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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. aburt

    where at 911, waco, columbine, kent state, univ. tx tower, holy-cost,,, a person can believe what ever, but god, if there is one won't help,,

    July 26, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  2. the_dude

    This is all happening according to plan. The 2nd coming of Christ is supposed to be in a time where the believers are diminishing and people engulf their existence with sin. Only certain few will reach paradise, non-believers will be cast off to burn for eternity.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Kang

      Yay, I can't wait to go to Hell

      July 26, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • Copernico

      Only a few? I thought the author said they are the 98%

      July 26, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      @Kang
      You, FOOL!

      July 26, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
  3. Jay

    This kind of question is going to get many different answers as different people will have different views of what/who/where their idea of a divine being is. And people will disagree with many of the responses based on their own religious or non-religious background.

    Personally, I see the divine as neither absolute good, nor absolute evil. A higher being did not directly cause this horrible event to happen, but neither did he/she/it take no part in it. Bad things happen, not because the divine wants to punish anyone and not because the divine doesn't care. I can put it simply that without darkness, there cannot be light. Without bad things happening, we could not appreciate things like comfort, love, and life. Living in a perfect world would cause us to take things for granted very quickly and we would lose sight of what is really important in life. I believe this is why the world was designed to include both good and bad.

    No matter what our religious (or non-religious) beliefs, it was a terrible thing to occur. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Seven different answers according to the article.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
  4. andrewdeleon

    Its so easy to blame God for all of this, yet its so hard to thank Him. How can you blame Him for this when you dont even ask to be saved. People who died might be Christians, believers who pray everyday. Guess what, they have accomplished their purpose in this world - either to save someone, or to make his/her family pray more, or rely more to God. Who knows, really. We all have our purpose and our own way to "leaving" this world and fullfilling our purpose. You always gotta look at the bigger picture - this tragedy brought Unity. Brought up things for the betterment of society.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • Kang

      Wow, does your delusional thinking make you certifiable insane?

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

      That is a horrible purpose. My purpose is to live my life to the fullest, raise my children to be good (NONJUDGMENTAL) human beings, and leave everyone I meet in a better place than when they met me. Yours is loving an imaginary friend until you die. Have fun with that.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Romans

      @ ok: Everyone is judgmental. Good luck raising your kids to be nonjudgmental. Come down off your high horse.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
  5. MARILYN

    THIS IS THE REAPING OF THIS UNGODLY NATION. ALWAYS FLAUNTS EVIL AND JUSIFYING OUR UNGODLY LIFESTLYLES IN GOD'S FACE. SO GET READY FOR MORE TO COME, I SERIOUS PRAY FOR THE NATION!! IT WILL NEED IT!!

    July 26, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  6. Atheist = Thinker

    These seven reasons look as if they came out of a children's book... But I guess you have to have a child's mentality to cater to people who look to god to answer all their questions...

    July 26, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • Atheist = Arrogant

      Leave it to an atheist to call everyone children when they don't believe as they do.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Atheist = Thinker

      "Leave it to an atheist to call everyone children when they don't believe as they do."

      It's not about believing as I do... It's about believing in things that have been proven to be fiction... You believe in talking snakes? Pregnant virgins? Men walking on water?? Small children reject those things as pure fiction... Realizing this is not arrogant, it's merely the sign of a person with a properly functioning brain.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • Atheist = Ignorant and Bigoted

      Really? Show me proof that the new testament is a work of fiction.....

      July 26, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
    • Atheist = Thinker

      "Really? Show me proof that the new testament is a work of fiction....."

      Creationism over evolution?? The Earth is 6000 years old? Adam & eve? Noah's Ark? All proven to be childish fairy tales... If you have to live in a world of fantasy, at least have the common decency to keep it to yourself...

      July 26, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  7. Benjamin

    That 2% atheist figure is odd, most organizations cite 10% to 15% are nonbelievers.

    In any case, faith is unimportant in this context. We are humanity, and we need to take responsibility for our sins, metaphorical or literal. Metaphysical accusations accomplish nothing.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Benjamin,

      actually they don't. Take this for example:
      http://religions.pewforum.org/reports

      July 26, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  8. TOMG

    GOD IS SIMILAR TO THE AIR THAT ALL MANKINDS AND ALL ANIMAL KINDS ARE REALLY NEEDED IN ALL LIFE FORM DAILY LIFE AND TO STAYING ALIVE ARE THE FRESH AIR THAT ALL LIFE NEED TO BREATHING INHALE THE FRESH AIR INTAKE AND THAN BREATHING EXHALE THE DIRTY TOXIC AIR OUT – TAKE , AMEN .

    July 26, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • Atheist = Thinker

      "GOD IS SIMILAR TO THE AIR THAT ALL MANKINDS AND ALL ANIMAL KINDS ARE REALLY NEEDED..."

      Please put down the bong and join reality..

      July 26, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  9. hitch

    "Self-professed atheists may make up only 2% of the U.S. population, but they are extraordinarily active online"

    yep, sounds about right! the only thing they're good at is clickin' the mouse.

    July 26, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      E tu hitch?

      July 26, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Turtleguy

      Actually, we're pretty good at dealing with reality face to face, without the need to invoke an imaginary friend.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      How Christian© of you to say so! I'm sure Jesus is SO proud of you right now. A big bop from the Clown Hammer™ for you and your mouse.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:21 am |
  10. oh please

    GOD is NOT Real would you PLEASE GROW UP and stop this God lie.

    The Easter bunny is also a lie
    Peter Pan is a lie
    Santa Clause is a lie
    Would you PLEASE Grow UP!!!!!!

    Its all a lie
    deal with it

    July 26, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • Kareful-Kay

      You are just scared God.

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

      I agree with all but the Santa Claus. I get a present every year from him so he has to be real. Great post, Oh Please.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • TheCrux

      People, the overwhelming majority, really don't believe in god on a fundamental level. Of this I am convinced. While people run to the mythos to escape the reality of our mortal existence, you will notice that even the most god-fearing true believers are just as emotionally devastated by death of a loved one then the non-believers. If you really believed that death was just a passing to some immortal existence that you will soon share, would you really be upset at a funeral?

      July 26, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • God

      "You are just scared God." I am not scared, just non-existent.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:22 am |
  11. Robin Bray

    The number of those who do not believe in a god is much higher than 2%. Don't let your biases tell non truths.

    July 26, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Robin,

      I don't believe so. Where is your source?

      The Pew Forum (which people from this parish will happily tell you is a left-wing think tank) estimates 4% for atheists (1.6%) and agnostics (2.4%) combined.

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

      Sorry Robin, Most people in America say that they do believe in a God. Most Americans (last I heard put the number at around 80%) say they believe in a Christian god. The actual number of people who say they don't believe in any God is actually a very small number. Maybe you are saying some people say they believe in God but really don't. If that is the case, my question to you is, if that is the case who is the real liar?

      July 26, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • TheCrux

      I would imagine the population distribution for atheists closely mirrors the bell curve for population intelligence. One would expect the atheists to be clustered into the more advanced 10-20 percent of the population. After all, you really can't carry on an objective conversation about faith with a believer. They repel logic like water from a duck's back.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  12. Kareful-Kay

    There is an awful lot of talk about God from those who claim God does not exist.
    Believe what you will, but one day you will be shown the truth.

    July 26, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • oh please

      You fool...youre using SCIENCE to talk about this

      youre using a COMPUTER and youre thinking God is real?

      GROW UP

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

      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?

      July 26, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Kareful-Kay

      You fool, science does not disprove God. Do you not think a God, being the almighty one he is could not think up science. It's all part of it. Science is child's play for God. How could you possibly look up at the sky at all it's beauty and awe and not believe a God made it?

      July 26, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Merry Prankster

      Or so you are hoping, you just want to see others judged and punished, am I right?

      July 26, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
    • squints

      and your empirical evidence for this? you say it like you know it, but then when asked how you know.....(crickets).
      or say the bible says so. But then the bible says slavery and genocide is okay too. But you either haven't read that part or you are just picking and choosing what you like and PRETENDING the rest don't matter....just like you are pretending to know anything. Duh-duh-duh-duuuuuuhhhhhhhh.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
    • Kareful-Kay

      Yea I used to have atheist thoughts...you know back in high school when it was cool. I have been shown things in my life that I know for a fact could not have happened with out the intervening of God. I don't want people judged in punished, I only wish that they see the light for themselves one day so that they are not judged and punished. You also can't see a fart but you know it is there. That is the whole idea of religion. It can't be proved, it is through faith. One day, you will see. And for your sakes I hope you are shown before you die.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • Galileo

      "Believe what you will, but one day you will be shown the truth." Nevertheless, it still moves! You can burn me, but you cannot burn Truth.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:57 am |
  13. TOMG

    KARMA IS GOD AND GOD IS KARMA SIMPLE AS THAT , AMEN .

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

      Says you!

      I wish you people would preface your opinions with a statement of fact that the statement is just your personal opinion that just happens to work for YOU.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
  14. Jhharvie

    Maybe god had a more pressing matter at the time, like giving kids leukemia or monitoring some family being slowly hacked to death in a Syrian village.....

    July 26, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  15. Rahn

    Where was my imaginary friend when all this happened ? It's such a stupid question and yet I find it laughable that people take it seriously. God is a human invention. They all have been. All the gods that people have ever prayed to have all been invented by men and women who are scared or who want help with the crops or pain relief or even just comfort from the unknown.

    This is nothing new. We as a species have been doing it for hundreds of thousands of years. We see the lightning, hear the thunder, feel the earth shake, watch the volcanoes erupt and these are all things we can't control, so we invent a "god" who can. We pray to this god to help give US control over these things. Our gods are our leash on the uncontrollable. "Please god, storm the storm"..."Please god, protect me"..."Please god, smite my enemies"..."Please god, DO AS I SAY"

    July 26, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • Kareful-Kay

      You so silly. "..just got a message saying hell has frozen over and I got a call from the lord saying hey boy get a sweater"

      July 26, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      What good's a god who never acts?

      July 26, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  16. clidaw

    Where was god? Drinking a Pina Colada at Trader Vicks. His hair was perfect.

    A silly answer to a silly question.

    July 26, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  17. Matt

    God is about as real as Santa Clause, case closed.

    July 26, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      God is more dangerous than Santa. No one is ever found standing over a pile of dead children, holding up a knife, and saying "Santa told me to kill them. They were possessed."

      July 26, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
  18. Robin Bray

    Americans are always looking for someone to blame no matter what it is. It has to be pinned on someone or some thing. The fourteen people killed in the pick-up truck accident in Texas is not being covered like this. Did a god cause or not prevent that? Was the driver a deranged madman? Will it happen again and can we prevent it? Who cares, just a bunch of Hispanics. Not as news worthy as Anglos in CO.

    July 26, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  19. TOMG

    GOD IS SIMILAR TO KARMA WHAT GO AROUND MUST COMING BACK AROUND LIKE THE SUN AND THE MOON AND THE KARMA EARTH PLANET OF ALL LIFE FORM FROM THE BEGINING TO THE END OF ALL LIFE FORM , AMEN

    July 26, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
    • Atheist = Ignorant and Bigoted

      There is no such thing as karma

      July 26, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • Galileo

      There's no such thing as God.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:58 am |
  20. jeremyhornephd

    Simple answer: Don't search for something that is not there. Remember Ockham's razor.

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

      Jeremy – I quite agree, though I believe it is spelled Occam.

      July 26, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      Both right; spelling was do-it-yourself back then. William of Ockham's Razor is the principle of Least Hypothesis; cut away the complications and the simplest answer is probably true.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • jake

      My favorite counter argument to Ockham's razor is, what's more probable, that 98% of the world is wrong and there is no God, or is 2% of the world is wrong and there is one.

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

      that's not really a counter-argument

      July 26, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      "counter argument to Ockham's razor is, what's more probable, that 98% of the world is wrong "
      Yeah, see, that's the kind of argument that falls apart at a touch of the razor. The complicated argument is that God does everything, like control weather, and the simple one is that it happens by itself. The simple one is usually true.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:01 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.