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My Take: CNN readers' 7 answers to 'Where was God in Aurora?'
A man pauses at a memorial of crosses near the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, the scene of last week's mass shooting.
July 26th, 2012
02:49 PM ET

My Take: CNN readers' 7 answers to 'Where was God in Aurora?'

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

Over the last few days, CNN’s Belief Blog has received more than 10,000 responses to its question, “Where was God in Aurora?”

The underlying concern here has vexed theologians for centuries: How can evil happen in a world that is lorded over by a good and all-powerful God? As CNN's readers struggled to make sense of God's presence (or absence) in the Aurora, Colorado, massacre, I counted seven different answers to this question:

1. There is no God.

Self-professed atheists may make up only 2% of the U.S. population, but they are extraordinarily active online, and on CNN's Belief Blog. A commenter who identified as Jason spoke for them when he wrote, “Where was God? He was where he has always been. Nowhere because God does not exist.” Bob Dobbs agreed: “God is imaginary. The question is moot.”

Many in this camp also quoted the ancient Greek philosopher (and skeptic) Epicurus:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?

2. Don’t blame God, blame Satan.

Many theists on the site described the world as a battleground between God, who is working for good, and Satan, who is working for evil. “As long as Satan is loose to promote evil, bad things will happen to good people,” wrote kat.

3. Don’t blame God, blame us.

Probably the most common response from Christian commenters was that evil is a result of free will. Do we really want to be “puppets” or “robots"? Of course not. So God has given us the will to choose either evil or good.

Watch: Survivor of massacre says he forgives gunman

Believer summed up this position well:

"It's been said that the only thing we can truly give God is our will because its the only thing we possess that is uniquely ours. Everything else was given to us by him, and is, in effect, not ours to give in the first place. As such, and despite his omnipotence, he cannot intervene. . . .  He only possesses power where power can be possessed - and controlling our actions is not within that realm."

Here Deborah also chimed in: “This act of violence was not God's will. I get so tried of people blaming God for evil acts. Humans of their own free will do evil things.”

4. God was behind the massacre, and it was just.

Some believers saw God’s righteous hand in the Aurora massacre, inflicting a just punishment on a wayward nation now run by secular liberals rather than conservative Christians.

Lenny wrote:

"We as a country have been telling God to go away. We told him to get off our currency, get out of our schools, get out of our Pledge of Allegiance, take your Ten Commandments out of our courthouses, get those Bibles out of hotels and no graduation ceremonies in our churches. How can we expect God to give us his blessing and his protection if we demand that he leave us alone?"

Read: The man who made Aurora’s iconic crosses

Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, took a similar tack in an appearance on the Heritage Foundation's "Istook Live" radio show, laying the blame at the feet of a nation that has turned away from its God:

"You know, when people say, where was God in all of this? Well, you know, . . . we’ve threatened high school graduation participants that if they use God’s name that they’re going to be jailed, we had a principal of a school, and a superintendent or a coach down in Florida that were threatened with jail because they said the blessing at a voluntary off campus dinner. I mean, that kind of stuff… where is God? Where, where? What have we done with God? We told him that we don’t want him around. I kind of like his protective hand being present."

5. God was present at the massacre but with the victims, not the perpetrator

One classic claim in the Abrahamic tradition of Jews, Christians and Muslims is that God is with those who suffer - the poor and the oppressed. Some commenters saw God’s miraculous hand in the midst of this suffering, not causing it to happen but bringing it to an end.  “This may sound crazy,” wrote Diana, “but I believe God had a hand in that the gun jammed so that more people weren’t killed.”

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

The most common claim in this category came from peacemaker, who wrote, “God is and was with the victims and s/he is weeping.” In a more explicitly Christian vein, Lauren wrote: “He was there in the theater, pierced by bullets with the victims. He was scarred by the shrapnel. His eyes were scorched with gas and then burned with tears as He mourned alongside the broken.”

6. Which God?

Some commenters interrogated the question itself, arguing that the knots it twists us into are rooted in what commenter Ego_Death called “a false idea of what God is.” After all, the problem of evil in a world ruled by a sovereign and good God only presents itself if you posit one personal God who is both good and all-powerful.

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Referring to "our idea of a human-like personal God" as "an ancient myth," Northstar56 wrote:

"But just because this kind of God does not appear to exist, does not mean that God, in fact, does not exist. I think many have developed a more mature and realistic perspective . . . in which God exists as a pure fundamental consciousness or state from which all of existence arises. This God does not control anything, but rather continues to perpetually emanate as reality . . . God was present in all of the victims, and everyone else. God was present in the killer as well. The tragedy is that the killer's awareness was so distorted and twisted that he could not see or be aware of the intrinsic priceless value of every person he gunned down."

Evoking something more akin to the “watchmaker” God of the deists, who makes the world and its laws and then refuses to intervene in its operation, Norm wrote: “God is not involved in our everyday mundane activities. How arrogant of man to think he’s the center of the universe and has God’s constant attention and every action is ‘God’s will.’”

Taking a different tack, "varun" invoked the teachings of the beloved Hindu scripture the Bhagavad Gita:

"Only the followers of Semitic religions have problem with understanding this - because they do not believe in rebirth and karma. As soon as you introduce these two concepts into (the) picture along with the eternal indestructible soul (something Semitic religions do believe in), everything makes sense. Read Bhagavad-Gita and everything would be as clear as daylight."

7. Who knows? It’s a mystery

Agnosticism is a rare virtue in the United States nowadays, but there were a few commenters who admitted to something less than the absolute certainty exhibited by atheists and evangelicals alike. "The answer," wrote Terry, "is we don't know where he was." Fluffy the Gerbil of Doom saw this "God works in mysterious ways" move as “ultimate cop-out/rationalization,” but I am not so sure.

In September 1862, in the midst of a much greater American tragedy, Abraham Lincoln wrote a private “Meditation on the Divine Will” in which he struggled to make sense of what God was doing in the Civil War. He later reworked those reflections into his second inaugural address, one of the greatest speeches in American history.

Surveying the corpse-ridden landscape of North and South, Lincoln observed, “Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.” Clearly there was little good in slavery, he reasoned, yet equally clearly God was not giving a swift and sure victory to the Union. So what was God up to? In the end, Lincoln had to admit he did not know. Or, as he put it, “The Almighty has His own purposes.”

I suppose this is in a sense a “cop-out,” but it is a humble one, uninfected by the absolute certainties (either pro- or anti-God) that have shed more blood on earth than agnosticism ever will. It is also a classic example of answering a question with a question: What is God doing with this war? Who knows?

“Josephpusateri” also answered our question with a question. His comment was in my view the best of the hundreds I read, so I will end with it here:

"Oh, the blindness of such a question... as if only theodicy was a relevant question in white, American suburbs. Where is God in Afghanistan? Where is God in Gaza? Where is God in Syria? . . . Where is God, indeed."

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Atheism • Belief • Christianity • Culture wars • Devil • Ethics • God • Violence

soundoff (4,074 Responses)
  1. Stan Johnston

    "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

    ― C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

    July 26, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
  2. Jeff

    No god, grow up please.
    Instead of a focus on fantasy how about working on gun access to mentally unstable people. If you want a gun, pass an annual psychological exam that says you're a stable human being first.

    July 26, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
  3. Bill P

    We have a bit of a naïve notion that somehow we are on this earth to serve our own purposes for the entirety that we are here. For those that refuse to believe that God exists, no amount of argument will suffice, it is a potentially futile exercise. For those that do believe, when tragedy strikes, there is difficulty in understanding how it could happen. The Bible tells us:
    1) God is the Creator of all things (Genesis chapter 1);
    2) He loves us and provided for forgiveness for our sin problem (John chapter 3);
    3) He is a jealous God (Exodus chapter 2);
    4) He allows Satan to impose bad things on us to test us (Job chapter 1);
    5) He Himself imposes punishment on us for bad behavior (Ezekiel, chapter 23);
    At one point the Bible points out the absurdity of man accusing God: "Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, 'What are you making?' Does your work say, 'He has no hands'?” (Isaiah 45:9)
    The purpose of life is not about: family, friends, career, houses, food, etc. The purpose of life is to serve God (Ecclesiastes chapter 12). Therefore, if God chooses to allow something tragic to happen, it is not that grief is a mistaken exercise, it is instead imperative because, perhaps, we sometimes need to be compelled to reflect on Him: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalms 46:10)
    If we would stop and consider that no matter how long we live, life is really very short, like a vapor that appears for a little while (James 4:14). To put this into perspective: with the Universe being 14 billion years old (per science) and our lives are (world average) 70 years, that is one half billionth the existence of the Universe. Here God creates the universe around for billions of years, then us for fellowship, but we live on this earth an infinitesimally small period, even less when one considers eternity. That means that this life’s purpose is very simple – to establish a relationship with God that will last throughout eternity. Jesus made it clear that that was through Him (John 14:6).

    July 26, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • Joe

      Greed is Good... Gordon Gecko, Wallstreet 87

      July 26, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • Nietodarwin

      Do you vomit at the dinner table when other people are eating? This is the effect you xstians have on the rest of us, as you continually spout your faith.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • Bill P

      @Nietodarwin – Since these discussions make you ill, perhaps you would be just a little smarter person to avoid them. In reality, you are lost, which you are unable to admit, and you sense that you have a need for something greater in your life. For now, you stand in line at the "wide gate" that leads to destruction. The simple answer is for you to acknowledge God and accept Jesus as your Savior.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • Dinner Guest

      nietodarwin,

      Wow! I have nowhere near that severe of a reaction to them. It's more like watching them make little forts and mountains with their food and blow bubbles into their milk. If they start throwing it at everyone though, we do need to call for order.

      Bill P - watch it, kid!

      July 26, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • The_Pope_is_just_another_man

      As beautifully worded and in prose as it is in the beautiful writings of the Kings English....Scripture is not evidence.Its advice.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • Bill P

      @Dinner Guest: "Bill P – watch it, kid!"

      Thanks, but I am OK. Here is why: "What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31) People need Jesus. They are angry and confused because they are alone in this life – despite the other seven billion people that mill about. The Lord knows this, loves them, and earnestly desires for them to go to Him.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • Bill P

      The_Pope_is_just_another_man: The Bible itself declares that it is the Word of God. So that then becomes a matter of faith, left up to the individual and God to demonstrate and prove. You won't find proof under a microscope, a cyclotron, or a test tube.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • illuminated Genius

      I think you need to start using logic and stop thinking about fairy tales and fantasies from the Bible.

      July 26, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
    • Bill P

      @illuminated Genius – I gather that you suggest that "logic" should replace God. Interestingly, the word logic, from the Greek, logikē, appears zero times in the Bible. Logic, according to the WIKI, is often divided into three parts, inductive reasoning, abductive reasoning, and deductive reasoning. A mixture of philosophy and science. Perhaps God did not see fit to explain Himself in this manner; nor did He choose to be deduced. In fact, Moses, having some difficulty imagining how he was going to "explain" God to Pharaoh, asked, "Who shall I say sent me?". The reply, "I Am that I Am. Tell him (Pharaoh) that I Am sent you." You do not have any basis for saying that the Bible is full of "fairy tales and fantasies", except your opinion and belief. That is what you "want" to believe, but you cannot prove your position. Even "logic" will not prove that you are correct.

      July 27, 2012 at 2:13 am |
  4. Newtonslaw

    Epicurus was accurate and those who still pander the"GOD" myth have a financial investment that needs that "god". The author would be out of a job, and probably should be if he believes atheists only amount to 2% of the population when it's probably 10 times that.

    July 26, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
  5. Austin

    We humans really are the reason for sin, death and disease. The rightouess God of the Bible created adam and eve and gave them and every other human the ability to choose him or sin. God made us like this so we can expierence real love with him, if you forced to love someone is tht really love? Because God had allowed us to make our own descions he also allows us to live with the conqeunces. CNN and everyone blames God for everything wrong but was it really his fault? Why would you ever challanged the soverign creator of the universe? This is ALL our faults, every single human is responible for sin, death and disease

    July 26, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      If you believe in the all powerful Abrahamic God, everything is his fault.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
    • ArthurP

      Evangelicals are starting to question the whole Adam and Eve story because it just does not make any sense.

      http://www.npr.org/2011/08/09/138957812/evangelicals-question-the-existence-of-adam-and-eve

      July 26, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
    • ME II

      "The rightouess God of the Bible created adam and eve and gave them and every other human the ability to choose him or sin."

      I don't recall getting this choice, much less God asking me to choose.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • wHATDIDYOUSAY?

      Isaiah 45:7
      I create good and I create evil: I am the Lord.

      I also suppose that God telling the Israelites to slaughter every man, woman and child in Jericho (among other places) because he wanted his people to have their land wasn't "really" God even though the Bible clearly says it was.

      Arise, sheep. Perhaps God is all good but not all powerful or all powerful but not all good. Perhaps he doesn't exist at all. Or perhaps he's too busy coaching Olympic athletes to attend the one Batman screening where he should have been present.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
  6. Trayvon Angel of Justice

    God does exist. There is nothing proven that he does NOT exist. There is nothing written that said those events in that time did not happen. God does not interfere with our free will. That is where God was. Minding his business!! What happened in Aurora was the free will of man that may have mental health issues, or just has no regard for human life. This is not God's fault. The people who should be blamed are the ones who watched an order of 6,000 bullets go through. The man from the shooting range that said James sounded erratic or whatever on his answering machine. The people at the school that didn't check the mail in the mail room. Where James letter sat unopened. Stating how he wanted to shoot people. That's who we blame. Ourselves!

    July 26, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Prove the FSM doesn't exist.
      Prove fairies don't exist.
      Prove unicorns don't exist.
      Prove Russell's Teapot doesn't exist.
      Prove... I could go on.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
    • Joe

      Using your logic, Santa Clause and Unicorns in fact do exist because you cannot prove they dont.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • Sean

      @Trayvon Please prove that there is not an invisible pink unicorn in central park.

      It is not possible to prove the non-existence of something. The old "you can't prove god doesn't exist" argument is non-sequitur. The burden of proof lies with the agency or person making the claim, and extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.

      Free will is a fallacy. Given the commonly accepted position that god is omniscient and knows everything that can and will ever happen, free will is impossible because nothing man does is unknown and therefore is not free. Because man cannot do something that god doesn't know he is going to do, free will cannot exist. And if free will can exist then god is not omniscient. If god is not omniscient then he can't be god. Therefore, god does not exist or free will does not exist.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • wHATDIDYOUSAY?

      So God did not intervene so that the free will of the shooter could be preserved? What about the free will of the victims who certainly would not have chosen to die or be injured that night. Seems like their choice to live was ignored so that the free will of a POS murderer could be protected (according to your logic, which by its very expression is an indictment of our educational system). .

      July 26, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • illuminated Genius

      There is no God, There is no Superman, No Batman, No Jesus, No Allah, No Santa Claus. What you believe is nothing more than a literature fantasy, and a myth based on something which undermined the progression of science and evolution.

      July 26, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
  7. Kuchee

    That there are sick dudes out there using their free will to kill and maim can't be blamed on G-D.

    July 26, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • ME II

      Why not?
      God is supposedly the creator of this world in which evil apparently exist.
      God is supposedly powerful enough to stop evil.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
  8. Joe

    1.God was getting drunk at Moe's
    2.God was getting some at Goldfingers
    3.God was watching game at the sports bar
    4.God was taking a dump
    5.God was on a call
    6.God was on Facebook
    7.God was stuck in traffic

    July 26, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      God seems like a d.ick, so I'll go for 6 (i.e. Facebook is for d.icks).

      July 26, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
    • Kuchee

      If your'e attempting to be cute, you're wasting your time, cause it 'aint working.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      I'm not cute, more rugged.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      maybe he was busy answering another prayer. like maybe James Eagan Holmes, Ben Bernankes, or President Bashar al-Assad, or even D!ck Cheney, god loves D!ck Cheney

      July 26, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • Joe

      Possibly on fb while taking a dump.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • Joe

      Sam, you are on to something, Aurora was on hold at that moment.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
  9. Seansie

    I like option 1 a lot I think I'll have that.

    July 26, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
  10. khanh

    I've heard so many excuses that people make for God. Time is running out on those excuses.

    July 26, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
  11. A Universal Unitarian Woman

    I view God in abstract terms and NOT as an anthropomorphic being that allows evil to exist. In my opinion, evil is part of the creation and we can only overcome it by the use of reason and compassion towards others.

    July 26, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
  12. TOMG

    LIFE WHAT A BEAUTIFUL CHOICES THAT WE ALL CAME OUT FROM OUR MOTHER VIRGINA HOLE , BUT THE EVIL AND THE DEVIL DO NOT SAW THAT ARE THE ONLY ROUTE THAT ARE CAMING FROM IN THE BEGINING TO THE ENDING OF THE SPEED OF LIGHT KARMA TIMING HELL AND HEAVENLY ERA , AMEN .

    July 26, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
  13. fringe dweller

    The Divine Oneness, That Which Is (or whatever AH! name you want to give the Universal Being) affords us free will. It's all about unconditional love and doing to others what you would want them to do to you. It's very simple, but our egotistical small self needs to be separate. The Divine is ever present. Look at Nature...We choose, reap rewards or consequences. The spiritual teachings all say the same thing, just using different semantics because we all have different neurolinguistic programming. Read them without judgement. Do the next right thing. Choose wisely, grasshoppers.

    July 26, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • plaster city

      You must like counting the words you write because you wrote a lot of words and said nothing.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      If there is a divine plan, there is no free will.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • ME II

      @plaster city,
      18
      (20 if you count your name)

      July 26, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
  14. TOMG

    OP I HAVE TO GO GIVING OUT THE HUMAN WASTE HUMAN URINE NOW BETTER THAN LATER , AMEN

    July 26, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
  15. Craig

    A scientist will read and study countless books in a lifetime and will say "I still have a lot more to learn " A religious person will read one book and think they know it all.

    July 26, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • Concerned Citizen

      Brilliant!

      July 26, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
    • ArthurP

      They do not think they know it all the know they know it all.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
  16. ThePlainTruth

    The Tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil...God created both........Your choice as to which one you follow! Her gave warning about following evil and told you of the blessing of doing good.

    July 26, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • Mass Debater

      I ate from the tree of life, whats my penalty?

      July 26, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  17. glenview0818

    I am always in intrigued by the atheist dogma that anyone that does not believe like them is not as smart? Interesting point of view, you either think the way I do or something is wrong with you. I am a little more skeptical about everything, considering the infiniteness of it all, I think the possibility that we are the only advanced life form a little shallow. Strange that many atheists think there are other life forms, but apparently none more advanced than us? Apparently ruling out the possibility that our God is an advanced life form. Just seems curious to me.

    July 26, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      I know many atheists who don't rule out the designer universe theory, that our universe was created in an alternate dimention by advanced lifeforms. However, it's obvious that all world religions are BS, and that annoys us.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
    • Smurfette

      Atheists do not have "dogma". An atheist simply does not believe in a specified god. That's it. Nothing more. Atheists may point out that, from a rational perspective, believing in an invisible sky guy who sent his son, who was really him, to die (but not really) to save his own creations from some sin that arose when the lady made from a guy's rib was talked into eating an apple by a talking snake who really was a fallen angel and God's nemesis – notwithstanding that God supposedly is all-powerful and therefore could squash the snake guy if he wanted to – might appear to be somewhat foolish and the domain of the less intelligent. However, atheists do not have a "dogma" that they are more intelligent that believers.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
    • Duh

      "Strange that many atheists think there are other life forms, but apparently none more advanced than us? Apparently ruling out the possibility that our God is an advanced life form. Just seems curious to me."

      Atheists really only have a problem with most theists definition of God, for if Christians just said they worship an alien who implanted the earth with life and then has been monitoring our activities for thousands of years, then few would give them as much grief as the "God did it all, there is no higher power in the universe and that power knows me and listens to my prayers" schtick. There is far more substantial evidence that aliens have visited earth than there is of God, meaning the bit's of ancient history when viewed certain ways and individual claims of alien abduction. In fact there is far more evidence to support the bigfoot theory than even aliens or God.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
  18. WKT1186

    Throughout history people have lamented "where is God?" I am sure that the Jews were wondering the same thing in Germany in the 1940's.

    July 26, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  19. Hussman

    2% are atheists? Try 12-15%.

    July 26, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • Concerned Citizen

      I think the numbers are even higher but many are afraid to identify themselves as atheists because they are fearful of persecution from the religious.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
  20. TOMG

    WASTE FROM THE HUMAN FORM AND HUMAN URINE IS FAR MORE SIMILAR TO THE ANIMAL WASTE AND ANIMAL URINE , AMEN .

    July 26, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
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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.