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My Take: This is where God was in Aurora
Twelve crosses comprise a makeshift memorial across the street from the movie theater where last week’s mass shooting happened.
July 28th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

My Take: This is where God was in Aurora

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.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Church • God • Opinion

soundoff (4,566 Responses)
  1. Starnois

    Religious people are so stupid

    July 29, 2012 at 9:52 am |
    • MagicPanties

      That's not helpful.
      Their belief may be 'stupid' but not necessarily the person.
      I think most of these people were unfortunately brainwashed as children and just haven't had the right opportunity to break free of it.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
  2. Joseph

    I've served five years in the Marine Corps as a combat engineer. with four legit war tours and one full year in the Asian area. I have seen centuries of destruction, poverty,and tasted blood first hand. I don't wish this type of thing anywhere or on anyone, but man is programmed to sin and America is young. So until death or something crazier, "We all change"sorrow will prevail. I wish the best to the families of Colorado.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:52 am |
  3. RadarTheKat

    "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)."

    I've got a great idea. Let's all take responsibility for our own actions and our own lives. It's not God or Satan, or Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, that makes us fat or lazy or poor. It's us! We're responsible. As a society we can do much to assist one another, but we're still each responsible for our own lives and the welfare and health of our children. Period. No God nth needed. No need to invoke Satan No blaming the government or even those hated Wall Streeters. It's on us.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:52 am |
  4. JPoet

    And btw Jesus was a dictator, no free rights in christianity. So the whole freedoms is anti Christian. Get it Christians your love of free rights is anti Christ. Christ was not about individual freedoms he was about collective thought. About thinking as him not for ourself. So all you right wing chritsians you are not as long as you are free thinkers, you want liberty, you want freedom, you are not Christian.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:52 am |
    • Hello

      to get more details on the bible myth.. read Caesar's Messiah by Joseph Atwill.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:59 am |
  5. LAIBACH

    Google 'Joe Holman Minister Turns Atheist'. GREAT website!

    July 29, 2012 at 9:49 am |
    • cnn_worst_ratings_in_history_

      CNN worst ratings in history.

      This place is a liberal CESSPOOL, keep it up!
      :)

      July 29, 2012 at 9:55 am |
    • Who me?

      CNN-The gold standard for news reporting.Keep up the great work...And ,perhaps god was merely taking a nap.He was,after all,created in our image.

      July 29, 2012 at 10:06 am |
  6. MalcomR

    Any religious person who tries to rationalize this horrific event by defending their god as "good and all loving" and this is all part of some plan, should be reclassified into a new species. I was thinking "h. idioticus" or "h. patheticus". It infuriates me and it's part of the reason I'm not just an atheist, but an anti-theist.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:49 am |
    • joey

      you only voice your anti-theism cause you're an a s s hole

      July 29, 2012 at 9:51 am |
    • Chad

      You want God to make us be nice?

      July 29, 2012 at 9:51 am |
    • joey

      g od d amn atheists are just as dumb as religious folk on the internet. me bashin an atheist makes me a christian?

      July 29, 2012 at 9:53 am |
    • MalcomR

      Couple of good, high-level replies so far.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:54 am |
    • joey

      your original post doesn't invite any intelligent conversation

      July 29, 2012 at 9:54 am |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      Chad: What's wrong with that? Your "god" will be making everything nice in the next world, right? Ah, but then that's OK. Right? Idiot who can't acknowledge conflict.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:55 am |
    • Chad

      We only get to the next world by exercising our free will and accepting the sacrifice of Jesus, leading to reconciliation. We indicate that we WANT to be reconciled and transformed.
      God doesnt make us do anything, ever.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:58 am |
    • JPoet

      Easy to blame god for our deeds. Many philosophers such as William Blake in "the human abstract" mocked the ideas that one must suffer to prove god.

      Understand we can't stop people being violent but we can stop producing personal WMD, we don't. Anyone here who thinks god is ok with building selling and marketing personal WMD, well you here ever read the book fr yourself. I don't know any chritsians who ever did.. You take what your told by your boy loving priest .

      So all you god believers think god wants us to make personal WMDs, ha, ha, ha, you are all being lead by you know who.m I hope you all like warm weather cause you facilitate mass murder. You are an accomplice to helping mentally I'll people kill en mass.

      I guess you never read TURN THE OTHE CHEEK. If you did guns would not be legal..

      I am not against guns I am angst phones chritsians, bas theologians, flocks who believe whatever crap their priest tells them, people wh not not don't read the modern bible, edited by your priest, but who don't study the cannon, religions, who wrote the books or any theology.

      Ok god loves when people kill each the well if that's our god I thumb my nose at him.

      July 29, 2012 at 10:00 am |
    • Who me?

      The constant,never doubting,use of circular logic can inevitably lead to anything you wish to justify.This includes belief in a god, that is obviously powerless, and/or apathetic(at it's best).When it's in a good mood it can help you hit home runs and consul you when you lose the big game.If it's in a bad mood(because it didn't receive enough flattery),it will bring bad weather and tragedy.A very simple and childish way to think, about a simple and childish GOD.PEACE to ALL!

      July 29, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  7. Rabid Goon

    God is an outdated an archaic concept that people still cling to for emotional reasons and because of tradition. Intellectually, we are at least advanced enough as a species to discard such silliness, but people too easily allow their better judgment to be clouded by emotion.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:47 am |
    • Jay

      You obviously have never experienced the presence of God as I had...to know Him is to feel His spirit in us...you do not need intellect to have a face-to-face with the Supreme Being of the universe...if you read your Bible, pray everyday and accept Christ as your Personal Savior, you wouldn't be making the comment here...

      July 29, 2012 at 9:54 am |
    • joey

      i've read the bible through 3 times, used to pray every day multiple times, and went to church 3 times a week. i now realize what a huge waste of time that was.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:55 am |
    • Who me?

      @ Jay.."you don't need intellect to ...",..with that statement you pretty much nailed.Congrats!!

      July 29, 2012 at 10:29 am |
  8. Aaron

    The simple answer lies in the Bible. When Adam and Eve sinned, God withdrew his total protection as part of their failure to obey. The bible says that the whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one and that time and unforseen occurance befall us all. So the fact are that right now, until Jesus comes back and cleans up the problems on the earth, there will continue to be death and horrible things. It's God's way to prove that man DOES need his protection and yes, it's taken over 6,000 years for this proof, but it will be unrefutable before all creation – including spirit realm and physical – that God's way is the best way and that the Devil's taunt to Adam and Eve was a lie. Until this world is cleaned up, these things will happen and there is no way it is humanly possible to prevent this stuff 100%. It's too big of a problem (moral problem) to stop completely. If you don't believe the Bible, then please disregard everything I've said.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:47 am |
    • Seyedibar

      you believe the world started with a mud man and a rib woman that were tricked by a taling snake. I'm pretty sure that automatically invalidates any opinion you could state.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:52 am |
    • MagicPanties

      So punish the children for the sins of the parents?
      Wow, that's a loving god?

      This would be funny if not for the fact that religion is responsible for so much evil in this world.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:53 am |
    • jjjjjameson

      That sounds kind of petty for this ultimate and all loving being. Someone you never met disobeyed me so I'm punishing your entire species? He sounds like a middle school girl holding a grudge

      July 29, 2012 at 10:01 am |
    • Hello

      I believe this about the bible... Caesar's Messiah... by Joseph Atwill

      July 29, 2012 at 10:38 am |
  9. G. Zeus Kreiszchte

    So if the Jewish "god" already made the mistake (which "he" knew beforehand was a mistake since "he" was all-knowing) of making man with free will (as the story goes)......then this "god" turns around and gets all remorseful about making man.....

    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."

    ....please explain:
    (1) why your "god" allowed man to continue to exist ONCE AGAIN, knowing (as any omniscient "god" would) that man would just do the same thing again?
    (2) what did the innocent ANIMALS do to pi$$ off "god"? Or are animals capable of doing evil, too? All of them?!

    July 29, 2012 at 9:47 am |
    • Chad

      1. Because ultimately God wants us to be reconciled to Him
      2. The bible doesnt say anything about animals having done anything to "deserve" their current situation, our actions had a devastating impact on all of the creation.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:56 am |
    • Hello

      Chad
      your god is a narcissistic, egotistical, maniac...Typical gods..created by men who with the same traits. .

      July 29, 2012 at 10:41 am |
  10. JPoet

    Maybe if we stopped imprinting all this on our kids they would solve these issues. As long as you go the "evit proves god" route humanity is dead. This is for us to solve. Us. William Blake in the1700's stated the fallacy of these arguments. Read "the human abstract". You can't stop this kind of thing, but if people like Gabby Gifford praise getting shot, never speak out about what she caused by inviting guns to her rally, well then we all except it. NOT GOD, us.

    Hey pastors and all you othe pr Christians we are being tested and losing. God wants to see us fix this and instead we may blame him and nature. Hahha, pastor and all you Christians you antsiest Christian and being Christian means thinking about everything you do. We do guns, WMD for sale in America by your president and congress.

    We don't even vote on gus, the NRA tell Obama what to do.

    Christians what have you done but pray. I as again what DEEDS have you done by pray. Sorry DEED was Jesus, deeds, not prayer.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:46 am |
  11. REPEATREPEATEREPEATREPEATER

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    July 29, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • Free Thinker

      Excellent!

      July 29, 2012 at 9:48 am |
    • us_1776

      Now you've got the idea.

      .

      July 29, 2012 at 9:48 am |
    • Free Thinker

      Excellent post!

      July 29, 2012 at 9:48 am |
    • really

      Okay, well you've shown that atheists can be just as unbalanced as zealots.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:49 am |
    • MalcomR

      @really: No, he's just using the exact same technique the religious use to indoctrinate their children, only in a highly compressed format. Good post.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:52 am |
    • stormofreason

      A few more times please for all the dummies that still think there is a big Daddy in the sky watching them & judging them....

      "Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings."

      July 29, 2012 at 9:57 am |
    • Adam

      Prove it.

      July 29, 2012 at 10:00 am |
    • Who me?

      I did not read your entire post,but I think I got the message.Very convincing.You offered no proof for your claim but I have faith that you are correct.I hear-by praise you for this clear,comforting message!

      July 29, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • Hello

      let me guess there is a hidden message in your post or are you proud you know how to copy paste?

      July 29, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  12. MagicPanties

    The funny thing about god "letting us choose" good or evil is that _not_ believing in this imaginary being produces exactly the same result. Hmmm...

    If children were not brainwashed with the same beliefs as their parents the cycle might be broken.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:45 am |
  13. us_1776

    God is the same place it's always been – Nowhere.

    The concept of gods was created by ancient rulers as a way to manage their populations at a distance so they came up with the idea of an "Eye in the Sky" that would spy on people.

    The human race is maturing beyond these simplistic ideas and we no longer have a need for religions. They are a relic from the past.

    .

    July 29, 2012 at 9:45 am |
  14. lmori

    We are the only country in the world who "expects" happiness.
    We think that god loves us and only us, and that he is somehow supposed to make sure that we are always happy and that bad things never happen to us.
    Meanwhile, thousands of children all over the world starve to death before their 2nd birthday.
    We buy gas guzzling SUVs while people starve and have the temerity to ask why god doesn't help us before everyone else?

    July 29, 2012 at 9:45 am |
    • jjjjjameson

      If thats your reasoning, Why doesn't he help them either?

      July 29, 2012 at 9:53 am |
    • Big Mac

      And the beauty of that statement about the US is that you can move : )

      July 29, 2012 at 10:04 am |
    • lmori

      I don't think you're getting my point. I'm not saying anyone should or shouldn't get helped.
      I'm saying that americans expect to get helped even though we have it better than people who don't get helped.
      I'm saying we are the most spoiled people on the planet.
      Name another country where you can sue someone for giving you too much food and making you fat?

      July 29, 2012 at 10:08 am |
    • Sam

      so what is your point?

      July 29, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • Big Mac

      So the country you are naming that you would like to move to is...
      So your point is, you have been given a gift (gift of freedom), however, all of the colors (rights and privileges) don't suit you, so you are going to complain to the gift giver that worked hard to make the gift from their blood sweat and tears. You are not getting your own point – the same things you are complaining about are the very reason you have the opportunity to complain.

      July 29, 2012 at 11:34 am |
  15. Charles

    Two major possibilities: God allows free will, or there is no God at all and we choose our paths. From the perspective of the result, the two are indistinguishable. If the result is the same whether or not there is a God, is God relevant?

    July 29, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • MagicPanties

      No, god is not relevant.

      But... belief in god is very relevant today and is directly responsible for so much evil (e.g., islamic terrorism, gay bigotry, spanish inquisition and on and on).

      July 29, 2012 at 9:49 am |
  16. KMC

    Excellent article and very true.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:44 am |
  17. d shaw

    If you change the word God to Flying Spaghetti Monster it makes just as much sense.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • MagicPanties

      And if you change it to Santa Claus we all get presents!

      July 29, 2012 at 9:50 am |
    • Againstbullies

      Ramen!

      July 29, 2012 at 9:53 am |
  18. joshua

    see dr owour a prophet among us. the apostacy of the end of time in 2 tesalonian 3 started long ago. therefore causing the Grace of G. to stay at a distance until we are called again to repentance for the final even. then we will meet with Jesus once and for all and all suffering will end that is why He came to die for us. to end this deaths and to restored what once was perfect and will be. The Spiritual Realm of G. will be restored and there wont be no more killings. see time on mathew 24 joel 2 habbacuk 3 isaias 17&24 psalms 83. things will get worse since the evil know Jesus is coming soon. they will act through humans unless we look for the protection of The Most High. Bible is a sword and shield. there is the protection and if we die. let Jesus be Glorify because He will resurrect us in His coming 1 tesalonian and 2 tesalonian see for yourself.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:43 am |
  19. permafrost

    once you realize and accept that there is no god, there is nothing to explain.
    we are simply animals borne of violence with one foot still in the jungle and every so often
    our suppressed instincts will re-surface like they did in aurora. that is why gun control is necessary, because it could be anybody that cracks. we all have the same dna.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • Chris

      With your response, what is the purpose of living? Why take the time to write that? Why read the news? Why do you even wake up?
      There is so much to live for. God Bless.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:59 am |
  20. smadam1

    so basically, atheists: if Christians acted like this –> "Aurora survivor to alleged shooter: ‘I forgive you’" and only believed this –>"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." and NOT like this: "God hates f*gs!"...you wouldn't have a problem with them believing in something?

    July 29, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • Seyedibar

      there's always a problem when people have delusions that do not fit reality.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:54 am |
    • jjjjjameson

      For this particular scenario yes, but overall they would also have to stop shoving religion in everyone's faces, stop indoctrinating their children (hey wasn't the point of this article about how god lets his children make their own choices?) and stop teaching the parts of the religion that induce a culture which encourages ignorance and the idea of superiority, us vs them mentality.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:58 am |
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About this blog

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.