The Danger of Asking God ‘Why me?’

The Danger of Asking God ‘Why me?’
Tim Keller
CNN Belief Blog

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.

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.

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. 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.

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.

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Worse Than Lions

I remember my last confirmation class before I left Romania.  I took a group of ten to fifteen boys and girls on a Sunday morning, not to a church but to a zoo.  Before the cage of lions I told them, “your forefathers in faith were thrown before such wild beasts for their faith.  Know that you also will have to suffer.  You will not be thrown before lions but you will have to do with men who would be much worse than lions.  Decide here and now if you wish to pledge allegiance to Christ.”

They had tears in their eyes when they said yes.

– Richard Wurmbrand

Blessed to Be a Blessing

2 Samuel 5:1-5

[1] Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “Behold, we are your bone and flesh. [2] In times past, when Saul was king over us, it was you who led out and brought in Israel. And the LORD said to you, ‘You shall be shepherd of my people Israel, and you shall be prince over Israel.’” [3] So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the LORD, and they anointed David king over Israel. [4] David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years. [5] At Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.

As a sophomore in college, I was already eager to graduate.  This was partially because I was eager to work and make money and partially because I thought I would then be done with school forever (God is funny in His providence).  In my naiveté, I imagined graduation would be the time when I finally “made it” and I could reap the benefits of my labor.  It was all very self-centered.

In our passage this morning, David is finally experiencing the fulfillment of God’s promises to him.  David is to be king and prince over Israel.  The time of running for his life and living in caves is (presumably) over!  Now David can enjoy a life of power, prestige, and wealth.  But is that all?

See, David is not only called to be prince but he is also called to be shepherd.  Jesus tells us in John 10:11 that “the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”  David’s blessings are not meant to benefit him alone, but they are given for the sake of the sheep.  David ascends to the throne, he enjoys a lengthy and prosperous reign, and he is favored by God, not for the sake of his own legacy but that he might be a greater blessing to the people of Israel.

Not only does success equip David for his shepherding ministry, but also hardship.  The many years of wandering and waiting gave David a compassionate heart.  He was a man who knew what a shepherd was meant to be – one who would give rest, lead, and comfort the sheep (Psalm 23).

So often we see success and hardship only in regards to how it benefits us.  The noblest way we interpret our circumstances is how they are maturing us or drawing us nearer to God.  Of course, we were made to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, but it rarely occurs to us that God may be shaping and reshaping us that we might be more effective at loving and caring for others.

Faith and Suffering

The Message of 1 Peter
Edmund Clowney

[13] Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? [14] But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, [15] but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, [16] having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

1 Peter 3:13–16

Hope is the form that faith takes under the threat of death.

Sober Reminders

Joel Kim

I, along with my colleagues, decided to visit Yanghwajin Foreign Missionary Cemetery.  As the name indicates, this is where 145 foreign missionaries to Korea and their family members are now buried and remembered.  Among them were the families of Horace Underwood (1959-1916), the first Presbyterian missionary to Korea (northern Presbyterian), and W.D. Reynolds, a southern presbyterian (1867-1951).  While engaged in many ministries, these two missionaries are best remembered for their work in producing the first Korean translation of the complete Bible in 1910, but this was not without great cost.  Soon after their arrival in 1982, the Reynolds gave birth to their first son, William Davis.  Their joy was soon followed by grief as little William Davis died the same year he was born, and is now buried alongside many other children of missionaries who have died in Korea.  The graves of these missionaries are sober reminders of the sacrifices many missionaries (and their children) have made in their desire to proclaim the Gospel throughout the world.

A Sea of Glass

Revelation 4:2-6a

[2] At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. [3] And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. [4] Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. [5] From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, [6] and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.

By the time the apostle John wrote the book of Revelation, most of the other apostles had been martyred.  In Revelation 2, Jesus tells the church of Smyrna that some of them would be thrown into prison and others would lose their lives.  In Revelation 3, Jesus encourages the church of Philadelphia to not fear the synagogues that would persecute them.  The people of God are afraid.

So in the vision revealed to John, what does he see?  In verse 2, the first thing John sees in heaven is a throne and One seated on it.  My wife and I are expecting our third child soon.  We anticipate chaos.  This world is often chaotic, but we can know that there is a King and He is on the throne.

This King created all things and is sovereign over all things.  He is not just King inside the church or the spiritual parts of our lives.  He is the King of everything that exists and He upholds the universe by the word of His power.  He is sovereign over every molecule.

A Romanian pastor was jailed and beaten and he said this to his captors:

My God is teaching me a lesson. I do not know what it is. Maybe he wants to teach me several lessons. I only know, sirs, that you will do to me only what God wants you to do—and you will not go one inch further—because you are only an instrument of my God.

We may not always understand what God is doing, but we know that He is King and He can and He will ultimately work all things for our good.  Our God will conquer the chaos.

In verse 6, John sees a sea of water so still and peaceful it looks like glass.  In the Bible, the sea is usually a scene of chaos.  Paul gets shipwrecked, Jonah gets swallowed by a fish, and the Egyptian army is drowned in the sea.  Water is chaos, but Jesus comes on the scene calms the storm.

We serve a sovereign King.  This does not mean we will avoid suffering, but we can rest assured that the waters will be stilled, that the King is seated on His throne.

Jesus Did Not Say

John 21:20-23

[20] Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” [21] When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” [22] Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” [23] So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”

Peter has just found out that he’s going to be a martyr.  When he sees his close friend, John, he asks Jesus, “What about him?”  Jesus replies,  “Why does that matter? You follow Me!”

This is absurd.  Peter is going to be crucified and John might never die?!  How does that make any sense?

People try to explain the confusion and suffering of life in different ways.  “God is testing us and making us stronger.”  “It’s punishment for sins.”  “There’s a lesson God is teaching us.”  Even if these things are true, these answers are not very satisfying.

Close friends of mine were pregnant with their first child.  At the doctor’s appointment in which they were supposed to find out the gender of their baby, they were told that their son had a terminal disease and he would likely not survive the pregnancy.  At most, he would live a few weeks after birth.

What could any of us say to them?

Well, here’s what we could not say to them.  We could not say why this was happening.  We could not say why this was happening to their child.  We could not say what exactly God was doing.  We could not talk about any of these things because we did not know.  We could only talk about what we do know.

Because of the word of God, we knew this was not happening because God does not love them or He had forgotten them.  We knew God was not punishing them and also that He was not indifferent.  We knew He was grieving for their son and for their pain.  We knew that God hates death and He sent His only Son to conquer death.  We knew that God would walk with them.  We knew that He would somehow work all things for their good.

Deuteronomy 29:29 reads, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

Praise God, the baby did survive and is a wonderful little boy.  But in this life, things do not always work out the way we hope.  In the midst, all we can hold onto are the things that are certain.

We have all experienced things in the past that have made us ask, “Why?”  The honest answer is we don’t know why.  Many things in the future remain uncertain.  We have many questions.  The honest answer is we don’t know what will happen.  But what we do know is sufficient.  The God we do know is sufficient.  The promises He has revealed in His Word belong to us forever.

How Long?

Phil Ryken

Today I received an anonymous prayer card from someone who was at Tenth Presbyterian Church yesterday for worship.  The card asked us to pray for a baby whose heart is failing and may need a transplant.

The baby’s parents are believers in Jesus Christ.  On Saturday the mother, fearing for her daughter’s life, asked her husband, “How long will God continue to show us mercy?”

“Always,” he replied.

Love Alone

Caedmon’s Call

The prince of despair’s been beaten
But the loser still fights
Death’s on a long leash
Stealing my friends to the night

And everyone cries for the innocent
You say to love the guilty, too
And I’m surrounded by suffering and sickness
So I’m working tearing back the roof

How can I believe in God when there’s so much suffering?

Michael Ramsden

Maybe the reason we question God’s moral character when bad things happen is that we live lives largely independent from Him – in other words, do we really trust Him even when things are going well?

Maybe we struggle with suffering so much in the West because we are so comfortable most of the time that we feel we don’t need God. We don’t rely on Him on a daily basis, and so we don’t really know Him as we should. When suffering comes along, therefore, it is not so much that it takes us away from God, but that it reveals to us that we haven’t really been close to Him in the first place.

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