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.
I know where god was that horrible day in Aurora. Firmly planted in our imagination, from whence he sprang.
When something good happens, god did it. If something bad happens, Satan did it.. or, in the words of Mr. Chik Fil A.. we invited god's wrath. Hard to know if the devil did it, or it's god's revenge.
Most people in Burma are Buddhists.
They don't need to reconcile the concept of a merciful God with the suffering in the world since they know 'suffering', 'reason for suffering', 'the need to eliminate suffering' and 'the way to eliminate suffering', as preached by the Buddha more than 2500 years ago.
Monty, I asked myself and God that same question when my marriage of 33 years fell apart and I discovered I had breast cancer and the husband who had told me I was the only one he ever loved – would not even mow the grass for me. He had taken all the expensive tools he had and mower and generator and gun collection and many of my things and had left me with almost nothing. No one to turn to – my mother had left us when I was 15 and my father was a work-a-holic whose children didn't matter to him. Nothing in my life made sense. I remembered a time when I felt the Lord's presence as a child nd reached out to Him again saying how hopeless my life was. I had surrendered my home because I could not afford it and had to find an apartment and leave my home within a short time of surgery. Well, none of this made sense to me but I realized God was bigger than me and I only saw the little puzzle pieces – not the completed puzzle. I took the step of fauth and put it all in His hands. He spoke audibly to me. My surgery came out well, it had not spread as the tests had indicated. I had a great recovery and no masectomy or radiation. 12 years later (after getting a happy heart) I am still cancer free. I decided to forgive my ex – realizing he was just human and had let me down. But I had put all my expectations on him instead of God. I am now 67, purchased a brand new 2 story new home last year. Have a good job. Friends say I look years younger. I am happy – because I decided to trust God when life didn't make sense. I feel His presence and guidance every day. He too is grieved by the atrocities. But He welcome the children quickly into His arms and He promises every tear will be wiped away. This life time is short. May be a testing ground. But what awaits on the other side for those who put their trust in Him – will far outweight the trauma here. He brings peace in the midst of the storm. He does not remove our free will. And many times in listening to Him speak to my spirit I have been warned not to go somewhere. No it will not make sense on this side, but it will when we see Him face to face.
Are you telling me.. you worship a god... who beat you into submission?
I'm glad things turn out well for you... with or without your imaginary friend. Give yourself more credit for overcoming adversities in life.
You did the work, not God
This is the kind of story that atheists hate, because it shows the value of belief. No matter if the belief if based on reality or fantasy, the belief itself gives them strength to overcome adversity. It could be God, or a sense that the universe is ultimately just, or imagining that one day they'll win the lottery–the belief alone can make the difference between surviving and not.
This is why religion endures. It if were purely a con game, people would wise up. But there's a good bit of real medicine in the snake oil.
That's great Carol. But what about the people that die from cancer? My MIL was very religious, put her faith in God, prayed everyday, and still suffered horribly and lost her fight to cancer. She was very young; still had kids at home. What would you say to that? She didn't pray hard enough (impossible, she never questioned her faith in God), that she deserved it? That her children deserved to be motherless? I feel very lucky to be healthy and have a great life, but I do not attribute it to God. Because then I would have to assume those with terrible lives (which let's face it – that is most of the population on earth), somehow deserve what they got.
@Jan – I don't hate the story. Don't tell me how I feel. I'm saying that believing in some invented god, is not the reason the story has a happy ending. It has a happy ending because the lady was the "little engine that could". I admire her resiliance, but am skeptical she was chosen for a happy ending, because her imaginary friend picked her out of the crowd of suffering humanoids, and made her "special".
Well, I kind of worry that if we have been here for millions of years and the world was at peace, and God already sent his son as redemption early on, promising to return, that God just might be very unhappy with the satte of affairs when he returns and sees how badly we have done, how stupipd we are and how everyone is able to twist their morailty into branded media morality that hordes jump on...like the gay issue and allowing muslims into our our country..or the "I believe in illegals but I hate my fellow Americans who are REpublicnas...' I think God will be very unhappy when he learns how we treat his anim als and his garden of eden...if its a matter of choosing who to exist past a certain trial I would suggest most of you could not possible make it, and nor I for my petiness...but at least I am not gay, a killer, a democrat, nor muslim, not even mormom or baptist, thief or self bent on personal damnation thru drugs, alcohol or the like........unfortunately the shooter appears to be none of that...he is mentally ill from all obvious signs.....
Hi Polli – I have a feeling you're very young. You stated "I think God will be very unhappy when he learns ...". Xtians make the assertion that god is all-knowing. The bible states this very thing. So, since he is all-knowing, he cannot "learn" anything, he already knows.
People who believe in the delusion of god could also be considered mentally I'll...just saying "Polli".
No, but so what? You have an overly simplified and completely inaccurate view of life. Time to toss the God delusions and grow up.
Using the bible to prove the existence of a god makes no more sense than using 'Twas the Night Before Christmas' to prove the existence of Santa Claus.
I love it when Xtians use scripture to prove the bible is true. "It's true, because it says so right here... in the bible". Talk about circular logic!
The author is a vacuous moron. Please CNN, tell me how I can get front page published on a major "news" site? Do I have to apply somewhere and submit an essay of abysmal pla.t.i.tudes? What does it take???
If you don't understand why the story is where it is, you are too stupid to write for a major news outlet.
Let me first express my deep sorrow to the families of those who have experience this sad loss in Aurora. I will also express my sympathy to the millions of innocent in Iraqs whose love ones died from our bombs and bullets.
We bomb anyone we dislike and we kill innocent people who we call collateral damage. Then we ask why when we feel the pain we inflict on others.
So the victims are some sort of godly imbevelonce of "what comes around, goes around"?
No. This has nothing to do with what goes around comes around. This is just a statement that we need to learn that we are unaware of the pain we cause others from our violence. However we have created a world where violence is the norm
Ok, I get it. Violence creates violence. Agreed! Sorry, I misunderstood the post. I need my 2nd cup of coffee.
We need to put an end to violence everywhere. Violence is never an option!
God obviously exists and he loves all his creations.
1. God created human beings with impurities on purpose so that human beings are sinful. Human beings either surrender to him or will be tortured by the evils from his creation.
2. God created animals for human beings' entertainment, but he created human beings to entertain himself.
3. God created human beings with free will so that he will not be responsible for any horrific tragedies among human beings.
Since God has freewill, how come he never uses it to do horrible things. Oh...wait... I guess he does do horrible things. But wait.. he's perfect, he can't do anything imperfect... oh.. nevermind. I give up too.
If god loved all his creations, we would have no suffering. Animals are not for your entertainment. If a god existed that was involved in the affairs of this planet, we wouldn't have unwanted animals that have to be euthanized.
Why do human beings ask God's help if human beings don't help themselves? Should God be responsible for the the wrong doing for human beings? Any reason?
We bomb any nation we dislike and kill innocent people who we call collateral damage. Then we ask why when we feel the pain we inflict on others.
Having said that let me express my deep sorrow to the families of those who have experience this sad loss in Aurora. I will also express my sympathy to the millions of innocent in Iraqs whose love ones died from our bombs and bullets.
Where was God in Aurora? He was not at a Batman Movie for sure. God gives us free-will. We become what we believe and we act out what we believe. The gun-man believed he was the joker, so he went to the place where Jokers hang out and that is the Batman movie, unfortunately there were some good people hanging out at the Batman movie and the rest is history. God has nothing to do with these decision making, we do. Let's stop blaming God, and instead let's ask God for guidance the next time we decide to sit and watch a Batman movie. In fact common sense will tell you that the next time you go out to see the premier of a Batman movie, some fool name the Joker may show up to do some foolish things.
Your post seems to make very little sense. Are you blaming the victims for going to the movie? Perhaps I misunderstood.
He was too busy to intervene that fateful day... hey, try taking care of this planet when you have issues with existing!
Those who don't know or understand the God of the Bible have written many comments that are full of frustration, bitterness, hate, and disdain. The full story of God has to be understood, and that is eternity. God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that we may have eternal life in heaven where there is no suffering, no pain, no tragedy. If we CHOOSE him. The time on this earth is but a vapor. Evil, disease, natural disasters, selfishness, hate all exist in this world, but not in the next, in heaven. What or I should say Who will you choose? I pray those who don't comprehend eternity today can wrap their minds around it soon as it changes the trajectory of your thoughts, mindset, and view of this fallen broken world. God doesn't control people like puppets, He comes and is here to comfort, encourage, love, and ultimately save us. If God were to stop every evil act or choice on this Earth none of us would survive. We all have a sinful nature that coincides with the image of God within us. It's the battle we all face on this Earth. Each day we have to decide if we are going to follow the good or the selfishness and pride in us (the root of all evil). Since God does not obliterate each of us, life is allowed to take place. The good, the bad, the ugly. The cool thing is that God and goodness wins in the end. Eternity in heaven if you choose that trajectory through Jesus Christ. I will end with this question. If you ask why didn't God stop this horrible massacre, where was he? First ask why he doesn't stop you from hurting those around you on a regular basis? Be honest. It may not be a one and done, but it's a slow death that we can inflict on those around us through our words, actions, selfishness and my way or the highway mentalities. You may or may not be influcting death on those around you today, but have you in the past, or will you in the future? It's only through God's love, grace, mecry, forgiveness, and His Holy Spirit can we overcome the evil in our own hearts to bring light to this dark world and a hope for eternity in heaven where there will be NO tears, NO pain forever and forever.
Thanks for spewing that memorized rendition of Billy Graham's brain-washing days of antiquity.
James, I stopped after your initial ad hominem.
How about conceding that most arguments presented by atheists on here are in fact logical and fact based? You can't say the same thing for the 'opposition'.
The rest of your post is packed with assumptions and such. We can do this if you like, but you might become an atheist in the long run...
Blah, blah, blah. Would you like fries with that Chick Fil A?
Thank You~~~its our HOPE in the face of hopelessness~~~Christ Jesus the same yesterday~today~&Forever!
Having religious beliefs are like having a p-enis – perfectly valid to have them, but please keep it to yourself, don't take it out in public, don't wave it in people's faces and quit trying to jam it down people's throats
Isn't an atheist a blind man locked in a dark room looking for something that isn't there???
No, that would be the believer
No, that would be the believer.
Smurfette, I can't believe we wrote the exact same thing!!!
Your post makes no sense... "if it isn't there, then it doesn't exist"... therefore the athiest is in the light, does see, and knows they're not looking for something that doesn't exist.
It's a sign ......
If the man is blind why does it matter if the room is dark?
Bla, bla...transcends understanding...bla, bla...God the originator of good...bla,bla. All this meaningless blather to "explain God" and his actions is similar to EXPLAINING DISEASE by invoking invisible magic DEMONS. Luckily, skeptical scientists rejected the "Biblical invisible demon theory" and pinned it on microscopic but visible physical realities called GERMS. It's not surprising that when you invent an invisible magic WHITE GUY WITH A BEARD who lives in the sky and runs the world, you will run into all sorts of evidential & logical difficulties, just as you will by claiming that magic demons cause disease.
It took the wrong belief to bring folks to the other belief.
Where was god? Behind the trigger, of course. Where else would he have been? Giving the shooter an aneurysm that morning or something else helpful like that?
Thank you for your kind non judgemental insight. I've been hearing so called christians saying we brought this on ourselves"it's Gods hand of judgement for pushing him out of schools, city buildings, etc.". No, they are wrong, instead of us all coming together as a nation those so called christians divide us even more spewing hate & ignorance in the name of God. They think the USA owns God. Where was God in Iraq, where wad God in Syria, where was God in Afganistan?
I thought the answer would be pretty obvious, God was at Chick-fli-A
More likely, at Chck-fil-A protesting their president's stance on marriage.
"The God of the Bible promises no exemption from suffering. In fact, he all but promises suffering." Hell, as an atheist, I can get this same "deal." Who knew?
Those who follow Christ Jesus share the same universe~look at the same stars~soak up the same sun as all human beings on earth~but~this is not all there is~~~we look for a kingdom not made with hands~but~established in the heavens! Life forever with the one who by faith~we look for~hope in~will see returning in all his Glory & Power. Forever to be with him who is LOVE and never changes.
It's our responsibility not Gods. If you believe you are being tested and falling. If you don't believe well either we love each other or not. It is our job to stop as much violence as possible. Our job. As long as we maufacture for effective use personal WMD and the Christian right supports it the LIVE WITH IT. This news could never have hurt anyone without these Chritian built machines (read NRA, Bush, Obama). Imagine a Christian sanctioning the manufacture for good use personal WMD I guess you are Christian soldiers. BAD METAPHOR get to of all you war metaphors they are no good.
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.