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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. Patty

    "Where Was God in Aurora?" John 10:10 says "The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly." God gives us life.

    July 27, 2012 at 10:01 am |
    • The Asian Atheist

      Holy cow you are delusional.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:03 am |
    • James PDX

      How much life did God give during that big ol' flood? That's right, he just took it away from every man, woman, child, baby, and aborted fetus in a big, childish temper tantrum.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:03 am |
    • The Asian Atheist

      The idea of a worldwide flood defies logic. Where did the extra water come from, and where did it go? We know from science...oh damn i'll stop there, I just lost them.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:04 am |
    • fearnogods

      BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH.......TALK TO THE WALL...

      July 27, 2012 at 10:04 am |
    • J Ryan

      sorry, the universe is indifferent to your last posting, just as it was to the tragedy in Aurora, the billions who have dies by disease, starvation, Holocaust, extermination, natural disasters, genocide, murder, etc..- Those who believe in religion belong to the infancy of our species.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:06 am |
    • me

      what a load of garbage. i hate articles like this. i feel sorry for all the non-christians in the world, because according to this type of drivel, their viewpoints are moot. good job cnn, maybe you can rival fox "news".

      July 27, 2012 at 10:07 am |
    • fearnogods

      @Patty, Patty, you ARE very delusional....

      July 27, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  2. No GOD

    There is no god.God was created by man long ago to explain what he did not understand.That is were aliens come in.
    Read your bible.chariets of fire= space ship.Magic = advanced tech.

    The Gospel of Mary – common believed to be the Mary Magdalene – asserts that Jesus loved her more as a follower than the male disciples. As such, he withheld some secret knowledge from the men that he nonetheless shared with her. This is in direct contradiction with Scripture (John 15:15) that suggests Christ made known everything to his (male) disciples.

    The Gospel of Judas attempts to put a happy spin on the betrayer's actions. Among the banned books of the Bible it is the one that is the most Gnostic in tone and content. Moreover, it clearly seeks to divide the disciples as those who received a bit of knowledge and Judas, who received a full measure.

    The Book of Susanna is a mix between courtroom drama and romance novel. It lends itself to great works of art and even introduces a young Daniel; it fails to hold any biblical wisdom or claim of divine inspiration.

    The Book of Tobit is part of the Catholic canon but evangelicals do no recognize it as inspired. The book asserts that Tobit was alive in 722 BC, when Assyria conquered Israel, and also in 931 BC, when Jeroboam led his uprising against Judah. The book is heavy on Eastern mysticism and demon lore.

    The Book of Judith is also part of the Catholic canon. It has several historic errors, the most glaring of which is the placement of Nebuchadnezzar II as king of Nineveh instead of Babylon.

    July 27, 2012 at 10:00 am |
    • fearnogods

      Totally in agreement...According to the bible God only entrusted men, giving all purpose and importance to them...where are the significant women?...PROOF that man created God and wrote the bible to exact his power, wealth, GREED, stature, and control OVER women...calling us the weaker one, when in fact it's mans lack of confidence that holds women back...

      July 27, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
  3. The TrapFiles

    If u take "GOD" and add an " O" you get "GOOD"! If you take the world "Devil" and drop the "D" you get the word "Evil" !Maybe just maybe GOD was on Break while the Devil was at work!

    July 27, 2012 at 9:59 am |
    • fearnogods

      Yeah big deal, if your put Knievel after evil, you get a motorcycle nut....your logic is ridiculous..

      July 27, 2012 at 10:03 am |
    • alex

      why would an omnipotent omniscient God need a break? didn't he know what was going on in Colorado, or was he too busy eating cheeto's in heaven's break room?

      July 27, 2012 at 10:18 am |
    • MarkinFL

      HMMMMMM Cheetos. Yum

      July 27, 2012 at 10:21 am |
  4. James PDX

    People keep blaming God when bad things happen. Listen, people, God isn't perfect, you know. Just look at his creations for proof of that.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:59 am |
    • fearnogods

      Hey he gets ALL the credit when something GOOD happens so if your silly enough to believe you deserve the let-downs, too.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:02 am |
  5. fearnogods

    If your stupid enough to put your lives in a god that been absent since the beginning of time, you'll never get it...

    July 27, 2012 at 9:59 am |
  6. Scott

    It blows my mind that people actually believe this. The reality of how silly it sounds doesn't sink in until someone writes something like this. Unbelievable... Maybe god was putting for par in the back 9 and couldn't be bothered? Maybe god was busy hitting on some of the hot angels up in heaven? Maybe god was clipping his fingernails? If you believe in any of the stuff above you automatically have to believe in the last 3 examples I just listed. You are automatically defaulted to blindly believing some dribble that someone writes or pulls out of their A$$, because after all, that is the only basis of your "faith".

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

      Where's the LIKE button?

      July 27, 2012 at 10:00 am |
    • Derpingtong

      You're so smart. I seriously wish I was as smart as you. Say no one knew about the Higgs Boson and I had a theory on it. Would you believe me? You would say I was crazy. I'm agnostic so I believe anyone could be correct, but we won't find out till we die. Keep your stupid opinions to yourself if you think you are right. Throw out some proof that God doesn't exist and yes I'll throw it to the believers and say "show me proof he does". I feel comfortable knowing there is the possibility.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • MarkinFL

      You are actually comparing the belief in god to a measurable testable scientific theory? You've got to be kidding.

      Believing something is possible, even probable and then running experiments to find out if it is, does not compare to believing in a supernatural being on the basis of (???) and then saying you can't find out if it is true until you are dead but I you better believe under threat of eternal torture?

      What?

      July 27, 2012 at 10:19 am |
  7. lauren

    God gives all people free will. It's very very sad to see so many people who don't believe in Him.

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

      If we have such free will, then why do we need a god?

      July 27, 2012 at 10:00 am |
    • MarkinFL

      I find it sad that so few people believe in Tinker Bell. She's cute, funny and mischievous but never kills anyone or tortures them for eternity. And there is at least as much reason to believe in her as there is of any god.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:01 am |
    • J Ryan

      What's sad is people who do not using their reasoning. People who apply some man made manacle for the hope of celestial Disney World –

      July 27, 2012 at 10:02 am |
    • James PDX

      Sure, God gives us freewill and the punishes us if we don't use it precisely as he wants us to. Nice gift, Jehovah. I think I'd prefer a nice fruitcake.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:06 am |
    • MarkinFL

      "celestial Disney World"

      Would Tinker Bell be there? If so, sign me up!

      July 27, 2012 at 10:14 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Rather seems the sort to put a hat over a brick on the sidewalk and then wait to see who kicks it.....

      Immature and nasty....

      July 27, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • Stolen from Corinthians

      When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think like a child, reason like a child.
      When I became a man, I did away with childish things.
      Things I gave up on....
      The tooth fairy....missed the cash though.
      Santa Claus....in my house he preferred a shot of Jack Daniels to cookies and mlik.
      Easter bunny....I moved on to the Playboy Club to fill the gap.
      Boogie man....Although the religious crowd wahts me to be afraid of Satan, no thanks.
      Cartoons and fairy tales....OK, I still watched Beevus and Butthead, mia culpa.
      Fictional characters from childhood....Tom Sawyer, the Hardy Boys, Superman and oh ya jesus christ.
      Even though an attempt was made to brain wash me into the ways of the religious, it was not hard to see the hypocracy of the holier than thou. So Lauren you do have a free will given to you by no one, try using it to think for yourself. Thanks, peace and love.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:22 am |
    • Dionysus

      Old Walt used Marilyn Munroes figure as a model for Tinkerbell, great eye that man had.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:27 am |
  8. Baron

    It is time to let go of the "revealed" religions. God is not looking down on us from up in the sky to watch our every action. To judge who is naughty and nice. It is time as a society that humans take responsibility for their actions. My point is if God did not stop the holocaust from happening then he does not exist as the "reveled religions" have taught. It is time we take responsibility as a society. The time of doing great evil in the name of God is over. The time of not believing in birth control because God wills it is done. We as a species have a responsibility to the earth and each other for our survival. We need to depend on each other not in the lie that political churches and power hungry popes have told. God gave us reason not religion.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:56 am |
    • ironman59

      "Gawd" didn't give us anything, man gave us the myth of "gawd". We already had free will but yet conmen for thousands of years heap sin on our supposed souls the minute we are born despite the fact as a newborn we have done nothing but cry and wet ourselves.

      The delusion of religion will hopfully fade in my lifetime. As a planet our growht and development has been greatly hindered by religion. If relgion was as great as claimed we would not have the problems because people would follow the rules in the book. However, since they were made up over centuries there is not consistency and used in whatever twisted way works best.

      When we get rid of religion, we truly become free and open minded.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:11 am |
  9. Misty Davis

    This to me is a futile question...Because at the exact time that tragedy happened, there were countless other atrocious acts being carried out on other innocent people (including children) around the world. So why not ask where God was in any of those situations? Instead of looking to an omnipresent being for understanding, we should all look within ourselves. Teach your children empathy, that what they see on TV/ in movies is fake, and that if the violent acts portrayed in them are done to another person, it could hurt/kill them....you can't shield your kids from the truths of the world forever, but you can prepare them. My mom taught me these things when I was young & I think it helped me come to grips with the bad things that we all have to deal with at some point in life...just a thought, have a good day

    July 27, 2012 at 9:55 am |
  10. Kirbydog9

    Why do the authers of this and similar articles refer to atheists as "self-proclaimed atheists." The implication is we are somehow confused about our position on religion. We don't call Christians "self-proclaimed Christians," or Jews "self-proclaimed Jews." I am am very happy with and certain of my understanding of the observable and scientifically based theoretical reality in which we exist.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:55 am |
  11. curiositykilledthecar

    Am i the only one that thinks #1 is the only rational answer? Bad things happen because Humans rule this planet, if Giant lizards and Dinosours were providing humans with constant danger (and they never have!),no mass killings on each other.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:55 am |
  12. Missfitz069

    There is no God, invisible sky wizzard or zomie jewish man...it was bad luck. If there was a "God" he would have flicked Hilter's head off... wait that didn't happend either. Bible=nice stories is a fairy tale! people wake the heck up!

    July 27, 2012 at 9:55 am |
  13. J Ryan

    I don't know what survey he derives his stats. About 11% of the US population and 22% world wide can be considered anti-theist, they believe in no god(s) and the percentage is growing quickly – by the way, every religious believer is an atheist by definition. If you don't believe in All a h or Shiva, then you are an atheist. We just go one 'god" further.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:54 am |
  14. The Asian Atheist

    I just think that it god were real, he would be a huge fan of reality television.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:54 am |
  15. Unknown

    There are miracles coming from this story every single day that only God can do. It breaks my heart to see so many people bash God. We have such a loving God who wants to be involved in our lives. He gave his son for our sins. You have a choice to believe or not. He is big enough to take care of the situation. The doctor was obviously a part of saving lives, but God knew what was going to happen and he intervened. It could have been 10 times worse. What about the lady at his apartment? She almost walked in but "something" told her not to. I truly believe that it was God warning her. God will bring good out of every single murder and pain in this situation. If you choose not to believe, then that is your choice. I pray that God intervenes in your life in an amazing way. What man intends for evil, God intends for good. We serve a good God.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:54 am |
    • darkstar

      There is no such thing as miracles or invisible sky-daddies named Yahweh. Please grow up.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:55 am |
    • The Asian Atheist

      That is a really dumb way to try and argue in favor of god's presence. That he gave a damn about a few but ignored the others? And the fact that he let his son get the crap kicked out of him so that he could be a scapegoat for our mistakes is ludicrous.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:57 am |
    • mk

      If you think "God" could have made it worse, why didn't he make it better?

      July 27, 2012 at 9:58 am |
    • The Asian Atheist

      I serve no one. The desire to be a servant among the faithful is pretty ridiculous. Stand up and be your own person, not some dictators subject.

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

      More "miracle" BS.
      As has been noted, if a god chose to save some of them then he could have saved them all which makes god responsible for choosing who died.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:05 am |
    • JWT

      I would not serve any god even if it could be proven they were real.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:25 am |
  16. Christian

    God is all around us. Christ is in my heart and saved me from my sins. People die, People kill, People Sin. It was a person who entered that movie theater with that gun. A person who does not believe in God.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:54 am |
    • Missfitz069

      You are brain washed!

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

      The Flying Spaghetti Monster is all around me, and his balls are bigger and meatier that your god's.

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

      How do you know the gunman doesn't believe in god? Maybe god told him to do it.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:59 am |
    • The Asian Atheist

      Oh I am willing to bet that he does believe in god. Most mass murderers do.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:00 am |
  17. Troy

    Not an answerable question. One answer, and it's #7.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:54 am |
    • kashayoga

      If you're a bible-believer, the answer is #3

      July 27, 2012 at 9:58 am |
  18. Paul

    I realize now that CNN has an agenda on religion and it is very anti-Christian. CNN loves to report on bad Christians who do terrible things or show a video of a believer that is over the top like dancing with rattle snakes or whipping their kids excessively saying that this is what the bible says. The truth is there is a percentage of Christians who do really bad things and it makes it harder for the good Christians to bring people to the Lord. This article positions itself as a non-bias question about where is God, but it is clear CNN is just trying to communicate their anti-Christian agenda. God gave us the ability to choose to love and follow him or not because if he did not then it would not be love. He gave us free will. God does not do bad things to people. He loves us like his children. Giving us free will has it draw backs when a crazy killer does something like Co Movie theater. It like freedom of speech is bad because small % of people abuse it. What God promises us it that he will be with us in these difficult times.....all you have to do is turn to him.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:53 am |
    • darkstar

      Take your meds, please. CVS is right around the corner.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:57 am |
  19. Samantha Lee

    God gave man free will. What some do with that free will is what is destroying man. We make choices everyday good, bad, right, wrong, for God or against God, with God without God. The shooter was not doing anything for God. He did it for himself. How can God be blamed for the actions of a man who has free will. The responsibilty of the shooting lays in the lap of the murderer. Not God.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:53 am |
    • John

      We have free will, yet he has "a plan for us". Those two ideas contradict each other and seem to be used a lot. Free will is when we do bad things. Having a "plan for us" is when something good happens. I love it.

      I do realize you never mentioned the "God has a plan for us" statement, but many others of your type, do.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:01 am |
    • Rizzoni

      If it is all free will then what exactly is the role of God?

      July 27, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  20. georgex

    The beauty of the Internet allows many doubters to express their views here as we become a more open society. In the past they didn't have the opportunity to meet or discuss their views and felt a bit isolated. Today there are organizations for non-believers such as http://www.secular.org that have meetings and interesting projects.
    Personally, I don't think we can blame God for these killings anymore than we should give him credit for the survivors. He seems to stay out of almost every human event.

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

      Almost?!

      July 27, 2012 at 10:05 am |
    • georgex

      Troy, you need to expand whatever you are trying to say if you want people to understand your meaning.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:17 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.