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.
God is the creator of the universe, the source of everything good.
Or as atheists like to say, just a monster in the sky. How thoughtful.
Spaghetti monster, if you please
Those big bad atheists, huh? Sounds like someone needs to learn a little tolerance for those people who don't share his beliefs. Think about that the next time you cry that Christians are being "persecuted"
Although, given some of the sh!t that your god is responsible for, I'd say "monster" is an entirely apt description.
You quote an ancient book, written by men, and think that makes your point? Not thoughtful at all. Engage your brain.
When nutjobs kill, the ONLY thing that's going on is ...... a nutjob killing.
Religion and the belief in any god is just a disgusting, filthy, perverted disease of the mind.
I think it's crazy how some of the smartest people can be so dumb.
To the surgeon, what about all the lives you have saved? Do you think that was all you? We all have our role to play and only God knows when our time will come. Death will happen. God Bless you all.
So the doctor's don't get credit for saving someone's life on an operating table?
You can't have it both ways and say God works in mysterious ways, and when things work out, say, Miracles happen!
It was him, the other surgeons, doctors, and nurses. It was his training. It was the people who educated him. It was the paramedics who stabilized the person and got them to the hospital. It was the helicopter pilot who flew someone in. Yes – he didn't do it alone.
I can't even believe CNN has a section called "Belief Blog". This garbage doesn't belong on a news site.
So tired of humoring these petty God-bothering idiots.
People can rationalize the most insane things sometimes. It's too bad this man's brain is so small that he can't grasp reality.
Where was god?
God was in the same place god always exists – in your mind and the back-pockets of the ruling class.
I actually EXPERIENCED HEAVEN last night, when my hot 21 year old date Leslie rode me for the first time ever!!! Instead of the 'white light', I saw fireworks when I climaxxed!
It wasn't funny the first time. Still just as derivative and stupid now.
@ really: why not? Why can't that be a manifestation of your god? Why can't s-ex, and all of the amazing, sticky, gooey, hot pleasure that comes of it be part of god? Do YOU claim to KNOW everything about god? Isn't that awfully arrogant?
It's interesting how quickly people assume good and evil can exist if God does not exist. It's interesting because logically no one as ever been able to give a reason how good and evil exist if God does not exist.
It's also interesting how many people think advancing humanity equates to good. And the opposite equates to evil. On what grounds can atheists say that? Because it seems obvious? That's no reason.
1. The universe is not intuitive, (as proven by Heisenberg, Einstein, and Dirac). Therefore your perception of a "logical" universe, is not only completely subjective, (as proven by Neuroscience), but also unreliable.
2. Define "good" and 'evil". I hope you know the Bible, (Genesis anyway), was appropriated from Sumerian myths, where, (according to Jewish scholars), it's really about Chaos and Order. We know from Chaos Theory that order arises spontaneously, (the Mandelbrot set).
3. Your "god of the gaps" argument could also lead to billions upon billions of other causes. It does not lead to god(s). It's the Argument from Ignorance fallacy.
You have one option. Prove it, or shut up.
the so called morality tales and concepts in the bible were plagiarized from the Greek pagans.....Those in the New Testament can be traced to much older roots long before the christian myth was created by the Roman Flavian family.
What jumps out at me is something I learned some 35 years ago when studying anthropology – most people need a form of mythology to explain the world.
The answer is to make something up. The brainwashed people just want to hear nice things. The truth is too harsh.
God lets bad people kill at will.
The devoted say it’s because of “free will”.
Then why do they pray, and pray, and pray?
For god to help them, day after day?
They pray to god to improve their fate
Their own free will they ask god to negate
“Free will” for us all…, from the god of peace!
Who sends us to hell for a wrong belief.
Buddhists believe that compassion is the ultimate human grace. In my opinion, not one of us knows with proof that "God" exists and what that god may be like. This is also why Buddhists will often reply with "don't know" when asked about the existence of a higher power or god. But we can be compassionate toward one another not only in the hour of need, but at times when we'd prefer to turn away from people we don't like, people who are different from us, people who do not see eye to eye with us.
Sometimes it seems - from the outside - exhausting to watch people try to figure out why God would do something terrible or allow something terrible to happen. In my opinion it makes most sense to always put compassion to work in the world. The "whys" tend to be a waste of energy better used on reaching out to minister to people, even those we may not like.
I want proof god is a male... anyone see his dic? and if so why does HE have one?
These types of articles, that try and justify some kind of super deity..... Actually, make me think I'm reading something from back in time. Call me crazy....
Dominant religion today are nothing more than mythologies of ignorant and uncivilized people from the Bronze Age.
Given God's past history, my guess about where God was is: sitting there laughing his ass off, yelling "More! More!". Because he's a bloodthirsty, violent, petulant god.
WhiLe I basically object to the way in which those here who clearly do not believe in god have posted their insults and rude comments, I have to say that I agree with the basic point.
If god is not relevant, and we have free will, then why does he matter to us? One of the most ridiculous comments here was that if you replace the word god with flying spaghetti monster that the meaning doesn't change. Unfortunately, that's true. It's a sad way to argue a point, but it makes more simple sense than many other comments.
All that said, I still respect the comments and beliefs of the author. In my opinion, religion was created by men to help them deal with their fears. This article and the beliefs of its author accomplish that basic goal.
People keep believing because they are afraid god will send them to hell and hope to live forever in heaven.
To live in fear is to be a slave.
When religion makes no sense, just say .. it's "a gap that transcends understanding" and it no longer needs to make sense .. how self reinforcing.
And only humans have souls and that's what makes us special and different from the animals. Of course, no one has ever SEEN a soul, so how can we say animals don't have them... but then again, it's HUMANS who believe in souls, so I guess that's what makes us so special.
I'm a surgeon who has seen some horrific things. Two year old with brain oozing out of her skull after a motor vehicle crash. A 9 months old boy who was kicked so hard by his step father that he ruptured his bowel and died on the operating table. A 5 year old choked on a small block of wood he and his playmates found on the play area while his parents and everyone else were in church just 20 feet away. The parents, who were physicians themselves, had to withdraw care when it became obvious that the entire brain had died from anoxia despite the best medical efforts.
BTW, that's a nice picture on your website with your wife and your kids. Let's see where your god is if anything as horrific as the above happens to one of your kids. If your so called god exists, he is one sick mother f'ker.
All thinking man are atheists. Religion is for the feeble minded.
Best response ever.
Since you stated the one child's parents were physicians, and religion is for the feeble minded, are you saying there are MDs who are actually feeble minded?
I'll second A Marine's comment. Best response ever.
Yes there are plenty of physicians who are feeble minded... unable to break away from the shackle of religious indoctrination from their early life. It takes courage and intellectual integrity to accept what is rational and logical and to abandon the comforting lies offered by a religion. Not everyone is able to find the strength to risk being shunned by their family and ostracized by their community.
I find logic and rational thought far more comforting than religion could ever be. I don't need the answer to every question. After all, we only have a limited understanding of the universe, but I do need the answers to make sense within our limited understanding and this is where religion falls completely apart for me. It is devoid of logic, it makes NO sense whatever. I cannot say with certainty whether or not there is a God. But I CAN say with certainty that all religions are false.
Having practiced pediatric, as well as adult surgical nursing for twenty-eight years, I have to say I agree with you one-hundred percent.
Thanks for your effort to save lives Monty....
Read Caesar's Messiah to learn why the bible was created by the Roman Flavian Family...
It was created to control the masses to follow Roman rule and call them Lord..
The pagans were willing to do this in their temples, but the Jews would not.. hence the christian myth was rooted in the Jewish one... more details in the CM book.. Doc Video coming out on Sept 28th.. It will rock the christian world...
All guessing, no facts. Next!
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.