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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. Knowledge

    If there was a Devil then he invented Religion. The most destructive plague the human race has ever endured. More deadly and faster spread than the Ebola.

    July 26, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
  2. Ghosttrainhobo

    Walking through the theater shooting himself.

    July 26, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
  3. Rahn

    Right now, this very moment, I'm going to create an imaginary god in my mind. This imaginary god has all the same powers and properties of your christian god. My imaginary god is all powerful, because I say he is. He is all wise, all knowing, yada yada yada, because I say so. When my imaginary god has all the same powers and the same effect on the world as the christian god or any other god for that matter, then logically the christian god or any god is also imaginary.

    Where was my imaginary god when all the shooting started ? Same place the christian god was.
    Why didn't my imaginary god stop this or other evil deeds in the world ? For the same reason that the christian god doesn't stop any of the evil deeds in the world.
    How did my imaginary god create the universe ? The same way the christian god did.

    When an imaginary character can walk in the same shoes as a god you think is real, then you have to admit to yourself that your god is just as imaginary as mine.

    July 26, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
    • ScottCA

      Very well said, but I fear this will pass over the heads of the delusioinal believers. They may not be capable of following the logic behind your statement or how the conclusion you state is an unavoidable logical outcome.

      Theology is not a feild of study, but a practice in which greater and greater dillusions are produced to support what one wishes to be true, instead of what is true.

      July 26, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
    • Heavensent

      Rahn, Holy men inspired by the Holy Ghost scribed Jesus' truth. You couldn't write His truth, just copy it, call it something else and claim it as your own.

      July 27, 2012 at 1:11 am |
    • I wonder

      Heavensent,
      "You couldn't write His truth, just copy it, call it something else and claim it as your own."

      Really? What happened to you if you did?

      July 27, 2012 at 2:07 am |
    • Heavensent

      I wonder, what are you trying to say?

      July 27, 2012 at 2:15 am |
    • I wonder

      Heavensent,

      Never mind. Since your original claim makes no sense, I cannot even formulate a sensible question about it.

      July 27, 2012 at 2:51 am |
  4. ScottCA

    This quote from Harvard Psycholgy Professor Steven Pinker is a very logical atheist statement.

    "The problem with the religious solution [for mysteries such as consciousness and moral judgments] was stated by Mencken when he wrote, 'Theology is the effort to explain the unknowable in terms of the not worth knowing.' For anyone with a persistent intellectual curiosity, religious explanations are not worth knowing because they pile equally baffling enigmas on top of the original ones. What gave God a mind, free will, knowledge, certainty about right and wrong? How does he infuse them into a universe that seems to run just fine according to physical laws? How does he get ghostly souls to interact with hard matter? And most perplexing of all, if the world unfolds according to a wise and merciful plan, why does it contain so much suffering? As the Yiddish expression says, If God lived on earth, people would break his window."

    July 26, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
  5. jl

    everyone assumes there is good and evil when in fact they don't exist in the context that we describe them. There are only actions and our perceptions of those action which lead to an instinctual desire to reject the action or accept the action. Death is a natural process that is fashioned into many unpredictable forms. It can come as a flesh eating disorder, the teeth a wild beast, a raging madman, an atomic bomb, or a tranquil sleep with no awakening. Who is to say what is evil or not that can't be determined but what can be determined is that it is unacceptable behavior in modern society for men to act in this manner same applies to any murderer. Of course casualties of war are a more acceptable form of the same action though and not looked upon with the same hatred. For all those who say there is no evidence of a creator then what do you call the universe and all of the laws that it bodies by? Man makes laws, man makes creations and we can call that evidence of a creator why not the universe? It seem illogical to see it any other way. Even if you say it's random chance what created random chance? your always left in doubt so to say you have come to a definite conclusion on the matter is pure ego getting in the way of facts.

    July 26, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
    • jl

      abide by*

      July 26, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
  6. bginger

    where was God????? Prolly droppin a deuce. Just a matter of bad timing. In prayer its your time to honor your christian God and ask him how may you searve him. To many, the majority just selfishly ask for his help. Good luck in hell, i'll save u a place.

    July 26, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
  7. martin

    #1 is correct answer for grown ups.

    July 26, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
    • King Diallo

      Allah does what he wills. He enriches whom he wills, Slays whom he wiills, and puts to poverty whom he wills. Its an exam type thing to see that through it all wether you will still believe in his existence, and All-Mightyness. Did you just see that lighting strike in New York?

      July 27, 2012 at 12:48 am |
  8. Knowledge

    I have NEVER met or seen a christian who really believed in God. It you really believed in God you'd read that bible like your soul depended on it, not dabble between nail appointments and an hour on Sundays. You'd follow every letter of every word of that book in strictest obedience like your soul depended on it. None of you do. NONE.

    July 26, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
    • Rick James

      I'm kinda glad they don't. That just makes them annoying and sanctimonious, but not dangerous(although that still is a probability) .

      July 26, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
    • Daveman

      Nor do they attempt to love thy neighbor.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:05 am |
  9. Etalan

    You know every time I see someone use a cross, all I can think is "I am waving the device that torture and kill Jesus, stay away from me Jesus or i going to crucified you again. "

    July 26, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
  10. Bill Kilpatrick

    I thought this was a thoughtful take on a timely subject, tastefully covered. My compliments to the writer. I look forward to reading more of your essays.

    July 26, 2012 at 11:27 pm |
  11. Realist

    "There is an invisible man who lives in the sky, and he has a list of 10 things he wants you to follow and obey. If you don't obey the list of 10 things as set out by the invisible man in the sky, you will spend eternity in agony, screaming in pain while burning in the hell-fires of damnation. But, the invisible man in the sky loves you....he loves you, and he needs money."

    George Carlin

    July 26, 2012 at 11:27 pm |
    • Rick James

      That point could be repeated a hundred times and most Christians still won't get it. They have mastered Doublethink well.

      July 26, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
  12. Chunk a chunk

    it is odd that some have to think ever random event in life has a meaning..."god is blessing me"..."god is testing me".

    i guess some have to think their life is so special. its and ego thing.

    July 26, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
    • Knowledge

      It's infantile narssicism. self-idolatry.

      July 26, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
  13. lizzy198327

    My personal belief is that "all that was, all that is and all that will be", or what we have come to call God, isn' something that will stop bad things from happening. Millions think of God as a fatherly figure who punishes the wicked and favors the good...but I don't think it's that simple, nor do I think of God in that way. In fact I have come to think of God as an unfathomable consciousness, larger than anything we simple humans can comprehend. Humans are able to make conscious choices...be them positive in nature or negative. The man who decided to be a force of chaos instead of a force of peace was the reason those people are now dead. The fabric and flow of the universe isn't going to step in and stop us from making decisions, no matter how they might affect others. Favoritism of souls simply doesn't exist. We're all stuck in the flow of life and death. The man who killed those people has lost all compassion for life, I don't even consider him human anymore. He's given up his humanity and turned into a monster. Mental illness might have played a huge part too....but the point is that we are able to choose. All that is cannot disrupt the flow of our choices, otherwise, what good is free will?

    July 26, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
    • Rick James

      That's a possibility. A very small, highly improbable, possibility.

      July 26, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
    • Knowledge

      The nature and rule of your god is clearly outlined in the old testament. Same with the new testament just different nature and different outline. But I never therein read the description you've made up. "Feelings" are not reality, they are just what goes on in your head. Same as thoughts. I don't care if you make up stuff just don't inflict me with your fantasy please.

      July 26, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
  14. Billy

    The question atheists should ask is not whether “you believe in God”, but rather, “does God believe in YOU?”

    July 26, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
    • Atheist = Thinker

      LOL... Classic faulty logic.

      July 26, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
    • Rick James

      I wonder if Santa believes in me. I've been a decent person this year, and I want a new car.

      July 26, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
    • Chunk a chunk

      if santa claus believed in me will it make him real too???

      July 26, 2012 at 11:27 pm |
    • Bill Kilpatrick

      If an atheist is asking whether God believes in him, he's not an atheist. He's a neurotic theist.

      July 26, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
    • yeahalright

      Well now that is deep. I'll ponder that. One thing I do know, my puppy believes in chewing up the carpet.

      July 26, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
    • Observer

      Billy,

      errrr . . an atheist doesn't believe in God so your question is useless.

      Do you think Lex Luthor should be punished for trying to hurt Superman?

      July 26, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
    • Realist

      Oh please! Scientists will study and read many books throughout their lifetime, and then say "I still know nothing." Religious people study one book, and think they know everything. One creator for a 20 billion year old infinite universe? Not a chance!
      Remember, when the bible was written, people fervently believed in sea monsters and dragons. Organized religion is the greatest sham business venture in the history of the world....

      July 26, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
    • MidwestJoe

      Realist, since you so admire science, perhaps you are aware of a famous quote from one of the greatest scientific minds of the modern era.

      Albert Einstien, famously opposed the Uncertainty Princples, because of his belief that "G-d does not play dice"

      July 27, 2012 at 2:08 am |
    • tallulah13

      "It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it."

      – Albert Einstein, letter to an atheist (1954), quoted in Albert Einstein: The Human Side, edited by Helen Dukas & Banesh Hoffman

      July 27, 2012 at 2:20 am |
    • HeavenSent

      tallulah13, Einstein couldn't remember the number of his home, never mind the name of the street he lived on.

      July 27, 2012 at 2:25 am |
    • tallulah13

      HS, Einstein was arguably the most brilliant scientist that ever lived. The fact that you choose to denigrate his memory simply shows your own ignorance.

      July 27, 2012 at 2:31 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Tallulah, I was repeating what is on a fact sheet about Einstein. You're the one that needs to polish apples to a human.

      July 27, 2012 at 2:34 am |
    • tallulah13

      HS, you chose to respond with a comment that had nothing to do with the conversation and everything to do with making a negative impression about a dead man. I wasn't "apple-polishing"; I was simply telling the truth. Einstein was very likely the most brilliant scientist that ever lived and by his own words he did not believe in god.

      July 27, 2012 at 2:41 am |
    • primatica

      the question you should ask yourself is if there wasn't any people would there still be a god?

      July 31, 2012 at 9:29 am |
  15. tabitoo

    Love, Peace, Hate, Terror, Sadness, Hapiness....Free will. We can't have it both ways. We all have free will. Don't blame God for what fellow humans do with their free will and how their choices effect others. They and they alone are to blame. Believe in Love and you will see the light.

    July 26, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
    • yeahalright

      If I shoot a bullet into the air, not aiming it at anyone, and then it falls and kills someone, by your logic I'm not responsible. If I make 1000 cupcakes, out of all sorts of ingredients and knowing – KNOWING, mind you, that some are great, most are average, some are bad, and 1 will kill someone, and then I go and put them out into the world, by your logic, I'm not responsible.

      If we have free will, and god gave it to us, he's responsible for what happens when one of us screws up with it.

      July 26, 2012 at 11:27 pm |
  16. Apatheist

    @Smurfette i just spent an embarrassingly long period of time trying to understand what the correlation is between the smurfs and a salamander. very little as it turns out. although there are a surprising number of results related to the smurfs and newt gingrich....

    July 26, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
  17. dd

    Evil exists in the world. All religions talk about the fight between good and evil. When the government stops people from fighting evil, evil wins. Look at Chicago. Drug gangs own 90% of the guns in Chicago and are responsible for 90% of the murders. Democrats would seem to support evil! They take guns from the innocent and give them to criminals. Obama's ATF gave guns to the Cartels. Obama is evil.

    July 26, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
    • Observer

      dd,

      Ronald Reagan apparently illegally sent weapons to Iran that were used to kill American soldiers.

      Try again.

      July 26, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
    • yeahalright

      Can you please cite where and when a democrat, any democrat will do, TOOK a gun from someone and gave it to a criminal? I won't hold my breath.

      Fast and Furious sounds bad enough already, but you don't get to make up your own facts.

      July 26, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
    • Etalan

      Chicago is a very religion state.

      July 26, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
    • Rick James

      Uneducated claptrap. I actually feel dumber having read your post.

      We started gun walking a few years ago, but since this killed a federal agent, there's a lot of hoopla over it. To suggest anything else borders on hearsay. And I'm ambivalent towards Obama.

      July 26, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
  18. Fred Lam

    God is only where you THINK he is.

    July 26, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
  19. rad666

    If you believe in God, you must believe that He works in mysterious ways.

    July 26, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
    • yeahalright

      Pretty much, because all your senses, logic, and concepts of decency, honor, and compassion would lead you to the conclusion that he's a psychotic sadist otherwise.

      July 26, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
  20. Bill

    All of this misplaced anger towards God, the people who don't believe in God, and even towards those who just are not sure is very much unsettling to the heart. Lets direct our attention back to the fundamentals. Those that want physical proof that God exists, or waiting for the all mighty to appear in front of them, could not absorb and use the knowledge. Everyone on this 3rd Rock cant even do something as simple as not Kill each other, being giving and unselfish to our fellow people, and understanding to those that don't. With all of the technology, advances in understanding of our world, at the deepest base level we have not advanced one inch since our arrival here as a species. We use what we create to find more ways to Kill, maim, destroy, cheat, deceive, and repress each other which is exactly where we started. This is why I am sure there is no way beings from other worlds would travel many light-years to our planet just to see, study, or want what we have. They would be obviously more intelligent than us so why come here when after thousands of years we haven't evolved past self destruction and are right where we started. We are very primitive life forms because we Kill each other just for the sake of doing it. Wrong religion- Kill them, Wrong part of town- dead, even for covering up self weakness- toast.
    With all of our creation, we do nothing but destroy. Love your brother, your neighbor, each other and realize differences are just that. It is not a licence to kill, steal, carnal with someones mate, or harm our children. We cant even handle something as simple as respect.

    I think that we conquer those building blocks of our behavior, our beliefs will not longer be needed because all of the proof will appear and belief will be replaced with awe.

    July 26, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
    • Rick James

      We "could not absorb and use the knowledge"? Really? So God could appear to Moses and send angels down to goat herders because they were just so smart. Yet we can put man on the moon, but we couldn't use the knowledge for some reason.

      July 26, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Bill

      Hi -Bill...

      You Said: " Those that want physical proof that God exists, or waiting for the all mighty to appear in front of them, could not absorb and use the knowledge."

      Your statement is absolute unverified *opinion.* Just as strong a case could be made since you are 'speculating' that it's...God... He could cause anyone to understand and absorb. I could go on with many scenarios, but I'm guessing you get how silly your statement is, as if it's some kind of *absolute.*

      Peace...

      July 26, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
    • Observer

      Bill,

      "Those that want physical proof that God exists, or waiting for the all mighty to appear in front of them, could not absorb and use the knowledge."

      Those people who are able to think for themselves and do not depend on a 2,000-year-old book to do their thinking, COULD handle it.

      July 26, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
    • No Truth, Just Claims

      So Bill, we couldn't understand it or use it. But you are smart enough to "know" we can't understand it. So in effect you understand that we can't understand. You are a pompous idiot.

      July 26, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
    • A Frayed Knot

      Bill;

      An omniscient "God" would know *precisely* what proof is acceptable to each and every one of us individually.

      An omnipotent "God" would be able to provide it.

      An all-loving "God" would do so.

      July 26, 2012 at 11:38 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.