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.
The age old question: DID GOD CREATE MAN or DID MAN create GOD?
If God is good..why do so few..like Mitt Romney..have so much and refuses to share his 'god given bounty .
except in his church where he gets tax write offs..
I'm perfectly fine with not knowing how G-d works and what G-ds role is in our daily lives. If we could really explain then we would be the equal. When people think they can, the result is well intentioned but ridiculous explanations that only show how far we are from really understanding these things.
Let me explain, Marc. There is no God and if this magical, mystical figure is in your daily life, you may just be crazy.
It's just unfortunate that this person is trying to convince people the trajedy was the result of supernatural evil influence, and not for what it really is: Mental illness. How can we expect to progress as a society if we continue to think that way?
RELIGION: A GRAND WASTE OF HUMAN TIME, ENERGY AND RESOURCES
This statement (of warped reasoning) is just another ridiculous,dangerous, delusional religious fantasy.
What a tremendous waste of mind, time, energy and resources, the dangerous fantasy of religion continues to be for mankind!
Many people have a wrong view of history, God, and human nature so if you want real answers as to why death, suffering, and evil exist read this http://www.answersingenesis.org/assets/pdf/radio/death-and-suffering.pdf
Ken Ham will rot your brain, man.
To put it in layman's terms: RELIGION IS B.S.
God apparently doesn't intervene on anything. There is murder and evil everywhere. I believe the bible says he abandoned us doesn't it? That is if you believe in the bible and a Christian God. we're on our own.
Your comment is very, very accurate!
Yes, but where was Santa Claus, Snoopy, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster? Surely these questions are just as important.
Where was God? God is always where He has always been. The question is as life hits us, where are you? Where am I? Where are we?
2 Timothy 3
New International Version (NIV)
3 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
6 They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, 7 always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. 9 But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.
Wow! What a colorful and creative piece of forgery in Paul's name.
All of those crosses for the xtrians that were killed in CO. No Star of Davids' or the Islam Moon & Star? Wiccan Pentagrams?
I have some acquaintances who think everything that happens is God's will. I believe there is God's will, man's will, and the devil is doing just fine, thank you very much.....
I usually hate CNN's one sided left reporting, but this is a very good article. It sucks that the atheist use a tragedy to take a stab at the religions they hate "Where is God" and how the paster is usually responsible for answering that question. I say God is here and everywhere and gave you the choice to do good or evil, its not God's fault someone choses evil.
God is nowhere because he/she does not exist except in the feeble minds of fools and charlatans.
Well said, Aj, Thankyou for your awesome post!
Hey Ralphie, what about my post?
So if religion is the source of "evil",why have atheists killed before? If religion is as atheists say it is,that means atheists are blameless and they cannot kill,steal, lie,cheat,etc.Atheism can make humanity sane and "kept in line with secular behavior",but their actions show its not religion,its mankind.
They want to blame religion just to tick off the religious.They are a sad group doing nothing but spreading hatred not love and acceptence.Most of them act like the "religious" they claim not to like or even be like.
Love and acceptance is hardly behavior we usually associate with the religious but rather intolerance and hate towards those who don't follow their particular religious myths and "rules".
I think we all agree that "good" and "evil" exist, though they are merely subjective, not absolute. What we don't agree on is the existence of a fairy "god" and "devil" which are the alleged "causes" of "good" and "evil".
Mother Nature was cruel indeed when she gave atheists all the brains and talent, not to mention good looks. Sorry, religious zealots. You got the short end of the stick, my foolish friends. Your single-digit IQs and mental instability are not your fault. Blame Mother Nature, but turn to good and decent atheists to guide you through the complexities of life.
god was at the same place when Hiroshima and Nakasaki were nuked,Dresden was firebombed,villages in Vietnam were burned to the ground with napalm,all those tortures and murders happened during the dark ages,taliban slaughtered people at will,tens of millions of native Americans were exterminated,millions of Africans were enslaved or killed,Saddam gassed his people and slaughtered hundreds of thousands of them,Assad of Syria killing..............................................................
If there was a true believing victim in the cinema, he has surely died peacefully (of course, even his murder by Holmes was an awful crime). Yet, if we are "in Christ" by faith the biological death loses its scare
How long are we still focusing on that Aurora matter?
Yes, regretably some people had to die and some were hurt. Yet, it is sure that if they had not died by that massacre they had died later, maybe the next day by a disease or an accident or another crime.
Our time on earth is limited. Let us accept that fact.
Better, we would aspire more for spiritual peace than for a very long life on earth. Imagine a man, sixty years old, he has eaten some thousand steaks, has seen a great portion of all countries on earth, has driven many different cars, etc., etc.. In a word, after a while every thing only repeats and life becomes boring. Hence, it cannot be the meaning of life to stay on earth for ever.
We should aspire for eternal peace which only God can give us. This divine peace will help us to die peacfully if time has come. God's peace is stronger than the biological death, and thus believers will only pass away. By the way, the divine peace is a person, it is Christ who will carry us through death if we believe in him from now on.
It is only, when we decide to live as believers we have to accept some sorrow here on earth. Jesus was rejected und suffered, the same fate has the Christian Church.
The Roman Catholic Church with here temporal glamour is merely a distortion of the true Church. Every true believer should forsake the Roman Catholic Church of the pope and join the low and persecuted Church of Jesus.
Fantastic and somewhat surprising to see that the pastor also believes in natural laws such as gravity. This is not what one would expect from someone so retarded that he believes there are beings like "satan" and "god".
Why do people who don't believe in God make it a point to come to these threads and insult anyone who does. Some religious folks say that if you don't believe in or follow a god, then you can't possibly be a moral person. Is that true ? Then why are you showing them correct by coming to these threads and acting like jerks trying to crap on other peoples beliefs ? That can go for anyone, religious or not. Are you trying to help humanity, or are you just another reason we are so divided ?
What is the big deal? Religious beliefs/delusions are no different than political standpoints, i.e. they can be debated. It's not like you came up with this silly christianity myth yourself.
Made some corrections:
Why do people who believe in God make it a point to come to these threads and insult anyone who does. Some atheist folks say that if you believe in or follow a god, then you can possibly be a moral person. Is that true ? Then why are you showing them correct by coming to these threads and acting like jerks trying to crap on other peoples non-beliefs ? That can go for anyone, religious or not. Are you trying to help humanity, or are you just another reason we are so divided ?
If this is God's plan, I wan't no part of it.
Kris: It's your choice, no problem. Go it alone..... Good luck, and don't say you weren't warned when you, and all like you, answer for your choice.
I can understand the hurt behind your words. But the thing is, God's plan or not, we are still a part of the sometimes tragic existance here on earth, and there is no escaping that. At least with the knowledge of God's plan, there is hope.
@Ralph...I think your response is a little insensitve. If you truly are a believer, then we have to address nonbelievers with love and encouragement. Not in a manipulative way, but with sincere concern. God will do the rest.
I'm with you Kris. I feel the same way. I'm not sure if I believe in God or not, but if he does truely exist I don't want any part of it. I myself lost a child and I consider myself to be a good person. Where was God when I needed him? I can't support a higher power that has left me to suffer for the rest of my life and stood by and did nothing but let my child who had done no wrong die.
this pastor is 100% right. god is always there, in the good that man does. he was not there in holmes the day of the massacre, but was there in the three men that protected their girlfriends with their lives and countless others that helped one another. we have the ability in all of us to let the god and good shine though. we just have to realize the potential that good can bring to any situation.
"he was not there in holmes the day of the massacre"
He was on vacation then?
Of course the real question, often presented as "where was God.." is "why did/does God allow it?" And to just say "man has free will" is not enough truth to answer a thinking persons question. For man will have free will in eternity also. The true answer is much deeper and 100% satisfactory. Aquaint yourself with the Great Controversey. I especially encourage the hard core of the hard core non-believer types to do so.
James Holmes should get the death penalty. 100 out of 100 real 'Murican christians agree with this statement.
Conclusion #1: 100 out of 100 christians haven't read their bible.
Conclusion #2: 100 out of 100 christians thumb their nose at "god".
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.