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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. TOMG

    THERE IS GOD AND NO GOD , IT IS UP TO ONESELF TO CREATING GOD OR NOT IN THE FIRST PLACE FROM ONESELF MIND AND HEART , SOUL TO HAVE THE BLESSING FROM GOD IN DAY ONE , AMEN

    July 26, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • ViK100

      Where do you get that idea from? this world? you want to be on both sides, don't you? You're either cold or hot, can't be warm.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
  2. johneturnerii

    Zeus be with you all.

    July 26, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • ViK100

      NO thank you. You keep him or her or it.. There is only one god. The God of Abraham, Jacob and Isaac!!

      July 26, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • Notagod

      The Flying Spaghetti Monster is the only true loving God of all, the only God that all can be assure always cares. All other gods excepting The Flying Spaghetti Monster are tools of the evil one that is the Debil. The christian gods are all the Debil's tools.

      July 30, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
  3. Dyslexic Dog

    non believers are up near 20% of the US population! where did Stephen Prothero get his 2% number from?

    July 26, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Why do you keep posting this misinformation. Where do you get this 20% from?

      I wish you weren't but sadly, you are quite incorrect here.

      July 26, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • Fabiola

      I check this website almost everyday and also think there are unfortunately more than 2% of atheists o.O

      July 26, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • Qman

      20% of the US population is quite far-fetched. Though reading the comments on this website sure do seem like it.

      The populous of the United States believes in a god. With the majority of the nations religion being Christian. Quite one sided too i might add.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  4. correctlycenter

    God created the heavens and the earth, and all living things on it. Do we question the fact that our houses, cars, clothes and appliances just didn't poof from nonexistence to existence? No! Someone made these items. God's evidence is everywhere but it's easy to dismiss Him because many do not want or desire to acknowledge and be obedient to the LORD. This world is just a temporary existence. Believers real home is with God in heaven. Read the book of Job and you will understand why sometimes bad things happen to good people. Pray for the family members affected, God bless...

    July 26, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • rAmen

      if your dishwasher is a self replicating polymer, then yeah

      July 26, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • Jerry

      "And the LORD said unto Satan, Whence comest thou?", As if he didn't already know. What test for Job for which God would not already have the answer? Omniscience is hard to overcome. But that poor Job was tortured for no good reason at all. Is there comfort here for anyone? Not I.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • TR6

      Please explain how we can tell which god did it? They all have holy books and they all claim to have created the universe.
      Why should we believe your god did it?

      July 26, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  5. ViK100

    America has forsaken God- it's a fact. You reap what you sow. simple. Don't ask God to come to the rescue when you keep spitting on his face every day.

    July 26, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • JWT

      There is no god.

      July 26, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
  6. Karloff

    Please stop with this god cr*p already. Evil is inherently human, and there is no god to save us from ourselves.

    July 26, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • ViK100

      You're wrong only because you're hopeless. While all of us are all born sinners God does give us the strength to say no to the devil. You don't believe it because you have believed the lies from this world. I can only attest for myself and for what I have seen God do with my brothers and sisters. The only condition is that YOUI accept it, then he takes care of the rest.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  7. Dyslexic Dog

    In the rest of the world America is an anomaly. Most advanced, educated countries have over half of their population knowing that there is no god. With America as the exception, it's the uneducated primitive coutries that cling to ancient religions. 50 years ago, most Americans knew evolution was a fact, frighteningly we're regressing into the christian Taliban!

    July 26, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
  8. Jesus was a space alien

    Sorry God was not in the theatre that night. He and the other apostle's went out for drinks. Stop looking for some mythical being to intervene on your behalf. People do evil things and we can't always prevent that. Do you think God intevenes in all 8 billion people's lives every day?

    July 26, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • ViK100

      People have always done evil things and turned away from God.. They carve their own tombs. God gives you life and he can take it away. Look around you, this world keeps getting worse and worse since they began kicking God out of their lves.. This happened in the past too.. and those who abandoned God were erased from the earth just like it's starting to happen in many places.. Yet, if you don't believe it, it's your own choice. God, your creator gives you free will too... That's all you have.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
  9. markiejoe

    Since the vast majority of people who are killed on the planet are killed in the name of God, for me there is no God.

    July 26, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
  10. Shammalammadingdong

    It saddens me that in this day and age people still insist that there is a magical all-powerful being somewhere in the sky that can affect their lives on Earth, and that when you die you rise up to this magical place where everyone who has ever died righteously is just floating around waiting to greet you. We look back on Greek Mythology and see how "wrong" they were to believe in such silly things, and yet we modern people still perpetuate the myth of God, because as everyone knows, there can only be one as the Highlander would say. How is one all-powerful god any less ridiculous than a few individual ones? Never underestimate the gullibility of the human race.

    July 26, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
  11. Teamski

    This is where I believe that Deism is correct.

    July 26, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
  12. Jerry

    The question "where was God" is more interesting than providing an answer to where God is or was, a question that has no answer for us. If you believe in an everlasting soul, you must admit therefore, that a human cannot actually murder or kill another human – merely force some kind of change from one form to another, the soul continues on. Murder or killing ceases to have any real meaning where we are all possessed of an everlasting soul. It is only in a universe with no possibility for eternal life, that murder and killing takes on a very real meaning. When you can actually end all a person is or may have ever been.

    July 26, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
  13. KJH

    2% of the US are atheists? I think that number is entirely too low.. 2%!?

    July 26, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • stevensrmiller

      You are correct. He is off by a full 100%, and even that data is six years old. Financial Times reported 4% in 2006. Further, if you combine agnostics (skeptics, that is) and consider the total as a percentage of those with an opinion, you get about 20%. See http://www.harrisinteractive.com/news/allnewsbydate.asp?NewsID=1131

      July 26, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • Avery

      2% of people are out of the closet atheists who will self-identify as such when someone calls to do a survey. People who identify as "non-religious" are usually much higher, about 18%. Some of those non-religious are not atheists (they are new agey or something else that believes in something supernatural. Many of them are atheists. It's probably closer to 10-15%. Society has a history of treating people who use the "A" word rather poorly, so no one wants to say it.

      July 26, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  14. Cledus

    Hey CNN pull your head out of you a$$ and start reporting real news. Fed up with these "news" articles that are for nothing but ratings. All this does is create resentment between us

    July 26, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • college_student

      Cledus, if the articles bother you and you read them since there is much else to read then what is your complaint.

      July 26, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
  15. Jim K.

    I contend that we are all atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.

    July 26, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
  16. In Reason I Trust

    No God.

    The ONLY reason folks even believe in such an obvious fairy tale is their fear of death.

    We have to be braver than that. We must face the unknown with dignity.

    July 26, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • Fabiola

      Fear of death? I believe in Jesus, God and I do not fear death. I thank him for every single day of life he gives me and for the life of my loved ones. God is everywhere whether u guys like or not, he gives us all free will and leave it up to us to believe in him and love him or be like you guys and just turn your back.

      July 26, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • In Reason I Trust

      Your "belief" is how you deal with your fear.

      Come on, a grown adult talking about magic babies that walk on water and turn it into wine. REALLY?! It's sad.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
  17. edmundburkeson

    Where does Prothero's assumption "lorded over" come from? The Bible assumes the opposite. God's voice is still and small. And you won't find him unless, as it says: you will seek me, and you shall find me when you have sought with all of your heart." and again: "Can you find God by searching?" You are looking in the wrong place and in the wrong way. The answer is there, but you must seek, and you must believe. Your method of searching is not as prescribed by God. If you're looking for the great "lording over one" you are mistaken.

    July 26, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • edmundburkeson

      I would suggest therefore an eighth answer: Look at what our culture says to find out where God is.

      July 26, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • edmundburkeson

      According to Prothero's implied thesis that is.

      July 26, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • Qman

      @ edmund

      What you say makes sense – but look at it in this light.

      Go to another country and tell their president/leader how you want them to run their country. While you're at it, advise him you want him to show proof he is the allmighty leader he makes himself out to be to the people he governs.

      You will get the same reply from God in this aspect.–nothing. Because in their eyes what do they have to us to prove? What are we to them? The difference is, it's been laid out in the bible on how to understand him, and what he is teaching and what he has already done to prove it to EVERYONE.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • Qman

      -1 For my commenting skills.

      I posted this to the wrong comment, my appolgies–lol

      July 26, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  18. SconnieGuz

    If I went around telling you that I had voices in my head and that my invisible friend created the universe, people would think I was crazy. What does that make you religious fruitcakes?

    July 26, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
  19. JJS

    What if He prevented many more from being slain? All those injured were just that, injured but not killed.

    July 26, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      So collateral damage is OK with God?

      What if it were your friend or relative in critical condition? Injured is OK?

      July 26, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
    • Qman

      @I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Though you may have made a good point, you can't apply that theory to something you refuse to understand. It's like saying a book sucks, with out reading anything on it. I suggest doing some soul searching, or further research to understand that question.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • In Reason I Trust

      Wow, your god isn't very powerful is He.

      I'd imagine after creating the universe that giving the gunman a flat tire as he was driving to the theatre wouldn't be too hard but I guess He "works in mysterious ways" of some other nonsense.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  20. MennoKnight

    From an earlier in this conversation:

    Athiest
    There's still no god.

    Use the free will and intelligence you have and stop being a puppet for money shakedown organizations who perpetrate hoaxes on you.

    Until you morons realize DERRRRP, ITS JUST US ON PLANET EARTH, and we better all WORK TOGETHER TO MAKE LIFE BETTER, you will go on blaming god, or blaming the devil, or blaming muslims, or whatever.

    Take CONTROL of your lives.

    There is no GOD. There is no Heaven. There is no hell. There is no devil.

    THERE IS ONLY US ON THIS PLANET.

    July 26, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • CRayDallas

      Are you absolutely certain there is no God? Where is your proof?

      July 26, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • Qman

      You my friend are no better than we who do believe. You do the exact same thing, but with something different. Stop portraying your hypocritcal opinions as facts. Especially when you have no facts to support your opinion. To advise those to take control of their lives when you don't have control of your own either is meerely contriversial. So please, step down from your pedistal. By the way, before you make the arguement that there is no proof of God/Jesus, i'll allow you to do the self discovery and do the searching on your own as many of us already have.

      July 26, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • Confused

      There may be no God according with your theory, but there is "GOOD"
      There may be no Devil, but there is "EVIL"
      If you spell evil backwards, its spelled "LIVE"

      July 26, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • TR6

      @CRayDallas:”Are you absolutely certain there is no God? Where is your proof?”

      I am just as certain there is no god as I am that there is no Santa Claus, vampires or UFOs and for exactly the same reasons

      July 26, 2012 at 5:43 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.