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.
This world is not a holiday resort with promises of enjoyment and happiness. The world is a school and we are here to learn. Every problem is a lesson which cleanses us and moves us one step up towards a divine life.
What is the evidence for the existence of heaven?
Christians actually believe the Flood, don't they ? "where was god" when he decided to kill all humans ? Does not it show the absurdity of theist thinking – they have no problem absolutely with their "god" trying to kill everybody but are shocked by dozen people shot dead ?
According to Christians god was justified in killing everyone, including unborn babies, because they were all wicked and deserved it . Just like they think it's ok for non believer's to be tortured in hell forever.
Gods of various religions frequently set some really bad examples.
"Do as I say, not as I do."
"But I thought you created me in your image."
"Five digits on each hand, a rockin' beard, and a penchant for overreaction? Yep, that's me! So stop being vengeful and murderous like I am, or I'll kill all the babies in your town and blame you for it. Thus saith the LORD."
First of all, God did not ' come to the Earth in Jesus Christ and became subject to suffering and death himself.' Jesus is not God, but as he himself told Nicodemus, that he is the "only-begotten Son of God."(John 3:16) If Jesus was God, then who was it that said concerning Jesus: "This is my son, the beloved, whom I have approved" at Matthew 3:17 ?
Too, had Mr Timothy Keller really did his "homework", he could have dug deep enough to have read Habakkuk 1:12, whereby Habakkuk says: "Are you not from long ago, O Jehovah? O my God, my Holy One, you do not die." Hence, God does not die, for Moses wrote at Psalms 90:2 that "even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God."(King James Bible)
Mr Timothy Keller never explains why God has allowed suffering to continue, despite being a religious leader. Though mentioning the book of Job, he fails to grasp the issue that arose in the Garden of Eden, when Satan (the "serpent") called into question God's right to rule or his right as sovereign of the universe, by posing this question to Eve: "Is it really so that God said you must not eat from every tree of the garden?” (Gen 3:1) knowing full well that the "tree of knowledge of good and bad" was off limits to Adam and Eve.(Gen 2:16, 17)
This issue of universal sovereignty came up again during Job's time, in which Satan now questioned whether anyone would be loyal to God, telling him: "Skin in behalf of skin, and everything that a man (any man or woman, not just Adam and Eve) has he will give in behalf of his soul. For a change, thrust out your hand, please, and touch as far as his bone and his flesh [and see] whether he will not curse you to your very face.”(Job 2:4, 5)
In order to settle this issue, our Creator, Jehovah God, has allowed mankind to be ruled by Satan (though most are unaware of it, 1 John 5:19) for over 6000 years of human history to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Satan's way of ruling is a miserable failure and while at the same time to see who will firmly support Jehovah God's rulership. Hanani told king Asa that "as regards Jehovah, his eyes are roving about through all the earth to show his strength in behalf of those whose heart is complete toward him."(2 Chron 16:9)
This issue of universal sovereignty will be settled once and for all at the end of Jesus millennial reign (Rev 20:6) in which only "meek" ones will be left remaining.(Matt 5:5)
You obviously do not understand the doctrine of the Trinity, which is a core Christian belief. Christ also said, "I and the Father are one," "If you have seen me you have seen the Father," and "Before Abraham was, I am." Christ accepted worship and forgave sins. He was crucified because he DID claim to be God.
"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" you highlight is shallow because no one ever assumes that their troubles will go away if they stop believing–any more than they should expect their problems to magically vanish if they give in and start praising Jesus. What abandoning belief in the divine DID do for many nonbelievers was to make them realize that we're all playing the lottery of life, that misfortune often comes down to the luck of the draw. Does that seem fair? Well, it doesn't ever feel fair when you draw the wrong straw, but neither did it feel fair when I believed in God and therefore had to believe that he/she/it was willingly allowing me to suffer. That's cruelty, and I refuse to worship such a monster.
You may ask yourself, "If there is no God, where do our morals come from?" Or you may suggest, in a broader sense, that without a belief in God, there's no purpose to anything. What you fail to consider is that humans have evolved as social creatures, and the functioning members of our species come equipped with something called EMPATHY. It physically hurts us to see others suffer, and we seek to help those in need NOT because some invisible god says to, but because we genuinely want to end the suffering. How is that a survival instinct? It's because, if we didn't have the "Good Samaritan" genes already built in, it would be harder for us as a species to build cooperative societies that serve the well-being of everyone, ourselves included. We succeed in part because we ARE moral, charitable creatures, but that doesn't mean our morals are in any way divine.
As for purpose, so what if the cosmos hasn't given us one? "Purpose" is, after all, a human word. Can't we decide for ourselves? Everyone might give themselves individual purpose–either kind or sinister–but the society as a whole will naturally average everything out. If you want the average human purpose to be positive, then go out and show people kindness. If you want our societies to degenerate into a dog-eat-dog free-for-all that ruins everything, then don't use your natural gift of empathy and just look away whenever you encounter suffering.
Just because this pastor has a finite brain does not mean that other humans should ever stop asking questions. It is never too much to ask a question, however difficult it might be for finite-brained pastors and their followers to try to confront that question. Why do pastors like this finite-brained one keep trying to stop humans from being smarter about the universe that surrounds them?
Very good article, Rev. Keller. It is a shame how this world is slipping away and many don't want to realize it. All we can do is speak the truth and be accountable for our words and actions. In the end everyone will see the truth. Many who argue there is no God, or God doesn't have the power to control everything are definietley thinking with and being limited with thier finite minds. Yes, we all do that, but at least we have Hope. It is such a wonderful thing.
This pastor knows what he's talking about. The atheists who post here are like a broken record, repeating the same old "myth", "fairy tale", "imaginary friend" nonsense. It's the same shallow drivel every week.
Prayer changes things.
we've heard that nonsense before.
Once the children are brainwashed it is very difficult to deprogram them.
Other living things have been sacrificed as required.
All prayer is of no use.
why not me?
"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."
It's astonishing how far religious people will go to avoid coming to the obvious conclusion.
That "senseless suffering" is not alleviated by the absence of a god, nor by the presence of one, proves only that gods are irrelevant to "senseless suffering."
Even the religious can't prove the existence of their god–that's why it's called "faith." That's why this is called the "Belief Blog" rather than, say, the "Proven Facts Blog." And if you can't prove a god exists, there is no good reason to posit that existence. It just takes the honest admission that "There are thing the human race doesn't know and can't explain yet," and rather responding with "But we're working hard to figure out the things we don't know," comes up with a lot of baseless, convoluted, assertions of knowledge. "I know because my god told me so." is a philosophical and intellectual cop-out.
You sound as a very angry person ... and you come across as though your beliefs are what counts ... every think others have a right to their opinion ... or the possibility exist you are wrong.
Perhaps reading with an open mind and seeking more knowledge will bring you a more peaceful life.
A god would need or want absolutely nothing whatsoever, including the entire universe and us. There are no gods and that explains a lot.
Very nice article. This is a question a lot of people ask and it seems to have no answer. But you did a great job of explaining the Christian perspective in a very reasoned way.
you may be correct, but at no point does this article seem to be sufficient, as it is packed with bad logic.
I like your polite and thoughtful post Steve and agree 🙂
What we truly need is to realize that most people are indoctrinated from birth to believe whatever their parents believe.
We all stopped believing in Santa Claus. It's time to stop believing in other fairy tales too.
I agree in the sense that I am personally not a Biblical literalist. However, I consider myself a metaphorical Christian, believing that while there was no actual burning bush or the earth getting created in a literal six days, that these symbols are metaphors, behind which there is a literal truth (like six days representing six eras, or something along the sort.) I feel that while the Bible has violence like stoning which is barbaric and which I do not follow, the Bible has also good teachings like forgivness and compassion. Same with many other religions. I like what Thomas Jefferson did, creating his own Bible out of the compassion verses. Religion is neither good nor bad, but rather, it is a tool that can be used for either good or evil. 🙂
Why do you come to this blog if you do not believe? You want to poke fun at and ridicule those who have a relationship with our Creator. We are used to it. Jesus loves you, have a nice day.
If god solved all of our problems, what is the purpose of this life?? Life is an education and if we will be handed the answers to the test, we won't learn a single thing in the end. If I am going to return to be with Him some day, I certainly want to be better and know more than when I left his presence at my birth.
the eternal cop-out.
Kodak, you haven't answered anything.. What about the millions of babies and children dying every year, they don't get a chance to "know" life...
Plus, if your god is perfect, why would he have any desire/purpose anyway?
Amen! Well very put!
God is GREAT. The religion that man created (dying on crosses and other such hokus pokus) perverts His greatness with our petty politics and vanity.
So true. Well thoughout post 🙂
Have you ever actually READ the Bible? Do you understand the meaning of the cross? Do your homework.
Does your god exist? If so, how do you know it is "GREAT"?
Because talking to yourself is a sign of schizophrenia.
Especially when you expect an external change or "favor" to come from it.
didn't you just talk to and answer yourself?
this kid's little article is cute
you prove, he's just talking to his audience.
Jesus loves me this I know, cause the bible tells me so, unfortunately many do not get beyond their brainwashing with logical thinking and reasoning.
When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think like a child, reason like a child.
When I became a man I gave up chidish things.
It would seem the pastor hasn"t managed to do this in regard to his god belief, but I guess there is a good dollar to be made with a best selling book or two.
one day it will be determined that the religious "spiritual" feeling is just another of the many triats which make up an individual. some part nature. some part nurture. that gives a person the "feeling" or religious connection. probably not particularly different than the trait which causes a person to be attracted to a member of their own gender.
"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." Really?! And you know this how?
"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." How much more time do religious organizations and religious personnel need to effectively teach people that an unconditionally loving heart is ALL that god asks for - you've had 2000 years - I give you an 'F" for failing.
Agreed.....and let me add. I think us humans could comprehend a little better explanation. Something like "I know all of this appears rather demented, but my answer is just too difficult for you to understand."-lol. I suppose the scare tactic would be rendered ineffective if anything tangible and real were introduced. The answer is always "FAITH" based. Damn, if my entire and eternal future depends on it.......a substantial and irrefutable FACT would be nice. The fact that it's ALL about bizarre FAITH, in face of an almost INFINITE body of contrary evidence (evolution etc), makes GOD appear to be ONE SICK GAME PLAYER.
Most people believe the religion they were raised within. According to Christianity, if you were born into another religion (like most of the planet) you are going to hell for eternity. i.e- A Buddist who is a wonderful person GOES TO HELL......this is just DUMB.
Thank you Rev. Keller. You've unleashed proof of how lost our world has become.
I "Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul! I will praise the Lord as long as I live:" God is the only way home.
Proof? He is completely demnted and delusional as is anyone who follows this psycho.