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.
". [God] puts an apple tree in the middle of [the Garden of Eden] and says, do what you like guys, oh, but don't eat the apple. Surprise surprise, they eat it and he leaps out from behind a bush shouting "Gotcha." It wouldn't have made any difference if they hadn't eaten it...Because if you're dealing with somebody who has the sort of mentality which likes leaving hats on the pavement with bricks under them you know perfectly well they won't give up. They'll get you in the end"
- Douglas Adams
So I've always wondered: Did Adam and Eve have free will BEFORE they ate the apple? Or was that part of the curses that God heaped on them for falling for his little trick?
Evangelicals Question The Existence Of Adam And Eve
"Polls by Gallup and the Pew Research Center find that four out of 10 Americans believe humanity descend from Adam and Eve, but NPR reports that evangelical scientists are now saying publicly that they can no longer believe the Genesis account and that it is unlikely that we all descended from a single pair of humans. 'That would be against all the genomic evidence that we've assembled over the last 20 years so not likely at all,' says biologist Dennis Venema, a senior fellow at BioLogos Foundation, a Christian group that tries to reconcile faith and science. 'You would have to postulate that there's been this absolutely astronomical mutation rate that has produced all these new variants in an incredibly short period of time. Those types of mutation rates are just not possible. It would mutate us out of existence.' Venema is part of a growing cadre of Christian scholars who say they want their faith to come into the 21st century and say it's time to face facts: There was no historical Adam and Eve, no serpent, no apple, no fall that toppled man from a state of innocence."
Bootyfunk, you just prove how ignorant atheists are to scriptures. There is no truth to eating an apple or any fruit in the Garden of Eden.
@Linda, of course there is no truth to it! It's absurd nonsense, certainly not an explanation for the origin of mankind.
The whole premise of religion: control. Control your thoughts, actions, the words you use. Do what I say or burn in he11. You can Jesus loves the children me all you want, but you cannot deny the fact that he11 is threatened upon those who disobey and do not believe. Thank you timothy, for retarding the advancement of the human mind by spreading the hypocritical lying fear based book of oppression, your bible.
"Grampa" said it best....his explanation makes more sense to me than any minister's or priest's. How do you explain certain priest;s behavior and they're supposed to be "men of God"!
A man can no more diminish God's glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, 'darkness' on the walls of his cell.
I would agree that you cannot go lower than zero.
Most people refuse to believe in anything that would keep them from doing whatever they want.
whereas they should just go by evidence. thus the christian god doesn't exist.
Wow... are you sure you're not god? Its miraculous how you know what most people believe. Sheep.
The Christian God allows me to do whatever I want, I have free will right? And when i commit horrible acts, I have open to me complete forgiveness, correct?
I reject this offer from the Christian God.
Stop projecting, citizen4. Not everyone is as self-centered as yourself. There is nothing immoral about not believing in something (like gods) for which there is no evidence.
You see? It is not that I reject your deity because it won't let me do whatever I want, but precisely the opposite. I reject your deity because it will let me do whatever I want and it will apparently grant forgiveness for the most terrible crimes based on me relinquishing my mental faculties to believe in nonsense. This I refuse to countenance.
All Gods are man made and theism is the great mental plague upon humanity. Without theism, the world would be a far more peaceful place right now.
More people have been murdered by atheists in the last 100 years than were killed in all previous centuries. How has that made this world more peaceful?
'truth be told' change your name to 'lies be told'.
truth be told: You don't know how to do your research very well do you?
That's not "truth". The killings that you claim as by atheists were in fact not done following any dictate or belief of atheism. In contrast, Islam and Christianity both have texts with requests by their god to murder. Big difference.
Any ent¡ty which signs itself "truth be told" should tell the truth.
Sources, please, while I get the popcorn.
You are either being facetious or your diaper needs changing.
To be clear, my post was directed at OP.
Truth be told, prove it.
To be further clear, I meant NOT directed at OP, but at the poster who contends that atheists are responsible for so many murders. Geez. I wish reply to was a bit more flexible.
Once again Stalin 24 million murdered not counting war dead
Hitler well over 250 million including war dead
Mao estimates as high as 800 million
Ho 2 to 10 million
Pol pot a couple million
And so on, the common denominator in all these and so many more has been atheism.
"truth" can't tell the difference between political deaths and religious ones.
Happy is the one who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.
Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.
Aim at the little yellow cake and you will not get p1ss on the bathroom floor.
Dig a hole 6 feet deep and lie down in it. You'll get earth thrown in there, too. Something we all have to look forward to.
I look forward to that day with much joy.
John, I seem to recall a couple jihadists saying the same thing before flying themselves into a few buildings on the east coast. Just sayin.
God will be glorified by those who reject him.
If you have that much joy in anticipation, John, don't let us hold you back. Go for it today! Really. Show us how sincere you are.
Prayer changes things .
actions cause change; prayer wastes valuable time.
Two hands working accomplishes more than a thousand hands clasp in prayer.
Yes prayer is so important for "other living things" that I have taught my cat to pray. I'm still working on my pet iguana and tarantula, but perhaps one day they will get it.
HeavenSentJustSayin, does your Jesus wear a thong?
get a praying mantis - done.
Tina dearie you are on the wrong thread again. God bless
Prayer has changes lives
Prayer changed the slave trade
Prayer has advanced medicine and science to the levels we see today
Prayer is talking with God, and offers a direction and plan for life that makes all those working hands effective.
a good man prays
a great man acts on prayer
@tina – oh.... king of thongs..
@ just saying
You forgot one .....
the moon is made of green cheese.
justsayin, no, this is all about threads. Answer the question if you can: does your Jesus wear a thong? If not, you have even more to answer to.
So, answer up. Does your Jesus wear a thong?
@Bootyfunk Lol, but don't be inviting those things into the mix – they are smarter than most christards.
Hundreds of millions of people prayed that WWI would be over by Christmas 1914 – it wasn't
Hundreds of millions of people prayed that WWII would be over by Christmas 1939 – it wasn't
Hundreds of millions of people prayed that the Korean War would be over by Christmas 1950 – it wasn't
Billions of people for over a hundred years have prayed for a cure to cancer – it hasn’t been found yet
Anyone else see a pattern here ??
Once the children are brainwashed it is very difficult to deprogram them.
Other living things have been sacrificed as required.
Preying on children is disgusting.
Prometheus defied the gods and gave men fire so that they could defend themselves against the dangerous animals. Shouldn't we worship him instead of a Biblical god who floods the planet and orders the murder of children?
Just sayin', credit where credit is due.
i like Dionysus myself. wine and o.rgies, yay!
Not to mention Eve, what would life be like without the knowledge of good and evil. Eve is the only character in the bible worthy of respect.
Eros is tops in my book.
In making his case for the existence of God, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. asks: "...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?" Is not the answer to his question obvious?
Children, including those raised in "godless" households, overwhelmingly comprehend that they should not be cruel to animals long before they can comprehend religious principles and rationale, and long before they apply such "principle" to their dealings with other humans. Do we not see bullies and victims throughout our society?
"Divine law" serves NO purpose of "judging" human law. If there was any such benefit, every law that "passed such test" would be universally accepted and, when not followed, enforced forcefully and effectively as an example. Anyone who closely examines any of our significant societies can easily see the absence of any such "meaningful judgment", acceptance or impartial and certain enforcement.
Such absence is why America trains and employs an ever-increasing plague of lawyers. This is why, from their ranks, have sprung Supreme Court Justices over the last hundred and twenty-five years that have proclaimed and hold themselves absolutely unaccountable to "We, the People" who pay them and for all their expenses. This is why the oaths of office each must individually swear before exercising the authorities of their respective offices have become routinely ignored in practice because no meaningful enforcement for refusing to "follow the law" has survived (beyond a given judge's individual conscience, independent of "divine" influence).
King asks: "...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 believe such "outrage and horror" arise out of man’s basic desire for reason and justice in the here and now. People of good will, intent and resolve have the potential to make reason and justice an ever-present and defining force for good in THIS world. Unfortunately, religious myths have diverted incredible resources of money and time from such end without discernable return.
In over two thousand years the combined effects of every theology sucking up these precious resources has yet to in any measurable mannerthe slightest helped people to get along and work in the common good. Think of the additional resources of money and time that would be available for productive use once all mankind is of common goals working together. This would include most costs and related taxes for “defense”, police and incarceration as well as many mindless bureaucracies and their infinite reles, regulations and expenses.
I disagree with Nietzsche's belief that all value judgments are arbitrary. Each conscious action or inaction has consequences. It doesn't require a rocket scientist to understand that no one can "watch their own back" all the time, therefore it is logical to treat others as you would have them treat you so you don't have to. The result is a "social culture or temperament" whose unavoidable exceptions are of manageable challenge.
Mankind is no longer “children” in the care of a loving and ever-present God. We are orphans of our universe, whose origin and purpose we know not, but if we think long and hard, we know what we need and are quite capable of providing it. But we need self-confidence, and resolve if we are to adopt and stay that course.
Well intended, but doesn't anyone who comments here actually READ Nietzsche? Such oversimplification.
Like ^^ 🙂
18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.
"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."
yes, god letting millions of innocent people die in natural disasters is all just part of his plan. so suffer and die. god loves you.
That's why the author describes that answer as "inadequate" and "cold"
Hey look! I can copy/paste bible verses, too.
"I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, AND CREATE EVIL: I the LORD do all these things."
"Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? Shall there be EVIL in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?"
There's that pesky old testament again.
There is no God.
Death and suffering is natural and has been going on since the first organism appeared 3.4 billion years ago. Morality is a cultural aspect of a certain time and society. The Bible lists rules when it is okay to beat your slave or when and how the process of stoning should occur. Slavery and stoning in this age is deemed to be horrible acts yet God explicitly tells "his" people 2000 years ago that it is okay to do.
Now why do we now think these things are bad? It is because we used our collective reasoning skills to determine that in the modern society these things are bad. People of different religions and of no religion are not following a God given morality but a morality developed through thousands of years of reasoning.
Yep, that's the problem when your code is set in stone 2,000 years ago but your morality rolls on.
So what's keeping that system of morality from changing. What stops a Hitler from showing up and making the case that Social Darwinism is for the betterment of society and therefore justifies killing millions (which he did and murdered 6 million jews and many more mentally and physically challenged). Without God you have no basis of morality. Morality I bet, on some level, you accept as a good thing.
Wrong, Mike. Human empathy is the great controller. Most people do not approve of the unjustified killing of others, because they can empathize. It's the same with acts of kindness. You receive joy from the joy of others. This is how humans can safely co-exist.
I find it funny that you use Hitler as an example. He used and incited sentiment against the jews until good, christian Germans (the majority were catholic and lutheran) actively supported the murder of millions. The Holocaust was very directly the result of religious discrimination. Perhaps this might have been avoided if these normal, everyday citizens looked upon each other as fellow humans, not as "jews" and "christians".
hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.
Watch out for this clod! He's a filthy, katuwa, muzlim with no insight worth an ounce of mohammed's dung!
What is truly amazing to me, is that people like this, who could not reason their way out of a paper bag, actually hold the jobs that they do.
Every time I am lucky enough to engage a religious figure, they disappoint me in how spectacularly ignorant they are. The worst I have encounted are black preachers in the South.
Hey bro... ! Keller is a Pastor for a church. Don't think much reasoning is required, yes...?
Why are you amazed? What other kinds of jobs COULD they do?
Dying for someone else's sins, when you are the one who instilled those sins into the human race, is OBSCENE! The very first page of Genesis begins with lies. The earth supposedly has an impermeable dome above it, called the sky. Uhmmm.. DUH! Sounds like iron age men making things up to me!
Actually the "original sin" thingy got stuck in much much later, first by Saul of Tarsus, then by Augustine. The Genesis myth was taken from the Sumerian Chaos (creation) myth, and was about Chaos and Order. Christians really practice Paulianity. Jeebus never said squat about "salvation". He said "come follow me", not "come worship me". Salvation is absent in the first gospel, (Mark). Paul cooked it up, and then it appears in the writings which followed.
God keeps watching me po.op. I pray that he will stop, but he won't. Why does God watch me po.op?
The REAL danger of asking God "Why me?" is that you're wasting your time talking to someone who isn't there and consequently doesn't have any answers, when you could be out figuring out for yourself what's wrong and then trying to fix it. That's the only way anything EVER gets fixed, you know. Waiting around for God to do it will leave you ... waiting around.