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.
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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.
IN RESPONSE TO THE PERSON THAT SAYS WE ARE SPEWING HATRED AND VENOM TO A BEING THAT DOES NOT EXIST IS NONSENSE. WERE JUST UPSET THAT THIER IS SO MUCH IGNORANCE IN THE WORLD AND WE HAVE SEEN THE HORROR AND TERROR THAT RELIGION HAS HAD ON THIS PLANET . SO WE HAVE TO OVERCOME OUR PETTY DIFFERENCES AND BELIEFS AND START HEALING OUR PLANET THROUGH SCIENCE INSTEAD OF PRAYER , THATS ALL WERE ASKING IS FOR PEOPLE TO WAKE UP , CAUSE IF PEOPLE KEEP BELIEVING IN THIS NONSENSE RELIGION THIER JUST GOING TO SAY THINGS LIKE DON'T WORRY ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE GOD WILL TAKE CARE OF IT. NO ONE CAN DESTROY THIS PLANET ONLY GOD CAN , THATS WHY THIS ISSUE IS IMPORTANT TO ME , IT'S TO WAKE PEOPLE UP
All I ask, is that you refrain from SHOUTING.
Check your keyboard, just to the left of the letter A. Do you see a key called "Caps Lock"? Maybe it has a little light on it? See if you can make the light go out. Take your time. We'll wait.
For the record, I'm guessing I am, and have been, more of an avid environmentalist than yourself.
How very tolerant of you, Jason.
See, this is what I don't get about progressive, non-religious types. One of their main preaching points is Tolerance. Yet, they never practice what they preach. So tolerance is only important unless you're talking about religious or conservative people? It's okay to spread "venom and animosity" toward human beings who choose to have faith in a higher power? Got it.
Look, I'm not saying this is Every liberal or agnostic/atheist, but there does seem to be a healthy amount who get more riled up about these types of things than most religious fundamentalists.
"The first answer is “I guess this proves there is no God.”
Correct! He hits the nail right on the head with this first answer, then immediately brushes it aside.
"The problem with this thinking is that the problem of senseless suffering does not go away if you abandon belief in God."
Of course it doesn't. Much senseless suffering is purely random...earthquakes happen because tectonic plates shift...car accidents happen because two vehicles are in the same place at the same time. Letting go of belief in God doesn't make senseless suffering go away, but it makes the reason for it crystal clear: It's the result of things like natural weather/geological occurrences..random events...deranged individuals like the Colorado shooter. There's no grand cosmic reason for it.
Fair view, but if thats your true philosophy then your vowing never to complain if somebody intentionally hurts you, since as you said yourself, there is no God. Therefore right and wrong, justice and injustice is complete religion too. I basically can stab you and you can't go to police, since you'd then be relying on something "made up," like....wait for it... a God.
Funny thing is if Pastor Keller had been born and raised in Egypt some 5000 years ago he'd be asking Ra or Osiris the same questions.
And you would be an agnostic/atheist if you were born in the same time period? Right.
There is no danger in asking why me for an Atheist because an Atheist knows the sh_t happens and sometimes it happens to us. Move on, look at the bright side, and try not to let it happen again if at all possible.
How very comforting and helpful.
I believe in the existence of Timothy Keller's ghosts in Shenandoah National Park on new moon nights, because if I stop believing in the existence of his ghosts my suffering will not end.
FROM THE ARTICLE:
" 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 still perplexed at the inability of the majority, if not all 'believers,' to be able to comprehend that for those that don't believe in a Deity... that life 'still' can and does have a tremendous amount of *meaning* and *fulfillment.*
Life becomes that much more precious... to do good... to do right... to be kind and loving to others.
To just a-s-s ume that society would absolutely fall into utter moral chaos, were it not for God to give meaning to our lives, seems like nonsense to me.
There are 'many' people that absolutely do 'not' believe' in a God and live their lives as good and as well as anyone else.
Perhaps the author, before making an incompetent reference to Nietzsche, should actually read his writings.
Maybe Genealogy of Morals would be a good place to start.
Isn't it ironic that a good majority of the "God fearing" believers only turn to prayer and devotion when something unfathomableand terrible happens to them or their community. A disaster, a death or unexplained event of nature. When times are good, the children are healthy and there is money in the bank very few believe in thanking their God. Point being, if you're asking "Why me" you should pose the question in good times and bad. Or just say it's kharma (Karma) and get on with your life.
PERFECT!!! I couldn't have said it better myself! If people only come and pray to God when times are hard, then they have no freaking clue what God is. Seriously, approx. 25% of the world claim they're Christian, and yet most of them don't even know what a Christian really is or does...
God was a briliant joint invention by both the oppressors and oppressed. It enables the oppressors to pacifize the oppressed, and it makes the lives of oppressed bearable by providing them with a carrot on a stick in the form of celestial justice in the end. So it worked great for both groups. Of course, since then, like everything, money has become a bigger factor, but the gist of it remains the same, god has enabled a class to profit from disappointment in life, if not hopelessness, of the masses. "Why me" belongs to the class of can-of-worm questions that make it hard for both the sheep and the shepherds to keep the charade going, and thus should neither be asked by the wilfully ignorant nor be addressed by the corrupt.
made it to mark yelka & papa. oh cmon u r sound too inteligent to sound that Absurd! you Both no deep down God Exists!
Try that once more, but this time in English.
I can overlook your lack of writing skills but not the perfectly idiotic idea that everyone believes in God deep down.
Religion is dying due to the vast advancement of science. No one needs God to explain things now, all they need is to either read up on information or experiment. Miracles no longer exist.
Fascinating, the degree of venom and animosity directed toward a Being that supposedly does not even exist. Reminiscent of the hatred the Pharisees and Sadducees directed towards Jesus simply because He exposed the issues of their hearts.
Same deal with the disciple Stephen, who was being stoned to death for espousing the gospel. It was said of those stoning him that they were "furious and gnashing their teeth". Lot of the same dynamic happening here on this thread.
Fortunately, no atheist or heretic has ever been persecuted or experienced bodily harm at the hands of the chosen.
I hold the same venomous discontent for spongebob squarepants if it makes you feel any better.
Oh right, another spin on the persecuted christian religion.
Don't try to deflect the "venom and animosity" towards your imaginary god, we are directing it to YOU, that is the wilfully delusional and ignorant.
"the degree of venom and animosity directed toward a Being that supposedly does not even exist."
Believers DO exist, however.
How do you jump from criticism and ridicule to venom and animosity? Being a religious sounding type, isn't it your lot that are supposed to turn the other cheek and forgive those that trespass against you? Just words in a book I guess, it would make your religious beliefs more acceptable if you lived up to just half of what you say you believe.
Now sheila, you are just being mean! lol. It is our responsibility as caring human beings to pull these lemmings out of the tunnel of Chistardedness, and help them restore some of the brain cells that they left damaged long ago so that they can stop wasting time on make-believe junk and be more productive and contribute more to society.
Believers deserve as much respect as they show towards atheists.
mitch. Forgiveness and turning the other cheek? Absolutely. Metamorphosing into Casper Milk Toast? Not so much,
LOL... this whole article amuses me because it in oh so many words admits that saying "oh god why me?" is the opening to the reality that you are not special.. there IS no divine plan for you, that sometimes bad things happen for NO reason. To wonder why YOU were cursed with this burden (especially while Christian) is a tempt of faith as far as the religion goes but ultimately is a smack in the face to those who truly followed.
Remember Job? He got screwed too.
None of you are special, none of you are blessed OR cursed. Sometimes bad things happen to good people.
Stop acting as if god could have done anything to prevent it OR that he allowed it when the reality is there is no god.
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the heart of the matter.
Reciting passages from a 2000 year old outdated book is hardly the "heart" of anything.
I once read that pumpkins turn into carriages...
Pastor Keller states "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."
As much as I admired, and continue to admire, the words and writings of Martin Luther King Jr., it is clear to me that there is too much assumption from both King and Nietzsche on this critical point.
Let's explore another possibility for fun. Let's say that human beings are by nature (I mean on a molecular and genomic level) good, loving, and operate in a way (regardless of who the designer was) to benefit themselves and each other. (Much in the way that say colonies of insects behave, or better, the way groups of other mammals behave.) Let's further suppose that there is no God, but that there is a spiritual force with the powers that we usually attribute to Satan. Let's further suppose that this spiritual Satan is constantly trying to undermine the built in goodness, but that the physical goodness built into humans is mostly able to fight off that one bad spirit (as if it were a disease). This is just one alternate wacky theory, but it at least shows that there is an enormous amount of assumption made by both King and Nietzsche that we should not be lazy about considering. I am sure there are other more plausible theories that would also cast a lot of doubt on that key assumption, and I am sure someone could easily provide a theory without using any supernatural characters.
I know my example must sound ridiculous, but if it were true, the events and attempts to explain those events could just as easily result from such a system, and we are only missing the boat because of tradition and putting so much trust in keys figures from a time when people were not video-taping things. The gospels are at least interesting because of the written validation on certain points from more than one major author. The epistles, on the other hand, I believe do more harm than good for Christianity's cause they are so mish-mash, political and just plain untrustworthy. We have no more reason to believe in the spiritual experiences of the apostle Paul, for instance, as we do of those of Joseph Smith. Regardless of how much "proof" there is in religion, my point here is that there is way too much assumption on that one key point. And I doubt you will make any headway with an atheist if you can only start at that point. (And of course I need not continue to discuss the other points because, unless I am missing something, I think they hinge on that initial point.)
the middle of my last paragraph should read:
. . . Christianity's cause *because* they are so mish-mash . . .
Or you could, you know..... take accountability for your own actions?
not sure what you are asking or insinuating hooligan, but I can tell you I am pretty existentialist at the core. If you are meaning that religion is often used as a crutch to assist with taking full responsibility for one's own actions, then I would agree.
Faith that could stand up to any form of reason is long gone. Our knowledge of the world from 2000 years ago to what we now know about the world has irrevocably changed the need for religion. We do not need God to explain things; and religion becomes obsolete as an explanation when it becomes optional or one among many different beliefs. We now see that the leap of faith is not just one leap; it is a leap repeatedly made, and a leap that becomes more difficult to take the more it is taken, reaching its pinnacle in blind allegiance and active denial and rejection of any other possibilities. At that point, the credibility of the faithful is entirely lost.
People have been saying this for hundreds of years and will be saying it for the rest of history. And yet, we still find ourselves perplexed by the complexities of our universe even though we have science and rationality. For many people, in fact the majority of the earth's population, these things aren't enough to explain our existence.
Why does the article read like the pitiful apologist ramblings of a battered spouse?
that was funny
Does anyone know how religion got tax exempt status?
when it was agreed they would stay out of politics.
They failed to uphold their end of the bargain.
Church tax exemptions are in jeopardy if an organization engages in direct political activity either against or on behalf of a political candidate or in an attempt to directly influence the passage of particular legislation. Churches and religious organizations, just as any other tax-exempt charitable organization, are free to comment on any social, political, or moral issues. They may not, however, speak out for or against political candidates if they wish to continue being tax-exempt. Losing tax-exempt status can mean both having to pay income taxes and that donations to the group will not be tax deductible by the donors.
If a tax-exempt group — religious or secular — promotes ideas which contradict important public policies (like desegregation), then the group’s tax-exempt status may not be granted or extended. Tax exemptions are provided in exchange for groups’ providing services to the community; when the groups undermine important goals of the community, then the
when the groups undermine important goals of the community, then the tax exemptions are no longer justified.
Yes, and how do they get around the Truth in Advertising law?
Legally, you could make a case for it based on the 1st Amendment and the maxim "... the power to tax involves the power to destroy ..." —John Marshall, Chief Justice of the United States, 1801-1835, Supreme Court decision in McCulloch v. Maryland (17 US 327, 1819)
I believe you could make an equally compelling case based on the 1st Amendment and the idea that government shouldn't give religion any unfair advantages, either.
As a practical matter, it comes down to political power. The churches have it, and they know how to use it.
The idea that tax exemptions are accorded to certain organizations because they provide a benefit to society which the government is unable or unwilling to provide has a long history in the United States. In the 1861 Supreme Court case Perin v. Carey, the Court held that “It has now become an established principle of American law that courts of chancery will sustain and protect ...a gift ...to public charitable uses, provided the same is consistent with local laws and public policy...”
Later, in 1877 in Ould v. Washington Hospital for Foundlings, the Supreme Court held that “A charitable use, where neither law nor public policy forbids, may be applied to almost any thing that tends to promote the well-doing and well-being of social man.” Thus, the exact nature or purpose of a charitable organization remains open and variable, but one constant remains which unites the class: the general benefit of the public and society.
Also of relevance is the idea that the goals and actions of a charitable organization reflect, or at least not contradict, “public policy.” This gained increased prominence in the Supreme Court decision in Bob Jones University vs. United States when the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University was revoked because of their racial discrimination. Many are under the impression that this was a new development, but as can be seen above it has been a part of const*itutional jurisprudence since at least 1861, and probably a part of legal thinking for much longer.
"The idea that tax exemptions are accorded to certain organizations because they provide a benefit to society which the government is unable or unwilling to provide has a long history in the United States."
Do we know if there is currently any validation as to how much charitable contribution an organization must make to qualify for tax-exempt status? (or are there partial levels of tax-exemptedness?) (And if so, I wonder who target charities are determined to be acceptable to "count".)
(correct last paragraph)
"The idea that tax exemptions are accorded to certain organizations because they provide a benefit to society which the government is unable or unwilling to provide has a long history in the United States."
Do we know if there is currently any validation as to how much charitable contribution an organization must make to qualify for tax-exempt status? (or are there partial levels of tax-exemptedness?) (And if so, I wonder *how* target charities are determined to be acceptable to "count".)
The internet is killing religion, and there's nothing anyone can do to stop it. Won't be long now.
I hope u r right, But I think it will hang on for much longer than is heathly for mankind....
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. Does the internet influence this psychology? Well, not necessarily. The internet is simply a tool for asynchronous communication. It doesn't necessarily enhance the efforts of either group over the other.
Keller's attempts to answer this question, like all other attempts, falls flat. The argument that you can't abandon belief in God because it doesn't help fails for two reasons. First, it simply isn't true. Second, even if it was, that argument would still not be a logical justification for believing in God. There are plenty of people, like myself, who have abandoned their childish belief in God and found the results quite satisfying. History books are full of the misery done by and to humankind by those who do believe in God. One can cite the usual litany of Crusades, Inquisition, witch burnings, etc. but that's just the visible tip of the iceberg. There are the countless millions more who have daily suffered from the vicious intolerance of true believers. Nor are the horrors perpetrated by the faithful confined to Christians, as the ghastly acts of Muslim terrorists prove. The only answer to the question Keller tries to address, unsuccessfully, is the obvious one. There is no God. That's the only answer that immediately fits all of the known facts without resorting to all manner of excuses and twisted logic. We don't need the fulminating threats of some mythical god, or his/her self-appointed sermonizers to frighten us into being decent to one another. We can accomplish that on our own. It's time for humankind to grow up.
Hear, hear. Considering that millions if not billions of people manage to go through life without this infantile need to believe in a heavenly father; what makes us so special and privileged?
the misuse of religion and wrong views about God resulting in wrong practices doesn't nullify faith. And you say that you have left behind your childish faith and have found the results quite satisfying, while there are thousands people who leave behind their atheist worldview and lifestyle and turn to their faith in Jesus and have found the results quite fulfilling and over satisfying. The greatest misunderstanding is that faith is restricting- yes, religion is harmful, but faith is fulfilling. I have lived as an atheist for half of my life, I have found faith in Jesus to be the most rewarding decision in my life that I would never trade with anything else. All the best to you.
I think you fail to register that Mr. Keller was not giving an Answer to the problem of evil. And no one would deny that you can successfully satisfy all sorts of life's desires without believing in God. And Mr. Keller isn't trying to offer a proof of God's existence. Please read more carefully. His point about the atheist's still having a first class philosophical problem on her plate is an interesting one.
The divide between the religious and non-religious in answering the big questions is pretty hard to draw. Just as "religion" causes suffering for others, so do nations and classes and ideologies and ethnicities and wealth and almost every other way human beings divide themselves from each other.
And just as believers in God have a very difficult time reconciling a benevolent and omnipotent God with the senseless suffering of innocents, so the non-religious have a difficult time explaining fully their own sense of something's being wrong or unjust (or beautiful and good and just) in a way that goes beyond meaning something like "I don't like it" (or I like it).
Keller's interesting point is that we do have an implicit sense of what is good that is very hard to explain or justify or define. None of this proves the existence of God. It's just that the conditions of the religious and non-religious in the face of ultimate questions is not so different. Their answers, as you say, fall flat at some point or other. So why the antipathies of these different kinds of people toward each other?
I agree humankind needs to grow up, and it's a sad state of affairs that we'll continue to need laws and armed police to keep a lid on our behavior until then. I don't see human avarice and cruelty abating by a simple decision to not believe in God. Whether we're killing infidels or counter-revolutionaries, it is we that do it – or allow it – not God or our belief in him.
I personally am driven towards belief by the ongoing revelations of science – I have a hard time finding the logic in a world view that posits a cosmos without meaning. While I admit there are many parts of the Bible that beggar belief, there are many that are profound and beautiful. Jesus is my path – for now anyway.
As for the problem of pain, it remains an unanswered question and Mr Keller's contribution is unsatisfying to say the least. Not long ago though, my pastor addressed this and provided a response that has stayed with me: "Why doesn't God do something about suffering? He did. He created you. Now get to work."
Interesting point, but your implying that religion is bad because their are bad people who follow it. But there are bad people who are atheist to. Or for that matter, would you believe a person is Chirstian or Atheist just because they "claim" they are (that premise is too gullible to support the main argument)?
Just change the argument structure a little, right now it sounds like your entering a debate already set on a view instead of starting out neutral.
Religion. Controlling the minds and wallets of sheep since 2000 BCE.
Yes, and even way before that. You are speaking only of the Christian religion.
you made me wonder if you're a communist, b/c this is how they talked about religion and then the beautiful world they tried to build based on materialism proved to be the most horrible system that crushed thousands lives.
My question is who is your shepherd, as if my wallet and mind is controlled by religion according to your worldview, than for sure another shepherd is controlling your wallet and mind. All believe in something, but the object of their faith makes the difference and the quality of their lives.
Actually, 2000 BCE is about when Abrahamic monotheism kicked in. The Christian variant of it goes back only to about 30 CE.
Most Christians are surprised to learn that the Golden Rule antedates Jesus by several millennia, and was codified by Hamurabi in 1780 BCE.
LightAndSalt, you make at least 2 erroneous assumptions in your post:
(1) That other people are being controlled, simply because you are.
(2) That other people rely on faith, simply because you do.
I don't understand. Science has been doing that even longer.