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.
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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.
Pastor, YOU are indeed completely brain dead ! ! !
Believing in God is an act of free will. I choose to believe and in my soul I know he was there.
You "believe" he was there – fine. You don't "know" he was there. Or are you saying that you have the intellectual capacity to fully know and understand the supposed creator of everything. Show a magic trick to a 6 year old, and they will tell you they "know" that it was magic.
He was there while the shooting took place?
Yes He (God) was also there when they herded Women, Men, Children into the churches lit the fire.
The god you believe will be always silent because he doesn't exist.
I am always amazed at the arrogance of people who think they're too smart to believe in God.
I am always amazed at the ignorance of people who do not understand the basic definition of atheism, and who must resort to straw man attacks against atheists.
The pastor as god's lawyer. Or trying to be god's spinmiester. The notion of god was created in man's mind for just such events, as a way to cope with personal loss, that could not be explained by the science of today. And if you truly believe, know that the killer, if he finds god and is forgiven, will be in heaven, embracing the victims of his actions.
I am always amazed at smug people like you who tell me it's up to me to prove God exists. You prove to me he does. How wonderful it must be to suspend all rational thought, follow some book full of rules and get this great eternal reward when you die. Sadly when you die, you are fertilizer for the earth and nothing more. What matters is what you do on this earth during the brieff period you are here.
You are really out of your mind.
Let me get this straight, OK? God was there AFTER THE FACT. We're supposed to be comforted that an all-powerful, omniscient being's master plan for humanity is – building character through the grieving process and gaining strength through suffering? While blaming Satan for the acts of a homicidal maniac?
Please protect me from our gentle and loving Savior....I've had just about enough "character building" to last me a lifetime.
Mr. Brendle – go tell this story to children in Sunday school. Because any grownup with more than 2 brain cells to rub together and who's lost someone in Aurora should tell you to go shove your all-mighty, all-knowing, all-caring, compassionate Lord who thinks we will be better people by having our children massacred.
God, the creator of all life, is in full control,whether you choose to acknowledge Him or not. His ways are not our ways, and everyone of us has an appointed time to die. Tragedies like this can often shake the faith of believers, especially when we try to "play God" and figure out "where He was" during the atrocity. God is where He always has been; right here with us all.
Well, then, if god is in control , I consider him to be a murderous thug
What I want to know: where was santa claus when this happened?
What do floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions have to do with free will? Is man responsible for these catastrpehes? Is there free will in "heaven? And please remember that if there were a Satan, God would have created him. Oh, man, oh, man...
Does God allow bad things to happen? Yes! Does He take pleasure in evil? No! Could something good come out of tragedy? Certainly. We cannot possibly see all of the effects this type of tragedy will have.
You have zero proof that God was anywhere during this event or at any time, so really this is all just speculation. For all you know, your god doesn't give a crap about us and didn't prevent the Aurora shootings because he hates our guts. But I'm sure it makes you all warm and fuzzy inside to say how great he is and how he was there at the funerals, without any proof whatsoever, because that's how people like you keep believing, just making stuff up to make yourselves feel better.
God is Great. Man I am so glad I have a place to go when I die. I feel so bad for you guys that believe when you die, there is notthing, and then find eternal suffering. Your arguments will never change my faith, for I have notthing to lose and everything to gain.
Read Caesar's Messiah to gain the truth of your myth..
you will also learn more about the culture that the myth was created in....and for.
"I have notthing [sic] to lose and everything to gain."
This is another tired repeti.tion of Pascal's Wager - thoroughly refuted since the 17th century.
- What if the real "God" is Allah, or Vishnu, or Zeus, or Quetzalcoatl, or any of the other of thousands which have been dreamed up over the centuries? Some of them are very jealous and vengeful and will relegate you to nasty places for not worshiping them. You'd better cover your butt by believing in ALL of them and fulfill their wishes and demands.
- What if the real "God" prefers those who use logic and reason and punishes you as a silly sycophant?
- What if the real "God" detests those who believe something just to cover their butts in eternity?
Q: If the FSM is benevolent, why do bad things happen to good people?
A: They may have angered Him, or it could be that He is too busy, or indifferent for whatever reason, to get involved. He works in mysterious ways that we are not always able to understand.
My god thingy sounds about the same as the christian god thingy, but you don't have to shell out any money, free will and free religion and a heaven to boot, the FSM Trinity. See the Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster for more info, our one major fault is that we do discriminate against christian Born Agains, for our own safety and sanity.
"He distinguished humankind from among his creation with faculties like reason, emotion, dexterity and choice." Huh? Not one of the characteristics you mention is exclusive to humans. An argument can be made for animals not exhibiting these traits to the degree as humans, but not for their absence. Maybe guilt is exclusive to humans, but even that is debatable. Catch you dog eating your slippers and pay attention to its reaction. Animals can solve puzzles (reason and choice), express grief and happiness (emotion) and run rings around humans in obstacle courses (dexterity).
But do the dogs have the ability to sit down and write about it?
I would much rather be in a beautiful church with its people exuding love, friendship, its gorgeous flowers, its awe inspiring music, poetry, stained glass windows, its thousands and thousands of years of tradition and great hope for the world......than spend 5 minutes in the homes of these atheists and all their loud hatred!!
I would rather be with a bunch of clear thinking atheists rather than with a bunch of religious pedophiles.
Why do you a-ssociate atheism with hatred? It's merely the lack of belief in a specific deity. Atheists don't hate god – you can't hate something you don't believe in. Atheists may get frustrated when believers try to impose their religious beliefs on others in society, and try to influence governments and lawmakers to bend the laws to conform with those beliefs.
Thanks Rob, for proving her point. But Smurf, read the endless bitterness in the posts by atheists here. You may be different, but most of the atheists posting here are sad, bitter and angry.
thousand of years of history i hope that would not include the inquisition and other atrosities the church has been a part of for thousands of years. how many people have the church condemned to death for not believing in the tenants of thier belief . and don't forget if you are a true christian you have to follow all of it including exodus 21:17 death for cursing ones father or mother. punishment for taking the lord names in vain , death. leviticus 24:16 punishment for working on sabbath death exodus 31:15
I would suggest that these churches are nothing more than social clubs, that for the most part sit empty during the week with the heat and air on, that could be used for housing. If you really want to benefit your soul, go to the gym with you family and friends, get a good work out, and if you do not already do so, volunteer for social good. You will be healthier, feel better, and will be making a difference in your community, instead of dressing up in your finest and sitting on your behind.
i would rather know the truth of the myths and the people who created them and why.
Than dedicate my life to a lie.
Where was god? Behind the trigger, of course. Where else would he have been?
The pastor would have written more but he was in a hurry to get back to his used car lot.
Many people make a very good living as church leaders, mullahs, etc. Many of the worlds poor have no other choice but to believe these myths. Heaven, paradise, afterlife give these folks something to look forward to. The truth is education is the the only way out of this dilemma. Good luck with that !
WE all have a choice and a responsibility not to believe in lies..
dogma books are created to fool the ignorant...
With education... especially in the evolution of the myths... you will know how the mythic tools are created and used.
Read Caesar's Messiah to learn how the bible was created as a tool to control the masses by the Romans.
"God is a concept by which we measure our pain" ~ John Lennon. God is the most incredible creation of man's imagination. Unbelievable! Longest running scam in our history!
For a theologian, Xenophanes actually knew what he was talking about .. and 500 years before Jesus too!!
There is no god. Only the desperate and ignorant believe he exists!
Brendel's kind of delusional thinking only makes matters worse for all.
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.