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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. mark

    Think about it this way...

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/07/the-brain-on-trial/8520/

    July 29, 2012 at 10:28 am |
  2. illi thinks

    Shouldn't people rather ask : WHERE WERE GUN CONTROL LAWS? WHY AND WHY ARE MINORS ALLOWED IN A MOVIE LIKE THIS? There is no god. not there nore anywhere else...

    July 29, 2012 at 10:24 am |
    • scott bleyle

      there are laws against drunk driving but too many people still do it,words don't prevent actions and police are just there to clean up the mess and punish offenders.

      July 29, 2012 at 10:31 am |
  3. Betty

    He was where he always is, in the minds of those who believe he 'is'.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:23 am |
  4. born again athiest

    Take note everyone the muslims used to be a very respecatble society that believed in scientific advancmet and flourished economically. They started letting people with reverent ideas take hold of government and started leaning more toward religion and science and there is not one society under shira where the people prosper unless you are an arab oil baron; oil rules our lives. We used to be the number one nation in the development of science and technology and put resources into science and technology, we now have fudemental leaders trying to base our direction on the bible and take more and more resources from science and technology ( the end of NASA space exploration for one) we are getting poorer. Right now India and China are competeing for number one, thier leaders are ignoring the religious leanings of their fundimetalists and they are prospering. They will make sure we become second rate if we keep puting faith in god to lead us and keep ignoring scientific advancmet.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:22 am |
    • Uhhh?

      I agree. I am a christian and believe in god, but it is absolutely critical that we maintain a secular society where we have freedom of religion and freedom from religion. The most terrifying response profiled by the author is the one from Lenny, saying this was Gods work. Just chilling. People like that are the enemy of civilization, the enemy of the future and the enemy of all mankind. You are right to point out how they have destroyed islamic society and thus the middle east.

      July 29, 2012 at 10:42 am |
  5. Thunder

    I don't think James Holmes will be able to say "It was God's fault" during his trial.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:18 am |
  6. alex s

    No gods exist. It's idiotic to wonder "where was god?" during the massacre.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • Ed

      I would rather believe in God and find out in the end He doesn't exist that to not believe in God and find out in the end that He does.

      July 29, 2012 at 10:22 am |
    • Fallacy Spotting 101

      Post by 'Ed' is a form of the flawed argument known as Pascal's Wager.

      http://www.fallacyfiles.org/glossary.html

      July 29, 2012 at 10:52 am |
  7. Belinda Blosser

    Wow. The mental gymnastics that Christian apologists have to make when none of it makes any sense. They should be Olympians, honestly.

    If an earthly parent were to allow their children to be so neglected as god supposedly allows his children to be (and I am assuming that god is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient and so therefore knows all, is present, and is all powerful to do anything he wishes), that earthly parent would be thrown in jail with no mercy. Instead we have individuals justifying why god does nothing, or even better yet, pointing out "lessons" god may be trying to get through to us. How about there is no god and s*** happens.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:13 am |
    • MyManDarwin

      Belinda...I love you! /swoon

      July 29, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  8. Edwin

    So God is all powerful, all knowing and loves us all to the point of sending his son to die for us, yet he is unable or unwilling to stop this massacre from happening? What kind of God would allow this to happen and yet expect us to worship Him? So as per one comment, he was there and caused the gun to jam preventing further injury and death. Why not cause the jam from the very beginning, thereby preventing ALL injury and death? Was he asleep at the wheel and did not realize what was going on until a couple of minutes into it, when he finally stepped in?

    July 29, 2012 at 10:12 am |
  9. C Thomas Payne

    Whether a believer, agnostic, or atheist, one thing upon which we all could possibly agree is that everything that happens in life can be processed by each as a lesson. We are each and all philosophers, processing happenings through the various filters of our respective philosophies, seeking the reason in events that challenge our capacity to understand. We see that we are a nation of people who have as a shocking part of our culture, those who carry out acts of violence, committing mass murder of others whom we understand as notnhaving in any way directly provoked the harm visited upon them by the perpetrator of the terrifying attrocity. Why are we a nation and culture that includes such outrageous acts of violence? Each philosopher has that question, whether atheist, agnostic, or a follower of religious beliefs.

    We are defined, to every extent deserved, by these acts of violence, whether atheist, agnostic or religious. It seems less important to me to fuss over which philospphical filter is used to find the answer to why these things happen, than to get to the answer. It will be the same answer.

    We are a violent people. We export the same kind of violence in the name of all of us. Throwing open doors and killing everyone inside is something we applaud and encourage our young people to do, if it's in Afghanistan or Iraq. We wave our flag about it, it somehow fulfills us. It is rationalized in every imaginable way. This too, inescapably, defines us historically.

    The great debate that invariably results from these mass killings in our own schools, post offices, universities, fast food restaurants, and movie theaters, always misses the point. Some argue that the violence happens because there aren't enough guns, while the other side argues there are too many. In the aftermath of Aurora, interestingly, no one seems to be arguing in favor of wearing body armour, helmets and gas masks to the movies. That would be uncharacteristically non-violent, and too much of an admission of exactly what the root problem is, I think, so it just doesn't come up.

    Whether it's God who wants us to learn from the lesson, or whether it is deduced secularly through cognitive capabilities of our own collective minds and hearts, until we recognise, deal with and heal the violent nature that defines us as a people, we will have more of the same. If we were not violent by nature, it wouldn't matter if guns and other weapns were everywhere, or if there were none. There are no bandaids, no superficial solutions. So pray, or think, or meditate, or whatever it is each philosophy prescribes: How can we each act to really change direction away from violence?

    July 29, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • MyManDarwin

      We cannot Payne. We will exterminate our own species through wars, lack of food, and over population. Religion will keep us scientifically ignorant and terrestial so off world options will not be an option.

      We are screwed. I only hope the next dominant species to evolve up learns from our mistakes.

      July 29, 2012 at 10:38 am |
    • C Thomas Payne

      You might be right, MMD. There certainly are lots of indications you could be. There are also indications that we might morph in a better way than extinction. So for the time being, there may be a choice. If we are going down, I would rather go down trying.

      July 29, 2012 at 10:48 am |
  10. God Mon

    He was in Syria.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:06 am |
  11. ProudAtheist

    How can all you sheep say your god is perfect? He demands you worship him... that's pretty egotistical and narcissistic. If you're either egotistical and narcissistic then you can't be perfect. BOOM! Christianity destroyed.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:03 am |
  12. Frank

    God doesn't meddle in the affairs of man. He watches us and gives us the agency to make choices for good or bad. This earth life that we live is temporary and we are completely on our own. I believe in others that serve God that could have prevented this very sad outcome.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:02 am |
    • John Kaufman, Oceanside, CA

      Frank, I was right with you until you put in your last sentence. Look at you logic, others that serve God would have to mean they would either know if this event before its happening, or that they could intervene while it took place. That is not going to happen. God is ot involved in the behaviors of man, God has given US FREE CHOICE. To intervene means you would have to use FORCE against this fool who was not going to stop. Unless you were Brabius it was not gong to happen.

      July 29, 2012 at 10:14 am |
  13. sheil

    We are all here to live out our life.... for however long that is. Some longer and some shorter. Our creator didn't make bad people or good people. There are always choices and consequences. If we all lived forever this planet would soon be over run and without resources to support the inhabitants that do live here. Free will means making the choice. I don't believe God does bad things to punish people but I think some people that call themselves righteous do bad by the things they say and do. They aren't representing God when they say ugly things either. If there is a judgement – all will be judged for the choices they make including how they handle tragedies and how they treat others. You can't make anyone do anything or feel a certain way but you can make them wish they believed differently. I choose to live my life the best that I can and be a good person. I also expect that because of that...someday I will be judged fairly if their is a righteous creator.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:02 am |
  14. johnE

    "Where was God?" "God is where he/she has always been! In the HUMAN IMAGINATION! ...Idiots!!

    July 29, 2012 at 10:01 am |
  15. Ernesto Badillo III

    Yes God is all powerfull n he can do the impossible and it makes sense that we ask ourselves, if he's that great then why would he let something like this happen? The truth is God gave us the ability to make our own decisions, we have to endure pain in order to become stronger, Look at the pain Jesus went through when he died on the cross, r we gonna say that God wasn't there when Jesus was on the cross? No. In all honesty the only people to blame is society itself because we're the ones who have the ability to make choices in whatever we do in life and unfortunatly we pay for other peoples mistakes. As human beings we are responsible for how we influence others and keeping our eyes open for the ones who want to alter this good earth that God gave us so we can prevent things like this Colorado event from happening. We shouldn't blame God for our own mistakes and for missing the little details in life that show us the truth. My prayers go out to those who suffered in Colorados tragic event, May God keep the families strong and together.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:00 am |
  16. jose

    Its sad how people want to blame God,when something bad happens.The only person/thing is to be blame for the way society and the way the world is, is US!We as people lost faith in God because we ask so much from him.Like money and a better life..Life is meant to learn from your mistakes and fortune.As people,we dont blame the devil for the evil happening around the world..Its sad that this past year,we lost so many lives.If we lose faith in God,we make the devil(satan)stronger.Theres is a God but he is with in..You may not see him,feel him but he is everywhere. Society needs to understand that as people we cant blame the man for the bad things happening in this world.The devil is getting stronger because we let him and also for the things we do to each other. Help others,love each other and then good things will come. Don't wait for something bad to happen,for you as a person to do good. We are made from God himself. He wants us to suffer and enjoy life because without suffering,then what are we going to learn..In final words,He who believes in him will see the glory of him and the glory of life. He that does not believe in him will suffer as they do now! Walk the path,help others and life itself will be more awarding.Thank You and God bless everyone..

    July 29, 2012 at 9:57 am |
  17. Clyde Farris

    The only place the supernatural exists is in the minds of believers. They see what they want to see, regardless of reality.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:55 am |
  18. V

    God gave us free will and your fate depends on yout karma.
    A kid born with cancer and dies how can you explain that? Here is my take..The kid did a very minor sin in previous birth and that was stopping him to reach god.. so god gives that soul this chance to get in womb and pay for that small sin and that soyl goes back to him (where it belongs).
    karma is the old thing that explains all this.
    There are some sins(minor) you pay in this life and some get carried with your soul for next birth.
    When you exhaust all your sins your soul will reach god.
    This is just a waiting game. Eventually every soul goes back to him (where they belong)

    July 29, 2012 at 9:55 am |
    • Peteyroo

      What crap! Reincarnation is it? Little kids sinning too much? I hope I never exhaust all my sins. I don't want to go to heaven or any place else full of Christian nut jobs.

      July 29, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
  19. Gary

    God does not go to Batman movies.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:54 am |
  20. Chris

    Where was God? At what point did we start believing that God is responsible for paradise on Earth?

    July 29, 2012 at 9:51 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.