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.
I do believe some people never know God, and we should pray for them, as it says in the Bible...one of our very religious friends whose family even went to church on Wednesdays confided in me that she had gone to church all these years and prayed and really did not believe in God...and was amazed that people who often did not go to church knew God and believed deeply in the Christ...which only assured her more of her damnation and seperation from God..however she did have a mighty faith that the people and church could not be wrong and she was going to continue to go until she did find God. ..Amazing.
It is quite an ingenious self reinforcing recruitment technique.
There are many like this. They continue to go to church for family or friends. Some continue to attend church because they make a living as a pastor.
Thanks for the words of comfort, hope and faith. Those who read your opinion, again have a choice either to read and take comfort or reject your words just as the mass murderer joker did. Thank you pastor for these words.
Guilt by association – if someone does not agree with the pastor's words then they are in the same boat as the shooter?? Really? That's all you have?
"Guilt by association – if someone does not agree with the pastor's words then they are in the same boat as the shooter??"
It was YOU who said it.
" Is it loving to force his creation to follow his order, or to teach it and leave the creature to choose? ..... compulsory virtue is no virtue at all."
This brings up the question: What's the purpose of virtue anyway? Isn't the purpose of virtue to promote the well being of those who have it along with those who are affected by those who have it? Without this promotion of well being, would virtue have any value? If so, what? If there were a god and following his orders would lead to the greatest promotion of well being, then wouldn't the compulsory virtue that's not really virtue be more valuable than virtue by choice?
Your very accurate statement makes no difference .. they simply WANT to believe and will justify it through any twisting of basic logic they can muster .. it makes them feel good about themselves.
God commandments served as our guiding principles if we "CHOOSE" to do good and live a moral life.
It's NOT meant to "FORCE" us but to guide us in promoting well being to ourselves and as well with others.
Mykids ... I choose to do good and live a moral life .. no God(s) needed. But if you need a God to do this, then by all means please continue to believe it.
If you drive slow or stop when the students crossing the road with or without the pedestrian lane, good for you then. However, that doesn't make those white lines on the road vestigial.
God is real, Jesus is real, satan is real, good is real, evil is real, sin is real and so is salvation & man's need for it...we all have a choosing to believe God or ... I simply pray for all who don't believe in Our Heavenly Father & His Son; I pray you will come to His marvelous light
What utter nonsense!
God has a reason for everything that he does... I think its a bad situations and happenings that take place to test our faith, we must believe when we die we go to a better place... Its sad to see a loved one go.. and they are missed.. we are like sheep...when we are lost god is sad.. and he waits for our return to him... And when we shun away from sin and turn back to god he is happy... I think we are always getting knocks on our doors.. for good and evil.. we have to close the doors to sin.. because anyone is capable of doing anything... But god tells us to choose him... And if everyone did this there would not be problems.. in this world.. its sad that so many has lost faith.. or never had any.. and this very well could be the reason these terrible things happen!! To show the lords work.. being done.. such as some people are hardly injured.. or some lives were saved.. or some had a very quick recovery.. or one person being very close to death and making a full recovery.. or a person told they will never walk again.. does walk again... The simple answer... Choose god.. he is the only god.. the only answer.. and be at peace..
More nonsense....you people amaze me with your fairy tales.
Where was god in the mass slaughter of the innocents in the recent two Tsunamis??? Same place he was when he parted the Red Sea for the Israelites. Spreading Love somewhere else.
Very well put article. God Bless us all
Load of crap!
All the dominant religion today are nothing more than mythologies of ignorant and uncivilized people from the Bronze Age.
While the original poster belongs to the second-class minority group (atheism) spending most of their pathetic and miserable life in the dungeouns.
God is each one of us. the bible, just a good, or not old story. Jesus, just a nice jewish man. there are no miracles just coincidence. people us whatever they need to find there way. some reference the bible, others can figure it out on there own. it's when the retoric of the bible is used to hurt, disclude, shame others or paraphrased for benefit or arguement it loses the credibility. people will always kill and as a result, people will unfortunately die.
God was were he has always been....in the believers imaginations! God is not real, your proof of god is an ancient 2000 year plus old book of fairy tales that has been revised soooo many times you have 1000s of denominations that can't agree on basic issues. The bible is a joke along with your "faith" in an imaginary all knowing being who shows no sign of its existence.
No my friend. It's not crap, it is belief. It is faith. It is one mans attempt to comfort and soothe. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle states that until something is observed it is all things. If we are to subscribe to this notion, then we must accept that until God is observed, He both exists and does not exist. Some of us believe that he does – though we cannot "prove" it by any definition acceptable to science. Others believe He does not -although that cannot be "proven" either. Whatever your belief, your assertion that God needs anyone to defend Him is what I find ludicrous. Perhaps it speaks to your lack of understanding of that which you criticize. God does not need anyone to defend Him. In fact, as human beings, we are distinctly unqualified to do so for the very same reason you are not qualified to criticize Him. Namely, we do not have enough information to do either one. How does the clay defend the potter? How do the created defend the creator? You have termed the author of this article a religious idiot. It is quite possible that you will soon label me similarly. Perhpas this as well speaks to your ignorance of matters which are far deeper and mysterious than we can possibly comprehend. It is in all ways unwise to criticize that which you do not understand. The natural world is replete with examples of widely accepted theories which have yet to be not just proven, but even observed. I believe the thoughtful, reasonable person can accept the possibility – however slim it may seem, that someone else may be correct about something even if it contradicts what you believe yourself. At the very least, there seems very little cause to justify a personal attack on someone because of what they believe. Does my belief or the author's belief in a loving God cause you harm? Does a search for answers, an attempt to make sense of a terrible tragedy cause you harm? What is the worst that could result? If God does not exist, then you are not harmed. If God does exist then you are still not harmed. In any event, there are a great many people much closer to this than you and I who have turned to the very same God for comfort that you ridicule here. That is where the true harm comes from. For that reason alone, your remarks are thoughtless in the extreme. If you are not a believer then that is well and good. I am in no wise judging your beliefs (or the lack of). It is your judgemental stand, unfair branding and overall negative generalizations regarding an entire belief system stretching out several thousand years that I stand against. In fact, the only part of your comment that I can whole-heartedly support is the part where you say that God is my friend. Incidentally, He is yours too. Even if the idea of it makes your blood boil.
The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle simply states that the postion of each atom cannot be predicted and therefor an outcome cannot be 100% predicted down to the location of each atom. This nonesense you posted about it being "all things" is just your attempt at using a scientific principle (wrongly) to try and bolster your point. Your attempt to make your point is convoluted at best and completely rediculous at worst.
Well said. God is good and thankfully I am a believer. I enjoyed the article which addressed an unavoidable question when facing good vs evil. Ultimately people will continue to always question God's existence and role in our lives BUT it is we the faithful ones who are fortunate to believe and can find peace in our search for answers. We people of faith believe, and regardless of what other non-believers think, we of faith are happy and not angered and embittered as are the other's. My prayers go out to all those affected by the Aurora shooting, may God's guiding light brighten the way for each and everyone. God Bless Us All
I'm sorry that my examples were too convoluted for you to follow. I hope that you don't believe that my post was worst – ludicrous. I was truly hoping that someone like you would be able to take my comments as a whole. You were apparently not able to to this and consequently missed the overall point I was trying to make. Looking over some of your other comments, you are obviously not here to have any sort of dialogue, but only to disparage and insult people who believe something you don't. Most unfortunate. Be well.
God is always where we want him to be. Satan finds pleasure in seeing evil things God does not. God was not invited.
Being a clergyman is a good gig. That is all it is, all it has ever been. The clergy knows no more about God than anyone else, they prove it again and again by always being willing to talk but saying nothing of any use. One thing for sure, they eat regularly and don't work too hard.
After a tragedy like this, you can always count on clergy to use it to promote religion.
If there is a heaven, what then is the purpose of life?
To suck up to the guy who let's you in.
According to christians, To show god you spent sufficient time on your knees worshiping him to demonstrate you are worthy of heaven.
for that matter ... what's the purpose of heaven? Seriously, why, what is the purpose of spending all eternity existing in bliss with God, to what end, why?
The purpose of heaven is the same as the purpose of hell for the atheist's life.
I held the hands of many dying men in my life. None of them talked about God, none of them mentioned Jesus. I don't have a problem with God but I do have a problem with Religion. God was not with us in the mud in Vietnam, God has never been on any side of any war, and God does not comfort the dying.
God was not with the people that were attacked senselessly, there were acts of courage and bravery but they were performed by human beings. The were some people that should have been killed and weren't but God had nothing to do with that either, only the twisted mind of the crazy man who attacked those innocent people can explain how he choose who was to die.
This preacher is a man of Religion, not a man of God.
Belief in a god, it's like a child writing on a blackboard that 2+2 = Fish. You have no evidence it equals fish and there is evidence that it equals 4. The faithful want to believe 2+2 = fish.
There is no hard evidence either way, other than faith. You act on your faith and choose "not" to believe, I act on mine and choose "to" believe. Fundamentally, there is no difference. The one thing I have noticed – an this is certainly not a knock on you as I respect your beliefs – is that those who do not believe often do not feel very secure in their belief while those who do believe are very comfortable.
Sounds exactly like the same thing as where science says that "nothing = something" as far as creation is concerned. Make no mistake, natural selection eliminates information and does not add it. There are libraries of information encoded into our DNA and I guarantee you that it came from "somewhere" other than chance.
god is god and its good to seek god. Religion is mankind trying to communicate with god, and usually trying to talk for god when they should be watching and listening.
Religion is nothing more than a collection of made up stories for primitive minds that were vexed when they could not undersand what made rain fall, oceans swell, stars pass. Gods were an invention of early humans and. these days, about as useless as a stone arrowhead.
Based on PERCENTAGES, you Christians are also ATHEISTS, because you don't believe in 99.99% of all the OTHER GODS that humans have created over the last 5000 years. Shame on you UNBELIEVERS!
Ha! I love it!
Hey! Hercules was real! He was born of a virgin, was cast to the underworld, and will return to lead us all to Mount olympus someday! Glory be Hercules!
"It is better to be silent and thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt." – Abraham Lincoln
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.