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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. Kathy

    Why do people blame God when bad things happen, but does not give God credit when good things happen?

    July 27, 2012 at 7:16 am |
    • douglas friedmutter

      its actually the other way around dear. and this article and comments proves it. God is only good he can do no wrong. that's why you never hear an athlete after the super bowl say. "we were so close to winning today but jesus made me fumble".

      July 27, 2012 at 7:54 am |
  2. Robert

    I noticed on CNN.com the question: "WHERE WAS GOD IN AURORA, COLORADO?"
    Interesting Question...in the face of a national tragedy, America now wants to bring up God...
    Where was God in Aurora... let's see...
    * We removed Him from our schools...
    * We removed Him from our courts of law...
    * We didn't really want His presence in our theaters...
    * We decided to re-define His creation called marriage...

    2 Chronicles 7:14 (NLT)
    "Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land."

    July 27, 2012 at 7:15 am |
    • Mirosal

      So you want EVEDRYONE to pray your way in school, even if they aren't Chrsitian.. you want a legal theocracy... you want to censor our movies based on what YOUR opinion of what "god" wants us to see, and you want to discriminate against a select group of people.. yea, you're a Chrsitian. You don't drink their Kool-Aid. you bathe in it.

      July 27, 2012 at 7:23 am |
    • Jesus is Lord

      Common sense dictates that everyone should be Christian.

      July 27, 2012 at 7:27 am |
    • Mirosal

      Common sense dictates that every religion is a myth, and that gods are just man's way of explaining that which he does not know ... yet.

      July 27, 2012 at 7:30 am |
    • Oh_sleepy_one

      No God= no life. God = life. The only way to the Father is through the Son.

      July 27, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
  3. Josh

    God had his hands full that day, dealing with all the prayers streaming in from Penn State over the NCAA sanctions. I am sure those at Penn State feel that playing football is more important, much more important, for God to deal with, than those victims in Aurora.

    July 27, 2012 at 7:08 am |
    • matt

      Yeah, and that damn Obama was probably keeping God by praying for socialism! Penn State and Obama! Sending this country straight to the depths of HELL!!!!! WHOOO I want JESUS AND SEC FOOTBALL!

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

    You would think that a Professor of Religion, i.e. Stevie P, would be able to tell where and who god is but alas he simply summarizes what others think. And alas he still stumbles about with his own secret beliefs!!!

    July 27, 2012 at 7:04 am |
  5. Jaws

    Amazing that the biblical answer got overlooked. The Bible is clear: Romans 5.1-5, James 1 both state that suffering, in short, builds character. Without trials and tribulations we go through in our lives, our character does not develop. God works in trials to strengthen our faith and bring out amazing qualities: Notice how every time there's a tragedy on the scale of Aurora or Penn State, humanity masses together to support one another and bring good out of the situation. There are even many stories here on CNN that illustrate many inspiring situations that arose from the shooting. I've been through a number of difficult things in my life, and I'll be facing more. I thank God for those challenges, because it is those that draw me nearer to God and towards compassion to others. Short answer: God's right there in the midst of suffering. All you have to do is pay attention.

    July 27, 2012 at 7:03 am |
    • BamaDaniel

      When your Childs brains are blown out by a crazed gunman,you can thank God for helping you build character

      July 27, 2012 at 7:06 am |
    • Reality

      Not so fast as we scroll to a 21st century prayer:

      The Apostles' Creed 2012 (updated by yours truly based on the studies of NT historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

      Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
      and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
      human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven?????

      I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
      preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
      named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
      girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

      Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
      the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

      He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
      a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
      Jerusalem.

      Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
      many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
      ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
      Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
      grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
      and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
      called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

      Amen
      (References used are available upon request.)

      July 27, 2012 at 7:06 am |
    • .....

      @reality
      REPEAT BULL SH IT ALERT

      July 27, 2012 at 7:09 am |
  6. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    He was at the NRA telling the right wing fraudulent christian conservative confederates that their days are numbered.

    July 27, 2012 at 7:03 am |
  7. Yaser Eisa

    God is in controll of everything. Because something is preseved to be bad doesnt mean its actually bad, for example say for example your on your way to work and your tier blows out and you get stuck for an hour before you can be on your way. to you that seems like a bad thing but in reality that blown out tier could have saved him his life, he could have gotten into an accident later on in his trip. Thats one thing, the other is God has created evil and made life that we have hard times and experience loss of money, material things and loved ones, life is meant to be a test and what kind of test would it be if everybody was living happily and nothing went wrong. The test is to be patient and continue to do what is good and always turn to god. Life is extremly short whats 60-100 years divided by infinity (the time your not in this world) well calc says it equals 0. I hope that everybody here finds truth and contentment. May Allah guide all victims around the world.

    July 27, 2012 at 7:01 am |
    • BamaDaniel

      Blown tire,dead people. Good example makes sense.PS getting killed didn't save their lives

      July 27, 2012 at 7:08 am |
  8. Jimothy

    The man's assault rifle jammed, resulting in him having to switch to smaller and less effective firearms...the killing could have been much worse than it was. Perhaps God in his mercy jammed the guns? Otherwise, we could be looking at a much higher kill count. God doesn't kill people...people kill people.

    And besides, if we as a nation choose to ignore God, why on earth do we feel that it's his responsibility to pay attention to us? Even if God stopped the massacre, people would be praising the cops, human heroes, hospital staff, part time popcorn maker at the theater, etc. before they ever payed God any attention. Cain killed Abel, David killed Bathsheba's husband, Jews killed Jesus...long story short, crap happens, and it's not about preventing bad things as much as having the grace, peace, and strength to overcome bad things.

    July 27, 2012 at 7:01 am |
    • Brad Johnson

      Yes you are right. God doesn't kill people, people kill people. But throughout history most often in the name of God.

      July 27, 2012 at 7:05 am |
    • douglas friedmutter

      God doesn't kill people. People who say "God doesn't kill people" kill people. In the name of God.

      July 27, 2012 at 7:05 am |
    • just sayin

      More people have been murdered by atheists in the last 100 years than were killed in all previous centuries. God bless

      July 27, 2012 at 7:07 am |
    • BamaDaniel

      @just,where is your proof.what about molested,enslaved,beaten,oppressed

      July 27, 2012 at 7:13 am |
    • Mirosal

      Sorry, but your god holds the record for the most deaths single-handedly.According to your own book, wasn't it YOUR "god" that flooded an entire planet, killing every living thing on it, except for Gilligan (oops I mean Noah) his family and a few animals? Now THAT'S killing on a grand scale!!

      July 27, 2012 at 7:13 am |
    • BamaDaniel

      Thats because his sons came down(fell)to earth and corrupted man,thats in Genisis also

      July 27, 2012 at 7:16 am |
    • Mirosal

      The flaws of "god" are readily apparent in Genesis. If the beginning isn't right, how cna anything that follows it, based on that beginning be right?

      July 27, 2012 at 7:19 am |
  9. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things,

    July 27, 2012 at 6:58 am |
  10. jungleboo

    Piffle, Mr. Prothero. You are an opportunist, using this event to create a cult of personality for yourself. Even your headline was misleading. Your self-portrait accompanying the article says as much.

    July 27, 2012 at 6:58 am |
  11. jungleboo

    Mr. Prothero, you are an opportunist, not a journalist. The self-portrait you publish with your "religious grandstanding" says as much,but I am not surprised you don't recognize it. Give up your masquerade.

    July 27, 2012 at 6:52 am |
  12. CRC

    God is right where He's always been. Waiting for you and me to stop rejecting and make the move to follow His call, John 3:16...

    July 27, 2012 at 6:46 am |
  13. gary

    gods, deities, demons, fairies, trolls, dragons, leprechauns, unicorns, etc are all pretend

    July 27, 2012 at 6:46 am |
  14. simon

    ummm... that was nice of cnn to have this article. i really enjoyed pondering all seven of these views, good stuff.

    July 27, 2012 at 6:41 am |
  15. Gedwards

    Answer #8: Free Will

    That makes perfect sense when there's a God. It makes no sense without one, since it is in contradiction to the 2nd law of thermodynamics and entropy.

    July 27, 2012 at 6:41 am |
    • AlyssaJ

      Sure it is fruitcake.

      July 27, 2012 at 7:07 am |
  16. douglas friedmutter

    i can't believe nobody has answered this correctly. such an easy question. He was sleeping. are you people not familiar with GST (God Standard Time) ? Its on page 7 of the bible. If you people understood anything about religion or more importantly math you would know that at the time of the shooting in Aurora it was 10pm GST. Any truly religious person will know that God goes to sleep at 9:30 GST. So please stop blaming him. God is omnipotent but he's not an insomniac. He needs his solid 8 just like everybody else.

    July 27, 2012 at 6:38 am |
    • BamaDaniel

      It was the sabbath

      July 27, 2012 at 6:46 am |
  17. No God

    There is no god or gods. Except what is in someone's head. All these cults with their brainwashing of people and children to worship some imaginary man in the sky. How sad...

    July 27, 2012 at 6:35 am |
  18. aasii

    Why Police hesitated to terminate the Terrorist?

    http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-821239

    July 27, 2012 at 6:34 am |
  19. Mike

    How can anyone justify the fact that this merciful, loving god is sending all non-Christians to Hell, no matter how good they are? However, terrible people, including Hitler and Jeffrey Dahmer, could go to Heaven if they accepted God before death.

    July 27, 2012 at 6:33 am |
    • BamaDaniel

      He likes killers

      July 27, 2012 at 6:48 am |
    • gary

      psst .. god is pretend ... as are fairies, dragons, trolls, demons, unicorns, deities, etc .. all mythical left overs

      July 27, 2012 at 6:48 am |
  20. WorkInProgress

    It's interesting reading some of the comments on this board, and quite apparent that many are arrogant fools. Though some of you are "wise", none of us can understand the mind of God. Try as we may, God does not fit neatly in a box for us and our finite wisdom to understand Him and His workings.

    July 27, 2012 at 6:31 am |
    • Mike

      Hence the cop-out excuse God works in mysterious ways..
      So then explain to everyone why religious people blindly believe their religious leaders? What qualifications does a religious have over someone else?

      There are many flaws with the concept of God. How sad that many religious people fail to see it.

      July 27, 2012 at 6:38 am |
    • WorkInProgress

      Yes, God does work in mysterious ways and I am sure that he grieves for those suffering, but what has this have to do with your question? The very same question could be asked of those that are non-religious. Personally, I am not blindly following anybody.

      We are the ones flawed. How sad that many cannot see the saving grace that is offered to everyone.

      July 27, 2012 at 7:36 am |
    • CRC

      I agree with WorkinProgress. It's interesting also that these "fools" are so arrogant and disrepsectful to the creator of everything. If they talked like that to a human judge they would find out that disrespect is not well thought of.

      July 27, 2012 at 7:25 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.