Editor’s note: Rob Brendle is the founding pastor of Denver United Church, a former associate pastor at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, and the author of "In the Meantime: The Practice of Proactive Waiting."
By Rob Brendle, Special to CNN
I held her hand as she died.
Her family had come to a church where I was pastoring that morning, a routine Sunday. A thousand things would never have crossed their minds as they drove through Colorado Springs toward New Life Church’s enormous concrete worship center - including the prospect of being assaulted in their minivan by a young man with a high-powered rifle.
Later that day, we were all at a local hospital. The girl whose hand I held, Rachel, had already lost a sister at the scene. Her father was down the hall in critical condition and her mother was coming undone in the waiting room, but she didn’t know any of it. Rachel lay unconscious for a couple of hours more in the ICU.
And then she died. Her family had come to church together that morning, and by nightfall they were shattered.
That was almost five years ago.
The movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado shook me and the rest of the nation. Reading about the young and unsuspecting victims took me back to the dying girl in the ICU who had come to my church that day in 2007, in a an incident that left the two girls dead and injured several others. Back to the Columbine massacre a decade earlier that horrified the world and traumatized Colorado. And back to the aching questions that accompanied those previous incidents: Why did this happen? Where was God in all of it? How could a loving God allow this?
Where was God in Aurora? 7 responses
We pastors face the unenviable task of being asked to answer for God. Most people ask the big questions in times of irresolution, times when satisfying answers are scarce.
Let’s be clear: there are no easy answers to the deepest questions of suffering. Libraries overflow with the volumes that have been written to address these questions. Centuries of philosophers, pundits and preachers have reflected on the existence of evil, the meaning of pain and the role of God in suffering.
I won’t begin to recount all of their ruminations here. But here’s what I think.
God is the author of life and the originator of good. He distinguished humankind from among his creation with faculties like reason, emotion, dexterity and choice. Scripture teaches that God made people in his image. Set apart from all the rest of his creatures, we were endowed with the capacity to know our Creator and ennobled with the ability to choose him. So singularly did God love humans that he gave us this ultimate gift.
Aurora survivor to alleged shooter: ‘I forgive you’
The capacity to choose God and goodness came with the commensurate ability to choose evil. Is it loving to force his creation to follow his order, or to teach it and leave the creature to choose? It would seem that God came to the same conclusion that America’s founders did many millennia later: compulsory virtue is no virtue at all.
But Scripture also teaches that God is totally in control. He is all-powerful and all-knowing and he is willing and able to intervene in human events. So there is a gap between human choice and divine foreknowledge, a gap that transcends understanding and that helps define God in my mind.
The debate over this theological tension has persisted for centuries, and I don’t aim to settle it here. Let me suggest simply that God, in his sovereignty, has chosen to make our decisions meaningful. Consequently, much of what happens on earth neither conforms to nor results from his preference. There are at least four influences on human events: God’s will, to be sure; but also the will of Satan, our adversary; peoples’ choices, for better or for worse; and natural law (gravity, collision, combustion, and the like).
It is difficult to know which force causes the circumstances that devastate us. But it is enough to know that God need not be responsible for them.
The man who made the Aurora crosses
Much of the internal gridlock around tragedy is because suffering is foreign to us. This foreignness is peculiarly Western and modern. Most of the world, for most of the world’s history, has known tragedy and trauma in abundance.
You don’t get nearly the same consternation in Burundi or Burma, because suffering is normal to them. God and hard times coexist intuitively there. For us, though, God has become Anesthetist-in-Chief. To believe in him is to be excused from bad things. He is our panacea for the woes of life.
The God of the Bible promises no exemption from suffering. In fact, he all but promises suffering. He does not suggest that his followers won’t go through fire, but rather that we won’t burn up. Mostly he promises to be there with us, to comfort and encourage us and renew our strength. God grieves with us, and he grows us into good people in the process.
CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories
Where was God in Aurora? He was on the lawn in front of the Civic Building as thousands gathered in solidarity, hope, and love at a packed prayer vigil last Sunday. He was in University Hospital as neurosurgeons groped for synonyms for miraculous.
He was in the outpouring of compassion at a victim’s funeral and in the passionate call for unity from a resolute councilwoman and at the bedside vigil of a wounded victim’s church community. Redemption has only begun in Aurora, and already God is everywhere. Their will be beauty once this story is written that overshadows and transcends the ashes.
Jesus started his ministry by declaring, “I am the light of the world,” and ended it with “you are the light of the world.”
What God our cities will see is what we show them. From the beginning, light has shone in the darkness - he ordered it that way. And the deeper the darkness, the brighter the light will appear. Where is God in Aurora? He is shining brightly from the hearts of his people.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rob Brendle.
Where was God?
In the book where he lives.
Epicurus: "Is He willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is impotent. Is He able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent. Is He both able and willing? Whence then is evil?"
How about this for an explanation: god is a figment of our anthropological imaginations.
What a desperate tap dance to try and stand behind your imaginary friend that you've given so much power to. Being free feels soooooo good.
If any lesson is to be learned by the 'churches' in my state...God is only present in segregated gatherings. That theater in Colorado must have been a bit too diverse for his taste.
Rob Brendle sounds like his thinking stopped at the 1st grade level!
Things like this happening prove to me that if there is a God he/she does makes mistakes and indeed can't do everything.
Oh no you didnt
You are right. Even from the beginning of the Jewish god's story, it is evident "he" made mistakes:
Genesis 6:6 The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. 7 So the LORD said, "I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them."
Now if a "god" is remorseful and wants to wipe out "his" creation then that can only mean one thing. "god" made a MISTAKE!
So why worship
my god is the electric guitar
Religion is a comfort to people, and in this case trying to make sense out of the senseless. I am sure some of the victims family’s who are left to grieve have found comfort in their belief’s, so I think it’s kind of mean to knock their beliefs in a time of tragedy.
However, I think articles like this have an agenda, and it’s not to comfort the victims family’s, but are a self-serving attempt at creating answers that justify a senseless act as somehow part of a plan. The church never wants anyone to think for themselves, but if you are a good faithful person, and you pray for the protection of your family, and something like this happens, It’s a tough thing to make sense out of. Either consciously or not the agenda of these articles are to not allow people to think for themselves and be disillusioned by the church. It’s an excuse and if I had a love one that was murdered, I would not want to hear that god had a plan for them and he was outside waiting to help people be good. I would ask the question, I have been a good and faithful servant, I have prayed and still my loved one is gone. I used to pray that way all the time, it was my number one ask, please protect my family, please above all protect the ones I love and I will do whatever you want. I think most people who pray would say that protecting their loved ones is the first thing on their list. And when something like this happens, I think, that could have been my young niece in there, or my brother or my friend and nothing would have stopped it. My praying would not have protected them because this guy is telling me that god has a mysterious plan that does not include protecting. So what your telling me is that praying for the safety of my loved ones is for nothing. Well guess what pastor, the biggest priority in my life is for my loved ones to be safe. I also want other peoples family’s to be healthy and safe as well. Everything else is meaningless when compared to that.
Seems to me that when Church’s try to justify something senseless, all of a sudden gods actions become mysterious, let’s face it, that’s because there is no answer, that’s why it’s senseless. We should deal with that and not make excuses, and try to prevent from happening again.
Because at the same time, if you believe in such things, where was the devil. Was the devil with the person who conceived of a machine that was built expressly for killing people en mass? Was he there when these machines were being built? Was he there when someone took money for a machine that had no other purpose than to snuff out lives? Is he with the people who have lost their way and justify such objects existing and spend thousands of dollars to protect their god given rights to do so? Is he there with the people who make profits from such objects and hide behind rights to justify being in the misery business. Who’s only answer seem to be that everyone should be armed and that would have prevented this tragedy? Is that what god wants? Is that what people want, everybody armed so that this tragedy could have been worse or better dependent on someones aim? A fire fight in our public spaces is the answer to gun violence? The end of peace in our streets?
I ask this pastor, why don’t we try to do good and stop these killing machines from being made and distributed. Why don’t we go to proponents of firearms and minister to them and say, be reasonable, protecting yourself is one thing, holding a fire arm is one thing, but can you justify your rights over people being killed by a weapon of mass destruction, were those lives worth it? Can we just agree that some of the machines are over the top and do not belong in peoples hands. Our federal rights were written before such thinks existed, let’s re-examine it for the sake of our loved ones.
I know, the answer would be guns don’t kill people blah blah. Which is kind of true, but can we just admit that it’s kind of a combo, the machine that is capable of killing and the person that is willing to execute.
But this pastor is like most and will probably never truly be brave and try to protect his flock in gods name by trying to at least minimize the violence against people by advocating the ban of some of these horrible weapons that kill. It’s too politically charged, and most church’s are political organizations, by taking action against over the top fire arms, he would be doing exactly what he trying to prevent doing in the article, lose followers.
Damn gun haters
The blind leading the blinder.
'God' is a CHIMERA.
God didn't write the bible and the words in it are not his words
Let's clear up something first. This so-called pastor is likely no authentic Christian at all. How do i know that? Answer: He comes from a church named New Life. Many years ago I discovered churches with the name "New" something or other were all counterfeit. For example, it might be New Hope or New Creation. I discovered all these churches were in reality WOFer churches and counterfeit. A WOFer is a member of the counterfeit Word of Faith movement. You know, the fake pastors you see on TBN like Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, and Creflo Dollar. Those are WOFers and counterfeit and they've chose "New" in naming all there churches. I discovered this just by paying close attention.
It's disturbing though that this guy has chosen something else in a name. I am wondering if their tactics are changing having been found out by others as well. So where was God? Answer: He was there as he is everywhere. But you people don't belong to him so why should he intervene at all if it doesn't affect his providence? Would it have had any impact on his providence he would have stepped in.
Sorry, if you're a person of 'faith', you can't discount his beliefs anymore that he can discount yours. One you open the door to 'well, you just have to believe', then anyone's pov is totally valid. Fun, eh?
I see. So the catholic church, with pedophile priests, is legit? I think they all should be rounded up, put on a ship sent to the middle of the ocean, and sunk.
Sorry, if you're a person of 'faith', you can't discount his beliefs anymore that he can discount yours. One you open the door to 'well, you just have to believe', then anyone's pov is totally valid.
You do err. Ever heard of sound doctrine? For it is written,
Let God's curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you.
"You can enter God's Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way.
So you are in error for all is not equally valid. There is but one way.
@JesusChrist Son of God Son
"I see. So the catholic church, with pedophile priests, is legit?"
Of course not. It is good that you see that much. They ain't even Christian. Never have been being born of heretics who were excommunicated from the authentic church in 139 AD. I know cause I did exhaustive research to get to the bottom of it. They deceive the whole world.
Funny to me that these atheists don't mind celebrating Christmas, or taking the day off for religious holidays....just saying'
I thought there is a "war on christmas"? lol
No we celebrate the pagan winter festival that was usurped by Christians.
Yeah, I just love taking off for Xmas and Ramadan and Yom Kippur and Kwanza and the Easter Bunny's birthday.....
Jeanie, federal holidays are secular holidays. Therefore, Christmas, or as I call it, the hijacked winter solstice, is a secular holiday and always has been.
"atheists don't mind celebrating Christmas", I do not celebrate Christmas at all, actually. I know many enjoy the Christmas period but not sure whether they "celebrate" anything... Either way, ever heard of a cultural Christian?
ArthurP, yes, good answer. Yule is cool!
You'd be mistaken if you think I'm gonna argue about a day off with gifts. I participate, but I don't get all absorbed into the backstory. To me, it's basically another holiday that lost it's meaning a long time ago. It's been highjacked by business awhile ago. Besides, who cares if it's true or not, I want my IPad. Is that shallow? Merry Christmas.
Name one original Christian holiday
I dont have to be a Christian to enjoy spending time with my family and friends. I am not sure what point you are trying to make. Are you suggesting that employees should be required to prove their religious beliefs to their employers before being able to take time off? Do you think the government needs to monitor everyone's actions during christmas time to ensure that everyone is celebrating properly?
Clearly you were just trying to make a snide condescending remark without thinking it through. Not very Christ-like of you
Go to the movies. Get shot in the face. Your christian god sucks.
"Go to the movies. Get shot in the face. Your christian god sucks."
What's you beef? Why should he come to the aid of rebels and enemies? You do know that all of you are lifelong enemies of God, right? Don't think so? All you've got to do is just count the number of blasphemies on this one page alone.
What is wrong with the idea that there is something greater than we are that loves us despite all of our short comings?
What is wrong with trying to follow a book that in the end is trying to have people live by values and love one another?
What is wrong with trying to live a good life without sin because you believe in what a book says and you want to go to a place called heaven?
What is wrong with having faith that this crummy world cant be all there is for the very reasons you complain about, death, famine, hunger, evil, pain, anguish, and suffering?
Who knows what is real and what isnt concerning religion, I think that life is a test, we have choices and rule our own lives, why shouldnt you have to earn a place in paradise and practice complete unwaivering faith in something you cant see or prove to get to a place better than this world in the end?? It would be too easy if we knew the outcome for sure. If certain ideas make people happy and they believe no matter what the world throws at them, then I think that is ok.
Blame God for everything you and others do, that is your right. The greatest minds of this world cant prove or disprove there is a God. Its all about faith and always has been, what is wrong with that?
"[God] is not proud...He will have us even though we have shown that we prefer everything else to Him."
If god needs your worship to get into heaven, then he has an ego which makes him no better than you or I.
Every single bit of progress in humane feeling, every improvement in criminal law, every step in the diminution of war, every step toward better treatment of the colored races, or every mitigation of slavery, every moral progress that there has been in the world, has been consistantly opposed by the organized churches of the world. I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its cchurches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world.
If Christianity brings you peace and that is how you want to perceive the world and your place in it, so be it. There's nothing wrong with believing one way or the other. It becomes wrong when they try to impose those beliefs on the rest of society. It is wrong when they try to include creation stories in science class, when they try to control womens' bodies, and proclaim that their way is the only way.
what a load of garbage
So I suppose God wasn't there when this mentally ill individual prayed for help with his illness(and lets be honest, anyone who would do this is mentally ill). I don't know if this man pleaded for help to God prior to finally acting out or not. What I do know is that having worked with the seriously mentally ill in the past, I have seen and heard their prayers fall on deaf ears. They truly beg for mercy and unless modern medicine is able to help them, their prayers go unanswered. Claiming that evil exists in order to allow us free will is fine and dandy until you wake up and realize that the "evil" in Colorado that night was allowed to happen by the same God who would allow a baby bird to fall from a nest only to be picked apart by fire ants and maggots. This notion of a God that cares about individuals and humanity is a nonsense fairy tale told by people who can't accept not knowing why what we call "bad things" happen.
No, not all who commit atrocious acts are mentally ill. Some are just plain mean, evil people. Are the mob bosses from the past & the present – who order death like a side of fries – and those who carry out those orders mentally ill? Are the gang-bangers who shoot people for fun or initiation rites mentally ill? Are the dictators in other countries who massacre their people for having a different faith or for power & control of territory mentally ill? No, they aren't – they are just evil creatures. Evil exists – all you have to do is read a history book to see it in black & white...
Drivel. I simply couldn't get through reading this fiction.
The belief in a God that intervenes in the goings on of this life is pernicious and dangerous. There is no answer to this question precisely because there is no hand of God in our affairs. You may as well ask whether the alignment of the stars had anything to do with this as ask if God did. And while I appreciate the pastor's sentiments about God being found in the kindness and compassion of many people after the shootings, he falls back on Man as an exceptional creation of God as an argument for why these evil events happen. So, God is still found in the good in us, but the evil is our free will. I don't know – aren't both expressions of incredible human nature?
A Pastor who did not use one scripture in his defense .Ecles 9: 11 . Read your Bible Pastor
I don't think he needed to quote scriptures for this article. And who are you to tell him to? I am a Wiccan and I found this article enormously comforting (and not because it is delusional as Mark Yelka says above). I thought the article was religiously as well as philosophically sound, the beginning on what could be a very good treatise on how a god, free will and natural law work together.
I think he was trying to identify with many who are not familiar with the Bible, and therefore references do not mean much in the way of helping to make his point.
So to be a good Christian you have to quote Bible verses ad nauseum?
That's what wrong with religion today. A man with less education than I have quotes a parable from a so-called holy book written, who know when, by who knows who, and tries to say that is what God intended. That insults my intelligence because I also read and can understand parables. Talk
to me about life pastor...
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.