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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. Teri Brooks

    God didn't fall off the throne, he is always present and sees across eternity, not limited like we are. Everything comes through Gods hand, read Job.

    The truth is we don't even understand ourselves, how can we pretend to understand God? Because we have information at our fingertips and can google, humans now believe we are all knowing. And we aren't. We still don't even know ourselves.

    God knows. I know him. He isn't make believe, he answers my prayers. If you want to know where he was – ask him, don't google. No matter what I go through, I only want to do it with him. Trusting him and knowing he is with me always!

    July 27, 2012 at 10:32 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Yet you make a post that presumes knowledge of god......

      Hypocrite.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:37 am |
    • mikey

      I'm 1000% with you Teri.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • Love Rhino

      uhh huhh you said god's hand job

      July 27, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • meh

      You know him? wow, are you special or what...pretentious nonsense

      July 27, 2012 at 11:09 am |
  2. John

    America exaults carnage through movies with top shelf celebrities, special effects, endless merchandising, million dollar budgets, and we wonder where God is? He most likely busy welcoming an aborted baby into Heaven.

    July 27, 2012 at 10:32 am |
    • MarkinFL

      So your god has enough time for a brainless fetus but not a 6 year old girl.

      What a worthless snit.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  3. Karen Gerard

    Where was God in Aurora? He was making sure the police where close, he was making sure the killers gun jammed, and he
    Was in the hearts of those who saved others!

    As for those who died, God neede more angels in heaven!

    July 27, 2012 at 10:32 am |
    • MarkinFL

      And he made sure that the back door was not alarmed.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • Drinky Crow

      Needed more angels in heaven? What kind of god do you worship? He sounds like a dreadful being to me, and I am glad that he doesn't exist.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:35 am |
  4. Follower of Jesus

    How could this not be a miracle. Read this article about how Petra Anderson was shot 4 times with one piece entering through a small fluid channel that doctors say was a defect from birth. If the piece entered slightly off, she would have died. To me this is clear that God was in control, He allowed satan to do it, but He was still there to use this for good.

    Romans 8 says God will work all things together for the good of those who love Him. So if you don't love God, you can't be promised that bad situations will be used for good in the end. Know one will ever know completely the "good" that comes from this shooting. Instead of yelling at God, we should be on our knees.

    http://bstrait.wordpress.com/2012/07/22/a-miracle-inside-the-the-aurora-shooting-one-victims-story/

    http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/us/2012/July/Miracle-Emerges-from-Colorado-Tragedy/

    July 27, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Because, if it is a miracle then it means god chose who would live and die. He chose Petra over that 6 year old girl and the father that the two teenage girls got to watch die in their arms.

      If your god did that then he is an evil little snit.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:34 am |
  5. Dolcome

    This is a selfish and ignorant question for man to ask. Stop trying to figure God out

    July 27, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • MarkinFL

      or the Easter Bunny. Easter chocolate has no calories unlike Halloween chocolate which is from the devil and will make you add inches to your girth. Do not try to understand this or question it. That would be rude.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:32 am |
    • Drinky Crow

      Ignorant only in that god doesn't exist.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:36 am |
    • meh

      Someone mentioned Jessica Alba and my girth increased for sure and not my waist, which is a nice 34" thank you very much

      July 27, 2012 at 11:20 am |
  6. Jessica Alba

    The warmth of my woman parts will soothe all of mankind

    July 27, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • LinCA

      All of mankind? You must be a busy girl.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • Jessica Alba

      My body cannot fail

      July 27, 2012 at 10:35 am |
  7. MDB

    Really, God had a hand in the weapon jamming? No that was physics and ballistics. He had a high capacity magazine on an air cooled, gas-operated AR with a stock barrel not capable of handling the extreme heat of the firing 30 or more rounds in a row without presenting a malfunction. This has been an issue with ARs since the VietNam war.

    If god was there and didn't stop it, he's a dick.

    July 27, 2012 at 10:26 am |
  8. NLM

    God has already given us instruction on the consequence of sin. This sinful nation refuses to cry out to God and acknowlege Him as the one & only, true, living God so that He will heal our land. Yet when we fail to follow His instructions we succeed in blaming Him for our failures. God IS Sovereign. This nation puts an approval stamp on all manners of sin, then asks God where is He??? Its like your 2-yr old trying to tell you how to balance your finances or how to create a safe home...he has NO understanding to do so & his methods do not work...but then he questions your authority. That's how we treat our Sovereign God. If you want answers, stop being lazy & study His word.

    July 27, 2012 at 10:23 am |
    • MarkinFL

      So actually, we must be getting better in the eyes of god since we now live longer and better than at any time in our (and human) history. It has been more than 140 years since our horrible civil war and 70 years since WW II. The relative calm and safety we are now enjoying must be because god is getting happier with us. Halleluiah.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:30 am |
  9. The Rationalist

    People who believe in god are scared of the uncertainties in life. So, they seek grace in imaginary thing called god. Yet, bad things happen to the believers and non-believers alike. Now, for believers, god is testing them. For, non-believers, god is punishing them! Ha ha ha ha. Let's not be abusive towards the believers, for they are coward and mentally not evolved.

    July 27, 2012 at 10:23 am |
    • mikey

      I think youre funny. Acting like you have so much wisdom when in fact, you know absolutely nothing, on the subject. Believer's don't fear reality, we percieve it. We don't fear death,because it has no authority over God. We have more peace about things you can't fathom. I was in your shoe's one day, on the other side of the veil. I was arguing telling the believer's "they're crazy" but then God showed up. I was the crazy one before I had faith in Him. IF you seek Him, and allow your mind to process the possibility of Him being real even for just a moment, that's more than enough time for Him to intervene. God is real.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:37 am |
  10. totalpeace

    Is there a way to reply to a reply on CNN?

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

      @totalpeace

      You said, "Is there a way to reply to a reply on CNN?"
      On the belief Blog, not really. This blog is on WordPress and is set up to have comments only 2 levels deep. Other WordPress blogs, including others on CNN allow for more levels.

      The way to reply to a reply is to simply address the commenter in your comment (kinda like I did at the top of this one)

      July 27, 2012 at 10:28 am |
    • totalpeace

      Thanks LinCA. Thats what I thought but I also thought that perhaps that was some blog trick that the veterans of CNN blog knew. Thanks again

      July 27, 2012 at 10:37 am |
  11. Frank Castle

    Let's park GOD in the corner for a second.....&.....review what happen prior to the shooting. The shooter gains acces to theatre with a paid ticket. He goes to a predetermined spot, then exits the building, but LEAVES THE DOOR AJAR so he can gain access AGAIN to start his mayhem. The ONE QUESTION I HAVE is where were MOVIE PERSONNEL ? Usually, AS BEEN MY EXPERIENCE, MOVIE EMPLOYEES/SUPERVISORS WALK THE AISLES; HAD THIS HAPPENED, SOMEONE WOULD HAVE SEEN THE DOOR AJAR OR PERHAPS SINCE IT WAS OPENED IN AN NON EMERGENCY SETTING, A BELL WOULD HAVE GONE OFF TO ALERT SUPERVISON SO THEY COULD HAVE SECURED IT & MAYBE PREVENTED THE WORSE MASS EXECUTION IN A PUBLIC AREANA. P.S. WHO IS REPONSIBLE FOR GIVING THE DERRANGED KILLER...HAIR DYE....INSIDE JAIL ? IF it was his PUBLIC DEFENDER OR AN ASSIGNED OR CHOOSEN LAWYER, I HOPE THE JUDGE REPRIMANDS THIS PERSON & or HOLDS them in CONTEMPT, FINE THEM, JAIL THEM.....SUBMIT a LETTER TO the COLORADO BOARD OF REVIEW TO HAVE THIS PERSON SANCTIONED OR DISBARRED !

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

      Really?
      I never see movie personnel patrolling once the previews roll. And he dyed his hair before the shootings....
      Please rejoin our universe. Its OK really.

      BTW, has anyone here ever worried about a crazed gunman sneaking into the theater to kill everyone?
      Guess what, those doors have always opened from the inside only just to keep people from sneaking in without a ticket. Hindsight is 20/20.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • Paul

      For the less CAPS LOCK inclined folks:

      "Let's park god in the corner for a second.....&.....Review what happen prior to the shooting. The shooter gains acces to theatre with a paid ticket. He goes to a predetermined spot, then exits the building, but leaves the door ajar so he can gain access again to start his mayhem. The one question i have is where were movie personnel ? Usually, as been my experience, movie employees/supervisors walk the aisles; had this happened, someone would have seen the door ajar or perhaps since it was opened in an non emergency setting, a bell would have gone off to alert supervison so they could have secured it & maybe prevented the worse mass execution in a public areana. P.S. Who is reponsible for giving the derranged killer...Hair dye....Inside jail ? If it was his public defender or an assigned or choosen lawyer, i hope the judge reprimands this person & or holds them in contempt, fine them, jail them.....Submit a letter to the colorado board of review to have this person sanctioned or disbarred !"

      July 27, 2012 at 10:39 am |
  12. Evian Bidet

    People do cling to their guns and religion... I believe the world would be a better place without either.

    July 27, 2012 at 10:21 am |
  13. totalpeace

    @Peteyroo

    Umm....How do you know that killing is wrong. Why is it wrong o great one? You say there is no God then why can you judge that killing is wrong?

    July 27, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • totalpeace

      I know its wrong because the good Lord tells me its wrong and we should all strive to live like Jesus. But how does an atheist know what is right and wrong?

      July 27, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • Paul

      You do not need God for morals.
      Tribes have rituals and rules, albeit not to the standards of today, but a ground set for "morals."
      Philosophers, scholars, etc that pre-date Jesus had morals that were before the bible existed, and they had no knowledge of your God.
      This argument has been done so many times before, it's sad that it's still a common theme with Christians.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:38 am |
  14. maria sheculski

    The older I get and the more independent my young adult children become, the more I can empathize with the anguish our Lord must feel as he stands by and allows us his children to enjoy free will. We control our children to a certain age allowing them to learn from our modelling and hopefully good example. Like God, there is a time when we can do no more for our children but to love them unconditionally and be there for them as we allow them to faulter and enjoy success. If we "fixed" every mistake they make, we would stiffle their personal growth. So we cry privately for them, wring our hands with worry and wait for them to come to us for strength. God has more than just 3 children to guide, support and love unconditionally. Like my own children he only asks that we use the many gifts (intelligence to create man made things) he gives us in a positive way. When we don't, we lose sight of what is important and horrible things happen. If God fixed all our careless and selfish mistakes, we would never grow as deep thinking and compassionare people. Sometimes I ache as a mother and I can only imagine how God must ache for us. I ask my children to take time to reflect each night before going to sleep and sometimes they roll their eyes when reminded. If we all took the time to listen to our hearts, we would hear God speaking to us. Rest assured God was there in Aurora and continues to be there for us today. We simply have to be still long enough to hear him.

    July 27, 2012 at 10:20 am |
  15. Save Us Jeebus!

    All those explanations point right back to #1. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS GOD! We need serious help if there's some vengeful, jealous bearded old man up in the sky who doles out magic based on the actions of humans - and lets children die horrible, violent deaths to punish adults for sin.

    July 27, 2012 at 10:19 am |
  16. drpret

    The killer had some twisted belief that he operated on. Humans do terrible thing to others and themselves based on belief systems just like they do good (form crusades to charity). We have been given the power of superior intelligence and hence with that comes responsibility and the power to shift our behaviors for the better. God or no God in the end we are accountable for our actions in some form, that's what keeps the rest of us from going ape.

    July 27, 2012 at 10:19 am |
  17. John

    We have taken prayer out of school, removed the ten commandments from our government buildings, and have taken Christ out of Christmas. Where was God you ask? He's probably busy planning a trip to Chick fil A next Wednesday.

    July 27, 2012 at 10:18 am |
  18. Died-Into- Life

    I'll Pray For All The Non- Believers. GOD WILL GET ALL THE GLORY, And Your Satan Will Be NO MORE, You'll Be NO MORE. Unless, You Ask CHRIST To Save You. CHRIST & GOD Are One Of The Same. GOD Made CHRIST As A Human, A( Perfect Human) To Tell Us Man To Man, The Greatness Of Love He Has For ALL OF US.*** Like Being A Mom Or Dad With Kids, If Your Kid Gets Hurt, Or Is Sad, Aren't You There For Them? But How Would You Feel If Your Kids NEVER Talked Or Asked Anything Of You? You'd Be Hurt Or Sad as Well. Is It Starting To Sink In?.

    July 27, 2012 at 10:18 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      No, it's not starting to sink in, because you're too stupid to write a sentence that makes sense.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Not my post.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Yes, it was my post, troll. But thanks for getting my name up there again. I'm most grateful for your support.

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

      How would you feel about Mom if she sent you into a theater knowing there was a homicidal maniac just waiting for the lights to go down to deal death in huge doses.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:27 am |
  19. Meh

    Being spiritual is far better than being religious. Everything is so much clearer as soon as you dismiss the possibility that one thing rules all. It also provides more time to watch p0rn Teen Wolf...depending which day it is

    July 27, 2012 at 10:18 am |
  20. Mac

    believers-make-sure-your-reading-the-king-james-all-these-other-bible-are-BS.

    July 27, 2012 at 10:18 am |
    • Save Us Jeebus!

      Yes, despite the fact that the KJV is rife with mis-translations of the original texts and additions made by those who translated the texts. The KJV is a great achievement of English literature, but it it NOT the version of the Bible you want to read if you want anything close to exact translations.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:24 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.