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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. TOMG

    OH THERE COME THE LOWER LOWER PENIS OF ALL TIMER , AMEN .

    July 26, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  2. TOMG

    OH THERE CAME THE PUSSSSSIE CAT , AMEN .

    July 26, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
  3. TOMG

    GOD IS RIGHT IN THERE THAT ALWAYS STANDING NEXT TO OUR OWNSELF MIND , THINKING , THE THOUGHT OF TO HELPING US ALL HEADING TOWARD TO THE HEAVENLY PLACES OR THE HELL PLACES , AMEN .

    July 26, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
  4. TOMG

    I KNEW JESUS LOVE ME MUCH , BECAUSE I HAVE TO LOVE JESUS FIRSTLY , AMEN .

    July 26, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • Smurfette

      Jesus love you long time?

      July 26, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
    • Dan

      This is circular reasoning: you either have to go to school to learn how to think or go see a shrink to help you. Good luck!

      July 26, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • Dan

      Let me correct my post: I just read your other posts! and you are truly scary. You are in desperate need of both an education and counseling. I am even surprise you can actually post anything..... Wishing you the best!

      July 26, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
  5. Carlin123

    The answer of 1-7 is.
    There is NO God.

    July 26, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
    • HenryO

      Like you know.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
  6. refinethemachine

    What happened to the love? We have grown into a society where it is always a battle about things that don't really matter. I mean whether or not there is a God, would you act differently? I'm atheist, I guess you would say. But a label is just that something that doesn't matter. There good people and bad people of all religion, race and philosophy yet you fail to realize this. Too many people immediately make judgements based on these labels and too many rely on "God" as a baseboard and justification for every action. Why not be a good person to help yuor fellow man while our immortal soul maintains our vessel? We're all in this world together going through similar struggles, regardless of what you "believe" without a doubt we were created by one energy that flows endlessly. Show love without stipulation. Shun the negative and keep the positive. Be aware, be considerate. Things happen, learn and move on. Namaste my friends

    July 26, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Atheist isn't really a label, although others make it so.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • refinethemachine

      I mean as far as a side to take when I speak to people and say I don't believe in God in the traditional sense, usually that is the first word that leaves their lips. I don't judge based on beliefs but of course the hypocracy is that they do, funny

      July 26, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
  7. Stan Johnston

    “The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of God who loves is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word 'love' - and look on things as if humans were the center of them.”

    ― C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

    July 26, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      C.S Lewis was an idiot. The Narnia stories are disgusting.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • Stan Johnston

      You sound like a self-made man who worships his creator.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • Chris

      It is interesting that Prothero entirely left out the word sin, as if he couldn't muster the courage to say it. The closest he could allude to it is reason #3, that "man has a choice." Out of the 10,000+ responses he was categorizing, I'm sure that sin was brought up more than once!

      July 26, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • Stan Johnston

      Chris - he also entirely left out the possibility that good can come from human suffering. This wasn't an article about how to comprehend evil in our world; it was a poll on the best way to blame God for what happened.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
  8. TOMG

    SHUT – UP DOES NOT DOING ANY GOOD TO THIS HUMAN WASTE FULL OF KARMA SOCEITY , SO DOES THE HUMAN URINE FULL OF SOCEITY , AMEN .

    July 26, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • Smurfette

      Clearly you missed my preemptive shut up.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
  9. iammeyouareyou

    Dumb question. GOD was there helping the 58 people who did NOT die. GOD was there in the form of those 3 great guys who covered their girlfriends and took their bullets. GOD is there isn the baby that was born right after the shooting.

    July 26, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • Rick James

      Was he with the 12 who died? I thought he was omnipresent.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • Donna

      You have proof? Witnesses? Was the Easter Bunny there too? Maybe the tooth Fairy too? The are fictional characters too.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • iammeyouareyou

      Let the Judgement Day come fast, for the many who doubt are the first to change their ways in the presence of the Lord. God Bless everyone whether you belive or not. Satan was guiding the hand of the shooter/killer. God's plan is not to be questioned. Why did 12 die? Why do some people die of cancer and some live? It is not your plan to question. God's plan is for you to fulfill the best in yourself and help others along the way through life. God's plan may not be YOUR plan. You want to be rich and happy and live to 100. God make's the final plan. Heed God's word.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • iammeyouareyou

      To Donna,
      God is not and never was a creation of humans, but the other way around. You really think the entire universe with all it's complexities were started by a big explosion in the sky (The Big Bang) ?? Really? A funny TV show,but that's all the Big Bang is. So who lit the match on this Big Bang anyway? Your Tooth Fairy? Grow up and face facts. From the incredible endlessness of the universe to the minutia of cells, atoms and bosons, it was all devised by one God. Science can only explain how some things work and how some things grew to be as they are today. Why can't people figure out everything inthe universe already? Why? Because only God knows all the answers. Whya re some people (scientists, doctors) so smart that they can figure out so many things? Are they better than the rest of us? No. GOD gave them a good brain to use for goodness in the world. And lastly, there is more physical evidence in the world to show that God (in the form of Jesus) walked the Earth than than for people like Plato and William Shakespeare. God is real. Please open your eyes and heart to start to learn how to believe. God bless.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • Donna

      I don't believe in god or your bible. I don't have to in order to be a decent person. I am a person who will not overlook science and the process of evolution. I believe that you believe there is a god but that is just a difference of opinion. Just because someone told you there is a god and you repeat it doesn't make it so. Also, my eyes and heart are open. Still no god. The bible is the biggest selling book of fiction of all time. To me, no different than other books of mythology or fables. I do prefer Hans Christian Anderson though. Scoff at my disbelief all you want... I find it just as silly that anyone believes there is an invisible guy in the sky. You shouldn't laugh at someone (not me) who believes in Santa though. Just because you can't see him, doesn't mean he doesn't exist. Open your eyes and heart to believing and maybe there will be something nice in your stocking.

      July 26, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
    • Donna

      By the way, i believe whole heartedly in the big bang theory. If you believe in god, you don't think he caused "the big bang"? lol

      July 26, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • Donna

      I just caught the "grow up" comment. Very christian like by the way. I did grow up, the difference between you and I is that I don't believe in imaginary friends any more. Grow up? Yep! Did that.

      July 26, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
  10. Nietodarwin

    "I do not believe in God because I do not believe in Mother Goose" (Clarence Darrow)

    I DO believe in Muppets because they have educated many children, and have done far more for children and society than religion, although they are fictional. Guess my argument is shot. Oh wait, ......Mother Goose, Muppets, God all thought up by creative people.!!!!!!!! Two of the three for the benefit of people, the latter to subject and enslave people.

    July 26, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • HenryO

      With hell's flames flickering around his buttocks, I bet Darrow believes now.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
  11. Smurfette

    @TOMG -here's a preemptive please shut up

    July 26, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
  12. Scholar

    I had no ready response for a friend who said that it was obvious to him that the NRA was led by SATAN and that is why it is so successful.

    July 26, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Try being an atheist who likes the NRA. I get flack from both sides.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • Atheist = Thinker

      You could have just said "Satan is a fictional character from a fairy tale. Grow up."

      July 26, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
  13. TOMG

    LIFE ARE TOO SHORTS PLEASE TRUSTING IN GOD HAND AND HAVE FAITH IN GOD HAND SUCH AS JESUS , HAPPY BUDDHA , MOTHER MARIA , THE MOTHER OF ALL IS OUR ONLY SUN SOLAR POWERFUL AND OUR ONLY MOON LUNAR POWERFUL AND OUR OWNSELF PARENT THE GREAT FATHER AND THE GREAT MOTHER OF ALL , AMEN .

    July 26, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
    • Smurfette

      @TOMG -please please shut up

      July 26, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • Rick James

      You are a special type of retarder. Better not let you play with scissors.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • Nietodarwin

      That was a bit disjointed, but very multi-denominational !!! Maybe there is even some concern for the planet in there, (which the believers in a "heaven" could use, instead of trashing the planet because they believe THEY will be in heaven.)
      Praise from an atheist.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
  14. Donna

    I've decided to hang with Santa at the North Pole when my number is up.

    July 26, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      An old guy with all those "elves" (kids in disguise)? Almost as creepy as Christianity.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • Donna

      I think you missed the sarcasm.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      I could say the same thing to you Donna.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
  15. kevin

    I believe there is no god, because I look at the present and history of the united states.

    July 26, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
  16. TOMG

    OH I SAW HUMAN WASTE AND HUMAN URINE ALWAYS IN EVERY GIVEN SECONDS , AND IN EVERY GIVEN MINUTES AND IN EVERY GIVEN HOURS AND IN EVERY GIVEN DAYS ON THE ANIMAL DAILY THINKING WAY OF HELL LIFE FORM DOES FORM IN THIS EARTH PLANET FROM THE BEGINING OF ALL ANIMAL ONTO CRAZY KARMA MANKINDS KINDS NOW DAILY , AMEN .

    July 26, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • Smurfette

      @TOMG -please shut up please

      July 26, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  17. TOMG

    THE GREAT VIRGINA CREATING IT ALL CASUE AND AFFECT AND SO DOES THE LOWER PENIS IS COME AND RESCUE US ALL , AMEN .

    July 26, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Lower Penis?

      July 26, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • Smurfette

      @TOMG -please shut up

      July 26, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • TOMG

      YEAH THE LOWER PENIS , AMEN .

      July 26, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • TOMG

      I WISH I HAVE A PENIS FROM THE BEGIN OF ALL MANKINDS AND ALL WOMENKINDS , AMEN .

      July 26, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      So you have a higher penis?

      July 26, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • TOMG

      IN MY DREAM I THINK I DOES HAVE A HIGHER PENIS , AMEN .

      July 26, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  18. TOMG

    DOG WILL ALWAYS BE DOG AND CAT WILL ALWAYS BE CAT IN OTHER WORDS PUSSSSSIE WILL BE PUSSSIE AND SO DOES PENIS ALSO , AMEN .

    July 26, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • Smurfette

      please shut up

      July 26, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  19. IBelieveInDog

    I've always thought that god exists if you believe in him. God is not a tangible person. It's a belief in which to guide your life. If you believe – it's with you. With that said, I do not believe in a person sitting on a cloud watching me day in and day out. I believe that bad things happen to good people just because. Why did my father lose his life to cancer? Why did my brother not wake up one day? If they beleived in God, would they have lived forever. Probably not. They would have died, but I would have been able to say "it was God's plan." I could go round and round seeking answers and if I believe in something like God it makes it easier to bear. Humans are complex, but easily guided. I could have "found god" after the passing of my loved ones, but I didn't. I found strength in myself to carry on and accept the truth about life and death. If we believe in a heaven, it makes death easier to bear.

    July 26, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      I believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Do you believe in him?

      July 26, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • Smurfette

      I believe in Gozer – I've seen him – as have others:Gozer the Traveler. He will come in one of the pre-chosen forms. During the rectification of the Vuldrini, the traveler came as a large and moving Torg! Then, during the third reconciliation of the last of the McKetrick supplicants, they chose a new form for him: that of a giant Slor! Many Shuvs and Zuuls knew what it was to be roasted in the depths of the Slor that day, I can tell you!

      July 26, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
  20. Bruce

    God is at the right hand of the farther where he suppose to be, he gave me and u a free will meaning u can do what u want thats why u have prayer for repent of sins the book also say my children is a failure for a lack of knowledge so true look at these posts

    July 26, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      What a stupid god to give humans free will to kill and maim and take away the free will of others.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • Rick James

      Who is at the "farther's" left hand? I have never gotten an answer to this queston.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • Smurfette

      Further proof that the one hope for religious expansion lies in the great uneducated, unthinking masses, and that religion's greatest enemy is an educated, thinking, questioning populace.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Farther? Be clearer in your meaning, this isn't a James Joyce novel.

      Also, if there is a divine plane, there is no free will.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Plan, not plane.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Frank: Anything further, Father?
      Wagstaff: Anything further, Father? That can't be right. Isn't it 'Anything farther, Further?' The idea! I married your mother because I wanted children. Imagine my disappointment when you arrived.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
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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.