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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. Sao

    ROMANS 1:21-32 KJV
    21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

    22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,

    23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

    24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:

    25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

    26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:

    27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

    28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;

    29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,

    30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,

    31 Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:

    32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • ViK100

      That is the Word of GOD!!!

      July 26, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  2. joe

    TAX ALL RELIGIONS PAY OFF DEFICIT!!!!!!!!!!!!

    fairy tales shouldn't get free money and no taxes !!!

    July 26, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
  3. true athiest

    Of course there is no god. But if you believe in a god who never intervenes or protects us, then why would you want to worship him??? What would be the point?

    July 26, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • MJS777

      I worship Him for what he did for me. He came to earth and lived a perfect life, died on the cross (because the leaders of that day were afraid of Him and His miracles), while I was still out there sinning away. Then He rose again and returned to His rightful place in Heaven. He promises to return again only this time in a cloud of Glory as the King of all that is Righteous and Holy. Jesus said that if I believe that, repent of my sinful ways, and receive him unto me, that He will save me and instill in me the "gift" of the Holy Spirit, thereby restoring my soul to an eternity of fellowship with Jesus and not in eternal separation. The Bible says our soul never dies, as in cease to exist, but that it dies as in eternal separation from God and that is called spiritual death. Or, our soul, upon receipt of Christ as Lord and Savior, will continue to exist in eternal communion with God.

      Satan is clearly in charge of events on this earth at this time. Evil and evil events will not disappear before Christ's return. Again, I worship Him for what He has already done for me, and for what my future will be like after I leave this broken world. The Bible states, and therefore, I already know that I will suffer most all the days of my earthly life, so I am expecting it. My rewards will come in the next life. Jesus said that He suffered, and as His follower, I will suffer also and as such I will share in His Glory later. He said that if they hate Me, Jesus, they will surely hate you also. I have faith that all of this is the truth. I used my free will to choose to believe in Jesus. Many won't and that is their choice. If I am wrong, then I still led a relatively clean life trying to follow God's word. But if I am right, then I will have the best eternal life ever. I will win either way.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
  4. TOMG

    THE SUN SOLAR POWERFUL ARE THE MOTHER OF ALL GOD , AND SO DOES OUR MOON LUNAR POWERFUL , AMEN

    July 26, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • Merry Prankster

      You need to lay off the LSD, Dude

      July 26, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
  5. steve

    stupid story
    totally stupid
    where was God when 250,000 died in WWII or 60,000 in Vietnam?
    geesh
    stupid people

    July 26, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • Ilene B

      My thoughts exactly, in every tragedy, man-made or volcano or tsunami or whatever. I do wonder about believers who pray in a specific incident, like Aurora, or ask that question in a specific incident. Do they really think (if they think about it) that the people in Rwanda are "out there somewhere/somebody 'other'"? I grew up around WW2 vets and Holocaust survivors and I could never understand people who "take comfort" in that god belief and have that belief tested when something bad happens to them and theirs. It's actually kind of unnerving.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • jag

      Why is it stupid to finally ask the question that should always be asked when trouble is present? To question our existence is fundamentally human. Plus, I think it's a valid question and probably more so if you lost a loved one. Ignorance continues when we fail to ask the questions or preferably the "right" questions. It is imperative that we open our spiritual eyes to the truth and questions are tools to help get us there so that we can stop the chaos and uncover the mystery that is our existence. Just sayin...

      July 26, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
  6. TOMG

    ALL MANKINDS ARE MADE UP OF FROM THE HUMAN WASTE AND HUMAN URINE AND THAN NOW DAILY TURNING INTO ALL ANIMAL WASTE AND ANIMAL URINE , AMEN .

    July 26, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
  7. Merry Prankster

    So there I was, standing over my own child with a knife in my hand, thinking I should just end his life because I was hearing voices in my head.......thank GOD a lamb showed up........maybe the lamb never showed up in Aurora?

    July 26, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • ViK100

      Go read your batman comics. Come back when you grow up.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  8. Dan

    God has given man free will and all that is necessary to make the Earth wonderful. Is it God's fault that many starve? No, he has given us ample food to feed the world. It is by man's will that people starve. Is it God's fault that many do evil? No, he has given the world Jesus Christ to show us how to use freedom to love and do good. Man must choose whether to use its freedom for evil or for good.

    The question is, was it wrong of God to give man the gift of freedom? I believe the answer is no, because of the majority of the world's willingness to love and do good at our own volition. Look at the outpouring of love in the wake of this tragedy. The consequence of God's gift is the capacity to do evil that a minority embrace, but from the ashes more good comes.

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

      "he has given us ample food to feed the world."

      tell that to the starving countries

      July 26, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • realitypolice

      Why didn't God just put the food where it was needed?

      July 26, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • K Kim

      bob,

      You blame God for hunger in Africa and other regions of the world?!????

      July 26, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • Dan

      We have the capacity to feed the starving countries but do not do it.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  9. SingleThread

    How about simply admit that we don't know. It is so simple yet so impossible for so many people to admit there are no answers for many questions in life, it is possible that we may never find out the truth in our lifetime, and then leave it as it is.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • ViK100

      You want a tangible god I guess... Sorry – nobody has ever seen our God. Yet, WE HAVE SEEN what he has done. WE HAVE HEARD his voice and HE HAS CHANGED our lives. America believes in Batman and superheros.., not God... There you go. Ask God to give you the opportunity to meet him and see the great things he can do. Maybe your eyes are closed and so are your ears. He can open them. It takes courage to follow God, yet the rewards are inmeasurable.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • SingleThread

      I don't want anything, I simply stated that I don't know, and I am surprised how many people would say that they know for sure there is a god or they know for sure there is no god. I am always amazed by this kind of certainty that people demonstrated.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
  10. jack

    Of late, with the downing economy the media and church are promoting religion whenever possible. 2% atheist but most active on internet means they are the educated mass and rest 98% is not educated or advanced ( generally speaking )

    I love this country because it does not ( used to atleast) promote religious belief as societal rules, but looks like things are getting changed nowadays. May be I need to think to expatriate to a liberal free thinking countries ( who are catching up in those areas)

    Alas, hope this country does not turn to another middle east like church goers and mosque goers or temple goers land.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  11. Faith-Isn't-a-Preacher

    Must parents always coddle and nanny their adult children?
    Especially when those children insist upon believing that they know better than their parents.
    No different for us and God. We get what we sow because we choose the consequence.
    The people at the theater weren't there to see benevolence on display. Being where evil is entertained and not expecting evil is naive. Then to expect God to be where evil is invite is even hypocritical.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  12. Bible Thumper

    JOB wondered the same thing. Those of us with faith will endure, those that question will continue to wander.

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

      No wandering needed when you have the ability to think your way through life...

      July 26, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
  13. TOMG

    TOO SMART ASSSSSSSSSSS ARE SIMILAR TO THE HUMAN WASTE AND ANIMAL WASTE AND SO DOES THE HUMAN URINE AND ANIMAL URINE ALSO , AMEN .

    July 26, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • realitypolice

      Huh?

      July 26, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
  14. realitypolice

    People who believe #4 are the scariest MFers alive.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • EducatedLibby

      Totally agree... unfortunately, there are A LOT of those religious crazies out there.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  15. cfiedler

    It disturbs me that people ask "Where was God when this happened?" Why is it when something tragic happens, it is God's fault? We, the people, were the ones who took God out of everything! He is still here, but yet we don't talk to Him or praise Him when something magnificent happens! This millionaires don't praise Him for what they have been blessed with! People think when something good happens to them, it was them that achieved it. But when something bad happens, it is all God's fault! I guarantee you something awesome will come out of this tragedy...either someone will be able to help someone else in the long run when they are going through something similar or someone might get a degree in psychology or something and help an individual overcome their demons later on. God can always make something great come out of a tragedy!

    July 26, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • realitypolice

      If he is all powerful, how could our efforts to exclude him from everything possibly succeed? If he is so good and just, why do you imply that he didn't stop this because we don't praise him enough? I have never seen a cult more rife with contradictions than Christianity.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  16. antonio barreto

    well i have heard all kinds of said explanations but the truth is if there was mo God why all the fuss over a man who walked upon this world over 2,000 years ago? the answer is because he is alive and does exist and is seated at the right hand of the father making intercession for all who call on the name of Jesus. As to the question where was God in all of what actually happened in Aurora?watching from his throne on high,he does not desire anyone to die before their appointed time but there is a real devil at loose in this world and you better believe he knows that time is short so he wants to steal kill and destroy,that is his agenda.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
  17. mike

    I have come to the opinion that death to God is no big deal. We all want to go to heaven but no one wants to die to get there.
    If being in heaven is the ultimate goal of eternal peace and happiness, then to God, people dying is simply a way to bring them home. Those left behind suffer interminable loss and agony. But....those of deep faith, know were their beloved went and know they will see them soon. We are only here for an instant and then we too will be gone. Free will reigns. Evil will knock at our door. If the worst that happens is that I may die, well , for a beliver that's not too bad. God , eternity, heaven , peace awaits us. If only God would from time to time give us a visual. Strong faith is a work in progress and difficult to master.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • laurie

      Well said Mike.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
  18. TOMG

    TO WHOM TOO SMART ASSSSSSSSS OR GENIUS IS STILL FROM THE ONE .
    TOO STUPID IS STILL FROM THE ONE .
    TOO RICH IS STILL FROM THE ONE .
    TOO POOR IS STILL FROM THE ONE
    THE ONE ARE MEAN THE MIND , THE SOUL , THE THINKING TO HELPING ONE GETTING WHERE IT IS TOBE , THE THOUGHT OF , AMEN .

    July 26, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  19. wakeup333

    Where was god? In the same place as Popeye the Sailor, SpongeBob SquarePants, Tinker Bell and the Tooth Fairy: the imaginations of those who believe fairy tales. Everyone knows invisible beings don't exist. Yet a majority pretends they do.

    2% of us are atheists? 16% don't follow any major faith. And with each new year, that number grows.

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

      I could not agree more. Wake up America!! Religion is snake oil for the masses.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • EducatedLibby

      I know, what's with that 2%? That can't be right. I officially became an atheist years ago in college, as I am sure many people did. In many cases, it seems that education is the best way to argue your way out of a brainwashing attempt by these religious groups. It's amazing what a few philosophy and science classes will do to your brain. Too many people lack the ability to be open-minded Especially a LARGE majority of the uneducated religious nut-jobs out there these days.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  20. bob

    "Self-professed atheists may make up only 2% of the U.S. population"

    thats about right 98% percent of the population has the IQ of a turnip. is it so hard to believe why
    they want to believe in fairy tales. they cant understand any more then that just let them be
    ( helps keep the morons in control )

    July 26, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      As I recall, a majority of people in the US believe the world is only 6,000 years old.

      It is truly staggering. (I don't remember the source.)

      July 26, 2012 at 5:26 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.