My Faith: The danger of asking God ‘Why me?'
August 4th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

My Faith: The danger of asking God ‘Why me?'

Editor’s note: Timothy Keller is senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York and author of The New York Times best-selling book "The Reason for God." His book for church leaders, "Center Church," will be published in September.

By Timothy Keller, Special to CNN

(CNN)–When I was diagnosed with cancer, the question “Why me?” was a natural one.

Later, when I survived but others with the same kind of cancer died, I also had to ask, “Why me?”

Suffering and death seem random, senseless.

The recent Aurora, Colorado, shootings — in which some people were spared and others lost — is the latest, vivid example of this, but there are plenty of others every day: from casualties in the Syria uprising to victims of accidents on American roads. Tsunamis, tornadoes, household accidents - the list is long.

As a minister, I’ve spent countless hours with suffering people crying: “Why did God let this happen?” In general I hear four answers to this question. Each is wrong, or at least inadequate.

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The first answer is “I guess this proves there is no God.” The problem with this thinking is that the problem of senseless suffering does not go away if you abandon belief in God.

In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said that if there was no higher divine law, there would be no way to tell if any particular human law was unjust. Likewise, if there is no God, then why do we have a sense of outrage and horror when suffering and tragedy occur? The strong eat the weak, there is no meaning, so why not?

Friedrich Nietzsche exemplified that idea. When the atheist Nietzsche heard that a natural disaster had destroyed Java in 1883, he wrote a friend: “Two-hundred-thousand wiped out at a stroke—how magnificent!”

Because there is no God, Nietzsche said, all value judgments are arbitrary. All definitions of justice are just the results of your culture or temperament.

My Take: This is where God was in Aurora

As different as they were, King and Nietzsche agreed on this point. If there is no God or higher divine law then violence is perfectly natural.

So abandoning belief in God doesn’t help with the problem of suffering at all.

The second response to suffering is: “While there is a God, he’s not completely in control of everything. He couldn’t stop this.”

But that kind of God doesn’t really fit our definition of “God.” So that thinking hardly helps us with reconciling God and suffering.

The third answer to the worst kind of suffering – seemingly senseless death – is: “God saves some people and lets others die because he favors and rewards good people.”

But the Bible forcefully rejects the idea that people who suffer more are worse people than those who are spared suffering.

This was the self-righteous premise of Job’s friends in that great Old Testament book. They sat around Job, who was experiencing one sorrow after another, and said “The reason this is happening to you and not us is because we are living right and you are not.”

At the end of the book, God expresses his fury at Job’s ”miserable comforters.” The world is too fallen and deeply broken to fall into neat patterns of good people having good lives and bad people having bad lives.

The fourth answer to suffering in the face of an all-powerful God is that God knows what he’s doing, so be quiet and trust him.

This is partly right, but inadequate. It is inadequate because it is cold and because the Bible gives us more with which to face the terrors of life.

God did not create a world with death and evil in it. It is the result of humankind turning away from him. We were put into this world to live wholly for him, and when instead we began to live for ourselves everything in our created reality began to fall apart, physically, socially and spiritually. Everything became subject to decay.

But God did not abandon us. Only Christianity of all the world’s major religions teaches that God came to Earth in Jesus Christ and became subject to suffering and death himself, dying on the cross to take the punishment our sins deserved, so that someday he can return to Earth to end all suffering without ending us.

Do you see what this means? We don’t know the reason God allows evil and suffering to continue, or why it is so random, but now at least we know what the reason isn’t, what it can’t be.

It can’t be that he doesn’t love us. It can’t be that he doesn’t care. He is so committed to our ultimate happiness that he was willing to plunge into the greatest depths of suffering himself.

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Someone might say, “But that’s only half an answer to the question ‘Why?'” Yes, but it is the half that we need. If God actually explained all the reasons why he allows things to happen as they do, it would be too much for our finite brains.

What we truly need is what little children need. They can’t understand most of what their parents allow and disallow for them. They need to know their parents love them and can be trusted. We need to know the same thing about God.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Timothy Keller.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • God

soundoff (3,664 Responses)
  1. Everett Wallace

    the reason is because of the cross, the cross is benedicts, GOD has no idols of HIMSELF so that is why catastrofic stuff is happening to you religious folk.

    August 5, 2012 at 8:44 am |
  2. sn0wb0arder

    with the myriad of deities, religions and doctrines around the world and throughout history we can be certain of one thing. man is very adept at creating god.

    August 5, 2012 at 8:43 am |
  3. Nathaniel

    Just so sad. We will credit God when something good happens, but yet deflect any blame for something bad as our own fault. Such a contradiction to give praise in the good times, but state mysterious ways or comprehension when the bad turns up. If we can't understand the bad, then we definitely cannot understand the good.

    And the other problem with the God theory when something bad happens is that it just keeps a loop of questioning and mystery. If someone gets cancer, despite never being exposed to the few things we know can cause it, and they ask "why has God allowed this to happen to me?" they will continue to have an answer, or just make something up in their head.

    Plain and simple, bad things happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad people. It is wrong place, wrong time. You eliminate the God from the equation and you're left with that answer. It could be genetics, or it could have been just bad luck. But we as humans have a need to feel special. This happened to me surly because I did something or someone wrong in my past.

    Just so sad we cannot move on from this simple little fear and insecurity.

    August 5, 2012 at 8:43 am |
  4. brecht

    Does Pastor Kellers reasoning make sense to any of you?
    I am baffled by his thought process, which seems to begin with a conclusion (ie there is a just and fairminded God who looks out for the well being of human beings) and then attempts to shape the data (random suffering, pain, hatred, cruelty) to arrive at the initial conclusion (ie there is a just and fairminded God who looks out for the well being of human beings).
    Fascinating that one can go through life like this!

    August 5, 2012 at 8:43 am |
    • zometimer

      I wonder how people make it through the day with this muddled thought process, wierd.

      August 5, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • NoTheism

      another believer grasping at straws attempting to answer the problem of evil

      August 5, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • DLGinTN

      No, I doubt his reasoning even makes sense to him.
      God must be all powerful because that's our concept of God? This is not logic or rational thinking.
      The world was flawless until we humans did something wrong? Really, how does that explain cancer?
      In the end, his answer is not to try to find an answer.
      His advice: don't think about it. Well, that finally makes sense because any rational person who does would not accept the Pastor's view of God.

      August 5, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • Lexe

      People like this "pastor" are what give Christianity a bad name. They don't even know the Bible's answer to these questions
      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.

      August 5, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • afreeman

      yep, Takes a whole lot of Mental Gymnastics. if it were an Olympic Event, he'd win Gold!

      August 5, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
  5. jony

    Some people believe God controls all aspects of their life, some people don't believe at all. The third scenario is that we control most of our lives alone with God rarely involved in the day to day routine

    August 5, 2012 at 8:41 am |
  6. NoTheism

    another article based on horrible reasoning... Let the games begin.

    August 5, 2012 at 8:40 am |
  7. zometimer


    August 5, 2012 at 8:40 am |
  8. 21k

    how ridiculous for an educated person to think that we need a deity to provide meaning to our lives. so many atheists and non-xtians toil in hospitals and labs to cure disease as doctors, nurses and researchers. i guess their efforts don't count, even as he sits here cured of cancer by them, and not god.

    August 5, 2012 at 8:38 am |
    • WorkInProgress

      Of course, their efforts count. God uses all kinds of people, those who believe and those who do not.

      August 5, 2012 at 8:51 am |
  9. John Stefanyszyn

    Yes, to trust the Creator and Only Him...

    ...but man, christians included, trust another way...they trust first and foremost their desire for free will, freedom of choice, freedom of rights, freedom of religions,etc

    Death is a consequence of rejecting God' s Way.

    And when Christ will return as the One King, man will reject Him again because of their love for their "freedom to do one's own will"

    There will be weeping and the gnashing of. teeth and many will die.

    August 5, 2012 at 8:38 am |
    • zometimer

      Get back under your rock.

      August 5, 2012 at 8:41 am |
    • Veritas

      Why so afraid of dying, or rather being dead? It's will be exactly the same as before we were born, we do not exist. Heaven and hell are fairy tales for little children, sadly...

      August 5, 2012 at 8:43 am |
    • Ronald Hussein Reagan

      SUfffering is what you get in this existence; quit complaining – it doesn't do any good.

      August 5, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • kevin

      If Jesus appeared today, saying the same things he said then, "good" Christians would reject him as a socialist nutbar, and he'd be living under a bridge in a week, begging for spare change. Christianity has morphed into something Christ would not recognize.

      August 5, 2012 at 9:45 am |
  10. roba0001

    Thank you

    August 5, 2012 at 8:38 am |
  11. Frank Ricard

    The simplest answer is the correct answer – there is no God. Exactly like this individual initially thought. Anything else is just irrational rambling by a mind that is too weak to grasp the concept of life being exactly what it is, nothing more and nothing less.

    August 5, 2012 at 8:37 am |
    • brecht

      This is a succinct and sensible summary of the entire debate. Kudos for pointing out the value of common sense.

      August 5, 2012 at 9:04 am |
  12. Veritas

    There is something so unbelievably scary about this priests last sentences: "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." Just do what god tells you to do, as communicated by his interpreters here on earth, such as pastors, cult leaders, Osama bin Laden... Of course if you think you can hear him talk to you directly, you are clinically insane and should seek help.

    August 5, 2012 at 8:37 am |
    • Timmy

      But he and all the deluded followers must somehow reconcile for their god appearing to not exist or not care. Atheists simply take this lack of evidence as that this god does not exist.

      August 5, 2012 at 8:39 am |
    • jw

      I would call that submission. And this writer is a believer and he promotes submitting to God (as a child would submit to his parents even without understanding). For a non-believer submitting to God is not an option because it must make sense (understanding) first.

      August 5, 2012 at 8:43 am |
    • kevin

      I will submit to God as soon as you can demonstrate there is one.

      August 5, 2012 at 9:46 am |
  13. DW

    I thank God he is sovereign and don't have to explain himself to anyone..he left his record written in his word, The word of God. Whether men or women choose to believe that's their choice. See God existence is not canceled out because some men choose to discredit him, he's God and God all by himself he doesn't need to get his validity from us. Scripture talks about those who reject the who receive not the love of the truth that they might be saved and because of this God will send a strong delusion that they should believe a lie that they all might be damned who believed not the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness..God left on record his love for the human race thru Jesus Christ when he hung, bled, and died for our sins, not only that but he didn't stay dead he rose on the third day! Repent and be baptized everyone of you in name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and you shall receive the gift of the HOLYGHOST! Heaven and Hell is real

    August 5, 2012 at 8:37 am |
    • Veritas

      Delusion for sure...

      August 5, 2012 at 8:39 am |
    • John Stefanyszyn

      True words.

      May I ask you two questions?

      Do you believe that the belief in and way of freedom of religions is righ and good?

      Does the Holy Ghost believe that the belief in freedom of worship and equality of all religions is right and good?

      I hope that you will see the purpose of these questions...for there is Only One Creator God , whose Son is Christ.

      August 5, 2012 at 8:50 am |
    • sn0wb0arder

      heaven and hell are the constructs of the human fear of death and the unknown. nothing more.

      August 5, 2012 at 8:53 am |
    • kevin

      Who did Jesus have to pay? If atonement was required, then payment would have to be to a higher power than himself. He couldn't forgive the sins himself, so had to die to pay someone else to have them forgiven. But he is all-powerful. So who was being paid? And since when is suffering a fungible commodity amongst deities? Makes no sense.

      August 5, 2012 at 9:49 am |
  14. Ting

    are you ever afraid, Matthew, that your heart will be broken if god turns out to be different than you think he is?

    August 5, 2012 at 8:36 am |
  15. Timmy

    "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."

    Exactly! It's the same whether you believ in a god or not or whether you pray to a rock, tree or some imaginary sky god you have conjured up. The only difference is that if you believe in a god you must always tirelessly reconcile this god appearing as if he does not exist.

    August 5, 2012 at 8:36 am |
  16. sharkfisher

    I'll ask the question again. Why are so many people so afaid of and so angry at a God they claim doesn't exist?If you don't believe that is your choice. I choose to believe. That is my choice.I will not try to impose my beliefs on anyone else. I will not permit anyone else to deny me my choice.

    August 5, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • Timmy

      Who's afraid and angry? If the majority of you believed in leprachauns we would be here rebutting you as well over that. Calling people who disagree with you angry and afraid says more about you than anyone.

      August 5, 2012 at 8:37 am |
    • DrewNumberTwo

      Whether or not any particular god is real, religious people have a very real effect on the world.

      August 5, 2012 at 8:39 am |
    • dan

      but here you are preaching your opinion to everyone else if you believe in god and support a local church you support the preaching of god in the pushing of god into other peoples faces because that's what the church is there for so if you go in you support your just as bad

      August 5, 2012 at 8:40 am |
    • sn0wb0arder

      a significant percentage of "believers" continually try to impose their beliefs on everyone by codifying their doctrine in law.

      we aren't angry at any god, we are angry at those ignorant enough to believe that everyone should be exactly the same as them.

      August 5, 2012 at 8:56 am |
    • afreeman

      > I will not try to impose my beliefs on anyone else.\
      Well if you are a christian, in this regard you are in the minority.

      August 5, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
  17. Catholic

    If Jesus had asked himself Why Me? then we would not have the selfless giving of his life for humankind. When we ask Why Me? is a normal question to ask, God is expecting that question, but the answer is bigger than the pain and that answer is: You were also chosen to carry a cross for the world. So as painful as it might seem and unjust is the atonement that comes with it, that makes it beautiful.

    August 5, 2012 at 8:34 am |
    • Ronald Hussein Reagan

      I was diagnosed with a glioblastoma (brain cancer) in February; I did not wste a second sking "Why me?" As a philosopher it's something I know.

      August 5, 2012 at 8:40 am |
    • kevin

      Who did Jesus give his life TO? Who collected on that debt? Why was payment required? Why couldn't it just be forgiven, if god is all-powerful? Doesn't make any sense.

      August 5, 2012 at 9:52 am |
  18. dan

    maybe you should just stop talking to the voices in your head there is no god there was no god there never will be a god he is a fictional character from a book so next time you ask why remember you're only talking to yourself there is nobody listening to you nobody cares seems like everybody wants to use god is an excuse for their problems how convenient let's make a character and then blame him for all that's wrong

    August 5, 2012 at 8:34 am |
  19. gb1963

    this story that we have to pay for something adam and eve did simply does not make sense at all

    August 5, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • Veritas

      That's christianity for ya. Never made any sense.

      August 5, 2012 at 8:34 am |
    • Kay

      I agree that the idea of Adam and Eve rebelling against God and affecting all humanity is difficult to understand; but the Bible teaches that the first human beings, in addition to being morally responsible for themselves and for their choices, also "represented" the rest of humanity before God. Their rebellion against Him affected their immediate offspring (Cain murdered Abel), but also made the whole human race guilty before God. Even if you do not accept or agree with that notion, you would surely agree that each of us as individuals fails to live completely moral, upright–much less, perfect– lives. We all do wrong things, have impure motives, etc. The Bible calls that sin, and sin separates us from our holy, perfect Creator God. Sin makes us guilty before Him; but God, in His great love for us, did not write humanity off when Adam and Eve rebelled against Him. He entered into our sin and took our sins upon Himself in the form of Jesus Christ, who lived the life we could never live. Just as Adam and Eve's disobedience affected and "represented" all of us, Jesus also "represented us" and lived a sinless life of perfect obedience. The message of the Bible is that all who look to Jesus Christ alone as having taken on Himself the penalty for mankind's sin and paid for our sin debt in full through His sacrificial death on the cross, will be reconciled to God and spend eternity with Him. Those who don't, won't.

      August 5, 2012 at 8:55 am |
    • sn0wb0arder

      Kay – i don't understand how anyone can believe such ridiculousness.

      August 5, 2012 at 9:03 am |
    • Veritas

      Kay, the sin stuff is so tiresome and ridiculous. And who the heck is dense enough to believe in a first man and woman? Haven't you received any education at all, such as biology?

      August 5, 2012 at 9:12 am |
  20. 2000YearOldFiction

    Gods are myths. Plain and simple. Time to wake up and get over it folks. If we want a better world with fewer senseless acts, we have to actually work towards that goal. Folding your hands and talking to yourself or contemplating the modus operandi of a deity from some ancient fable won't make things better. Real, lasting change requires effort, not excuses.

    August 5, 2012 at 8:32 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.