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 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—but each is wrong, or at least inadequate.
The first answer is, “This makes no sense—I guess this proves there is no God.” But the problem of senseless suffering does not go away if you abandon belief in God. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, said that if there was no higher divine Law, there would be no way to tell if any particular human law was unjust or not. If there is no God, then why have a sense of outrage and horror when suffering and tragedy occur? The strong eat the weak—that’s life—so why not? When Friedrich 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!” Nietzsche was relentless in his logic. Because if there is no God, all value judgments are arbitrary. All definitions of justice are just the results of your culture or temperament. As different as they were in other ways, 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, and as we will see, it removes many resources for facing it.
The second answer is . . .
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