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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. Siara Delyn

    God is Compassion linked with perfect Fairness and Logic. When our laws prevent these things from coming through we have trouble seeing God. We bring it on ourselves.

    July 30, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      There is more evidence for the Loch Ness Monster than there is for God. Give it up.

      July 30, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
  2. wsu1983

    To believe in a God that intervenes in worldly affairs is a very dangerous perception of a creator. If God intervenes, then we are puppets with no free will. If God intervenes then we must ask why God DOES NOT intervene at other times. As humans, God isn't obligated to show her power or strength to convince us of her existence. Evil and suffering exist in the world. Don't wait for a "miracle", use your God-given brain and free-will to change your own life and accept that others can be evil. Life doesn't always make "sense".

    July 30, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
  3. Jayne

    Where was God? She was out in back vomiting after seeing the horrendous mess the human species has made of her Creation and those She sent to teach humans how to live properly, e.g., Christ, the Buddha, Mohammed, Krishna, etc.

    July 30, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
  4. John Richards

    Where was god? To the best of our current knowledge there are NO gods. Let's get over ourselves and accept the facts as we best know them to be.

    July 30, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
  5. Dante

    Religion is a subservience tool. Always has been and always will be. The concept of god has seen it's evolution into a hydra of many representations of what we fail to understand. What I understand is that I don't need god to feel ok with being a finite human animal. Stuff happens because it always has. You will never stop a crazed person from acting crazed and hurting people.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
  6. One Observer

    There are answers to every question raised about God and where he was, what he's doing, not doing and why to both issues. He's been misrepresented by clergyman from every denomination. There are people that offer to give answers to such questions but there is so much prejudice against them, most don't give them time to answer. There are those that the bible discribes as evil and those that are sighing and crying over world conditions that want answers. To those that don't want answers and don't listen to God's messengers, the bible discribes how God views them. If you care, read Proverbs the first chapter. If you are open to asking God for help, read the second chapter. He promises you will find answers if you dig...trouble is, most give up and demonstrate a lack of faith before finding the answers. Keep asking and you will receive, his son said. Operative words, 'keep asking'. The only reason he's allowing this system to go on is so all have an opportunity to learn of his purpose for the earth. There's a universal issue that will be settled soon, once for all time and will never be allowed to surface again. The answers are out there if you humble yourself, ask for guidance and it could be at your door tomorrow. Give it a try, what do you have to lose except your pride and your doubts.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      I would lose my self-respect for one thing.

      July 30, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • justme

      not bad but people like petey have no respect for those of us who try to reason on these subjects and sincerely try to discuss the answers. do not give up in trying to show what the bible really teaches since some do want to know and just as Jesus sent his brothers out in twos maybe we can help more if we team up. i will check back in the A M to see if you see this and want to discuss further. keep up the good work of sharing the good news. I will look in later also to see if you are interested.

      July 30, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      Justmeh, how can you possibly say you're employing reason when you proclaim there is a God? The Bible teaches nothing. It's a jumble of conflicting stories and rantings. Jesus is in the backyard playing with the unicorns. He's got a leprechaun on his shoulders with Tinker Bell hovering around his head. There was some dispute concerning his cheating at cards.

      July 30, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
    • justme

      petey, I would discuss this with you but you just seem to want to insult people. if you have serious comments on the subject I will be back about 10 AM but the comment you left makes me feel real sad for you since the bible teaches much but I feel you have been misled by false teachers like so many of the masses.

      July 30, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
    • justme

      again I will look back here tomorrow and hope for the best.

      July 30, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
  7. heavenSnot

    Atheists, evangelicals, Catholics, Southern Baptists – they are all wrong. Because we are all gods. We have yet to unlock all of our godly abilities. (By the way, zombie-apocalyptic behavior is one of the signs of a rough start to this godly awakening that will one day fully bloom.) It is written.

    Atheists are less harmful though to society because they are more tolerant of a larger portion of the rest of society than any of the religious groups.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      Thanks for lumping me in with the likes of evangelicals, Catholics, and Southern Baptists. I would need a bath just from spending time with them in the same room.

      July 30, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
  8. Name*J. J. Zern

    I wrote earlier and had a "revelation " . The priests and preacher's tell us God work's in strange ways. I'm guessing he was doing the shooting.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
  9. OrthoPA

    To all the God-Does-Not-Exist'ers out there: I follow this rhetoric and I am just amazed. So YOU'RE an Atheist and I'm a Christian/Catholic...get over it. It seems that so much effort is being used to convince people like me that you are right and we as Christians are wrong. If you want to be an Atheist, Agnostic, whatever go ahead...it's you're prerogative...but you have no more proof that God doesn't exist than we have that HE does...probably much less... but that's my opinion. We as human beings will never in our lifetimes really know the answer to all this so quit exposing your lack of knowledge. I BELIEVE, and am a BELIEVER...YOU'RE not..Oh, and to the person that really showed his/her ignorance ("Thank God I'm an Atheist") Was that a little Freud saying "just in case I'm wrong" to God out there? I mean, everyone fell for the "Where was God" bait that was dangled in front of you...knowing there will never be a consensus or agreement. There are more important things to devote such zest to...

    July 30, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      Can you prove that unicorns do not exist? If not, say they do. Can you prove that Santa Claus does not exist? I say he does. Can you prove the Tinker Bell isn't real? I say she is. How about leprechauns or the Easter Bunny. Can you prove that they do not exist? If not, they do!

      July 30, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  10. zendruid1

    God told James Holmes to massacre some innocents, but forgot to send the angel to stay his hand. Demented.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  11. Name*J. J. Zern

    I was told we are all God's children. As a parent he is a failure should be tried for negligence and be imprisoned.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • OrthoPA

      Such hate...such anger easier to blame God cause he won't stoop to argue with you... Read "The Shack"

      July 30, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      Orpha, you're full of crap my feeble-minded friend. We don't blame God anymore than we blame unicorns. They don't exist.

      July 30, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  12. 1234

    Praise and trust God in all things! He is worthy! His mercy endured forever!

    July 30, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      I see you can count to 4. That's quite an accomplishment considering your low IQ and weakness of character. Mother Nature was not kind to you. She gave atheists all the brains and good looks. Sorry, but you zealots got single-digit IQs and emotionally instability. It's not fair, but neither is life. Return to school and finish the Third Grade. There will be plenty of atheist classmates to help you with your homework.

      July 30, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • Dante

      I can't imagine a god that would allow a small child to starve to death while infected with malaria and A.I.D.S. To say it had something to do with the sins of the father is just sick. You blind faith worshipers of the Judaeo-christian god are dumb idiots that deserve to be herded like the sheep you are.

      July 30, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
  13. Mister Jones

    Only 2% of the population are self-proclaimed athiests???? No way. NO WAY is that accurate. Reading that HALF of the population believed in Creation was depressing enough. It's bad enough that we are 1/3 obese, and 1/2 retarded, but if you are now trying to imply that this country has a stupidity rate of over 98%, then we really need a reboot on 12 December this year. 98% of Americans believe that a guy survived inside of a damn fish for 3 days, or that a drunk built a boat filled with every species on the planet? Fresh or salt-water fish? Because only one type survives the flood ...

    July 30, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      I'm still trying to figure out how Noah got the Komodo Dragons aboard. And what was the point of bringing along mosquitos?

      July 30, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  14. IslandAtheist

    What does the Tooth Fairy do with all of those teeth?

    July 30, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
    • justme

      bone meal

      July 30, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
  15. Bishop Hairy Palms

    God was smoking crack in a Porto-Potty with Elvis that day.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • OrthoPA

      Pretty easy to blame God for all our inadequacies and human failures, huh...God loves the idiots as much as everyone else, Bishop Empty Head...

      July 30, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
  16. justin opinion

    Hey CNN, here's a good subject for your next in-depth journalistic investigation: Where was Batman in Aurora?

    July 30, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  17. Say it ain't so

    I agree with voicer Diana. Of course God's hand was there in that the gun jammed. That was a miracle & there'll be many who'll try to explain it with other things but he was there, God helped stop it. Period, end of story.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      You have declared it a "miracle", and that's it, end of story. The only reason you say end of story is because you have no argument to back up your rediculous claim.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • sam stone

      so, god's hand was there in that the gun jammed? where was god's had when holmes he was killing all those people? couldn't god have jammed the gun earlier?

      July 30, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • justin opinion

      If you are even remotely correct in anything you say, then it means that God wanted to stop the killings and choose to do so by jamming the gun, but he was what, too slow to jam it before the first shot? or unable to make the guy's car break down before he got there? or couldn't make a tree fall on the guy the day before? or .... sheesh. You are basically saying your god wanted to do the right thing, but is just really incompetent at being a god. Think before speak.

      July 30, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • Nato

      Why was he so late getting there, why not just stop all the bullets or jam it at the beginning?

      July 30, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • batman

      d.r.a.k.c.u.f

      Read it backwards. I hate you jesus women, I hate you!

      July 30, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • Mister Jones

      Well, what the hell was he doing up until the weapon jammed? Did he not hear the first hundred rounds? If you really believe that your benevolent diety watied until a dozen people were killed before he stepped in and causes the weapon to malfunction, then you are a blithering idiot. I would love to sell you some magic beans, but I really don't want to get that close to you. Your stupid might have gone airborne and become contagious.

      July 30, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
    • Merlin

      @Say it,

      Nope. That was me. My magic incantations and spells take a while to be effective, being that they are sent from inside the oak tree, where I now reside.... but they worked. You're welcome.

      July 30, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      Why did he wait so long to act?

      July 30, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  18. Grigory Dashevsky.

    they all wrong! I post a comment ,but you didn't post it.No more comment!!!!!!

    July 30, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • Helpful Hints

      Bad letter combinations / words to avoid if you want to get past the CNN automatic filter:
      Many, if not most, are buried within other words, so use your imagination.
      You can use dashes, spaces, or other characters or some html tricks to modify the "offending" letter combinations.
      ---
      ar-se.....as in ar-senic.
      co-ck.....as in co-ckatiel, co-ckatrice, co-ckleshell, co-ckles, etc.
      co-on.....as in racc-oon, coc-oon, etc.
      cu-m......as in doc-ument, accu-mulate, circu-mnavigate, circu-mstances, cu-mbersome, cuc-umber, etc.
      ef-fing...as in ef-fing filter
      ft-w......as in soft-ware, delft-ware, swift-water, drift-wood, etc.
      ho-mo.....as in ho-mo sapiens or ho-mose-xual, ho-mogenous, etc.
      ho-oters…as in sho-oters
      ho-rny....as in tho-rny, etc.
      hu-mp… as in th-ump, th-umper, th-umping
      jacka-ss...yet "ass" is allowed by itself.....
      ja-p......as in j-apanese, ja-pan, j-ape, etc.
      koo-ch....as in koo-chie koo..!
      nip-ple
      o-rgy….as in po-rgy, zo-rgy, etc.
      pi-s......as in pi-stol, lapi-s, pi-ssed, therapi-st, etc.
      p-orn… as in p-ornography
      pr-ick....as in pri-ckling, pri-ckles, etc.
      que-er
      ra-pe.....as in scra-pe, tra-peze, gr-ape, thera-peutic, sara-pe, etc.
      se-x......as in Ess-ex, s-exual, etc.
      sl-ut
      sm-ut…..as in transm-utation
      sn-atch
      sp-ank
      sp-ic.....as in desp-icable, hosp-ice, consp-icuous, susp-icious, sp-icule, sp-ice, etc.
      sp-oon
      sp-ook… as in sp-ooky, sp-ooked
      strip-per
      ti-t......as in const-itution, att-itude, ent-ities, alt-itude, beat-itude, etc.
      tw-at.....as in wristw-atch, nightw-atchman, etc.
      va-g......as in extrava-gant, va-gina, va-grant, va-gue, sava-ge, etc.
      who-re....as in who're you kidding / don't forget to put in that apostrophe!
      wt-f....also!!!!!!!
      There's another phrase that someone found, "wo-nderful us" (have no idea what sets that one off).

      July 30, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      What?

      July 30, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
  19. charles davis

    THANK GOD I'M AN ATHIEST!!!!!!!

    July 30, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • Beavis

      AMEN!

      July 30, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
    • OrthoPA

      Thank WHO?...well, which is it?.... enough said. Why don't you just go about your non-believing ways and leave the believers alone? It's an age old social problem...you spend your energy discounting others' opinions because you can't substantiate your own...

      July 30, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
  20. Vic of New York

    Satan was behind the massacre in Aurora. As Satan has infiltrated Christian Fundamentalism and taken over the minds of its leaders, the "flock" has followed. Through Satan's hand acting on the mindless, politicians like Michelle Bachman have been pushed forward to take radical positions persecuting other religions seeking God. The massacre at Aurora is a smokescreen in Satan's plan to empower his moles posing as Christian Fundamentalists to create havoc by pointing fingers and attempting to persecute anyone who does not allow themselves to be possessed and recruited into his cult posing as Christian Fundamentalists. Already this cult is trying to change out laws to imprison Americans and turn our citizens against each other. The pattern is clear. Our greatest threat is to letting Satan take over America through his front: The "Christian" Fundamentalist Right.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
    • katie from Nebraska

      Amen, brother.

      July 30, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • Mister Jones

      Satan, huh? You mean the big red guy from the South Park movie? Or are you really scared about an evil being that lives underground and causes all of the bad things in the world to happen? Does he have a pitchfork?

      July 30, 2012 at 4:34 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.