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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. Patrish

    One must prove to me there a God. Why should I take anyone's word for it. I have more faith in believing in intelligent life in other galaxies, then I do in a God. The tragic shooting at Aurora is example why people like me don't believe. If there is a God, he's not very interested in our lives; he lets the good caring people die, and the evil, and creepy people live. So much for making this a better world. Do you really think I am going to fall down and worship such a God?

    July 26, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • TR6

      I don’t need proof. I would switch from atheist to agnostic if someone could produce 1 single scrap of testable evidence that a god exists. But theists don’t even have that

      July 26, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • Gabe

      Whatabout all the good caring people who do live very long? In order to say we are living in horrible conditions, we must be able to compare to something. Maybe if there is no God we would be living crappy lives as alien ants on a planet in a far off galaxy similar to mars. I always find it interesting how people can easily come to such a resolute conclusion when we barely understand our universe, I can go on and on about this, but at least be agnostic.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • Chad

      I guess then that no one can help you, because God can't be proven. How you can prove something in the unseen world with things in the seen? The best evidence that God exists lies inside you. Want a good explanation of this? Read C.S. Lewis's "Mere Christianity." If you're really serious about wanting answers, this will help you to look at this subject from another perspective.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  2. Anonymous

    People still dont get it. But its okay, we need to spread the word.
    God's intervention stopped when Adam sinned. From then, man was cursed. God has to leave as he cannot be with sinners by the Holy laws, but he still loved human kind. Sin spread in the world as man lost his innocense and connection to God. God is very just so he couldnt just forgive Sin – but since he loved us so much he had to find a payment for our sins. For that matter, he sent his own word and only begotten Son Jesus Christ to come as a man and take the punishment for our sins. Jesus died in the cross taking sins from whoever calls His name and accept him as Savior. The payment he did is so large that it is much more than the Sins of generations to come – This payment is free, but not delivered to you until you accept him as Savour and ask for forgiveness. People dont realize this – By accepting him and walking with him you are connected to God. You will be saved – This is priceless. People go after all the wordly possessions and positions, but dont realize this simple way to everlasting life which is uncomparable to whatever you get from here. Challenges happening around are not the end of our life as this life is very short, but we still have to live an everlasting life. Do you want that life in heaven or in hell? Its up to you. You are a born sinner by adam and Jesus only can pay the price for your sins – you just have to go ask him to take your sins and walk with him there after.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Or I could as Captain Crunch to forgive my sins.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • El Diablo con Queso

      Nobody answers this. So when Jimmy finds Jesus and Jesus forgives his sin, you are alright with it correct? You will play board games and sip cocoa with him in heaven correct?

      July 26, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • ArthurP

      But Evangelicals are now saying Adam & Eve never existed. How can this be!!

      http://www.npr.org/2011/08/09/138957812/evangelicals-question-the-existence-of-adam-and-eve

      July 26, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  3. dowdotica

    time to evolve folks! seriously, wake up. my higher power? told me way back when i was a kid the dif between good and bad, right and wrong. tragically however a society evolving without conscience is what will kill us all in the end. GOd or no God. the very idea of a "God" is about having and excercising conscience. which you choose to excercise is of your free will...amen!!

    July 26, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  4. TOMG

    THERE ARE BILLIONS AND BILLIONS OF SPIRITES AND THIS PLANET MOTHER OF HELL AND HEAVENLY KARMA PLACE EARTH IS MORE THAN FIVE BILLIONS YEARS OLD BABY , AMEN .
    THIS PLANET EARTH IS NOT JUST FIVE BILLIONS YEARS OLD , BUT THIS PLANET EARTH ARE MUCH OLDER THAN ALL THOSE STUPID SCIENTIST THAT ARE MAKING THE AGES OF THIS KARMA EARTH PLANET IN THE FIRST PLACE , AMEN .

    July 26, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  5. Dev

    God, in human form, both died and pulled the trigger that day.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
  6. cesarbarroso

    What a stupid question!!!

    July 26, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
  7. TOMG

    GOD IS EVERY WHERE IT IS ALSO IN FRONT OF EVERY SINGLE ONE EYES AND FACES , BUT UNFORTUNITLY ONE DOES NOT HAVE THE RIGHT BLESSING OF THE TRAINING ON AND IN HOW TO SAW GOD FROM THE FIRST PLACE , AMEN .

    July 26, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • zach

      YELLING AT PEOPLE TO BELIEVE IS NOT GOING TO MAKE THEM ACCEPT YOUR FAITH!!! remove the cap locks fool

      July 26, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
  8. C'Mon Peeps

    If God has the power to completely obliterate Satan, preventing senseless acts like this from happening, then what is he, or she, waiting for? Why was it in God’s plan for a six year old girl to die from gunshot wounds? God is either a huge wimp or is just as sadistic as Satan himself.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • El Diablo con Queso

      God wanted that six year old to die and mourning it is against his will.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      I'd say the latter (not that he exists).

      July 26, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • Chad

      God only works through the people who are already here. He worked through the three men who saved their girlfriends' lives. He worked through the many in that theater who told others to run or to take cover and those who treated and healed the wounded. He's in each one of us, and we can choose to obey his quiet urgings or not, as in the case of the gunman. The Bible says God is love and that unless you have love for Him and for your fellow human being, you can never know Him.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  9. treblemaker

    There is definitely a God, but you can't see him, because He's everywhere. Can you see light moving at 186,000 miles/second? Of course not, but you know it's light, because it's everywhere. The sun is a manifestation of light. Who created the sun? There are 2 parts of us-the spirit, and the body which houses the spirit. The spirit is divine, the body is profane. God controls everything for all time-except one-and that is free will, which He allows us to have. God cannot control free will, and He will not try to control it. He wants us to love Him as He loves us, but only by our free will choice, not by His command, or any coercion from earthly powers. The suffering we all as humans go through on earth in varying degrees happens for too many reasons to tie up this response, but ultimately it is a "gauntlet" we must all walk through in our lives in order for the spirit within us to return to its rightful Owner full of love for Him when our earthly bodies expire. God does suffer with all the helpless victims. If you want to know what God practices every day for eternity, it is called "tough love". He loves us even when we hate Him. The all-powerful God, a spirit manifested in many ways worldwide, knows 2 absolutes-love, and truth.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • El Diablo con Queso

      And when Jimmy finds Jesus, repents and is forgiven, will you hang out with him in heaven?

      July 26, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • ArthurP

      Can you see light moving at 186,000 miles/second?

      --

      Yes. Scientists have filmed individual photons going 186,000 miles/second. You really must keep up with the science if you are going make such a comment. Of course that will require you to read more than the Bible because there are no supplements being published for it.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
  10. Steevo

    C'Mon Man! There is no God, no Satan, just us. We are responsible for our acts. No deity is controlling me or any of you, unless you are deranged. No deity controls what happens. Prayer is only beneficial to the mind of the prayer–it affects nothing else. So there. Its pretty simple people. Got it?

    July 26, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
  11. TOMG

    WHEN TIMING IS COMING TO GIVING OUT THE HUMAN WASTE AND HUMAN URINE GOD WILL BE BLESSING US ALL MANKINDS IN OUR DAILY KARMA BASIC , AMEN .

    July 26, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Did I just agree with you in a previous post? Jesus! I must be having a slow day.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
  12. Paul

    I know where God was. He was hanging out with the Flying Spaghetti Monster and got distracted.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • cesarbarroso

      He was hanging in the toilet because there was no toilet paper.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • J.W

      God could eat the Flying Spaghetti Monster for lunch.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  13. Pete

    This was a random article to use to perpetuate the gross oversimplification that the American Civil War was fought over slavery.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  14. ArthurP

    "To consti.tute depraved indifference, the defendant's conduct must be 'so wanton, so deficient in a moral sense of concern, so lacking in regard for the life or lives of others, and so blameworthy as to warrant the same criminal liability as that which the law imposes upon a person who intentionally causes a crime. Depraved indifference focuses on the risk created by the defendant’s conduct, not the injuries actually resulting. "

    Pity God does not hold himself to the same high standard that we hold ourselves. He does not even hold himself to the standards he set forth in his Bible. (that is if it is actually his words....)

    July 26, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  15. Nealius

    Hey, I have a novel idea! Instead of trying to fix what causes crazy violent people to be crazy and violent, let's blame the tools that crazy violent people use! Then, let's turn a mass shooting into an argument over the existence of God! And while we're at it, let's show our immaturity and arrogance on a national scale by attacking other people for their religious beliefs!

    PATHETIC.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  16. jeru0455

    The first answer is the only remotely logical one and the only one that a remotely competent person would subscribe to. The god's punishment one is the most ridiculous, out of clearly ridiculous statements. If you think that there wouldn't have been a shooting in Aurora if we had prayer in schools then you are clinically ret.arded.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  17. gator

    God was in the same place He was when mankind unjustly killed His son.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • El Diablo con Queso

      I think saving all of mankind would be considered pretty just. Jimmy can be saved because God gave his only begotten son... though God could have as many as he wanted. He could set up Christ franchises.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
  18. Eric

    It is a tragity and nothing we can say will consol the families. We can choose to blame GOD for this which I do not believe to be the case, or we can thank GOD for those that survived. To thank GOD for the time we did have with the ones that did not. When I look back at the loss in my life I do not blame GOD I thank him for blessing me for the time I did have.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Yeah, next time you should ask him to guide your hand to the correct keys. "Tragity", Jesus Christ!

      July 26, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • Eric

      Oh I have nothing intelligent to say lets truy to defame by redirecting to a typo. /clap clap I applaud you sir

      July 26, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      That wasn't a typo, it was a spelling mistake.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  19. Friendly-neighborhood-atheist

    Think about it... If God is omnicient and all powerful, then he/she/it not only knew that this was coming, but had the power to prevent it (and didn't). If everything proceeds according to God's plan, then he planned this event to happen. If that's true, then how can we even think of punishing the shooter, after all it was planned by God (or at least that is what we would have to believe if there really was a God). Belief in a God(s) is a human invention to make it easier to cope with adversity, who wouldn't want an all powerful, all forgiving, all knowing big brother to watch over them... but just like all the "faiths" that came before it, the current ones will eventually crumble into dust. Some are waking up, the number of unbelievers is rising steadily in the US (just hit 16%). What happened in Aurora was a tragedy. My heart goes out to each and every victim. But turning to religion is just fooling yourself.... Nothing fails like prayer.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • Patrish

      Humans seem to need to blame or worship some unexplainable power. never mind that they can't it exists. That way they don't have to take responsibility for their own choices or what happens in this world. This has been going on for centuries. We are no more enlightened than the first people that waked this earth, and prayed to the sun, and moon, etc.. Our have cars and cell phones make us no wiser, only more noisy.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  20. TOMG

    ALL MANKINDS AND HUMAN FORM KEEP ON REPEATING ITSELF ON THE DAILY BASIC SUCH AS EAT AND THAN GO TO SLEEP AND THAN TAKING MEDICATION PILL AND BRUSHING THE TEETHS AND THAN GIVING OUT THE POO THE HUMAN WASTE AND THE HUMAN URINE IN THE MORNING AND THAN KEEP ON REPEATING AGAIN AND AGAIN UNTIL THE END OF MANKINDS ERA , AMEN .

    July 26, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      It's sad, cold but true. Makes you wonder sometimes about the futility of human existence.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:34 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.