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 must be a gun nut NRA member ,because he didn't do squat to take the guns out of the hands of that CRAZY SOB
First hand knowledge of mental illness shows you that ill people have the capacity to live good lives, unfortunately for them they have a mental disease like a tumor invading their brain...what you don't seem to understand is anything is a weapon. It has nothing to do with GOP or anything...We used to drive around with our guns hanging in the back window of our car....if more people carried guns then maybe people would think twice about acting out and hurting people. we always had guns of all sorts and we never actually even killed a rabbit, although we would go Rabbit hunting...and try not o kill each other...we felt good about the gun in case of snakes but if we saw rattlers we usually ran.....
Thank you. I woke this morning happy for the sunshine, my breathing, my capacity to find joy in those two simple things to start my day with. And now I am happy and grateful for your words. I pray "Father let your will be done in my life, let me be an instrument of your peace." I am a happy warrior of love. God bless us all.
Well, I'm glad you find happiness in all of this. Continue on in passive bliss. God bless.
This is the 3rd "Where was God during Aurora" article in 3 days.Where was he during the holocaust? You could have written an article every year since 1945 on that aspect.
Boy, I don't know about all that, But I do know this God is a driving force behind all the crazy GOP'ers and Conservatives that love all this gun violence. A sick bunch indeed.
This is CNN right? I'm getting confused with the right wing Christian news organization called FOX.
A Priest and a Rabbi are attending a prize fight at Madison Square Garden. A young Italian fighter enters the ring, shadow boxes very seriously for a few minutes and comes to his corner and makes the sign of the cross.
The Rabbi asks the Priest, "what does that mean?" The priest answers, "Not a thing if he can't fight
A Priest is traveling to visit friends in Transylvania. Suddenly, a vampire drops out of the sky onto the hood of the car. The driver says, "Quick, Father – show him your cross!". The Priest yells, "Listen, you fvcking vampire – get off my car!", then turns to the driver and says, "that cross enough for you?"
HAHah...yeah, and these fighters were probably a laid off sanctioned blood sucking attorney vs a vampire....
Manny Pacquiao the 8 Division Champion and the Honorable Congressman of Saraggani Phils. always makes the sign of the cross and wears a rosary everytime he enters the ring.
WOW..such a simple view of God and unknowing....you guys really do not know God, nor the Christ, and should really talk to some Christian counselors who do know...> Prayer helps, God decides, evil exists, pray for your self and for others...cat out sin in the name of Christ.Thank God for our lives, Thank God, Bless your fellow people. Confront the devil.It would seem to me God was working mightily to reach you and these people could have used your faith to survive...Please Jesus, I believe in Jesus, In the nbame of the Lord Jesus Christ I cas tthee out Devil, and Thank-you Lord, in the name of the Father for helping us..all day, everyday. I myself have been questioing Why lately, which I realiaze now I do not have to do, only believe and make my plea heard. If you will accept the word of CHrist as the Christ, you will be saved, and be able to save others....but you have to believe. May God Bless you with the word of Christ, that every breath you take, every word you strat to make, be the word blessed by the lord, that makes your heart strong, that makes your faith grow and be that extra mile of time you take to save your patients. Pray always and know that I am God.
Is that the zombie Jesus you're praying to? The one who came to Earth as his own son, in order to die (but not really) and then go back into the sky to join himself (this is the ultimate sacrifice????) so that people, if they telepathically say that zombie Jesus is their master, will be cleansed of the sin that was placed on them thousands of years ago when a lady made from a rib was convinced by a talking snake to eat an apple, and if they do that (even if they are the most horrible, evil people in the world) get to live forever in paradise, while people who don't accept zombie Jesus will burn forever? Is that the Jesus you pray to?
@Smurfette: Nicely stated, but wasted (just like all other rational posts) on people too stupid or afraid to even consider it.
Dude, you just called almighty of God a zombie and liar not to mention the numerous other blasphemies in that one post alone. You show yourself over and over to be a rebel. Don't you think you deserve to burn forever then? You do have to do that but choose to do that showing yourself to be evil. And then MalcolmR agrees with you showing himself to be the same. Where was God? Why should he come to the aid of his life long enemies that's where.
The answer is this: all I know is what I don't know. I will continue to ponder these things and look for answers for the rest of my life. One thing I know for sure – if I had been the one facing the shooter with a gun in his hand and had some time (perhaps even a few seconds) to think about it, I would have been praying to God to help me, to make me live, because in the end, that's what we all want. We are all afraid of death and suffering and we all need something or someone to turn to in these very troubling times. How could we know joy without suffering? How could we know comfort without pain? Perhaps that's all the answer we're going to get for now.......
Hey CNN, let's stop being like Fox News for a change. Stop posting articles (which are just someone's opinion half the time) that spark constant arguing and hatred on both sides. Stick to posting the NEWS.
CNN is an entertainment outlet, and occasionally a news organization.
Fox has become a very biased tabloid that does not present the news...unfortunately, look a little deeper. It's like Fox is just having writers write on something as opinion instead of ascertaining facts, getting in depth facts, reporting facts....tainted and with a ludicrous taint that Americans are just supposed to read and not be active in their communties....that all these foreigners are just supposed to be able to come here, sue and costs us money, not get along and that we are just supposed to do what the governement says...while these foreigners change everything weith the help of people like Obama....Fox would do well to keep their forums.
Ah, attack the "foreigners"! how very, very Christian and tolerant of you! Love thy neighbour much?
" Their will be beauty once this story is written that overshadows and transcends the ashes"
How... sad. No, there will be more of the same, and worse. The ONLY way any of this human mess we've created will get any better, is if we start addressing the issues rationally. There are countries in this world that have largely solved these problems. None of them are perfect, but are their citizens any less free than us? Not really. Are they, by their own admissions, happier? Yes. Are they more well educated and productive? Yes. Are they healthier? A big Yes. But we are just too provincially stupid to even consider the range of good example solutions from around the world.
Syria, Libya, Egypt, Rwanda, Somalia, Croatia, Auschwitz, Dachau, etc. etc. etc.
People do horrible stuff to each other, always have, always will. God, if there is one, clearly doesn't get involved... EVER.
Finally, a statement with common sense!
Silly you. He doesn't have time to get involved. He is too busy influencing the outcomes of football games and other sporting events for Tim Tebow.
"People do horrible stuff to each other, always have, always will. God, if there is one, clearly doesn't get involved... EVER."
Actually he does if the event would have some impact on his divine providence. Since you're all his enemies anyway, why not let you kill each other. And yes, that includes that baby as well. It too was estranged from God being in Adam. Take note that the guy who was the Christian who got shot three times did not die. Why not? But cause God still has some work for him to do. That's providence.
wow Nottalate, congrats for the most delusional post ever! i can feel the rage seething in your words as your ancient Jewish fairy tale is mocked and not afforded the solemn treatment it has enjoyed for centuries. The buck has finally stopped on the ancient tribal myths from the middle east and your silly religions are losing more and more respect from the average Joe. Your beliefs are archaic, twisted, based on speculation and falsehoods, and above all EVIL! The whole Jesus mythology isn't as pure as you think it is, condemning most of humanity to an eternal torture zone is more evil than anything anyone could conceive, making your god the ultimate evil! Keep sputtering and filling with rage it amuses those with more than 2 brain cells to rub together! Sputter on Jesus freak!
In reallity God has never spoken to man kind. He has only spoken to a selct few holymen. However, being reasonable humans we are, we can choose to believe holymen or not. I figure if a God wants me to "know" him, he would tell me directly how he would like me to live. In the mean time, I will do onto to others as I would like others to do onto me (a philosophy that existed long before the bible copied it.)
"Will of Satan"? This is not about free will, this is about a person with mental problems. Using "Christian mythology" to explain what should have a more rational discussion is simply backwards.
If the cost of free will and the glory of 'choosing' God is all of this senseless horrible suffering, then this god is vain, selfish and shortsighted.
Omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience of "god", please. If any such being had these things it would have poked its eyes out by now.
I don't think "Where God was in Aurora" is a deepest question. Every tragedy makes people wondering "why God didn't stop it?" if God really exists. He is not able to? He doesn't want to? Or he doesn't care? If God created humans for sure, he abandoned humans for sure too!
Couldn't another option be that God has a good reason for making it happen. We often assume that the main focus of God is to make everything go well for people. Could the perfect lives of people not be the most important thing to God like it is the focus of people?
Does anyone know God's focus? Is there any reason why God makes his focus so hard to get?
Follow this pastor's argument closely. He sets out some traditional beliefs -that we have an all powerful, loving and knowing god -who gave us free will-but he's ultimately in control (both the prime cause, so in terms of cause-effect and foreknowledge there can be no free will, and with the ability to intercede at any moment, which is the reson for intercessionary prayer). And when he realizes these ideas contradict one another, he surrenders "a gap that transcends understanding." This isn't so much an explanation as a man backing himself into a corner and giving up. The answer "its all a great mystery" is so unsatisfactory because it is how the chuch explained the world for centuries-and science has slowly nibbled away at theirrealm. Why does the sun rise? "its God will, its a mystery we will never know." Interplanatary rotations are discovered, and they say 'sorry about that one, our bad. But we've got the next one."
When I told the judge what god wants, I was objected to for hearsay. Not only do the books you believe in have dubious, political history, you don't even read them or have any clue how the current bible came about.
Besides, a philosophy of life where you believe in Christ or Allah is not a philosophy. We should focus on how to treat each other, as long as you Christians deem everyone who doesn't believe Christ died for us on the cross to be lesser people you are the lessor people.
But god loves violence cause without there is no good. What a joke philosophy made by man.
We are expected by god to solve these issues it is test every Christian is failing ha ha. Jesus made it clear deeds trump belief.
I love how these God-fr eaks state that God is "all powerful and all knowing", then they continue on to explain that he is NOT in fact all powerful; the devil, personal choices, etc.
Such an ignoramous.
Another lunatic. What has God to do with this ? This country is hopeless ....
Since I am God, I was probably fishing or listening to rock and roll. Do I care about the sorry excuse of the human population!?? Absolutely not!!!!! On second thought I was watching The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert!
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.