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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. Zman

    wow @Mitchell McDonald. you would have been given much respect during the "october revolution"... however its 2012 man! Take it down a notch! USSR did not survive and nether will your adeas.

    July 29, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  2. Mitchell McDonald

    I feel no sympathy for those who die as God-fearing individuals, in fact, they deserve to be given the same treatment as their "Savior". Those who do good in order to get into a "Heaven" or escape their "creator's" wrath instead of ONLY doing good to make others happy can go burn to death for all I care. 😀

    July 29, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • nottolate

      @Mitchell McDonald

      "Those who do good in order to get into a "Heaven" or escape their "creator's" wrath instead of ONLY doing good to make others happy can go burn to death for all I care."

      Nobody gets into heaven by doing good. That was never what it is about. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. Maybe if you quit learning the the dumb jokes instead of what is important you'd know these things.

      July 29, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
  3. georgex

    I appreciate that 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 chance 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 and just good conversation..
    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. He doesn't do much that I am aware of.

    July 29, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  4. Mitchell McDonald

    Actual words from Holy Bible: "And Mary rode Joseph's ass all the way to Bethlehem."

    July 29, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  5. Mitchell McDonald

    Is there any place where I can buy some Bibles? I need more paper to wipe with in the bathroom! 😀

    July 29, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • Cornelius

      use your tounge, it is already dirty

      July 29, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      No, no. Bibles are good for coasters in taverns and biker bars. They soak up beer very nicely. And they're reusable.

      July 29, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
  6. Mitchell McDonald

    Q: Why did Jesus die on the cross?
    A: He forgot his 'safe word'.

    July 29, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • Cornelius

      He died so that we may live, (have eternal life and spend it with Him}. had He not died, we would not be here. remember He said , "if i be lifted up, i will draw all men/women unto Me" so men and women are still coming to Christ every day, why don't you?

      July 29, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      Corny, have you taken your medicine today? I'm calling the attendants. Stay right where you are.

      July 29, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
  7. imus lead

    Where is God in all of these? He is sadly watching us. his own creation, which he blessed with a free will to make our own decision and enjoy/suffer their consequences. Along with free will, God or our creator equipped us with a conscience that could connect to him, but there are conditions...if we humble ourselves and asked for His guidance and wisdom. For the vastness of the universe, to this very moment is still expanding, with no end that human mind could imagine for, we, have no end nor beginning but only as human beings. We will die. But that is just a blip of a moment. But, Who knows what will go beyond the consciousness made possible through our senses? Only the one who started it all knew. Hence, it is for all of us to follow the pathway to what makes life worth living while we are alive. Surely, blaming is God. that power responsible for all this creation....that one without beginning nor end is not the answer. For trhose who has been blessed to pray for wisdom, life goes, as promised, beyond ..., at least in our mind, where that idea of God exists, for now.

    July 29, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • imus lead

      There are errors in my message. I meant to say, "blaming God is not the answer."

      July 29, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
  8. Mitchell McDonald

    Oh? You say God loves everyone?

    I'd love you too if you got rid of your imaginary friend. 🙂

    July 29, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • Cornelius

      we are all Gods children and He loves all of us, the good and bad. same as you if you have any you will love them all, the good and the bad. or, maybe you are different, you would love the good ones and kill the bad ones. NO???

      July 29, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • imus lead

      It is imaginary for God exist in our minds, in the realm of spirit. The God we believe in cannot die as you and me. If he has a body that consumes and age like yours and mine, then, he is not worth all the Glory he, that God, is asking of us. He created us for his own glory, not for you or any living creatures. But of all his creations, the living with the minds to think is the only one he created almost like God. Almost! But unless we can keep on breathing, consuming, aging., and not die...all we can do is wonder, question, think, and anticipate what will happen to us. And that is his way of telling us...we are merely a creation. Thank God. For haven't we seen enough already how cruel a God we could all be. Humility, thus becomes a blessing!

      July 29, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • nottolate

      "we are all Gods children"

      That is completely false. Wanna see me prove that real easy? Lets take the individual Mitchell McDonald as an example shall we. Would God's children blaspheme him in the most obscene ways possible? Of course not. Now go from page to page and read the countless blasphemies. Do children of God do that to their father? There are but a few who have been adopted by God and are called his children. The rest are regarded as the children of Satan. There own words testify against them.

      July 29, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
  9. Mitchell McDonald

    ...and I thought Fox News were the prime example of how religion is for people without any reason or common sense... guess I should add another news corporation to that list...

    July 29, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • Wish you were here

      You sound like an idiot – you know that don't you?

      July 29, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
  10. Cornelius

    God was and still is in His Holy Temple watching us do what ever we want to do. Remember, God gave us the freedom to choose. we love our freedom. He wants us to choose Love and not hate, to do good and not bad. we do not love our neighbor like we should. we reap what we sow. we should sow only good and not bad. we can not blame God for our bad choices. we only want God in our lives when things go wrong. we only want the government in when there is a tragedy. we can not have it both ways.

    July 29, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      Corny, God stands by while innocents are murdered? To what purpose? Is he punishing the shooter? What about the good folks who die? Don't they have a place in the universe, or are they only set pieces in a cruel drama?

      July 29, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • I wonder

      Cornelius,

      I take it, then, that you will not be thanking this being for the trailers that get passed over in tornadoes?... or the guy who recovers from cancer?... or the ones who didn't get injured in this tragedy?

      July 29, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • Mitchell McDonald

      I can't wait to meet God when I die (and Unicorns, and Dragons, and the Lochness Monster, and Leprechauns, and Vampires, and Werewolves, and JEHHHHHHSAUUSSSSS lol)

      July 29, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • Cornelius

      peteyroo
      God has already thrown us a life line. it is up to us whteher or not we want to catch on. who would not want to be saved? anyone in their right mind would want to be saved

      July 29, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
  11. Mitchell McDonald

    PffffffftHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHHAAHA!!!! REALLY?! GOD?! HAHHAAHHAHAHHHAHAHAAH!!! THAT'S RICH!!!! Come back to talk with the grown ups when you have a conversation about something that isn't MAAAAAAGICAAAAAAL!!! WoooooOOOOoooooOOOOooo!!! (Hahahaha... God... Funny...)

    July 29, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • Cornelius

      you need to get to know Him because you will meet Him one day. you don't have to but you will wish that you had.

      July 29, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • imus lead

      For now, all you can do is doubt. How much can you accept love and not laugh about it? Read who Jesus Christ is and what he did while he was alive. It is the best story you will ever read. Don't let others tell you who he is. Find it out yourself so that you will not find yourself laughing at the taught of believing in God. peace!

      July 29, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  12. Al

    you only ask this because it's recent! did you ask that question when Indian's where kicked off their land and sent to reservations, when Jews were killed in Germany, when slaves were tortured, moved here, and building America with no acknowledgement? no you didn't! you ask the question now, but through all that history did you think God left? no you didn't God's here, you just not really down with him!

    July 29, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      Ail, are saying God is here now? What's he doing? He certainly isn't helping anyone. Perhaps he's in a bar drinking himself into a stupor because he realizes what miserable creatures he brought upon this earth. He should be ashamed himself.

      July 29, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
    • Hawkeye

      Peteyroo, God is not surprised by our condition – duh, that's what makes him God, quit trying to give him human attributes.

      July 29, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
  13. Mitchell McDonald

    Why even ask such a question? Religion is rejection of reason for the sake of emotional stability. If you are religious, you are only lying to yourself.

    July 29, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • Hawkeye

      It doesn't sound like you know much about Christianity or religion in general, or else you woudn't say it. Assumptions are not facts. Atheism is also a belief, a belief (without proof) that there is no God.

      July 29, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
  14. Godwin

    The bible never promised us that life would be devoid of tragedy. As horrific as the shooting was, there is a lesson that someone somewhere will learn, and many that will have stronger faith and be saved. The most important thing is to stay focused on the life after.

    July 29, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      GodLose, how wrong you are! Concentrate on the life you now have. There is no afterlife for you to escape to after you've made everyone miserable in this life.

      July 29, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  15. ConcernBeliever

    He was waitng for Americans to Repent thier sins and change our ways and stop playing church and do his commanments,so dont blame God! Sometimes we are tested beyond our understanding,BTW who are we the Question God?

    July 29, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • Al

      that's what I'm talking bout! those of us who know God, won't question what his will is, but he sure got your attention and mine! they always say, don't worry about if somebody's talking bout you, good or bad, it's when the stop talking bout you should you be concern. God knows how to make you talk about him, through that, some one else will be saved.

      July 29, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      ConcernedRetriever, if we don't question God, who will? Be glad you have atheists around you to guide you through the complexities of life. It's not your fault that Mother Nature gave atheists all the brains and talent leaving religious acolytes with pitifully little intelligence but loads of mental instability. We're here to help.

      July 29, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
  16. Hawkeye

    I think a small space is a wise answer, and I would find it safe to say that the majority of mankind if not all would have similar responses. Yet I hear people make these inane denouncements and pronouncements on life – from a baseline "speck" of knowledge. Yesterday someone had the audacity to determine from a few quotations that C.S. Lewis actually wasn't very intelligent and was a moron – good grief, that's the mark of a true idiot in a nutshell. I personally would not presume to grade an Oxford professor on his intellectual capacity simply because I didn't agree with what he said – how stupid is that? Our culture no longer is able to "think" – we just spew. God help us!

    July 29, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      If you're waiting for God to throw you a lifeline, you've got a long wait.

      July 29, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • Al

      Obama's a Harvard graduate, I'm sure they didn't just hand it to him! agree or dis-agree with him, that's your choice, but make an educated choice ! I'm just saying!

      July 29, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  17. Hawkeye

    Question – if a blank sheet of paper represented all the knowledge and information in the entire world, how big of a space would you draw to represent your own personal amount of that knowledge?

    July 29, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      Sadly, I would be only a speck too small to even see.

      July 29, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • cavediver

      same here...thankfully others are much brighter...

      July 29, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      I'm afraid that religious zealots would simply snip off a tiny corner of the sheet then throw the big piece away believing that such knowledge is completely unnecessary. All they need is enough knowledge to build churches and print hymnals while they wait for their miserable lives to end so they might be with their God in heaven.

      July 29, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
  18. rybl101

    God was in the exact same place as Zeus, Buddha, Thor, Islam‘s Allah, Osiris, Vishnu, and Neptune.

    July 29, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
  19. amjp

    I like and admire Stephen Prothero. I have one of his books, "God is Not One," and I need to finish it. He is insightful and writes complex ideas clearly. This article is another example.
    Obviously, I could not read all of the comments presented here, but I have been surprised that none that I saw mentioned the Holocaust since the question raised was the one repeated over and over again during and after that ultimate catastrophe. Perhaps, then, some of the most well known and meaningful responses to the
    question, "Where was God?" may be found in the works of writers and Holocaust survivors such as Eli Wiesel (As "Night" and/or "After the Darkness') and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl ("Man's Search for Meaning').

    July 29, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • truegrit1

      You are right amjp about the need to choose oldest or newest comment and edit & enter accordingly.

      July 29, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • truegrit1

      What most people cannot grasp is that God is only concerned with our Soul. Faithful Souls are tested by earthly events and prove themselves to Him Wealth is a Blessing on earth but a burden for entry to Heaven. Suffering is a burden on earth put a blessing if you remain Faithful. Burdens test the Soul and that is why it is easier for a rich man to go through the eye of a needle than go through the gates of Heaven.

      July 29, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • cavediver

      Truegrit1 When i die , my body, like all organic matter, will be broken down completely ...for there to be thought and sensation – my brain and central nervious system needs to be intact at the least.... I dont have a soul...neither do you....

      If you trip and fall and hit your head hard enough, brain damage can happen -some people are altered completely...there could quite possible be no more truegrit1 as you know him/her . there was never a resurrection , at anytime , anywhere.... magic does not exist.

      July 29, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      Sadly TrueZit is completely wrong as are those who agree with him/her. Did you choose your religious beliefs or were they handed down to you from your parents and grandparents? Perhaps the community you live in? The country you live in? You have exercised no choice at all. You have merely accepted what everybody else believes because it's the easiest way. Did you sit down with a menu of religions and assorted beliefs and choose the one you liked best? Or did you simply take the one selected for you?

      July 29, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers,

      1 Timothy 1:9

      Amen.

      July 29, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      HeavingScent, what the hell are you talking about?

      July 29, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
  20. amjp

    I like and admire Stephen Prothero. I have one of his books, "God is Not One," and I need to finish it. He is insightful and writes complex ideas clearly. This article is another example.
    Clearly, I could not read all of the comments presented here, but I have been surprised that noone that I saw mentioned the Holocaust since the question raised here was the one repeated over and over again during and after that ultimate catastrophe. Perhaps, then, some of the most well known and meaningful responses to the question, "Where was God?" may be found in the works of writers and Holocaust survivors such as Eli Wiesel (As "Night" and/or "After the Darkness') and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl ("Man's Search for Meaning')>

    July 29, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • amjp

      Please remove the first comment I made. Use the latest instead. Why isn't there a way to edit what someone has written any more?

      July 29, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
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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.