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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. Roger

    Christains seems confused as to what their actualy text teaches. God, it seems, is a poor communicator.

    NO FREE WILL EXISTS IN SCRIPTURE. Read Romans 9:11-12 :"11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad —in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”[d] 13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”[e] "

    There is no more damming scripture to the populist heresy of "free will". God chooses whom he chooses: THERE IS NO FREE WILL. So stop with this non-Christian argument. Your own Bible teaches against it. You would think Christians would have read their own dam book.

    July 27, 2012 at 4:56 am |
  2. Hilo, HI

    At a Q & A following a lecture at a university in America, 1960s:

    Student: Where was God at Auschwitz?

    Holocaust Survivor: The question is not, "Where was G-d at Auschwitz?" but "Where was Man?"

    July 27, 2012 at 4:50 am |
  3. vidal808

    Of course there is an intelligence that is supperior then ours. We are just part of it – small particulers, like cells in our body. Our brain is a replica of this intelligence – but we are only able to utilize a small part of it. Evolution is part of the process and we all participate, one way or another – evil or good, it's all the same, part of the evolution. We come and go and come back again – everything is immortal and evolving. Our inds (spirits) are alive and well – you never die....your body does but YOU don't – so stop worriyng and live your live consiuosly – you find peace and tranquility among all the chaos...
    Demonti@gmail.com

    Vidal

    July 27, 2012 at 4:46 am |
  4. DoubleViperMagma

    I know alot of you have questions about all this... luckily there has been studies on this issue. I think this article will really help answer alot of your questions:
    http://www.theonion.com/articles/report-it-all-some-kind-of-sick-joke,26592/

    July 27, 2012 at 4:40 am |
  5. MOCaseA

    We are the masters of our existence. That there are those who do not share our common conception that all life has value and should be cherished, this we cannot refute. Those selfsame people commit acts that are malign, thus pressuring us to answer that cosmic, and unanswerable, question of "Why." Yet we cannot answer that question any more than we can explain why we, seemingly, are the only creatures in known existence that have the degree of self awareness we do. That there may be other races, heretofore unknown, with the same cognitive ability is a question of great debate, and will not be answered until we either meet said race, or explore our universe to its utter extent.

    July 27, 2012 at 4:28 am |
    • MOCaseA

      That our own cognizance is subsumed beneath belief is not the issue, but that the realization of our own impermanence in this existence is refuted by the supernatural and incorporeal conceptions of an ancient culture.

      July 27, 2012 at 4:36 am |
  6. Nick

    Politics and religion in the same article.... this just invites viewer commentary disaster.

    July 27, 2012 at 4:18 am |
  7. mcalleyboy

    Learning from history and prior attacks I would arm myself that to pray or stand at attention bravely while someone ends your life there's no second chance, I repeat there's no second chance to live on earth you can improve your chances of survival by simply drawing your weapon in less than 2 seconds but most people will never get that it's insane.

    July 27, 2012 at 4:08 am |
  8. usman

    Those who believe in god think they are right and others wrong. Those who believe in Vishnu think they are right and others wrong. Those that believe in Shinto deities think they are right and others wrong. ETC ETC ETC. Try and use your brain. Try, I know it is hard.

    July 27, 2012 at 4:07 am |
    • XO

      @usman: You're generalizing too much. Isaac Newton had far more brains than you do.

      July 27, 2012 at 4:55 am |
  9. skytag

    I look around and see no reason to believe anything one could reasonably call a god exists and conclude there is no god. Believers look around and see no reason to believe anything one could reasonably call a god exists and choose to believe one exists anyway. They then spend the rest of their lives expending a great deal of energy rationalizing why there is no evidence of his existence and why the real world is not what their beliefs predict.

    July 27, 2012 at 3:57 am |
    • mema

      Strange you can look around and not see evidence of Gods existence. Try looking up at the night sky or at all of the life both plant and animal. I in the other hand see no proof that He does not exist.

      July 27, 2012 at 4:04 am |
  10. mema

    The bible states that the ruler of the world is satan. That being said it is only for a time. His (satan) times is short, as such his anger grows ever intense. God is not to blame for the actions we as individuals of free will do. During these last days we are giving the opportunity to choose whom we will follow. But that choice although ours alone to make does not come without consequenses or blessings. The choice is ours.

    July 27, 2012 at 3:57 am |
  11. Shockobynium

    Where was god during the Holocaust? Where was god during the Vietnam war? Where was god when the Africans were taken as slaves, beat and killed. Where was god when all the Native Americans were murdered by whites. Its a stupid human question that deserves a stupid human answer: Who cares where god was, obviously it didn't make any difference one way or another.

    July 27, 2012 at 3:54 am |
    • JimmyT

      I must also ask, where was god when the Creek Indians Murdered my family members in 1794? Enough with your anti-american garbage.

      July 27, 2012 at 5:03 am |
  12. GoDucks73

    Free will... God lets us make our own decisions whether good or bad. Without free will, we are only automatons and cannot CHOOSE to do God's will. This is the beauty and the burden that we must endure if we are to be at his side after this life.

    July 27, 2012 at 3:51 am |
    • skytag

      The free will thing is such a copout. The reality is that there is no evidence of any divine or supernatural force affecting anything in this world, and the simplest, most obvious explanation is that there is no God.

      July 27, 2012 at 4:01 am |
  13. gerard haughey

    God is in Heaven. Actually.

    July 27, 2012 at 3:45 am |
    • I wonder

      Hooey.

      July 27, 2012 at 3:56 am |
  14. Chris

    Santa isn't real, and neither is any of the thousands of gods. Grow up people! We're monkeys on a rock flying through space, that's about as much meaning as you can get out of this life.

    July 27, 2012 at 3:43 am |
    • Michael

      So were you molested by a priest and that is why you have God hate? Just wondering..

      July 27, 2012 at 3:48 am |
    • Jessica

      Chris, thank you! I know you probably got a ton of replies saying your an idiot BUT we exisit without a god. It's ok to "believe" if you think that makes you a better person...what about Westboro Baptist Church? Are they saints who supposedly believe in god also and are doing good in the world? Answer: NO! Whoever asked if you were abused by a priest can go to hell, it's to early in the morning to bash him but that was wrong.Thank you again Chris!

      July 27, 2012 at 5:09 am |
  15. believeinreality

    Mr. Prothero: You call agnosticism a "virtue" and a sign of humility. Why? Would you think me virtuous and humble if I chose to be unsure as to whether a green, invisible man lived in my ear? You would characterize my lack of belief (atheism) in the little, green man as arrogance? I think we have different definitions of virtue, humility and arrogance. You refer to certainty as an infection. How certain are you of that?..

    July 27, 2012 at 3:33 am |
  16. js

    How could this GOD "CRAP" even be on CNN's site? If there was a God- he/she/it/puppy dog/terrorist pilot/ God of Saturn/God of Mars/ God of Milky Way/the Hershey God/God of Pluto/God of Mickey Mouse/would surely take one look at CNN and take it off the air and offline forever. A LOT more than 2% of Americans KNOW that God is as big a fairy tale as Santa and Rudolph. Stephen Prothero is a whack!

    July 27, 2012 at 3:29 am |
    • Michael

      First of all, not that you would even begin to understand, mankind chooses how it will live, God does not make us do anything. We have free will, which in itself is a miracle, but ideeawts like you are too brainwashed to understand free thinking like that.. Just saying..

      July 27, 2012 at 3:50 am |
  17. xyz198155

    People who talk about GOD as somebody sitting up there are utterly foolish. Life at the unconscious level, where most humans are at, works totally on the principles of cause and affect. If you do this, this will happen.
    If you want to take charge of your life, however, you need to start functioning as a conscious human being, thats the only way you will be able to take care of your destiny.

    July 27, 2012 at 3:25 am |
    • XO

      Destiny? You're as good as dead. That's our destiny. There's no controlling that.

      July 27, 2012 at 3:35 am |
    • xyz198155

      XO, you are a stupid moron.

      July 27, 2012 at 3:40 am |
    • XO

      🙂

      July 27, 2012 at 3:47 am |
  18. SidewaysEight

    How can one dismiss the action of a deity who creates his most beloved creation in the midst of his arch nemesis?

    July 27, 2012 at 3:18 am |
    • Michael

      Mirosal, just like I said to the other non-free thinker, God does not program us or make us do anything. Free will consist of making our own choices in life. God is sovereign and he is ominscient, but lets not forget that he is not stupid. God does not send people to hell, PEOPLE send themselves to hell. He provided the way, we either choose it or we don't. It's PRO-CHOICE.. LOL... For us free thinkers, we have chosen..

      July 27, 2012 at 3:53 am |
    • Mirosal

      Michael, you simply do not get it. by your own admission, you said "god" was omniscient", and your own book of fables says that this "god" knew us before we were born". So even before we were born, as per your belief, our lives were already mapped out, and the end result was already known. Theefore, your "god" already knew who was going to "hell" or "heaven". Sincwe the end result was already known before the game started, tell me, where exactly IS this "free will"? Or does this ultra-simple logic throw you for a loop?

      July 27, 2012 at 4:03 am |
  19. Woody

    Here is some food for thought. Say if you are a christian, and believe that your God is the one and true God, do you think you would have these same beliefs if you were born in I don't know... Egypt? Probably not, therefore in your mind right now, you would not have gone to heaven? Correct? There might have been a slight chance that you would converted/been raised by a christian family, but unlikely. What people do not understand is that religions are perpetuated by inheritance, societies/cultures, and lack of knowledge. What really needs to happen in America is individuals need to stop looking to a 1500 year old book for answers because they are afriad in what they might find when they open a science textbook. I like to consider the God of the bible as the "God of Gaps". Meaning individuals 1500 years ago did not understand simple theories of nature, therefore they filled the "GAPS" with an omnious diety. The shootings should have never happened, and if we as a society say God had a role in the violence, then we are holding ourselves back in understanding the true root cause of the issue.

    July 27, 2012 at 3:14 am |
    • XO

      Woody: There's an error in your argument relative to Scripture (Romans 2:14). If you were born in a remote tribe, raised worshiping dropped cargo (cargo cult), it does not mean you are excluded from Heaven.

      July 27, 2012 at 3:32 am |
    • Woody

      1. Egypt currently does not have any remote tribes to my knowledge and predominantly has Islam followers. 2. I consider scripture as beautiful poetic stories, but should not be taken any more seriously than Dr. Suess's books.

      July 27, 2012 at 3:38 am |
    • XO

      I was merely using an extreme example. Scripture I quotes still applies.

      July 27, 2012 at 3:48 am |
    • Woody

      I was using a realistic example..... Scripture (Lorax 0:0) "I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues."

      July 27, 2012 at 3:52 am |
    • MOCaseA

      XO – There is a flaw in your logic...

      Romans 2:14 States that even for those who have not even heard of the Bible, but still follow the Law of the Bible (i.e. Not worshiping idols like cargo) are "a law unto themselves."

      But (as is VERY common for people attempting to validate the bible) the following verse, which is still part of the same statement, goes on to say "Which show the work of Law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the intent." That is to say that these people who have never heard of the Bible and God, but still follow God's Laws, are thus going to be saved.

      So by the Scripture itself, you do NOT NEED the scripture to be saved.... wow.

      July 27, 2012 at 4:27 am |
    • XO

      MOCaseA: yep. You don't need Scripture to be saved. We do not put our faith in Scripture. We're to put our faith in Christ. The law is written (encoded in us instinctively). You know what you do wrong- when you do it.

      July 27, 2012 at 4:50 am |
    • MOCaseA

      The rest of my reply was cut due to CNN's filters. Here is is in it's recreated, filter friendly format:

      But wait. If you don't need the scripture to be saved, then we don't have to believe in God or Jesus to be saved! Thus we can go about our merry buisness and as long as we don't know about God, or the Bible, or Jesus, but we follow the golden rules, then we are all saved! Yay!

      Oh wait, now that you have told us about the Bible and God and Jesus you have condemned us to he-ll because we aren't now following it to the T. There-for I blame my eternal dam-nation on you!

      July 27, 2012 at 4:52 am |
    • XO

      MOCaseA: You need to do some more reading, rather than cherry pick from literature you know little about.

      Psalm 51
      5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
      sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
      6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
      you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

      July 27, 2012 at 4:58 am |
    • I_get_it

      MOCaseA,

      That's a very erudite presentation of:

      Q: Can people who have never heard of Jesus and the Bible go to heaven?
      A: Yes.
      Q: Then why did you tell me?!

      July 27, 2012 at 5:03 am |
  20. McIver3

    I believe God gave man free will. Whether we act in a positive or negative way, Gos does not interfere in the daily workings of man. Our free will actions, are a "gift of tremendous magnitude and responsibility itself" (Kabbalahonline.org). Our actions ripple through the universe and up through the spiritual realm of God, where our actions are accounted. Chaos and demons (negative energy) go hand in hand while angels are positive energy. The more positive actions we make (charity, giving, etc), outweight our negative actions (gossip, etc) and raise the world's positive spiritual energy. Our freewill actions as a whole, if positive enough, may result in God hearing us. But will He ever react? Not until the totality of souls with positive energy outweighs our souls with negative energy. We are not ready yet.

    July 27, 2012 at 3:03 am |
    • Mirosal

      Sorry, but if your "god" is omniscient, as Christians believe, then by definition there is not, nor can there be,free will.

      July 27, 2012 at 3:25 am |
    • GoDucks73

      @ Mirosal om-nis-cient – adj. Having total knowledge; knowing everything. You are utterly and totally incorrect in your comment. Please buy a dictionary and use it.

      July 27, 2012 at 3:58 am |
    • skytag

      GoDucks73: If you have free will then God cannot know what you will do before you do it.

      July 27, 2012 at 4:03 am |
    • Mirosal

      Ducks, I think it's you who needs to learn that word, and what it really means. I've used it correctly.

      July 27, 2012 at 4:21 am |
    • XO

      Mirosal: How are these mutually exclusive? Perhaps your philosophically confused.

      July 27, 2012 at 4:51 am |
    • Mirosal

      NO not at all. It's a simple exercise in logic. If "god" is onmiscient, then the outcome (or final result) is already known to "him". The concept of free will cannot apply, because regardless of what we do, our fate is already known to this "god". By knowing all, past present and future, then free will is moot. Think of it like this .. Cowboys and Steelers are going ot play in the Super Bowl (again!!). But you, being omniscient, already know that Dallas will win by 3. The teams train and train and practice and practice, but you already know it won't matter what they do or how they do it, because you already know PIttsburgh will lose by 3. Does that make it any easier for you, or should I start using one syllable words from now on?

      July 27, 2012 at 5:02 am |
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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.