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.
Rightly said by the Pastor. Simply trust in Jesus like a small kid and go by the Bible. Happiness or suffering – comes from God we need to accept what is in store for us according to God's plan.
So does prayer change things or not? If what you say is true, prayer is a needless, useless ritual.
all things should be questioned and probed. blind trust is simply blind.
And a ton of good trusting in God's plan of suffering and happiness will do the billions of humans who just happen to be believing in the wrong God as this moment. They're going to be suffering even more soon!
@Scott... but just remember.. while they're suffering in eternal torment, that he "loves" them. ahahhaha
God is perfect, never makes a mistake.
He tested mankind with a talking snake.
Things didn’t work out like he originally planned.
He decided to change his religious brand.
He killed his son to “save” mankind.
From the curse and wrath of his self centered mind.
Now we have hell for those who doubt.
To give fairy tale salesmen a lot more clout.
OMG.. that's awful. Love it... but whew... that will pizzzz off some conservatives.
Clever and right on.
The arrogance of a "personal god" is amazing. God spends 5 days creating the Earth, and "wham", he/she created not only our Galaxy but 100 Billion other Galaxies on day 6. God has bigger fish to fry than to ride shotgun on each of our insignificant lives. Then, on top of it we get a second chance in Heaven, if you behave in this life. Truly arrogant.
Pat Robertson here – He talks to me daily. I hear his audible voice. Please give me your money. I created heaven and earth, but those dollar bills are too much of a challenge.
Wow. Thank you for posting this CNN. This kind of complete lunacy is what made me leave faith behind in the first place. By posting this, I hope others realize how crazy their religious thought processes are.
"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."
Aka, stfu, don't question, just obey. Thoughtless, blind, and ignorant.
The writer misses the most important concept when trying to answer the question, and that is the concept of free will. There is a saying: "if you love something, let it go..." God is seen in many quarters as the creator of all, including man. As such, God is in many ways a parent figure. The most loving thing a parent can do is to let its child go freely and in a timely manner, rather than to hang on, demanding obeisance, attention, obedience and such throughout that child's life. God is considered all-wise. That wisdom demands that we humans be released to our own devices, to make our own mistakes and learn from them, even the most horrific. That is the most loving thing any parent can do, and God is a most perfect parent in that regard.
@ellen, free will is a contradiction if there is an omniscient god... How do you explain the fact that your god knows about everything you will do and the fact that you think you have the ability to do otherwise?
Plus, free will is just rubbish.. Control is more appropriate.
this is a common fallacy used when no real explanation is suitable. there is no reason whatsoever to believe it.
How come YOU believers can use the Parental motif, but refuse it when we atheists, etc actually use it more appropriately and logically?
Do you kick your Kids out for their first transgression? Do you set them up to fail and than kick them out and then set Evil upon them to follow them, and use a supernatural Being to do it?
The Parental motif is a failed one when actually analyzed by logic and simple common sense.
Tom in LI, I wouldn't say th eparental motif is failed, its simply insane. Sounds like a terribly abusive parent! I'm sending you to hell because I love you sooooo much.
Personally, I believe in a great creator far removed from his creation, and various powers higher than ourselves. I think the God of the bible is a greater power who has successfully fooled many in this world into thinking he is THE power.
What a crock. And how can anyone presume to have any knowledge about why a ficticious, invisible man or woman does anything? Well I guess the goal, as in any cult, is to manipulate the masses and take their money. Foolish, fearful people will believe anything.
this life is incredibly random.
I believe all religion is man made to meet man's needs. I also agree with the author's statement that we need to be like children and learn to trust that the world is unfolding in a way that if we take advantage of the good nature that surrounds us we shall enjoy a good life. Ann Rice in her book "Memnock the Devil" put forth an argument I find quite powerful.. God sending his son to suffer and die is not a demonstration of faith because he already knew the answer. Humankind is left to develop faith without the same knowledge of the hereafter.
And this "answer" provided is more inadequate than the ones the author was trying to dispense with.
1. when you eliminate the God from the equation – than you now at least have a shorter list of possible answers and that my Preacher friend is consoling. You might not like it, as it challenges your faith, but its a comfort to scratch that Old God off the list of possibles. If there is no interventionist God, in any directions, than its all focused on what we Do know, not what we struggle to make fit into the Real World – namely an Interventionist God who does so with a great deal of whimsy.
2. Clearly this God of yours is NOT in control of everything. Or at the very least doesnt care to be. He's set the Whole Thing on auto-pilot and lets it run. And only at a prescribed time can he shift the gears. Plus we ALL have differing definitions of What a God is, and YOU cant claim one as the only one, and make it everyone's.
3.What the Bible MIGHT say, according to one or more interpretations matters NOT to what is taught by Preachers and understood by their Flocks! PEOPLE of Faith believe that Suffering is the result of SIN, whether it be Original, or their own. Whether you suffer in this world or the next, Human actions create reaction by this GOD and that is the Doctrine people have been taught for centuries.
4. Oh and this is my favorite. And perhaps the worst of all this authors answers, because it goes back to all the others and only strengthens them. Your GOD DID create Evil and he let it loose on his beloved creations, because of ONE transgression. One, not a whole host of them, but ONE. And it was ONE which he'd set them up to fail from the start.
The death of Jesus DID NOT fix anything – it only created yet another arcane system to please this God. It did not releuve any past transgressions, and it certainly DID not fix the very system of failure this GOD created and dropped on the backs of Humans.
Plus IF this God suffered as Human than he would have understood the Reality of it and IF he was so compassionate and even empathetic, he would HAVE FIXED things out of sheer desire to not let anyone suffer so randomly and soemtimes allegedly at his very hands.
And the" let it go like a child would", is as infantile a reply in 2012 as one can find. Even parents get it wrong and SHOULD be questioned and challenged...!
This Author solved nothing, and his answers were worse than what most people might hear in Bible study by some untrained Believer doing it for the school credits.
I would love to debate this man on this...he clearly has a novitiate sense of Faith and the means to Teach it.
[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.]
Mr. Keller believes that "senseless suffering" does not disprove the existence of a God. Besides the fact that many things disprove the existence of God, as long as "senseless suffering" doesn't disprove it he's all set to take the next great leap in his circular logic:
["If there is no God or higher divine law then violence is perfectly natural."]
Ah yes, we need "divine law" to define morality, because without it we would all start murdering each other randomly and senselessly and then "senseless suffering" wouldn't make any sense! Thank you Mr. Keller, I think I'll stop reading just about right here.
The ability of choice is the difference. God gave us everything we need for this world. We choose to make it heaven or hell. God is with us to celebrate our heavenly accomplishments, will comfort us when evil strikes and waits for us in death. What happens in this world is what we allow to happen from how we live. Look no further then the mirror to the ills of our world.
Right blame humans. Its always OUR fault. Us mere mortals with no powers of any kind, least not Supernatural powers, and its out fault. Its our fault that we dont have the keen senses to outwit a Devil set upon us WHO DOES HAVE supernatural powers and can do anything it wants to trick us. But its our fault for not having the power to know a Supernatural Being is using Supernatural powers to work against us.
Only people with a perverted sense of self will take so much blame upon themselves. Only those who already blame themselves for everything would accept such a distorted Belief System – that the ONLY answer to any Questions is to blame Humans and/or oneself.
Human history is littered with the corpses or dead religions, all of which were false according to todays followers. If we don't learn from history we're doomed to repeat it.
I want to ask an atheist to give me an honest answer back:Why out of the millions of gods why do you only choose one to attack,rip apart and make fun of those who believe in him? Out of the millions of gods why do you only call God a "magic sky fairy"? Out of the millions of gods why do you cling to Christianity the most? "Secular law dominates religious law",Ha! So much for atheists being "smart"! Read the consti.tution if you live in America.
Throughout history people have broken laws so this "secular" crap is just a delusion for them.
Are you asking an "honest" question or just attacking Atheists? Very non-secular of you!
Atheists believe there is no god, period. So it's not just the "Christian God", but all deities.
But cling to just one out of all others? That makes an atheist look stupid and a lair.
How are they "clinging to one"? It's a belief that none of them exist. As a western culture, our predominant religion in this country is Christianity, but there are certainly others.
We Atheists do not believe in ANY of the thousands of Gods. The Christian one is just the most prevelant in countries posting on CNN boards. Pretty simple answer, got any others that are more of a challenge or were just venting your anger because you're afraid you are wrong?
If you seek an answer, please ask a question. What you've type makes little sense outside of the voices in your head.
all gods created by men. all religions fake.
Of course God created Evil the Bible makes that perfectly clear. See ISA 45:7, Lam 3:37-38, Jer 18:3-4 and Romans 8:20 for starters. God is in complete control of everything. Not a bird falls from the sky outside of his will. In fact, each of us does not speak one word (Exodus 4:11) or take one single step (Prov 16:1, 16:9) outside of God's will. We must learn good from evil. God put the tree of knowledge of good and evil right smack in the middle of the garden. If we did not learn this we could not know who God truly is and His goodness and His love. Our life here is just a whisper. All creation will one day be rejoicing and singning praises to God and to the Lord Jesus (Rev 5:13, Phil 2:10-11, etc). Those who have ears will hear this.
Ransom, there's been lots of Gods throughout our history but I am afraid you might honestly believe there has been millions. So I am prepared to ask you that if you believe there has been millions, or even thousands, what guarantee do you have that you're worshiping the right one?
As for your claim that atheist enjoy focusing their attention on Christianity, perhaps that is because you live in a predominantly Christian country. Or perhaps because atheist find this religion to be particularly easier to ridicule than others. In either case, don't take it personally. Any belief in a God is equally foolish.
Why do you, as a Christian, attack all of those other gods, atheists, and agnostics?
I don't believe in any of them. I don't "cling" to "attacking" any one in particular. I disagree with just about all organized religions. My values and morals are not dictated by any ancient, outdated book or fear of going to "hell" by upsetting some invisible being. I believe in doing good deeds and helping others because it's the right thing to do. I don't need a book to tell me that volunteering at a soup kitchen is good. I know that on my own and volunteer there because I want to help others; not to please some deity.
BEcause, for example, Hindus aren't trying to force the world, through mind games and manipulation or via threats of death and war, to believe in their deities.
I feel bad for all of you who have no God in your life. God is love. Quantify that.
A person's addiction to delusion is hard to counter. It offers a dream state that feels better than reality. But, delusional states of mind aren't generally something to be desired.
Not mutually inclusive.. One can know "love" without a god...
How ridiculous that you would say such a thing.
Don't feel bad for us. To me "god", the boogie monster, the headless rider, la llorona, chupacabra, bigfoot...all in the same vein.
That you believe in a silly story, well...that's the sad part.
I feel bad for you that you need a God to know love, the rest of us know real love and don't need to make up our own love from a God.
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 markedly different than the trait which causes a person to be attracted to a member of their own gender.
Dont – I KNOW LOVE very intimately. One need not believe in fictional characters to know love. Your premise is faulty...
If this is love, I don't need or want it. I cannot stand to hear people say we are loved or blessed. If we were, there wouldn't be suffering. You religious nuts always say your "God" is all powerful and all knowing. Then, you turn right around and say your "God " allows suffering, and you just don't understand why; or you say it's because it's our fault. Then, you also look around you and while others are suffering, you think you are "blessed" if you aren't. Any God worth worshiping wouldn't choose one person over another for "blessings", and also wouldn't punish a whole species of humans for the sins of a few. That's like saying it's ok to punish all pit bulls because some of them bite.
There is no god. Sickness happens, but it is science we turn to for cures. When no cure is possible, the weak minded may turn to a god as a last resort for healing or just solace. As we acknowledge our mortality without fantasy gods, we are freed to be in the moment and to leave powerful legacies, even as death's hands draw near.
Mark Yelka–look at your watch, look at someone in the eye. Even as you look at the complexity of your watch, you assume there is a creator, someone who brought that watch together to make it work. You cannot look at someone in the eye and see the complexity of that single organ and not logically, reasonably think that there is a creator. Something as complex as just the human eye did not just "happen." Either way, no matter what I try to explain to you, or what you think you believe, you will meet your Creator some day and be called to account for your life.
Need proof not opinions.Give proof or what you said "There is no God" is a lie based on what YOU have zero evidence for.Keep on "not believing" but it soon becomes believing.
The "intelligent design" response has been thoroughly debunked. It hasn't got logic behind it. Fail.
That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.
@Falcon 78 in Northern VA, are you really using the watchmaker argument? .... enough said, thanks for playing.
Proof is required for those making assertions in the positive, not the negative. Famous example: prove there is not a teapot in orbit around the sun. No, the burden of proof in on the person making a claim. They must provide evidence.
All human minds are weak especially in the face of overwhelming tragedy. It is quite rational to use what works for you to allow you to cope even if it is based of falsehood. If your blankly helps you fall asleep at night then use it even if it can't truly protect you. Often the monsters you fear are also imaginary.
II respect that being stricken with cancer may be a time on someone's life where they need the comfort that perhaps a belief in God may bring, but I still hate to disappoint you, you need to look to lifestyle, environment, diet and genetic pre-disposition as to "why" you may have gotten cancer. An invisible man living in the sky had nothing to do with it.
Remember, your mind is finite. Just like mine. That's why I know what god is all about. Derp derp...
OR.. There is no "god" and sometimes bad things happen to good people, it just happens. Our brains want a reason for everything, but we're just a part of nature, and nature can be cruel. We should be happy if we make it to an old age, manage to steer ourselves somewhat of a good life, and hopefully make some kind of a positive influence on the world around us. That's all there is folks, don't try too hard to find an explanation for everything. Occam's Razor.
Define "good people".You'll se nobody can fit that description.
A good person is someone who makes an effort not to unjustly harm others, and correct their behavior in the future if they fail. Many people fit that definition. Since we a fallible any failure to achieve perfection is a false metric to use in deciding whether someone is good or bad.
the more we think we know, the more we think we know. our advancements as a people, have led us to think we know more than God, this is laughable. So, you can add a video to your FB page, follow a druggie actor, or hack your local library.. so what? when you brother, sister or for some 'tards pets are on the verge of death, who will you be crying to then? your politician? your meditation instructor? your genitals? no. it will be "God".. so stfu and finish your soggy cereal, trolls. the problem w everything is us (people). we think too much, do too little, and whine about everything.. lol we ALL do. cause we are ALL flawed.
So... you lost me.. does prayer change things or not?
"verge of death, who will you be crying to then" ... begging the question, why would anyone have to be crying for anyone? That's the usual "there are no atheists in foxholes" bs... Been there, done that, no god needed at any point.
People are just scared and we cling to whatever makes it easier for us.. A god is just an easy way for people to explain things they don't understand.
innumerable years of indoctrination into the belief that "unbelievers" are tormented in eternity is difficult to overcome, but if fear and helplessness is what brings a person to "god" they are just as likely to cry to anyone for assistance.