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.
Better question: Where was Batman?
Now that's funny!!!
Well played sir.
A long (but nice) article; why western religions / the christians have such a hard time with this is beyond me. "god" is not disparate. WE ARE GOD.
Says in genisis we are like them now
So, one of the shooter's guns jammed, causing fewer people to die? So your argument for the existence of God is that "It could have been worse"? So God reached down and gummed up the firing pin, but couldn't reach down and flatten one of the man's tires? Or have a police officer pull him over on the way to the movie for a headlight being out?
The human brain is designed for pattern recognition – to find meaning and predictability in the environment/existence. Belief in any higher power is merely a byproduct of the inherent learning mechanism trying to assign a larger meaning to the chaos of existence.
A god who half-ass reaches down to cause "LESS PEOPLE TO DIE" is just the same as no God at all. I prefer to believe in no God (Functionally the same as a God who created and does not intervene) than the horrifying possibility of a God that occasionally reaches down to tweak a broken creation back in the direction he originally intended.
Agreed, If god can create heaven and earth in 6 days, God can prevent crap like this from happening. God is nonexistent.
Maybe god is nonexistant, or maybe it's just indifferent.
You people that all say you don't believe in god... I can't wait to see your faces when he comes back and leaves you here to deal with all the mess :) Then like the bible says, you will change your mind...
God is the imaginary friend of the intellectually disabled. Instead of looking for answers from an imaginary friend how about using some common logic. A mentally disturbed man took the lives of 12 people and wounded 60 others. At the same time made it harder for those who live outside of societies norm to live the way they want to. I am sick and tired of when something bad happens everyone goes "where was god at during this crisis" or "the devil made this event happen" How about learning from the event and making sure it doesnt happen again?
Totally correct my friend. This is what is called "The argument from incomplete destruction" in rational circles, and it's a fallacy.
"God is the imaginary friend of the intellectually disabled." - could of left it at that. Well said.
Utter nonsense and preposterous twaddle.
Ok, yeah there is God and Satan. Seems they have some grudge against each other. We are simply pawns in their power struggle. Personally, I say , the heck with them both and their sick ways of using us for their own issues. So I say, its time to look out for ourselves, as humans and make our own lives, for us .. the humans trapped in the matrix. We should stop listening to them both, and take care of each other.Peace
A Father and his rebellious sons
That answer is what the devil wants. It rejects God and Satan has you.
If you believe God is all powerful, then you have to accept that he controls the devil. If the devil gets you, God let it happen; everything that happens is part of God's plan. You can either surrender to this belief and hope you receive your just reward or fight it, and lose. Free will is necessary for there to be guilt. What is going to happen to you happens whether you accept it or not. Your have freedom to be thankful for whatever hand you are dealt.
Look, it was after midnight during the middle of the week,,, even God has to sleep, especially at his age. Shoot up someone in the middle of the day and He will smote you, but wait til He nods off and you're good to go!
It wasn't the middle of the week it was Friday night in Col., but it was the sabbath here so I guess he really does rest on the sabbath.PS he knew about coll.. Football along time ago
It was just after midnight,,, early Friday morning if you will. Pre-sabbath.
If he was willing to look the other way for the Catholic Church, the college football thing was easy.
OR......there is no god!
Ding ding ding ding, we have a winner!!!
All "god" had to do was give the gunman a flat tire. Not to hard for the creator of the universe. I guess He's too busy turning water into wine.
No reason there. God leaves space for our decisions to take hold. He gives us the choice, He does not control us like robots.
more like busy being nonexistant.
@Ralph.. then why pray?
Where was god when you were killing animals and put beef/shrimp/chicken on your dinner table every day? Not only are human beings the most powerful species on earth, they are selfish enough to imagine a god who cares only about them. Some tragedy, and they are all crying about how can this happen when everyone causes so much misery every day. What happened in Aurora is terrible, but humans have been authors of terrible tragedies forever. When did we ever teach and live by love?
Hey vegan nice try but in the Bible.God created the heavens and the earth,he created the animals and then he created man so man can rule over God's dominion. He also told here man here are animals that you can kill and eat their meats but do not eat the blood because blood is life. The Jews also ate meats. sell the vegan stuff elsewhere,it has nothing to do with the question where God is during human suffering. Nice try Deepak Chopra.
If you haven't noticed, we aren't the only creatures on this earth that eat meat. In fact, most species exist to do one thing, eat other creatures babies. That's why most animals have so many babies, because so many of god's wonderful creations want to eat them.
Its amazing how disturbed people get over religion? I know we have a freedom of speach but if you were gay bashing, wouldn't that be wrong and lead you to legal troubles? Maybe god has left you personaly so you have no experience to go by. But I do think that anyone with god does know you can feel it and pin point the reality in your own life. I'm not perfect or a thumper just someone beat down and tired. Just sayin.... A believer.
Maybe the fact that believers preach that non-believers deserve to burn in hell has something to do with it.
Being gay is a reality for a lot of people. God is a fantasy.
I would just like to urge you to read all of the comments regarding this blog. If Christians truly "WANT" non believers Togo to hell, then why are we commenting back to pursued the atheists to turn ways and follow Christ? Hell was designed for HIS people of the earth that did not give glory or accept Jesus into their hearts, which is a choice that ALL human beings have to make.. This God that we write about is all powerful! I understand why each of you question where God was in the shooting. If each of you would take the time to read the Bible, you will understand. The choice that holmes made was not a good one, but i assure you that God was there in spirit as each person fled the theater. As for each person who was kiled, it was simply just their time to go be with jesus. Each person on the earth has been given a choice. We can deny God and have eternal life in hell, or we can give glory to God, accept Jesus into our hearts and live love God more than we love anything else. The choice is yours. If you choose to forego eternal life in hell, tun on judgement day, that will be between you and God. HOWEVER, if you choose to live in heaven where there will be no hurt, then I welcome you as brothers and sisters of Christ.
Sorry, writer of this piece.
God is supposed to be the father to all. No father or mother would allow a child to be hurt. And God is supposed to be the ultimate father. There are strangers – let alone fathers – who helped others in times of need.
And "dexterity" is one of the things that convinces us that there is a god and he's our father? Really? So is a Michael Jordan a child of God while someone born with no dexterity or who loses dexterity not a child of God? Dexterity? Really?
And a horse or a bird or an elephant are not God's creatures? They exist for our entertainment, but only we count? Wow, aren't we high on ourselves.
The excuse that God was on the lawn where the people gathered after the murders because he has to let us make the choices to be evil or not is materially deficient. The people who were killed and hurt did not make the choice to be evil. Their free will was taken from them so the concept that they have free will as a blessing from God is full of holes. And the fact that God chose not to intervene to save his children says that he doesn't have the smarts or the power or the ability to do very much. Other mere mortals who are not God with god-like powers chose to step in and sacrifice themselves for others. Sounds like I'd rather have them as my Father than God, don't ya think?
I have a belief in a "god," but it doesn't comport to the fairytale that religions perpetuate to try to keep people in line through fear and to continue to collect money for their own needs – hey, Roman Catholic church, why don't you melt all the gold and sell all the real estate and feed the hungry with that money … Imagine how disgusted Jesus would be if he saw the Vatican and the monuments the church wastes money on. Yah, my belief of who God/a god is is much different and much more Christian like. In the end, it shouldn't matter, though, if we're all going to heaven because we have dexterity. Guess I'd better keep stretching and going to the gym.
Parents absolutely let their children get hurt. Are you kidding? Parents let their kids play football and hockey, study abroad, and drive cars, they don't lock them up in their house. They raise them with a set of values and let them experience the world, knowing inevitably that they will at some point get hurt. Parents let their kids get hurt, because they know it would be wrong to deprive their children of experiencing life and learning from their mistakes.
Argue with the technicalities all you want, but your point is invalid.
A Duh ...... Letting your child play a sport or drive a car is a completely different thing than going to a movie for a night out only to get mowed down by a psycho .
Exodus 21 – god outlines rules on slavery, including lines that can be interpreted to support polygamy. He rules on people as propery and how to mark someone's ear for life long ownership. In addition, and more relevant to this article, 'he' states that anyone who kills intentionally should be brought from his alter and immediatly put to death.
A merciful god this is not...
That is why we have the New testament,where Christ came to fulfill the Old Testament that predicted His coming. Man no longer have to go to priest and make offering to God like in Leviticus and the Old Testament,they can go to Jesus.
Jesus taught to Love one another,turn the other cheek,forgiveness,He said nothing about putting people to death as in the old testament. Read the Gospels of Mathew Mark,Luke and John and see how totally different it is from the old testament.
This article was written for those who DO believe. If you choose not to believe in God that is certainly your right, but it removes you from this discussion, unless you are only here to ridicule others. Do you think that your insults will persuade others to abandon their faith? If not, why the meanness?
Is that the CNN rule or yours
Rather arrogant of you to claim to be able to look into the mind to the author and know why and for whom the author wrote this, isn't it? It's an opinion piece, published in a forum that encourages comments and discussion, from all. Are you afraid that people will post comments that will trouble you, confound you, and make you question your own belief?
Who said it is a rule? It just make sense. No one posts recipes here either.
Smurfette– I try to question my beliefs often. To not do that is to be dishonest with yourself. The writer is clearly starting from a Christian perspective, or at least a belief in God. To argue about whether God exists is certainly a discussion worth having (again) but not about an article that presupposes God's existence. Those who post about that here seem to have an agenda other than discussing the article. I asked why the insults of those who do believe but there is no response.
@Nclaw441 - The reason so many atheists, including myself, come on here and mildly insult people who preach their religious fueled "certainty" on why everything happens and doesn't happen, is because it's so RIDICULOUS! Merely coming from a logical common sense viewpoint, how many wars, honor killings, molestations and terroristic acts have to happen year after year before believers scratch their head and realize something isn't adding up? I know I know.... YOUR pastor doesn't molest little boys and YOU would never consider murdering a cartoonist because he drew your god next to bugs bunny. You're the exception to the rule right?
If you want to know what Christianity teaches, read the Bible – don't look at imperfect humans for your answers. I'm sure you wouldn't want me to make a decisions about what atheists believe based on Alfred Kinsey, Napoleon, Kim Jong, Jeffrey Dahmer..the list goes on.
If you do decide to read the Bible, read it without your preconceived notions. Don't come back and say, "Well, looks like Jesus wants us to hate our parents" just because he used hyperbole went he referred to following him.
Where to begin with this article? Let’s have a closer look at what the pastor said. He describes the aftermath of a family “being assaulted in their minivan by a young man with a high-powered rifle” “as they drove through Colorado Springs toward New Life Church’s enormous concrete worship center”. As a result of this attack, one sister dies at the scene, one (Rachel, whose hand the pastor holds) in the hospital, the father is critical, the mother undone.
Alright, prayer definitely DIDN’T work for Rachel. That’s a given.
What else does the pastor say? “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.” Therefore, God KNEW about the shooting beforehand, and did nothing to intervene to stop it. God could have saved Rachel, but chose not to. A family shattered – their children murdered. So, what “lesson” was God teaching the parents – because he certainly wasn’t teaching the children anything?
The pastor then says, “There are at least four influences on human events: God’s will . . . also the will of Satan . . . peoples’ choices and natural law (gravity, collision, combustion, and the like).” So if “natural law” events operate outside of God’s will, he certainly ISN”T all-powerful, is he?
What else does God do, according to the pastor? “ Mostly he promises to be there with us, to comfort and encourage us and renew our strength.” Tell that to Rachel and her sister! Not seeing a lot of comfort and encouragement from God for them!
In the end it’s simply another empty attempt at justification of a God that – if he does exist – is cruel, arbitrary, weak, and malicious. The only sure thing we can take from the article is that, if that family had not been going to that church that morning, they would NOT have suffered the attack.
You have made a remarkable number of quantum leaps in your assessment of the article that are actually logically flawed. Your premise is that if a person has the ability to do good, they must. If that were the actual case, baseball teams would not spend hundreds of millions of dollars on one player at a time – instead, they would put the money to the alleviation of the suffering of the less fortunate. Because they don't, using your conclusion, they are '... cruel, arbitrary, weak, and malicious.'
Remember – you have the freedom to do with your life as you will. It impacts on the lives of all you touch – either for better or worse. The shooter chose a course that had unfortunate consequences.
Arguing that God should have prevented it is to ignore all of the factors that actually led up to the event itself – much like a person choosing to drink and drive, having an accident, and then blaming God for his suffering.
Your lack of ability to see the big picture, reason on facts and draw conclusions free of the anger you so evidently display is remarkably unfortunate.
Ah, Bill? Read what I wrote. It was critique of what the pastor wrote, pointing out the flaws inherent in his article. You have attributed a false premise to me that I did not make. Stick with the program please, and try to be intellectually honest.
Bill – 1; Smurfette – 0
@ bill the same can be said about ALL of the churches bilking millions upon millions of dollars in the name of your "god" and not doing anything but making their buildings nicer .... where is all the rest of that money they TOOK in the name of your "god" ?
Our perceptions are very limited; anologous to trying to veiw the world through a pin hole. Our natural life is a moment in time that tends to be our sole focus; irrespective that it is immeasurably small considering it is struck in eternity.
It is exceptionally hard for us to recognize the most painful, agonizing, undeserving death in this world can also be an inconsequinial moment in time, followed by eternal life.
Its so sad that people like Rob Brendle, instead of just admitting what we all know is true, that we don't have a clue about the origin of the universe, makes up silly stories to feel better about a situation. But thats not good enough is it, as you have to spread the stories around and convince other people to believe what you believe, and so on. Just quit pretending to know things you couldn't possibly know. Its embarrassing, and more importantly wrong.
I must say I agree w/ you. After years of questioning, I am where you are...don't have a clue about the origins of the universe. I just wish I knew what to do where my young kids are concerned. My daughter asked to go to church...how do I take her when I don't know what I believe?
Dear kk, the simple answer is you simply do not take your daughter to church. When she is old enough to go to church on her own, she can. Or, you can allow her to go to church with someone else. But as a non-believer, it is ok for you not to participate in religion and to remind her that not everyone believes in a god. I am assuming that she is surrounded by believers (family, friends) and wants to please them. Children always take on the gods of their parents. They naturally want to participate in the activities of those close to them, to feel part of the group. Just be honest with her. Tell her that you do not believe in a god and that you are ok with not having answers to the universe, that you do not think religious answers are good answers. This way, you are not pushing a god or godlessness on her. The, through actions, not words, i.e., take her to the park, go fishing, visit a museum, encourage her to be what she is: a child. Church is an adult activity and children just play grown up there, parroting their elders. Playong with your child and not forcing your thinking on her will make for a better, more loving, nore genuine bond. You sound like a great dad BTW.
@ kk ... the answer is simple , you allow them to make their own decisions on the subject . 3 of my 4 children believe in god and they ask to go to church regularly and i being a non believer allow them to do so without pushing my non belief on them in any way shape or form . They know i do not believe just as well as i know they do believe yet we do not push it onto each other . If your daughter wants to go ... LET HER .
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “ Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
The author of this article needs to go to a pharmacy and purchase a medication for diarrhea.
What a load of nonsense rubbish spewed from the mind of a ancient lie peddling pastor, who would rather talk about what he wishes to be true rather than what is true. There is no god and there is no need to envoke the existance of any god to explain anything.
It is convenient that this lying pastor decides to ignore that the bible itself claims that Yahweh is a murderous, geonocidal, child killer, who is told to have killed far more people than this theatre shooter has. Congratulatations delusional pastor on picking and choosing only those lies that fit best with your dilusional mind. Wake up, There is no God.
Well said, Scott. Can you imagine making a living perpetuating such childish nonsense? Shows you how desperate humans are to believe there's a daddy figure watching over them throughout their adult lives and that death is not final. Pathetic. Grow up, people.
Amen to that! This reminds me of the song:
"This is my Father's world-
O let me ne'er forget.
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet!"
One day God will right every wrong.
Or turn left and get off this crazy highway
Yes! Thank you for posting Eunice!
God has a lot of work ahead of him. Right all the wrongs geez, All those that suffered and died from the Black Plague, cancer, natural disasters. Then he has to work on the human backed mass murders of millions by Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and so on. What happens when all the wrongs are righted? Are we all going to have lunch and play harps? Seems there will be a huge need for counseling for PTSD for all these folks who will certainly be fearful that God will allow it to happen again and again and again ad infinitum.
I know God is real because I've felt his/her presence both in times of joy and times of great sadness. But I cannot convince you of his/her existence any more than you can convince me that the absence of factual proof is evidence that there is no God. You can't see love or hate either, but is there any doubt they exist? God's invisibility, and even God's seeming unwillingness to intervene in the affairs of men does not prove anything. Anyway, most scientists will acknowledge, you can't prove a negative.
Precisely! Thank you for your honesty. You CAN'T prove a negative. Neither I – not anyone else – can prove that God does not exist. But, we can say that, because of a lack of sufficient, probative evidence that there IS a god, we choose not to believe in a god at this time. However, it IS entirely possible to prove that something DOES exist. All that atheists say is, I choose not to believe until I see proof. And it is certainly valid to say, you believe that a god exists, for whatever, but some would see it as arrogance to claim that you KNOW that god exists. Ask a 4 year old if they KNOW that Santa exists, and many will give you an unequivocal "Yes" for an answer.
I think you are mistaken. I prefer natural explanations to supernatural explanations. I do not assume because I cannot see my bones that they are not under my skin. Instead, I look for other evidence that they exist like say an x-ray. A better example is the prediction of alien life through the calculations of mathematical probability. Anytime a "believer" says God exists, we scour through the evidence and come up empty handed. For one, I am hard pressed to tell the difference between some one who is mentally ill and claims god spoke to him/her and the believer who says I saw, heard or felt god. Felt god where and with what, your finger, nose? No it"s usually describe as an emotional feeling. I have dreams that I can fly without assistance from a machine. It feels real. Should I conclude I am Superman?
Mr. Brindle, well done. God was there. 12 people were taken home that day. It is us left behind who are suffering. It is we earth dwellers that are missing their company. It is us who want them here.
If they were Christians, and I hope they were, they are looking at us in perfected bodies, enjoying heaven and wishing us not to mourn them. For them the journey is over and they are in their reward. For us the battle goes on. God bless.
I'm not suffering,didn't lose anyone.the thing is when people say God did all this miracles,then you will get people who ask where was God when something bad happens.why didn't he work a miracle before so many were killed and hurt
12 people were taken home... unless of course they were jewish, muslim, the wrong kind of Christian, non-believers, gay, un-repentent or any number of a million other reasons that can keep you out of heaven.
"IF THEY WERE CHRISTIANS, AND I HOPE THEY WERE"
Wow, Thanks for the reminder that the non-believers are now burning in a lake of fire and brimstone to suffer for all of eternity.
Smug, arrogant and delusional must be a nice way to live your life.
The killer who feels no remorse because GOD told him to do it, has the same delusional belief YOU have that allows you to cope with uncertainty/pain/sadness by believing there is a "master Plan" that includes that killer's actions. That unwavering belief that allows you to cope with unpleasant thoughts and feelings allowed him to pull the trigger.
Religion is average people with no talent or ingenuity trying to grasp at something that will make them special. You claim to be god's chosen people because it's all you have left to one-up your fellow man with. You invent or believe in some imaginary story that you are a key player in. Kind of pathetic if you ask me.
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.