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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. a Middle Eastern Athiest

    There is no god you idiot freaks.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:13 am |
  2. Gene

    God was at the same place when his son died on the cross.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:13 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Holiday?

      July 27, 2012 at 9:14 am |
    • SunGod

      Getting popcorn at the snack bar?

      July 27, 2012 at 9:21 am |
    • Bible Clown©

      Putt-putt golf?

      July 27, 2012 at 9:28 am |
  3. Satan

    Let's not forget that "IF" God were to really exist, that he would have had to "create" the devil.

    Why oh why, would he create an "evil" that's as powerful over humans as himself?

    Open your minds, and objectively look at the evidence, and the only possible conclusion you can come to is that, "There is no god!!!"

    Peace out!

    July 27, 2012 at 9:13 am |
    • MarkinFL

      And if there were, it is evil.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • J

      God created Lucifer, and he turned bad. Not God's fault he turned evil.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:36 am |
  4. Les

    Also I don't believe the 2% number. I think that there are a lot more athiests out there. Still in the closet maybe, easier to blend in? I'll bet even the Pope has questioned the existence of a God. It is truly amazing, there is absolutely no evidence that there is a God, but so many people believe. Social Stigma? Do what you parents say? Be Good or go to hell? I tell you what, if there is a God, He is truly a vengeful God. Thank God I do not believe, nor do I wast my time and money on God.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:13 am |
    • MarkinFL

      "According to a 2011 survey from the Pew Research Center, 1.6% of Americans self-identify as atheist and 2.4% self-identify as agnostic. However, significant numbers of respondents who identify with a religion claim to either not believe in God or consider themselves uncertain – beliefs that are by definition atheistic and agnostic, respectively.

      According to this survey of more than 35,000 Americans, 4% of orthodox Christians, 1% of Catholics and members of mainline churches, 5% of Muslims, and 10% of Jews do not believe in God. A further 5% of orthodox Christians, 4% of Catholics, 3% of mainline church members, 11% of Jews, and 1% of Evangelicals, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Muslims consider themselves not too certain or not at all certain of God's existence. This discrepancy between self-identification and personal belief indicates that the actual number of atheists and agnostics is far higher than the statistics indicate by self-affiliation alone."

      July 27, 2012 at 9:18 am |
    • Bible Clown©

      If I put "atheist" on every form I filled out, some redneck would burn my house down and kill my family for Jesus. It's not safe to be an open atheist in this country, with God's little volunteers screeching "hate yer fellow man" and "never forgive, Jeezus sez so" as they picket your workplace. Most people are atheists pretending to be Christian so they can survive.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:33 am |
  5. pshannon

    God was there and I like Northstar 56 response. God gave us all free will because He loves us. The devil is permitted to roam the earth and if we sin, we are held responsible for it here on earth and when we die. I think God's presence comes through in all the beautiful miracles we've have seen from this tragedy. The woman with the brain anomly that saved her life. The selfless people that gave their lives protecting another. The neighbor who went to yell about the loud music and stopped short of opening the door which saved her life and everyone else in that apartment building! And lastly, God was sad too. He loves everyone of us much more than we can ever imagine. But when these tragedies happen He is there to help and wants us to come to Him! God Bless to all the victims, so many people are praying for you!

    July 27, 2012 at 9:12 am |
    • Bill

      you are a fvcking moron

      July 27, 2012 at 9:14 am |
    • The Asian Atheist

      The faithful can find god in every mundane coincidence, and think that they can use it to present a cogent argument. It's like saying I know jesus is divine because my panini toasted in such a way that it resembles a face. Seriously.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • MarkinFL

      I wonder why god withheld such miracles from the 6 year old girl. There must have been a good reason that he wanted her to die violently.
      Clearly, if the woman was saved by divine intervention(miracle) then the little girl died because he chose not to intervene.
      There are NO miracles in a world of free will.

      So which is it? Does god sit back and allow free will to reign? Or does he perform miracles and save a select few?

      July 27, 2012 at 9:22 am |
    • Bible Clown©

      pshannon, I gotta agree with Bill. What you are saying is simpleminded nonsense. God left it for people to throw themselves in front of their loved ones, instead of throwing Himself in there, right? Because He loves us and wants us to die and come see him? What good's a god like that? Why worship it?

      July 27, 2012 at 9:36 am |
  6. The Asian Atheist

    Tragic as it is, it is a waste of time to analyze the faith-based implications of this event. That would be like trying to analyze Santa's flight patterns, or the physics of how he fits in a chimney.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:12 am |
    • SunGod

      Or how the tooth fairy gets through the ADT motion sensor to leave me a quarter when i lost a tooth

      July 27, 2012 at 9:19 am |
  7. Colin

    This morning there was a knock at my door. When I answered the door I found a well groomed, nicely dressed couple. The man spoke first:

    John: "Hi! I'm John, and this is Mary."

    Mary: "Hi! We're here to invite you to come kiss Hank's ass with us."

    Me: "Pardon me?! What are you talking about? Who's Hank, and why would I want to kiss His ass?"

    John: "If you kiss Hank's ass, He'll give you a million dollars; and if you don't, He'll kick the guts out of you."

    Me: "What? Is this some sort of bizarre mob shake-down?"

    John: "Hank is a billionaire philanthropist. Hank built this town. Hank owns this town. He can do whatever He wants, and what He wants is to give you a million dollars, but He can't until you kiss His ass."

    Me: "That doesn't make any sense. Why..."

    Mary: "Who are you to question Hank's gift? Don't you want a million dollars? Isn't it worth a little kiss on the ass?"

    Me: "Well maybe, if it's legit, but..."

    John: "Then come kiss Hank's ass with us."

    Me: "Do you kiss Hank's ass often?"

    Mary: "Oh yes, all the time..."

    Me: "And has He given you a million dollars?"

    John: "Well no. You don't actually get the money until you leave town."

    Me: "So why don't you just leave town now?"

    Mary: "You can't leave until Hank tells you to, or you don't get the money, and He kicks the guts
    out of you."

    Me: "Do you know anyone who kissed Hank's ass, left town, and got the million dollars?"

    John: "My mother kissed Hank's ass for years. She left town last year, and I'm sure she got the money."

    Me: "Haven't you talked to her since then?"

    John: "Of course not, Hank doesn't allow it."

    Me: "So what makes you think He'll actually give you the money if you've never talked to anyone who got the money?"

    Mary: "Well, He gives you a little bit before you leave. Maybe you'll get a raise, maybe you'll win a small lotto, maybe you'll just find a twenty-dollar bill on the street."

    Me: "What's that got to do with Hank?"

    John: "Hank has certain 'connections.'"

    Me: "I'm sorry, but this sounds like some sort of bizarre con game."

    John: "But it's a million dollars, can you really take the chance? And remember, if you don't kiss Hank's ass He'll kick the guts out of you."

    Me: "Maybe if I could see Hank, talk to Him, get the details straight from Him..."

    Mary: "No one sees Hank, no one talks to Hank."

    Me: "Then how do you kiss His ass?"

    John: "Sometimes we just blow Him a kiss, and think of His ass. Other times we kiss Karl's ass, and he passes it on."

    Me: "Who's Karl?"

    Mary: "A friend of ours. He's the one who taught us all about kissing Hank's ass. All we had to do was take him out to dinner a few times."

    Me: "And you just took his word for it when he said there was a Hank, that Hank wanted you to kiss His ass, and that Hank would reward you?"

    John: "Oh no! Karl has a letter he got from Hank years ago explaining the whole thing. Here's a copy; see for yourself."

    From the Desk of Karl
    1. Kiss Hank's ass and He'll give you a million dollars when you leave town.
    2. Use alcohol in moderation.
    3. Kick the guts out of people who aren't like you.
    4. Eat right.
    5. Hank dictated this list Himself.
    6. The moon is made of green cheese.
    7. Everything Hank says is right.
    8. Wash your hands after going to the bathroom.
    9. Don't use alcohol.
    10. Eat your wieners on buns, no condiments.
    11. Kiss Hank's ass or He'll kick the guts out of you.

    Me: "This appears to be written on Karl's letterhead." vein

    Mary: "Hank didn't have any paper."

    Me: "I have a hunch that if we checked we'd find this is Karl's handwriting."

    John: "Of course, Hank dictated it."

    Me: "I thought you said no one gets to see Hank?"

    Mary: "Not now, but years ago He would talk to some people."

    Me: "I thought you said He was a philanthropist. What sort of philanthropist kicks the guts out of people just because they're different?"

    Mary: "It's what Hank wants, and Hank's always right."

    Me: "How do you figure that?"

    Mary: "Item 7 says 'Everything Hank says is right.' That's good enough for me!"

    Me: "Maybe your friend Karl just made the whole thing up."

    John: "No way! Item 5 says 'Hank dictated this list himself.' Besides, item 2 says 'Use alcohol in moderation,' Item 4 says 'Eat right,' and item 8 says 'Wash your hands after going to the bathroom.' Everyone knows those things are right, so the rest must be true, too."

    Me: "But 9 says 'Don't use alcohol.' which doesn't quite go with item 2, and 6 says 'The moon is made of green cheese,' which is just plain wrong."

    John: "There's no contradiction between 9 and 2, 9 just clarifies 2. As far as 6 goes, you've never been to the moon, so you can't say for sure."

    Me: "Scientists have pretty firmly established that the moon is made of rock..."

    Mary: "But they don't know if the rock came from the Earth, or from out of space, so it could just as easily be green cheese."

    Me: "I'm not really an expert, but I think the theory that the Moon was somehow 'captured' by the Earth has been discounted*. Besides, not knowing where the rock came from doesn't make it cheese."

    John: "Ha! You just admitted that scientists make mistakes, but we know Hank is always right!"

    Me: "We do?"

    Mary: "Of course we do, Item 7 says so."

    Me: "You're saying Hank's always right because the list says so, the list is right because Hank dictated it, and we know that Hank dictated it because the list says so. That's circular logic, no different than saying 'Hank's right because He says He's right.'"

    John: "Now you're getting it! It's so rewarding to see someone come around to Hank's way of thinking."

    Me: "But...oh, never mind.

    from Jhuger.com.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:12 am |
    • The Asian Atheist

      Yeah I like this one, someone posted it the other day.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:13 am |
    • Mitt Rmoney

      So? then where was HANK when the shooting was going on? Why didn't he act? With claims of great power come expectations of great responsibility.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:10 am |
  8. Joe Jocla

    What a dumb essay. People die every day. What makes Aurora so special? Because it was the premiere of Batman? Murder is murder.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:10 am |
    • The Asian Atheist

      Cuz it was Batman

      July 27, 2012 at 9:11 am |
  9. John

    This is not a news story. This belongs on a Bible blog. Please have SOME journalistic integrity. Oh wait that was lost years ago.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:09 am |
    • GYAG1970

      Thank You! Blown away bu what makes it on a news site. How about the god tree in West New York the other day?

      July 27, 2012 at 9:11 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Did I miss something? Isn't this in the religion blog?

      July 27, 2012 at 9:28 am |
    • Bible Clown©

      "This is not a news story. This belongs on a Bible blog." Welcome to the CNN Religion Blog, dimwit. Amazing, your prayer was answered!

      July 27, 2012 at 10:12 am |
  10. GYAG1970

    When is the world going to grow up and shed such childish beliefs? God was not there that day because he is imaginary!

    July 27, 2012 at 9:09 am |
    • Hogan's Goat

      He was helping the shooter aim. "God, don't let me miss that girl. POW! Thank ya, Lord." God fights on the side with the biggest guns.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
  11. RZ70

    God is where He has always been; giving us the freedom to become whatever we will be. There is probably a nudge here and there, but what would be the point if every action and reaction were dicated to us (either seen or unseen)?

    July 27, 2012 at 9:08 am |
    • Hogan's Goat

      He was eating waffle fries at Chick-Fil-A.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
  12. fineartguru

    Stop blaming the ALL. The ALL knows no evil. The ALL loves our spirits so much, that IT gave us free will over all else. We made and continue to make our own, free will decisions. Our spirits know right from wrong.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:08 am |
  13. Yahweh

    If you must know, I was in the kitchen making a sandwich. And remember: It's Yahweh or the highway.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:08 am |
  14. Joe

    I couldn't help but think it when I saw the headline. Where was God? At the snack bar getting popcorn.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:07 am |
    • The Asian Atheist

      Why would that matter? Was god packing?

      July 27, 2012 at 9:08 am |
  15. Joe Nobody

    It is pointless to blame God. It's Obama's fault.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:07 am |
    • SunGod

      No because "god" created Obama so its still "gods" fault. And Zombie jesus is in his sky chair as well.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:14 am |
  16. Josef

    What I like to know is, Where are the Christians in that local area?? Yes these people are dead and buried but there's still time and hope for them, as Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead so can you. So wake up! It's not God's will for these people to be dead or for his people to suffer, if it was then Christ wouldn't need to come and die on the cross in the first place. But He did come so that "WE" may have life and to have it abundantly, Christ said that thief "Satan" comes to steal, kill, and destroy. So come on Christians do y'all truly believe in Jesus or are y'all just as lost as the rest of the world and have some serious doubts about your faith in God?! "Why, when I came, was there no man? Why, when I called, was there no answer? Is My hand shortened at all that it cannot redeem? Or have I no power to deliver? Indeed with My rebuke I dry up the sea, I make the rivers a wilderness; Their fish stink because there is no water, And die of thirst. I clothe the heavens with blackness, And I make sackcloth their covering. The Lord GOD has given Me The tongue of the learned, That I should know how to speak A word in season to him who is weary. He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear To hear as the learned. The Lord GOD has opened My ear; And I was not rebellious, Nor did turn away. I gave My back to those who struck Me, And my cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting. For the Lord GOD will help me; Therefore I will not be disgraced; Therefore I have set My face like a flint, And I know that I will not be ashamed. He is near who justifies Me; Who will contend with Me? Let us stand together. Who is My adversary? Let him come near Me.Surely the Lord GOD will help Me; Who is he who will condemn Me? Indeed they will all grow old like a garment; The moth will eat them up. Who among you fears the LORD? Who obeys the voice of His Servant? Who walks in darkness And has no light? Let him trust in the name of the LORD And rely upon his GOD. Look, all you who kindle a fire, Who encircle yourselves with sparks: Walk in the light of your and in the sparks you have kindled This you shall have from My hand: You shall lie down in torment. (Isaiah 50:2-11)

    July 27, 2012 at 9:06 am |
    • The Asian Atheist

      You are screwing with us right? You cannot be serious? No that would mean that you are a lunatic, and thats just crazy talk.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:07 am |
    • Hogan's Goat

      Dude, your fish stinks. Just sayin'.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
  17. Tommy

    What if god was one of us...just a stranger on a bus...

    July 27, 2012 at 9:04 am |
    • Adam

      we'd probably be better off.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:12 am |
    • Bible Clown©

      ".just a stranger on a bus..." He'd be that weird old man that nobody wanted to sit beside, all mumbling and smelling funny and staring out the window.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
  18. SunGod

    Where was santa clause? Where was the easter bunny? Where the heck was the tooth fairy they could have helped.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:04 am |
  19. No religion thank you

    Can we move on already? This is a tragedy and we need to stop trying to figure out where "God" was and concentrate on identifying how we can help/stop these events before they happen.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:03 am |
  20. Drew

    where is god in syria . I think that tragedy pails in comparison to our domestic tragedy. Bedsides god isn't going to help anyone. we have to help eachother.

    July 27, 2012 at 8:59 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.