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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. Norm

    When God takes someone from the earth it's because He needs them for a purpose in heaven.
    Maybe He was putting together a volley ball game or something.
    All will be revealed to us someday.

    July 27, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • The Asian Atheist

      What could he need a 6 year old kid for! Unless heaven is an illegal child labor network, where they manufacture iPods. And baby jesus dolls.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:44 am |
  2. get real

    If you believe and talk to a magical sky monster you're just as bad as a lunatic in an insane asylum. Get real.

    July 27, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • Norm

      Your opinion.
      Just as you would like others to respect your beliefs, please be adult enough to do the same.

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

      We respect your right to hold your belief. We have no obligation to respect the content of your belief.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • The Asian Atheist

      @jonhfrichardson
      First person I have seen grasp that concept. Good stuff. Hard to respect silliness.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:45 am |
  3. Bryan

    I believe in God. And this is small potatoes, but God was never in our Pledge of Allegiance, I live 8 miles from the town the original author lived in and he did not put it there, politicians put it there decades later. That doesn't make it right, it was done for political reasons, not religous ones.

    July 27, 2012 at 8:35 am |
  4. Aurora

    You put the gun in the hand of a killer and have the audacity to ask 'where is God'?

    July 27, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • WeDon'tMatter

      Nobody put the gun in the hand of the killer except the killer. If you have evidence that proves otherwise please present it otherwise Sesame Street will be on in few minutes so get off the computer and interact with something that you can relate to.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:43 am |
  5. brassandbeads

    All through man's history, we have seen the bad effects of man ruling man ~ but that has all been for a purpose and it's a temporary situation. Rev.12:12 says the Devil has great anger. Why? Because he knows his time to stir things up is limited. What happens when his time is up? Ps.37:10, 11,29 promises, "the wicked one will be no more....the meek will possess the earth...(there will be an) abundance of peace....and the righteous...will reside forever." Why the long wait? Ask Jehovah's Witnesses to show you in the Bible next time they visit. There IS an answer.

    July 27, 2012 at 8:31 am |
    • Neeneko

      And you believe what the bible has to say about the devil why?
      History is written by the winners. Within christian mythology there was a conflict at some point, one side won, one side lost.. not surprising that the winning side decided to describe itself as the ultimate good while the loosing side was evil.

      Ever notice that actual satanists are pretty nice people? A lot nicer then many christians I meet... makes you wonder....

      July 27, 2012 at 8:37 am |
  6. Patient Zero

    God has to permit everything. Everything is a game to him because he is all alone. Imagine being omnipotent and omniscient and omnipresent? Existence would be pretty boring; so he invents little games and gives his creations egos to create the illusion of separation. When tragedies like this happen they are experiences for God and they are lessons for us. God has to permit everything because God is everything; he can't be selective. That's the nature of God – He can't choose one over the other, saving one but sacrificing another – God is both and needs to experience both the good and the bad to feel anything other than the loneliness of being every and all things. God is both zero and one; nothing and infinite potential at the same time. It isn't about morality or choice because God is just love, and love cannot choose; it just is. Although it's painful to lose those we love, it's a chance for personal growth and a reminder of just how important it is to be happy and love all those around us the best we can.

    July 27, 2012 at 8:31 am |
    • cosmicsnoop

      You are correct. The main problem is people fear death. Everyone will die; how is kind of irrelevant. YOU, your soul, can never die as it is part of God. Everyone has died many, many times and will incarnate many, many more times. There is no Satan. I figured that out logically at twelve. Forgive me if I tend to dismiss people who still believe that. I just cannot get on the same page with most people because I'm not even in the same book as them. It is OK though since all of us evolve at our own pace and everyone eventually reaches enlightment......and then starts over again. Otherwise things are boring, like you said.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:38 am |
    • Norm

      You gotta be cruel to be kind....

      July 27, 2012 at 8:38 am |
    • The Asian Atheist

      So what you are saying is god is an immature dick?

      July 27, 2012 at 8:41 am |
  7. symen tjeerdsma

    God our Father who are in heaven and our Lord Jesus who died for our sins are our ally by believing HIM is the God of works. Those people who didn't make it are now in heaven with Jesus Christ. Jesus and our life on earth are mystery that we don't understand. Loving Jesus forever whether we live or die, we still worship God. God the Father is His business not our is mystery. Don't blame Him because He has His own reason for us to worship Him.

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

      Are there virgins there too? I heard there were going to be some virgins...can't remember where...

      July 27, 2012 at 8:33 am |
    • The Asian Atheist

      Let us ignore the life that we live here in this tangible, physical world. Let us not worry over the deaths of others for they are with Thor...or Krishna...or Allah...or Zeus...or, well you get the idea.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:34 am |
    • MagicPanties

      Yes, and if we decline to worship your god we will burn in hell for all eternity.
      Wow, such love.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:34 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Ummm, what makes you think they are in heaven? I guarantee that there are millions of people that would believe that they did not make it into heaven based on not following the correct god or not following in the correct manner.

      Which believers are correct? Who can prove that their personal belief is the correct one? You believe that YOUR belief is correct but millions upon millions of others would disagree with you.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • Larry89

      How do you know they are in heaven? Maybe some of them were gay, maybe some were atheists and you know god hates those people...

      July 27, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • The Asian Atheist

      Like Bill Maher said when Falwell died: "Jerry will walk up to the pearly gates, and god will be there, in a fire island muscle shirt and nut-hugger shorts, and in a mighty lisp he looks at Jerry and says, "I'm not talking to you!"

      July 27, 2012 at 8:37 am |
  8. MagicPanties

    You better not pout, you better not cry... cuz otherwise your all-loving god will torture you for all eternity.

    July 27, 2012 at 8:29 am |
  9. The Asian Atheist

    I say we re-embrace greek mythology, because at least those gods were cool. Temperamental, envious, lustful, greedy and ambitious, just like humans.

    July 27, 2012 at 8:26 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      And.. just like the Christian god. Haven’t you read the old testament?

      July 27, 2012 at 8:28 am |
    • Craig

      You know, once, when I was working on a fishing boat, I found some comfort on rough waters by embracing Thor.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:29 am |
    • BamaDaniel

      Read Genesis

      July 27, 2012 at 8:29 am |
    • The Asian Atheist

      @Piper
      Yes and he was very malevolent. Greek is still better cuz I feel like Athena would be crazy hot.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:30 am |
    • The Asian Atheist

      If I pee in the ocean, will that anger poseidon? Did I spell that correctly?

      July 27, 2012 at 8:31 am |
    • smokey

      And Jehovah isn't?

      July 27, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • squawker

      Poseiden converted to christianity a long time ago. Then he lost his job and things got a bit ugly.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • a reasonable atheist

      Motion for hotness of Athena seconded – daddy loves the hot librarian/samurai type!

      July 27, 2012 at 9:34 am |
  10. Cindy

    As a child I was taught that God knows everything and can do anything. It is that last part of that teaching that makes me wonder if he could do anything why didn't he stop this. If you had the power to stop it, would you? I know I would. So where does that leave my faith in the God I try to believe in?

    July 27, 2012 at 8:26 am |
    • The Asian Atheist

      Haha...You are learning ; )

      July 27, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • Norm

      God wanted those people for a purpose up in heaven.
      Ours is not to understand right now.
      All will be revealed one day.
      Trust

      July 27, 2012 at 8:33 am |
    • The Asian Atheist

      @Norm
      Ummm...ok then. Good luck convincing the parents of that 6 year old of that idea. But maybe they are crazy too.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • makeaplay

      Well said Cindy. Faith is not for the independent thinker – it is only for blind followers and unfortunately they comprise 70% of our population.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:36 am |
    • Larry89

      Ah Norm, the old "god has a plan" excuse.

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

      Absolutely. Perhaps you might find someone interesting reading on this blog: http://www.ponderwall.wordpress.com

      July 27, 2012 at 8:38 am |
    • Mitch

      Jesus loves me this I know cause the bible tell me so, get it, quit thinking and throw your money on the plate, Heaven bound. Amen

      July 27, 2012 at 8:51 am |
  11. squawker

    God was busy presiding over a gay wedding. I knew gay marriage was a bad idea...

    July 27, 2012 at 8:25 am |
  12. jac

    discussions of such a subject are not important, the Truth lies in everyone of us!

    July 27, 2012 at 8:24 am |
    • The Asian Atheist

      Way to capitalize truth so that you could "jesusify" it. Yes I just made that up.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:28 am |
  13. think about..

    Coming to the conclusion God is real and exists after reading the Bible is like coming to the conclusion Spider-Man is real after reading a comic book. They are just fantastic tails. Fiction. Welcome to reality...most can't handle it...so they hide in their imaginary stories.

    July 27, 2012 at 8:23 am |
  14. squawker

    A God that we can't see or have any solid evidence of....droves of people can believe in that. Global climate change, evidenced in so many ways....that is made up.

    If God did create man, it was a total hack job.

    July 27, 2012 at 8:21 am |
  15. Sychopaul

    Where was god? Hangin with Big Foot, Loch Ness Monster, Easter Bunny and Santa Claus.

    July 27, 2012 at 8:20 am |
  16. ReadTheBible

    The better question would be were were these people on SUNDAY???

    July 27, 2012 at 8:20 am |
    • MarkinFL

      'Cause nothing bad ever happens to church going Christians?

      July 27, 2012 at 8:22 am |
    • joey

      lol.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:24 am |
    • The Asian Atheist

      Uh, sleeping in because it's SUNDAY! Duh

      July 27, 2012 at 8:40 am |
  17. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

    I’d like to point out a major flaw with your number one example. Unlike religious groups…atheists are not an organized belief system nor do we have a doctrine to follow. Jason no more speaks for atheists than you speak for ‘white people’. Atheism is not an equivalent to religion, but the opposite.

    July 27, 2012 at 8:19 am |
    • Zen

      Look up the definition of religion, read what you just wrote, realize you didn't understand what religion meant, rinse & repeat.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:48 am |
  18. realtalker

    God was with all of them. To believe in the sovereignty of God means that you believe he plans for bad things to happen and for bad things to happen to good people even. People don't really want to know where He was. They want to know why he allowed it to happen. That question will never be answered. It just stinks all together and it makes you mad at God and for many people it makes them lose their faith all together.

    July 27, 2012 at 8:18 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Actually… I for one..DO want to know where he was. If you can prove (and we all know you can’t) where he was..then you can prove he..was..at all. Until you do then you are no better than children that behave so that Santa Claus will bring them presents.

      P.S. We cannot be mad at something we do not believe exists.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:23 am |
  19. Oi

    Wow, I hope nobody really things that God had anything to do with someone living or not living through this incident. We all have free will, nobody is "controlled" by a higher power. We can choose to do or not do, its up to us. So when an individual makes a bad choice, such as the incident in the movie theater, people can get hurt and die. Its not the "will" of God, its not the devil making you die, what it is is odds, bad luck, wrong place at the wrong time. Sure we can say "thank God I am alive, God was looking after me." But what then can you say about those who died? Where they any less worthy, were they more of a sinner? No. Random acts happen in this world that cannot be stopped except by an equal or opposite force which can be random or thought out. God will not reach his hand down and block a bullet for anybody. If you are in the path of a bullet, you will get hit. If you dont believe me I dare any of you to stand in front of a gun and see what happens. Will God block that bullet? No. Why? Because its the laws of physics. And by the way I am a Catholic, rarely miss church, and love the Lord.

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

      But in the bible it says God makes evil

      July 27, 2012 at 8:20 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      So what you are saying is that everyone who died there..chose to be sh0t in the face? Makes complete sense now!

      July 27, 2012 at 8:25 am |
  20. Steven_Michael

    I have lost a child senselessly too BarnaDaniel, It was not an easy thing to do either, my flesh did not want to respond with Mercy and Grace; but thank God I am not just flesh and bones. With the loss of a loved one comes a certain amount of questions, anger and hurt toward God, but thankfully He is big enough to handle all that (I suppose if He weren't He wouldn't be God), but if I were to dwell solely on my feelings (fleshly) instead of seeking out His wisdom (spiritual) I would become cold, bitter and toally indifferent to the sovereign One over all creation. I am thankful that I have God in my life to learn from, I am very sorry for all those that do not. God NEVER said that if I accept Him I would never have problems, He did say that I would never face them alone again. To those of you that doubt, I pray that God gives you the Words yu need to come to belief in Him, and to those of yoou already believing, and struggling with this, I leave yo with these words: These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

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

      Is your life better because you lost your child ,I'm a father of 2 boys my creators greatest gift to me,life through them.my blood lives on in them ,no good can come from them getting murdered and I live. I know my beliefs and my family will be there but life won't be as good.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:25 am |
    • The Asian Atheist

      Sorry to hear that, but it seems like this god of yours doesn't deserve your worship. You are hedging a huge bet on a future that cannot even be speculated on based on any evidence, at the expense of this life.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:50 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.