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.
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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.
There is not god get over it weak people.
The comment section proves that atheist demand Christians to respect them, but have NO respect for Christians. This is the belief section of CNN and you guys have posted only hateful comments. If you have that much hate for someone's beliefs you are the problem not them. Get a life!
Tough s.h.i.t. When you xians stop trying to take over my government, and quit justifying your disgusting behavior with you god thingy, then I'll shut up. You spread fear, intolerance (and no, I'm not intolerant – keep it in private, like jesus said), and ignorance.
With all due respect, I disagree. I've seem some very respectful comments from non-believers. I, for one, completely respect your right to believe what you want and to voice your beliefs. You must respect my right to disagree with you and to voice my disagreement.
If a man dies childless, his widow is ordered by biblical law to have intercourse with each of his brothers in turn until she bears her deceased husband a male heir. (MARK 12:18-27) Do you support this? Or do you pick and choose what you support from the Bible ?
Well said. Thank you
The problem isn't with God. The problem is with religion. We are trying to live with a deity designed for desert nomads 2000+ years ago. Before then, our understanding of God was allowed to evolve as our culture evolved. Once a view of God from a moment in time was set down in a book though, all evolution in both our understanding and our civilization stopped. Technology grows, yes, but our understanding of our place in the universe does not. Religion has devolved to a exploitative system of crowd control, serving the needs of the few and the spiritual cost of the many. God can simply not be found there. All priests of all stripes (call yourself pastor if you'd like) are parasites. They offer no true experience of God. But that doesn't mean God does not exist, only that false prophets cannot point the way. To the issue of why where was God in Aurora, I would answer, "Where God always is. In the heart of it. In the heart of everything.
Ethics and morality is not solely predicated upon, or dependent upon 'The Bible' or any religious book for that matter. They can, and do exist independently of them. ALL religious books, tomes, and manuscripts were written by mortal men, not some 'pie in the sky' deity!
The reason pain and suffering existing and God being all-powerful seems contradictory is because we fail to understand what power is.
What saddens me is that when there is mention of God, those who don't believe in God just can't help being insulting, mocking and abusive. It's quite sad and says more about the state of the heart of those writing rather than any evidence against the existence of God. In fact, by entering into such mockery and immature comments, it completely undermines your own arguments. The actual article is really well written. Why not allow those who believe in God to have a say and hear them respectfully, especially in a world dominated by secular thought. I will hear your beliefs without degenerating into soundbites and insults designed to 'stop' debate. As a Christian, I don't take offence by the mocking comments but they're all too common. As for the existence of God, he's revealed himself in many ways. But we all have a personal choice to make :)
Steve, those us of us who don't accept religion see its long history of repression, of blacks, of women, of gays and others. We see a long chain of violence – from homes (wife and child beating justified by scripture) to nations. We don't understand why people believe in myths that support these sorts of things and yes, it is easy to fall into cynicism and insult. Not the best response, I agree, but to me, much of what is preached in the pulpit is damaging to humanity. And don't try to tell us religious people don't have a say. in "secular society." They run everything. Nobody can get elected to any significant public office unless they genuflect to what we perceive as an imaginary (and very partial) friend in the sky. This is part of what irritates us most – the victim whining from the majority faction.
It's ALL BS – Fate is Fickle!!
Remember, in atheist vs theist arguments, the atheist is the rocket scientist and the theist is the bonobo (at least they can walk somewhat upright).
My faith in God is as a creator, not tormentor. My God is fantilized as a shepard, healer, builder, destroyer, fearious and one to be blamed. My God is just God, not male, not female, just God. The meaning of God lives in each heart and mind, gives us faith.
Awww. Isn't that sweet.
may be you should try reading that bible .. it will change your mind like has millions of Atheists around the world..
Then read Caesar's Messiah... to get the finer details on the Authors and the REAL reason the myth was crested out of the Jewish one.
NOTE: its a joke book!!
And even Billy Graham, always, looks like he needs a haircut.
Rob Brendle has a very bad case of verbal diarrhea. But nonetheless totally inconsequential and meaningless. in a word GARBAGE.
our existence is very, very, very mysterious. there really is no answer for it in science and there never will be (all science can come up with is relatively insignificant details about how things work, they really can't answer any of the "why's" or even the original "how" of the universe(s) existence. so, God is what the ancients came up with and nobody has yet come up with a better idea.
Science and religion are really not at odds with each other anymore, there was a wonderful article in Discovery magazine, 1 to 2 years ago, that spoke of the possibility of how a larger force could be at work within the physical world, and that scientist is just one of many finding evidence of God in what they are learning from physics. Religion does not have to be a drug and the history of our religious beliefs shows we are evolving to understand what is both larger and smaller than us. . Wise parents want their children to understand and be responsible for the choices they make, to question, not to just follow blindly. Thank you Rob Brendle for this beautiful, intelligent article.
"A larger force"
Pathetic.. I mean look around, are you blind?
Mr Brendle is more a beleiver in the bible than in God. As with most "bibleists" he picks and chooses verses from the bible to "support" whatever position he propounds. We've all heard biblical reasons okaying slavery and the notion that the white race is superior to all others. The "comfort" the bible seems to offer is that evil will be dealt with by revenge. I forgot what group was going to have its children dashed upon the cliffs. The sad thing is that the revenge will be taken agains the "innocent"
dont mind the etheist it is written that they wont believe even if they see Jesus coming in Glory they still wont believe. but God promises hope for them too. and all others whether muslim, Jews, or Christians. in revelation who will be trown in the sulfur lake of fire. the dragon equal satan. the false prophet and the beast. it only mentions those three and in the last judgement habbakuk 3 then we will know our place. Dont forget G is must merciful and Loving G. So there is hope for everyone we just need to pray in love for them. they wont change their ways because of so many religions working without the Grace of G. the Holy Ghost.
Imbecile. Please learn to form complete sentences.
And if Jesus came in all his glory (or what you perceive it to be), you wouldn't believe either. You'd be a skeptic just like everyone else. You'd claim that it's impossible for him to be the messiah, and label him the anti Christ.
On a lighter note, why do these TV evangelists have the worst and oddest looking hairstyles ?
Did God tell them to wear their hair like that?
Thinking about hai, Donald Trump often speaks as from a pulpit. Coutd it be some kind of a folicle folly?
they are all just showmen.... raking in money... they could be talking about anything... god, snake oil, the newest gizzmo.. They have used their gab talent to sell their wares... nothing else.. if they were in the middle east they would be selling sharia and muzzy krap... its easy money... tax free money and they get the attention their narcissistic personalities so desperately want.
And hey... the can get rich off the masses of dumb and stupid people...and there are a lot of them... willing to pay GOD what ever it takes to make the FEEL good..
"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." (<–quote from article)
The author gets credit for even bringing this up. The overwhelming majority of religious leaders do not touch the subject and when they do, it is often to simply explain some complex interpretation. In addition, the vast majority of religious people I know don't even contemplate this (which tells you their pastor, Sunday school teacher, etc. isn't bringing it up).
IMO, it is rather easy to say that this "gap...transcends understanding" but to do so introduces yet another paradox (of sorts) and that is that you can't just brush this off and in the same conversation state that God created us with ability to reason and so on. God created us with the ability to reason withing a logical structure with this glaring contradiction? It's rather simple (to those not completely blinded by their emotions) – there simply is no freedom of choice when an *omnipotent* God knows everything you are going to do in your life before you exist.
Actually, Scripture doesn't teach that at all. In the Bible, God fails to anticipate the behavior of his creation, people thwart God all the time, God can't even get people to respect Him/Her. God is the supreme being in the Bible, but hardly the all-powerful being.
Oh, texjew. Let's not forget about prophecy in the bible where God wins over all evil no matter what. An omnipotent creator of his ilk already knows the outcome of everything, even your little pathetic life.
God exists. Its the IDEA of god being such and such which is wrong. As Xenophanes said.. if horses could draw, their gods will look like horses. So what does words like evil, good, bad etc mean to a horse? Nothing. Therefore the mistake here is projecting god in the image of man and then trying to make sense or get answers within the context of a man.
Say hi for me, Moses did. Peter did, can you please. Thanks.
Prove it or be gone, clone.
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.