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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. Died-Into- Life

    GOD Was There!!!!! Watching What Satan Had, And Is Doing To People Physically, And Mentally. People Who's Blaming GOD For Anything, Doesn't Know GOD TRULY IN THEIR HEART. They Have Satan, Like The Family Of Charles Manson. The Time Will Come When You'll Really Need To Call On CHRIST, And Satan Will Answer. Will You Keep Talking To Satan, Or!!!! Have You Changed Your Ways, And Believe In GOD For GOD TO HELP YOU??????????????

    July 27, 2012 at 9:50 am |
    • The Asian Atheist

      You are clearly nuts, so my only critique must be your abhorrent punctuation.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:52 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Why are you capitalizing Every Single Word in your rant?

      July 27, 2012 at 9:52 am |
    • GetReal

      SATAN, Please take this this with you!!

      July 27, 2012 at 9:56 am |
    • Unknown

      Asian Atheist- you need God. One day you will realize it and it may be too late.

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

      Ooooh I am shaking in my little space boots! Please, I need god like I need herpes. And I don't need herpes.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:45 am |
  2. Ryan

    I don't know about anyone else, but this entire article rubs me the wrong way. I mean, I don't believe in God, but it's clear that horrific tragedies are happening every day. Whether it be in Syria or the Congo, there are very bad things happening on very large scales. Yet we focus on one (relatively) minor incident in North America and ask "Where was God?" It just seems very self-centered for anyone to even pose the question in this manner.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:50 am |
  3. Paul S

    God was int the same place he was before the shooting. He's in the same place after the shooting and forever more will be in that place. Here is my question. Why is it that people is only concerned with where God is after a tragedy? God gets slammed and pushed aside by many if not most in this country during times of peace and self gratification. On the other hand, when there is a Aurora, Virginia tech, Columbine, or 911, people want to know where God is. SMH!

    July 27, 2012 at 9:50 am |
  4. Harry

    The reason why Aurora happened as well as other disasters like this is that we have not drawn close to God and his commandments. If we (all of us) do not see our sinful ways, nor repent and accept Jesus Christ as our personal savior,we will continue down this path.Not God's fault but ours. But even in this, God WILL get the glory and praise due his name. Amen.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:50 am |
  5. Soda

    There is no God, stop trying to explain everything, trying to make people believe in something that was made up to control the masses.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:49 am |
  6. Chi Guy with a Brain

    God was there and jammed the gun so more wouldn't die??? Where was he for the first 12? At a donut shop? Overslept? Went to the wrong theater? please....

    July 27, 2012 at 9:48 am |
    • The Asian Atheist

      Don't forget that 70 total were shot

      July 27, 2012 at 9:51 am |
    • Eye roll

      Friend people are going to believe in nonsense regardless...they have to convince themselves that god was there with a bag of popcorn watching the massacre happening...gods plan gods will....well Children with bone cancer... remember god made this in his eyes...

      July 27, 2012 at 9:59 am |
  7. frunklin

    Where was God when the holocaust was going on? Where was God when the twin towers fell? Where is God period.. Simple, go through your history books of human progression and you'll find out where God has been. If there truly is a God, he turned his back to us a long time ago. And who could blame God, we're disgusting beings that do horrible things to one another. We're definitely not a species worth savings thats for sure.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:48 am |
    • James PDX

      Well, if God didn't want us to be this way, he shouldn't have created us this way.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:50 am |
  8. matt

    Its so easy to blame others when tragedy strikes whether big or small. My friends cat died, where was God? A lunatic in the laundry mat put his child in the washer, where was God? The lady at the drive-thru window shot and killed, where was God? My friend committed suicide where was God? Here's a question to all you proclaimed "atheists"...why do you care where God was during these times? and if you're so confident in your belief about His non-existence, why is He the first on your minds when events like this occur...thats awesome 😉

    July 27, 2012 at 9:48 am |
    • James PDX

      What makes you think God is the first thing on an atheists mind during a tragedy? That's quite the leap there. I'm an agnostic and God doesn't come into play for me until I hear people saying ridiculously stupid things about him, like saying God caused the gun to jam but somehow didn't cause the guy to blow himself up with the bombs he left in his apartment.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:58 am |
    • matt

      agnostic or atheist, one things in common for sure, both groups believe that God has the power to control all forces on Earth – just look at all the responses on this board – "why didnt God cause this or that". I often get "If there's a God, where was He during the holocaust?" and it's a great question. Again, I love when I get questions like this because clearly the atheist (or agnostic), is turning to God for answers "God where were you?". Keep on questioning.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:10 am |
  9. Kate Bacon Perkins

    "Where was God in Aurora?"
    God was there, but He sure as heck did NOT cause the shootings to happen! He weeps with us at what man does (things like this shooting spree) to each other. He is Love, Forgiveness, Strength, Hope for a better world, and has Enormous Compassion for those who cause suffering in this world. THEY are the aberrant creatures..... God weeps for us and what horrors we perpetrate on others. God is the only True Hope we have. Forgive him, if you must. But Do Not cast stones upon He who IS there for us Unconditionally. Praise God for all we Do have! Practice forgiveness for the person who is the Evil Doer, like one Godly man did from his hospital bed! God is Good-- NOT evil! Kate Bacon Perkins

    July 27, 2012 at 9:45 am |
    • GetReal

      "Yes MY Son I love Thee, oooh watch out, bullet, idiot with gun, that's gotta hurt! See you soon and join the other 138 billion people who have died in the past for whatever reason. Actually its getting awfully crowed up here, perhaps I should step in, NO I can't I made a promise to my only begotten Son that he gets all the glory. Dang and all I had to do was put a chair between that bullet and infant down there" GOD.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:55 am |
  10. Truth be told

    Where is my freedom – everywhere & nowhere
    where is my free will – everywhere & nowhere
    where is the air – everywhere & nowhere
    is free will a cop-out... communist think so
    does god exist – only when let in
    no one can exist where not allowed – free to be
    how come you did not stop it?
    exactly – how come you did not stop it
    – you were free to prevent this but did not –

    believe – to have confidence in the truth, the existence, or the reliability of something, although without absolute proof that one is right in doing so

    faith – strong or unshakeable belief in something, esp without proof or evidence

    fairy tale – an incredible or misleading statement, account, or belief

    since none of us will ever have proof of anything we only believe what we are told or what is witnessed and what is witnessed in it self is a deception

    July 27, 2012 at 9:45 am |
    • Drinky Crow

      "Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable." – H.L. Mencken

      July 27, 2012 at 10:13 am |
  11. jltnol

    He was at a different movie.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:45 am |
  12. Unknown

    It's sad seeing all these brainwashed people "Believing" that there is a man in the sky. Christian people are completely absent-minded. It's like Hitler's army but instead the imaginary "God" is leader with all his brainwashed followers. They are also the most ignorant. For example, a man needed surgery to live. His family and relatives "Prayed" for him and such. When surgery was done and he was better, his family is like "OMG thank you god for saving him, he answered our prayers". Are you kidding me? God didn't save that man, the doctor who performed surgery on him did. It's like anything bad that happens but when someone does something to save the day they are all like "Thank God!", because they are ignorant and think that this "God" does everything and are blind to the other people around them.

    I had someone give a statement yesterday about how the universe was made from "The Big Bang" and that something like that just doesn't happen, it just doesn't go "Poof" and appears and it was "God's" doing that made the Earth and Universe. Well ok, so who made your "God". I know he just didn't "Poof" out of nowhere and was like "Bam! I made a universe and NOW, Earth!" You people are so blind to reality. You don't believe in science or evolution but yet, you use technology today which is basically science. And technology today is being held back because people like you smack the word "Religion" around and we can't progress. Heck, anything that you think is against your imaginary "God's Will" and you all are like "That's not what god wants", blah blah.

    Overall, Religion is useless. Mainpoint – "Religion would not have been made if people had a more understanding and the technology we have today back than." Religion was just made up to past the time everyday.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:44 am |
  13. thisisdumb

    this is a worthless article.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • cleareye1

      Nothing gets the word toilet working as well as god talk.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:53 am |
  14. Bogalusa

    You can't see love but you know it exists.Check out what is happening in Medjugorje.When you get the Spirit from the source you seek and you find. If you are a non believer,you don't know what you are missing.
    Isn't it great we live in a country we can believe as we wish......give me love...me thinks it comes from a source.

    I vote for God

    July 27, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • Eye roll

      Love is a chemical reaction in the brain...

      July 27, 2012 at 9:51 am |
    • GetReal

      I vote for reality.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:01 am |
  15. Bryant

     Astonishing the number of people who lack faith. The country itself was a religious experiment, for God meant to be a city on a hill. Faith helped the country reach super power status through manifest destiney.  We don't even acknoweledge that and sit thinking logic and science. we all think we are so smart when  we only use things other smart people have invented and theorized. God exist, but dont put blame on him and responsible for everything that is wrong in the world. Non believers its in your own free will to believe.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:43 am |
  16. Grace

    God was there whether you believe it or not. Every single person in that theater could have been shot and killed! It was God's grace that only 12 were shot and that his gun jammed. People have free will. God will not control our actions. One day EVERY knee shall bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • cleareye1

      Soem believers are wackier than others. You are in the top 10%.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:55 am |
  17. tammie

    God was there. Living is a privilege, just like driving you are not promised to drive tomorrow, just like your life could be taken tomorrow. The people that died are not questioning whether God exist, whether they are in hell or in heaven they know who God is and where he was at the time of there death. For Christians, there is life after dying. The question is where are you going after your spirit departs from here in this physical body? God is always here , He is Omnipresent. Our minds always on the physical and can't comprehend this.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:43 am |
  18. James PDX

    God was the answer to the unanswerable for a bunch a middle-eastern tribesmen thousands of years ago who practiced pagan ritual sacrifices and thought that the entire reproductive cycle was unclean. Just like every god or pantheon of gods which came before and after Jehovah, he is a survival mechanism for dealing with fear and mortality as well as a control mechanism to instill morality. And Jehovah's legend makes as little sense as any of the others, and a lot less than some, For those who need a deity to deal with life, you are welcome to him. Just don't force your weakness on others who don't share it.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:42 am |
  19. Jimbo

    Most smart people just go about there day and the thought of god doesn't even cross their minds, they just live and make the best out of what we have on earth.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:41 am |
  20. Jeff--Tacoma

    Maybe God was too busy preventing a gay pride parade; hurricanes and earthquakes take time you know.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:41 am |
    • cleareye1

      God's away on business...says Tom Waits

      July 27, 2012 at 9:57 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.