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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. ummyeah

    why wait for a massacre like this to post that question. what about where is god every single day of year for all the bad stuff that happens everyday and massacres that happen EVERYDAY somewhere in the world. I dont know, I guess I am one of those people that thinks it is arrogant when people say god saved them or spared from this or that, when other people have died, like they where better and favored by a god than the other 100 people that died in the crash or bomb or whatever. He wasnt there for them, he wont be there for me or you. What we have in this world is choices and chance.

    July 27, 2012 at 8:15 am |
  2. RJ

    what a pointless article...the only explanation is as to why this happened is because holmes is a demented freak. bringing some sort of god into the explanation is just like religion in general...a fabricated notion to help people gain comfort and answers for the troubling and unknown

    July 27, 2012 at 8:12 am |
  3. brad

    I agree with #4.. we can NOT have our cake in this country, even though we think we are the best in the world or greatest in the world.. and eat it too.. we kick God out of everything and expect to have His blessing, protection, Comfort.. I believe in God.. life has its problems its NEVER been promised life would be easy, without suffering.. God allows obstacles, pitfalls, pain to come closer to him and enjoy the Peace that can pass all understanding.. He never promised anything but being with us, not taking away the storm, but giving us peace amidst the storm... Now if you don't belive in God.. thats' ok.. A true christian is not supposed to "make" someone, "forcibly" persuade someone, or "bible beat" someone into believing in God, A true christian , which this has been rarely mentioned on these posts, is supposed to live be example... be ready to explain why he/she has HOPE..

    July 27, 2012 at 8:11 am |
    • brad

      live * by example..

      July 27, 2012 at 8:13 am |
    • The Asian Atheist

      Pretty sure America gets the protection it has from a dominant military and productive economy.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:13 am |
    • BamaDaniel

      Return to a puritan way of life.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:18 am |
    • Keota

      brad, it is your type of thinking that is the problem with this country. We can only progress forward once we completely separate religion from all aspects of government, and we start emphasizing science more. Believing in an imaginary friend because it feels good does nothing to move this country forward. Stop looking for "answers' outside of our real world and start understanding it through the real and only truth: science.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:22 am |
  4. Patrick

    I agree with god being good, and satin being evil. We have a battle between the two. Rome however invented a way to cover up evil and make it appear good. The mark of the beast has been with us for sometime. When the forehead on one is put into the palm of another true evil is born. Evil is greed and I just describe money. Evil takes more than another has to offer when it it's self does not need it. Evil just takes and gives back little to nothing. When Christians fall short of Christ, and preachers stand in front of their flock and say greed is good our soul has become blackened. We as a nation has than sold our soul as our preachers have taught us to hide behind god and worship greed. Today we are at a pint where most Republican (greed worshipers) are evil while most Democrats try to restore the balance god meant for us. It does not have to remain that way and it has not always been that way. THE SIMPLE TRUTH IS IF ONE WORSHIPS GREED THEY WORSHIP SATIN! We need to weaken satin's grip on America!

    July 27, 2012 at 8:10 am |
    • The Asian Atheist

      Pretty sure it is satan, not satin.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:11 am |
    • BamaDaniel

      @Asian,are you still laughing I am,maybe they were being ironic

      July 27, 2012 at 8:15 am |
    • squawker

      Dammit...this post made me spit my milk on my keyboard...satin is evil!! Polyester? You don't want to know of such things...

      July 27, 2012 at 8:19 am |
    • The Asian Atheist

      I don't even know what to think these days, but I enjoy these debates. I don't think irony is in their repertoire.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:19 am |
    • The Asian Atheist

      Yeah let's bet it all on a fairy tale presented to desert tribesman in what is still the most backwards region in the world. If it wasn't for oil, most arab countries would be as third world as Afghanistan.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:24 am |
    • Mitch

      Some bullies used to give me wedgies when I was a kid, so my mom made my magic underwear out of satin so it wouln't hurt as much. Still got them, but does anyone know how to get skid marks out of satin?

      July 27, 2012 at 8:37 am |
    • RJ

      man, i love getting a nice piece of comic relief in the morning.

      your republican/democrat point makes no sense, given how most far right ideals are based around religion and bringing christian beliefs into the government...when the left for the most part leaves that BS out. by that nonsensical rant, wouldnt think youd support the left more than the right.... but i guess everything you wrote in that post makes zero sense

      July 27, 2012 at 8:51 am |
  5. phito11

    For all you bible thumpers I bid you this question. I know you like to say that God gave us free will, that's why he does not intervene to help those who are victims of evil, yea very convenient excuse. You also like to point out all sorts of God's
    miracles, mostly how he heals the sic. Well why has God never healed an amputee? There are plenty of those in the world, millions in fact. And not one, in recorded modern history have ever miraculously grown their missing limb. I guess maybe he just doesn't do amputees?

    July 27, 2012 at 8:10 am |
    • MarkinFL

      That is because he only performs miracles that are within the realm of naturally possible(even if highly improbable). He does this because...
      Well I'm not sure, but you will get a spate of excuses as to why there are never any indisputable miracles.

      Frankly, the term miracle is seriously overused to indicate a fortunate but extremely unlikely event. There are billions of people in the world doing hundreds of activities a day. EVERYTHING and ANYTHING within the realm of physical possibility is statistically bound to happen eventually.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:20 am |
  6. Syd

    I hope whoever put up the crosses confirmed with the victim's families that they were all Christian. I understand the sentiment, but if they didn't then it's rather presumptuous.

    July 27, 2012 at 8:09 am |
  7. Chip Fields

    150,000 people die every day.....150,012 die and suddenly you ask, "Where is God." How much sense does that make?

    July 27, 2012 at 8:09 am |
    • The Asian Atheist

      Not to take away from the anguish of those closest to them, but a sense of perspective is important. People die every day, and the universe does not even blink.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:10 am |
    • BamaDaniel

      None,he's busy checking his list because they come so fast

      July 27, 2012 at 8:11 am |
  8. joey

    he was busy molding tim tebow into a winner

    July 27, 2012 at 8:07 am |
    • squawker

      That is an excellent answer! Like.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:09 am |
  9. The Asian Atheist

    I am sorry, but atheists and agnostics make up at least 15% of the population. Because if you are correct, then there really is little hope for America.

    July 27, 2012 at 8:06 am |
    • swimmer9

      15% are atheists but many more exist than that. It is very taboo to call yourself an atheist therefore many people keep that belief to themselves.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:13 am |
    • The Asian Atheist

      @swimmer9
      I sure hope so, maybe we will have openly secular people in politics sometime in my life. Atheists need to be more outspoken in order to stem the flow of irrationality and dogmatic thinking.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:17 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      There is no doubt that a great number of Atheists sit in the pews every Sunday and bite their tongues due to not wishing to be ostracized by family and friends. If you look up Clergy Project, you'll read some very interesting stories from both practicing and non-practicing clergy members who are coming out as non-believers.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:18 am |
    • The Asian Atheist

      That is always great news. I understand it is difficult for some. I don't know how they sit through church though, that would literally kill me.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:21 am |
  10. squawker

    As a devout exthanropist, I can say with clarity that God does not movies that are not rated G. This would have never happened at a midnight showing of Bambi. Repent!!!

    July 27, 2012 at 8:06 am |
  11. joe R

    In the end of the day this entire conversation in worthless and just makes people unnecessarily angry. Belief (or no belief) in god is exactly those words: a belief and whether you do or don't believe, you don't know he exists or does not exist. Another example of our free will to choose what we believe. And don't tell me that the burden of proof is on those who believe in god; that's a stupid argument. Lack of proof is not proof of lack.

    July 27, 2012 at 8:04 am |
    • BamaDaniel

      Noone has to prove what they believe ,I believe in a higher power but they didn't write the bible man did

      July 27, 2012 at 8:07 am |
  12. squawker

    Does God shop at Walmart or is He also appalled by their exploitation? Just trying to get a read on God here...

    July 27, 2012 at 8:02 am |
    • Art

      How was everything made?

      July 27, 2012 at 8:04 am |
    • squawker

      The fact that we don't understand all of how we came into being doesn't mean we don't understand any of it. Art, it is easier for you to stick your head in the sand and say your hail mary's....but if you want to find what we know scientifically, Dawkins has some approachable material on the matter. Give it a read and open your mind.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:08 am |
    • BamaDaniel

      Playdoh

      July 27, 2012 at 8:08 am |
    • Art

      Still doesn't answer my question what made everything

      July 27, 2012 at 8:11 am |
    • squawker

      Maybe the answer doesn't fit in the size of one of these response boxes Art? Would it kill you to actually read a book that might have answers? Not the bible....dawkins.

      There are those who can't understand, those who don't want to understand....and then there's you Art...a benign mixture of both!

      July 27, 2012 at 8:23 am |
  13. photografr7

    You've left out one obvious answer, for obvious reasons. There is no God.

    July 27, 2012 at 8:02 am |
    • Hmmmm

      It was first on the list.....

      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?

      July 27, 2012 at 8:13 am |
    • rondell

      1. There is no God.

      That's the *very* first item in this list. Nice job reading.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:17 am |
    • Anon

      That was, literally, the first item on the list.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:18 am |
  14. Bart

    You religionist supernaturalist buffoons never fail to amuse.
    You left out one more possibility... that your imaginary god is an evil piece of murderous death dealing turd. after all your book of fables says:

    "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things"- Isaiah 45:7 (KJV)

    Oh. I forgot, you don't actually read that book of misogynistic genocidal backwards idiocy, so you wouldn't know about that. Maybe you should...it may bring you to reality.

    July 27, 2012 at 7:58 am |
    • BamaDaniel

      Satan is his oldest son, call him Jr

      July 27, 2012 at 8:00 am |
    • S mast

      I am thankful that God is God regardless what people say.
      I feel if we The people of USA would make it Illegal to show in a movie or other media acts that are illegal to do in real life our children would turn out better and the violence that we see today would drop tremendously.. ( the movies are teaching our youth)
      I am also very thankful we do not need to Judge the right or Wrong . God will do that on Judgment Day we will ALL be there.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:19 am |
  15. labrat

    If you look at the writings of the founding fathers of this country, the country was founded on the judeo/christian beliefs, the ten commandments and a belief in the God of the Bible. Whether deists or christians, these were the men who set up this country. Over the last 60 years or so we have driven God out of every aspect of public life and in our private lives forgotten Him entirely. History shows that every nation or people group that follows this trend looses the protection God provides to those who seek Him. Having spent the last 60 years driving him away do we have the audacity to turn and then say "where are you"?

    July 27, 2012 at 7:57 am |
    • rebturtle

      " History shows that every nation or people group that follows this trend looses the protection God provides to those who seek Him"
      You must not search hard for those figures. Most of Europe and a large portion of Asia would disagree. They have become quite happy after losing the bulk of their religiosity.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:15 am |
    • phito11

      Sorry slick, but the majority of our founding fathers were either atheist or agnostic. And one of the things they wanted most was to keep church and state separate, as it should be. No one group should have the right to rule over others according to their religious beliefs. Read a history book now and then. You might be surprised what you learn.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:16 am |
    • Bart

      “And the day will come, when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as His Father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva, in the brain of Jupiter.” Thomas Jefferson, Letter to John Adams (April 11, 1823)

      I guess denying the Trinity, comparing it to pagan silliness, makes Jefferson a good Xtian. or is it that theists don't know about, or prefer to ignore the 40+ anti-Xtian quotes of Jefferson, or Thomas Paine, or John Adams, or Madison...et al. or that they rejected the proposal for prayer at the first Continental Congress. They prefer to just keep parroting the words "founding fathers = christians. Look up Diest, you mindless blathering dead jew worshipping clown.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:30 am |
    • labrat

      I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever. -Thomas Jefferson

      July 27, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  16. Ted

    I have a confession- I do believe in God. He's fat, he's lazy, he likes to scratch his butt, he farts a lot (and shoots fireballs out of his butt), he has 25 fingers, 20 eyes, and 4 heads. If you say that he isn't, how do you know? You never met him. If you say that I'm mocking him, how exactly am I mocking him? What if he is? Shouldn't you love God for who he is?

    July 27, 2012 at 7:57 am |
  17. squawker

    Wonder where God was in Rwanda. Wonder where God was in Darfur. Why weren't those questions asked on CNN? They were tragedies of much greater magnitude.
    It amazes me how myopic we are...

    July 27, 2012 at 7:55 am |
    • BamaDaniel

      He was there watching his son act up

      July 27, 2012 at 8:01 am |
    • Lmori

      Thank you. I wish people would stop acting like the lives of white americans are somehow more valuable or more worthy of god's protection than other life.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:18 am |
  18. Kristopher Kitts

    I do not agree with #1, there are quite more than 2% of the population professing atheism. When you add in all the 'unafiliated' it is closer to the 15-18%, hard atheists are a smaller number, but it must certainly be higher than 2%. It should also be noted that it is by far the fastest growing segment of the population. Outpacing Islam even... I agree with #1, the question is entirely moot. The question also reminds me of the sense I get from chain letters, in that the stories always involve God doing some amazing thing that many would call miraculous, still yet, an epic calamity of suffering has to take place first.... Like for instance [My father was in a car accident, there were 7 dead people in the other vehicle, but MIRACULOUSLY, my father escaped unharmed... ] Yeah, that story could be retold to heart wrenching perfection from the perspective of a family member of the dead. It would not be so miraculous. So please, spare me the anecdote.

    Peace!

    July 27, 2012 at 7:54 am |
  19. Mac

    Might as well ask where was Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy ...

    July 27, 2012 at 7:53 am |
    • squawker

      or smart tea party members...

      July 27, 2012 at 7:57 am |
    • squawker

      or smart tea party members...oh wait....

      July 27, 2012 at 7:57 am |
  20. donbog2

    I agree with Roger. In the bible it says people have the free will to do what they want. They either beleive/live for GOD or "not". If the "NOT" people choose that "WILL", do we really need to apply GOD in it whether its good or bad. The shooter was obviously one of the NOT people, including with what ever disorder he may have. (no excuse) I am sadden that so many people choose their OWN WILL and expect GOD to do what they want as some slave. I give love to the families in mourning; i suggest we leave it at that becasue you will effect others towards GOD by changing their mind by putting wrong ideas in their head. When they are in mourning and at a weak state in their lives. Respectfully....

    July 27, 2012 at 7:52 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.