the known universe. All I know is that we have the chance to live more meaningful, more connected lives, where we cherish time, and understand our glorious relation to the entire universe....
I loved your comment.
We have each other? Is that who you're putting your stock or faith into, your fellow man? The same being that walked into a crowded theater and started shooting people. Thanks, but no thanks. You can believe in your fellow man to save you when the time comes (and by that I mean the Rapture, or second coming of Christ) but I can guarantee you this my friend, if you're still alive when that happens, not a single man woman or child that is left will stick out their hand to help you. God's presence and all his people will be gone from this place and the world will be yours to destroy as you please, which shouldn't take too long I imagine given that nature of our fellow man. In the end, If you and the rest if the atheists in the world are right, that there is no God, then good for all of you, we will all die and nothing more will happen. But if the Christians are right, and there is more to life after death... hate to be one to say "told you so"!
God in his infinite wisdom and knowing that eternity is much more vast than any short human life and suffering, uses it to teach us how to love and have compassion for others.
Actually he said do Genesis1:14 for guidance. (Astrophysics).
Try reading the Bible for yourself.
And you know this because you are so wise, right?
No, you think you know it because you were brainwashed as a child.
Sheely, try this out
Compassion + Love + God = Compassion + Love
Solve for God.
"Shelley Dodt" uses "it"? What is it exactly? Evil? Pain?.. or what?
But, more importantly, your statement begs the question, why do we need "to learn love and have compassion for others"?
Why do people even think that God is 'supposed to' protect every facet of our lives? God knows our physical lives are limited, and there is nothing wrong with physical death of the body! So why do we assume death is bad? Jesus called it "falling asleep". He knew the spirit of the person lived on with God.
@Michael, just go to sleep then, dude.
Chew on this a while, Shell: evil is not separate from your God. He created THAT too.
I tink mr lucifer is the king now
I'm confused. Did I go to sleep and wake up 500 years ago?
The picture of the church on the article stating that the internet is "the new church for atheists" shows the same FLAWED LOGIC that is being perpetrated by CNN here. Why didn't they put a picture of two dice, of a hydrogen atom. They could have copied the models off of the graphics of The Big Bang Theory. CNN keeping christians in an academic cage this way IS NOT HELPING THE TEST SCORES OF THIS NATION. This whole belief blog is mostly downright UNPATRIOTIC
Stop wasting your time and do something worthwhile instead of fantasizing about some non-existent boogeyman. There is no God.
If there is no God, and thus the fate of all mankind as well as the universe is a state of "non-existence"......how can you possibly see any action (even getting out of bed) as you put it "worthwhile"? How can anything have "worth" when the ending is as you believe?
Are you ready for this? .... There are NO Atheists!
Reference the Greatest Book ever written: Romans , Chapter One.
Sorry to all the 'God Suppressors' out there.
Man created god in his image. The authors problem is that he is stacking the cards in favor of his argument and ignoring that if there is a god he/she/it doesn't know or care what we say or do. Maybe Karl Marx was correct in saying religion is the opiate of the people.
Same story here – survived leukemia while watching many friends perish with cancer since. As a survivor, I've come to realize the proverbial truth of God sends rain on the good and bad alike (Mat 5:45). Furthermore, when the storms come on everyone – those with their house built on rock do better than those who's houses ar built on sand (Mat 7:24-25). These sentiments expressed by Jesus explain it best to me.
Religion may be an opium and/or truth – but in my very real near death experience and subsequent consolation of others in similar boats – I have also come to the conclusion that there are few, if any, real atheists in fox holes. The ones I've know who've passed on – passed on in total misery grasping at tooth pics while drowning at sea.
Opium and/or truth, religion is a solace I'd recommend when that inevitable storm hits us all.
The number of people that believe in a god does not determine its existence.. Even if there are atheists that fall back to nonsense, that doesn't prove anything at all...
The question is not how many true atheists are there, because I bet you're an atheist too..
Want to give it a shot?
All are real atheists at birth. It takes a village to brainwash a child.
Otherwise we'd all have the same religion. And we only have to look around to see that doesn't happen.
So believing in imaginary beings is "good" because it makes us feel better.
The problem is the very real evil that organized religion causes. For example, islamic terrorism and killing of gays.
Thank God for you...I am a cancer nurse and have seen so much of the same. These people who reject belief in anything. live their lives selfishly, and then when they are suffering and on their death bed they want something to grasp onto and someone to have pity on them. When they died and I had to clean their bodies there was no peace in the room. It was cold and with disparity and usually they were alone. Very sad way to live life. I'm so glad for you that you are doing well and wish you all the best.
Pretty honest. I smoked opium once, there's no denying it brings a warm glow and relief from pain. Do you have the chemical formula for this "god" drug? Will we get busted for using it? Please, get out your periodic table and lay down the formula.
Apparently an unexpectedly high number oif cancer nurses commit suicide. And the great Catholic guardian of the suffering, Mother Theresa, became an atheist before she died.
Thank you, Don for your 2c. I agree with you.
@Dana, how do you know "These people who reject belief in anything. live their lives selfishly".. First off, there is NO way that someone has no kind of belief (unless they're brain dead, I guess..)
Secondly, altruism can be justified by a ton of moral frameworks... I'm not sure how it is that you come out with saying such things.
Speaking personally, as an atheist, I care very much about our collective being... and I were in such a situation and you went around saying such things about me, I would be very, very, very displeased... actually, it does have a term, it is called defamation.
I faced death. i lay in the hospital not expecting to see another day. Never once did I turn to a fictional deity in some last-ditch attempt at atonement or hope for admittance into heaven.
Sure, some non-believers will clutch at straws when terrified, and some believers will doubt the existence of a god when faced with tragedy. Others recognize the empirical implications of the world we experience and accept death as inevitable. We make the most of what we have and have compassion for everyone else who is the same boat, whether they realize it or not.
It is an insult to equate rational thought and compassionate humanism with weakness or selfishness.
I have been close to death a number of times in the years since my diagnosis with a rare and terminal disease. I have spent months on a vent in ICU, I have had days when I was fairly those would be the last days of my life.
It never, even once, occurred to me to believe in god.
I was born an atheist (like every body else), and I will die an atheist.
I do believe in God, but human's may be only one small part of his or "it's" doing. I think god has more important things to worry about, like making sure 1 + 1=2 in this universe. Us humans have to take care of ourselves.
"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."
I fail to see the logic here. The word "so" implies that the action led to the result – "so someday he can return". This makes absolutely no sense. I think he writer just copied it from the standard christian drivel. When asked to explain he'll have a hard time I predict.
It doesn't make since to you because you're misreading it. It hasn't happened yet, but if you're still alive when it does, it will all make since to you then. Unfortunately, it will be too late. "there's no atheists in hell"!
Why is a religious article on a news site? Report the NEWS, not spout beliefs.
Because delivering "news" of hope in a world so full of bad "news" is good and necessary to some of us.
Isn't that why you have your church?
As for me, I'll take the news without the nirvana and strawberry jam.
There's news here. The author has a book to sell. What do you THINK motivates preachers? This is how they make their living.
Look at ME Mommy!!!.