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.

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.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • God

soundoff (3,664 Responses)
  1. Leo

    I have a belief and faith in what I will keep to myself (to avoid offending anyone). However the Aurora massacre did not happen because God did/did not allow it to happen. It happened because it simply was allowed, just we are allowed to walk anywhere or do anything, the Killer was allowed to kill.

    August 6, 2012 at 6:16 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      If there is a theistic god, everything is its fault, good and bad.

      August 6, 2012 at 6:46 am |
    • Randy Sluder

      Just another Christian's mindless banter. You seem to obey a god that keeps you confused...

      August 6, 2012 at 8:39 am |
  2. Orion

    "God did not create a world with death and evil in it. It is the result of humankind turning away from him".

    I'm confused. Before humans, there was no death? What happened to the dinosaurs then?
    Did a bunch of aliens come to earth and teleport them away leaving only rocky monuments?
    Or was "The Flintstones" in fact a reality show?

    I'd really love an explanation.

    August 6, 2012 at 5:14 am |
    • Damocles

      Yeah, an explanation would be great, but I don't see one coming anytime soon.

      August 6, 2012 at 5:21 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      the bible has unicorns, dragons, satyrs and c.cokatrice in it - best not to expect much from a bronze/iron age book.

      August 6, 2012 at 6:02 am |
  3. FlashMoron

    "The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Timothy Keller." – That is fantastic news!

    August 6, 2012 at 5:12 am |
  4. Damocles

    How about this: there is suffering in the world because earhtquakes, floods, tsunamis and other natural disasters happen. There is evil in the world because bad people choose to do bad things. There is good in the world because people help victims of natural disasters and because people choose to do good things. There is no deity required for any of this.

    August 6, 2012 at 5:02 am |
  5. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things*

    August 6, 2012 at 4:40 am |
    • Damocles

      Prayer is postponed disappointment.

      August 6, 2012 at 4:47 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      actions cause change; prayer only wastes valuable time.

      August 6, 2012 at 6:03 am |
    • Jesus

      Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!#

      August 6, 2012 at 11:31 am |
  6. 世俗的なヒューマニスト

    I do not know whether to be horribly offended, laugh, or pity the author of this piece. Lol I sincerely hope that this man writes for Christwire 😛

    August 6, 2012 at 4:07 am |
  7. marketocracia

    I'm a deist. I define God as the highest collective consciousness. We need good and evil, beautiful and ugly, tall and short, skinny and fat to learn values. How can you define good without evil? Define beautiful without ugly? Define tall without short? We also need diversity and difference to learn individuality. I once asked a nurse if he believed in God. He was part of a team that did liver transplants. So death was part of his daily work. He told me that he once held a dead baby in his hands and asked how could there be a God that allowed the death of a baby? How can we value life if there's no death? That baby is an eternal being. He came to this world to serve. Not to learn. He came to this world to teach the meaning of LIFE.

    August 6, 2012 at 3:45 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Serve who?

      August 6, 2012 at 4:09 am |
    • Damocles

      You can't define beauty or tallness or ugliness or shortness. What is tall/uglyshort/beautiful to one person is not to another. Values or 'morals' are fluid, they change from generation to generation, sometimes it seems they change from second to second. I don't like to deal in morals per se, I like the idea of actions and consequences much better.

      In regards to your last part about the baby dying to serve... exactly how many dead babies does it take to teach the meaning of life? If it takes 30 dead babies to make 1 person learn the meaning of life, does your deity consider those to be acceptable losses?

      August 6, 2012 at 4:41 am |
    • Just call me Lucifer

      So the dead baby was a waiter? All this god business makes my hooves hurt. Gotta quit reading these blogs (nobody
      gives me credit for anything I do anyway... its always god this, god that). I'll get back to what I do best. Setting souls ablaze.

      August 6, 2012 at 5:18 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      I'm with you Lucifer. At least you stood up against god's tyranny.

      August 6, 2012 at 6:45 am |
  8. Tokaii

    He's wrong, this isn't even half an answer. It's a collection of drivel put together for people whose knowledge of religion in general and the Bible in particular never grew beyond Sunday school.

    August 6, 2012 at 3:25 am |
  9. John

    Not only does this guy seem to misunderstand Nietzsche, but I'm pretty sure that quote is entirely made up.

    August 6, 2012 at 2:25 am |
    • Chris

      its not made up, but it is taken out of context FOX News style, where the meaning is changed without the background info

      August 6, 2012 at 4:01 am |
    • 世俗的なヒューマニスト

      @Chris That seemed like the case. I wonder if he purposefully tried to mislead readers or if he is just incompetent.

      August 6, 2012 at 4:11 am |
    • janelane

      exactly. people know suffering because they feel it too whether or not they know "god". if it hurts me, i know it hurts someone else. to act like religion is the only way to know that is just plain stupid.

      August 6, 2012 at 5:06 am |
  10. lamb of dog

    He looks like the assassin from the princess bride only older. He uses the same reasoning skills as well.

    August 6, 2012 at 2:13 am |
    • Damocles


      August 6, 2012 at 4:49 am |
  11. lamb of dog

    The danger of asking is you might figure out Sky Fairy is a figment of your imagination.

    August 6, 2012 at 2:05 am |
    • LOL


      August 6, 2012 at 2:06 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      xactly. you'll start to question the craziness of the bible. next thing you know, you'll be think for yourself! using logic and reason and your frontal lobe. uh oh... never should have let you ask 'why' in the first place, dammit!

      lol. silly christards.

      August 6, 2012 at 2:12 am |
    • lamb of dog

      That was the 11th commandment. Thou shalt stop asking why.

      August 6, 2012 at 2:15 am |
    • Jimmy

      i love that people in this country are finally starting to ask questions instead of attributing everything around them to a "god"

      August 6, 2012 at 2:30 am |
    • Man bites Dog

      Who is Sky Fairy? Really, if you're going to come up with a Straw Man, come up with a reasonable one.

      August 6, 2012 at 3:25 am |
    • Josh Anderson

      Yes, yes, the magnificent profusion of sights and sounds and forms and even your own knowing self is merely the product of unguided material forces working over time. Keep telling yourself that.

      August 6, 2012 at 4:54 am |
    • david

      @Josh. If those lines are your own, you need to get the copyright. Touche.

      August 6, 2012 at 6:56 am |
  12. Terry Brookman

    Why Not!

    August 6, 2012 at 1:54 am |
  13. Age old question

    I am not if anyone listens over this forum, apart from posting what they think. But I also try post what I think even if no one cares.

    Judaic religions accept that soul is eternal. We existed before birth and after death forever. They do not say much about where are we before the birth. But they say that we live in either hell/heaven eternally. But this might be a misunderstanding that started somewhere.

    In Quran we find some sentences like as long hell exists... This might indicate that hell may not be permanent. Bible clearly says that heaven is temporary
    Revelation 21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.
    Isaiah 65:17 "Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.

    If the heaven itself not eternal, how is it possible to stay there eternally. It is worthwhile to look at the concept hell heaven in eastern religions. Both heaven and hell are like a temporary places like earth where a soul can stay as a reward or punishment. But even the heaven is not a desirable thing, One should reach the eternal creation which does not perish. In Bible this is called paradise. This is the real abode of God. Not the heaven which is mortal world.

    Again in the eastern world treats life as continuous journey through various forms of life. Some times we are born in hellish planets and some times in heaven. Some times as animals as birds. But in all these forms of life we do not generate Karma, owing to fact that these forms of life do not have free will.

    Human life is special in that we are given more free will. So we generate good or bad Karma and as a result we suffer in this life or next life. The soul is said to be in a loop of generation of Karma and eating the results of it. This goes on forever. Liberation is when we could put a stop to this. The same thing described as Nirvana by Buddha and Salvation by Jesus.

    I know for most of atheists who read this it is all the same, if it is eastern or western. For a Judaic follower you might want to take this as an possibility. I know Quran or Bible does say these things explicitly. But they dont say anything against this.

    August 6, 2012 at 1:18 am |
    • Just call me Lucifer

      Yeah....uhhh....no. Sorry.... no soul for you. You'll be as self-aware after you die as you were before you were born, which is to say not at all. No eternal life. No eternal Disneyland, and no eternal marshmallow soul roast. Trust me... I'm the devil.

      August 6, 2012 at 2:52 am |
  14. Shari Godfrey

    If this were published on April 1st, it would make a lot more sense. This has got to be the biggest crock of BS I have read in a long time. I do not believe in religion. I do believe it is the most elaborate scam ever...it's own ponzi if you will. In any event, CNN can I write an article next week or in the future? Even as a non-believer I could write a much better answer to the "Why Me" question...just give me a few days notice and I will get it done. I have had a glass of water more exciting than Timothy Keller's response. His congregation must be comprised of comatose individuals, because nobody with a pulse could ever take this guy seriously. CNN, was it that slow of a day that this was all you could come up with for this space? Have some respect for your readers before allowing such garbage to be published on your site.

    August 6, 2012 at 1:15 am |
    • Doug

      Shari: Perhaps one day you will have an opportunity to visit the church pastored by Tim Keller. I am persuaded that if you did that you would be pleasantly surprised that the congregation is not comatose but rather they are well -informed and clear headed. You would probably also find that they are respectful and civil towards those whom disagree with them rather than throwing around cheap cliches and ugly ad hominems. In other words, they have a faith that is reasonable. Have a good day.

      August 6, 2012 at 1:59 am |
    • Jimmy

      @Doug, i appreciate that you have taken the values of religion and used them for good, the problem is all the extremists who take everything way out of context...for the record i absolutely do not believe in god, i welcome any debate to the issue

      August 6, 2012 at 2:32 am |
    • janelane

      so you're saying that congregation would vote for gays having the right to marry? anything less means they're jerks with birdbrains.

      August 6, 2012 at 5:09 am |
  15. Peteyroo

    There is more evidence for the Loch Ness Monster than there is for God. And evidence is not proof by any means. Provide some evidence–and not that ridiculous book of nonsense you call your Bible.

    August 6, 2012 at 1:08 am |
    • Believer 63

      "The evidence of God's presence far outweighs the proof of his absence."

      August 6, 2012 at 8:26 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      Believer 63: There is no evidence. It is only your laziness and gullibility that leads you to think there is but in reality there is none that can be substantiated.

      August 6, 2012 at 8:29 am |
  16. 2357

    In the unveiling, permanence and presence will collapse. Whatever our temporal realities are in life will be translated nto the eternal dimension. All things will be plain for all to see. What we call disaster, evil and suffering will seem small and distant, ever fading from the presence of the Exalted One. You who have believed and echoed the father of lies will be forever emblazoned with the shame of having stood proud before a Holy God. All who defile his image with sin will be set aflame as a reminder to heaven of the repugnance of sin.

    August 6, 2012 at 1:01 am |
    • Peteyroo

      What? Your rant makes no sense.

      August 6, 2012 at 1:04 am |
    • Truth

      Your preach it brother! The Holy God always knows what he's doing, i have had many moments where i didn't know why or why me but in the end it was made clear

      August 6, 2012 at 1:06 am |
    • Peteyroo

      Untruth, you're still confused and bewildered I see. You need only turn to any atheist for guidance. We're here to help.

      August 6, 2012 at 1:11 am |
    • Truth

      Thats nice but im good. Most aeithist dont make sense. I wont judge you or your religion. I have mine, you have yours, we're all humans. But cmon dude. i have done bad things, you have too. We aren't perfect, there is only one perfect creator. Turn to him, he can do many wonders.

      August 6, 2012 at 1:22 am |
    • LOL

      atheist isn't a religion. Religion is evil. It is the root of all wars and cruelty.

      August 6, 2012 at 2:08 am |
  17. Tanya

    Yet another very poorly thought out article on the subject of evil and the supposed existence of a benevolent deity. I mean, take the following: "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."

    The problem of senseless suffering may not go away it you are a nonbeliever, but at least senselessness, i.e., complete lack of logic, does. In effect, all he is saying is that suffering exists, whether you believe or not. Duh!

    Also, alot of suffering out there that is labled senseless is understandable. some people are so mentally ill they do terrible things. Others are so deluded they do the unthinkable, even things that go against the very values of their ideologies, even the most peaceful values. this includes religions.

    August 6, 2012 at 12:54 am |
  18. YeahItsMe72

    Trying to explain anything using the Bible is the biggest waste of time I can imagine. If you get comfort and inspiration trying to live your life according to a book and it brings you happiness in your life that's great. Good for you.

    But let's keep it in it's context and let's not pretend it's real. I feel sorry that the author feels the need to justify his beliefs when faced with events that cannot be explained by his belief system.

    August 6, 2012 at 12:44 am |
  19. anonmuys

    So you are all saying God is evil, huh? So do you want him to stop evil? If he stops evil, he has to stop you too because all sin is evil, it all comes from the evil one. So are you saying he should remove all evil including you and me or just a little bit of evil? Your killing yourself. Just listen to this song, you will learn alot! I promise


    August 6, 2012 at 12:41 am |
    • Repent and believe in Jeebus and you will be put in a 401k

      No we're not. What sh1tty music.

      August 6, 2012 at 12:43 am |
    • Peteyroo

      You're so full of crap you stink!!!

      August 6, 2012 at 1:00 am |
    • Da Truf

      You can't even speak/write English correctly... and you think that we should take your word about the mysteries of the universe?! It's you're (not your) when you mean "you are"; and there is no such word as "alot". I am giving you poetic license for "anonmuys", however, but I'm not so sure it's warranted.

      August 6, 2012 at 1:14 am |
    • Truth

      judging by grammar? 😀

      Why are you all so defensive?

      August 6, 2012 at 1:23 am |
    • Sensabull

      I think your reply made the most sense out of any of them. People ask Why doesn't God stop evil? And you say that if God stpoped evil, he would have to "stop" all of us because we're all sinners. It makes sense to me.

      The answer to the question "Why Me?" is this: anything can happen to anyone at anytime in any place anywhere. We try to live smart healthy lives- we do the best we can. But it seems everyone eventually dies from something.... I also think the explanation of "It wasn't your time" says it best for someone who's been spared- just a simple statement of fact and then let it go.

      Good health to everyone!

      August 6, 2012 at 1:44 am |
    • silmaril

      Can god stop evil in heaven? If he can bring sinners into heaven and not have evil, why can't he do it on earth?

      August 6, 2012 at 2:14 am |
  20. Repent and believe in Jeebus and you will be put in a 401k

    What will you do with your pets at the Rapture. We can help. Affordable rates.

    August 6, 2012 at 12:38 am |
    • Truth

      ok. Your not Evil? you've done things in secret, you've done things that go against the law. You've done something bad that you weren't supposed to do. That is Evil right there. I hope you can find Jesus Christ sometime in your life. Maybe open your bible for 5-10 minutes, actually read John, Matthew, or any book of the new testament, i wish you luck brother.

      August 6, 2012 at 1:00 am |
    • Peteyroo

      Not Truth, it's "you're" not "your."

      August 6, 2012 at 1:02 am |
    • Truth

      Check out his new mixtape one song from it. 😀
      Hope you enjoy it. Peace be with you. God Bless 🙂


      August 6, 2012 at 1:05 am |
    • Just call me Lucifer

      Finally... I can save for my retirement!

      August 6, 2012 at 5:06 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43
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.