My Take: This is where God was in Aurora
Twelve crosses comprise a makeshift memorial across the street from the movie theater where last week’s mass shooting happened.
July 28th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

My Take: This is where God was in Aurora

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.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Church • God • Opinion

soundoff (4,566 Responses)
  1. lmori

    He was busy trying to teach Tebow how to throw.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
  2. Hello

    Caesar's Messiah Video will be out on Sept 28, 2012.
    Book is available NOW.


    July 29, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • Hello


      July 29, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • Hello

      (( [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SUPoLMW6dNM&w=640&h=360] ))

      July 29, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • Hello


      July 29, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  3. Max

    Hitler was an atheist and proud of being one! Yeah, he was born and raised Catholic but rejected his faith and done the genocide because of his Anti-hatred towards religion !

    July 29, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • internetisgay

      Yeah maybe Hitler was an atheist, but a lot of other murderers were Christian. So what is your point exactly?

      July 29, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • Smurfette

      No, he was a Catholic – big believer in God, genocidal maniac, funny moustache – that was Hitler

      July 29, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • ArthurP

      The Pope was Christian and formed the Inquisition and approved of the slaughter of the Aboriginal Americans, north, central and south..

      July 29, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • exlonghorn

      Max, Hitler specifically addressed God on several occasions.

      "I believe today that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator. "

      - Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Vol. 1 Chapter 2

      Get an education. When you hear atheists getting upset at fundies for being uneducated voodoo worshipers, stuff like this is why.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • No Truth, Just Claims

      And hitler used christians to further his ends. His hatred of Jews is rooted from Martin Luther.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • exlonghorn

      Even today I am not ashamed to say that, overpowered by stormy enthusiasm, I fell down on my knees and thanked Heaven from an overflowing heart for granting me the good fortune of being permitted to live at this time.

      - Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Vol. 1 Chapter 5

      July 29, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
  4. Ting

    "He was in University Hospital as neurosurgeons groped for synonyms for miraculous."

    No, that was science. Where was God? If God was anywhere, he was in a movie theater holding a shotgun.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
  5. Twinkiee

    LOL it's funny how atheists spread their hatred on internet... Thank God they keep their mouth shut for the most part :)

    July 29, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • J

      and it's funny that small-minded christians think that god is reading your prayers on a cnn comment section on the internet.
      Keep at it. . .we'll see who gets 'saved' first.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
  6. Lomy

    Atheists: What's wrong with living under Christian theocracy?

    - You will just see a cross or Jesus statue at every federal and state buildings. (Big deal – you still see it all the time)
    - You will still have your freedom of religion and freedom of not practice any.
    - Christians are tolerant... it's not like Muslim countries

    July 29, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • Smurfette

      Which Christian theocracy? There are thousands of Christian sects. How about the one that says that God declared that anyone named Lomy be put to death? can't argue with God, right? Too bad, so ad to be named Lomy, but it's God's will.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • exlonghorn

      Yep, the Westboro Baptist church is the pinnacle of tolerance. Brilliant (not).

      July 29, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • ScottCA

      Christianity is an ancient lie like all religions and living under a lie os not an option.
      Christian fundamentalists are using tax payer money to teach creationism in schools, which has no evidence or scientific basis at all. Creationism is not science. Christian fundamentalists are fighting as we speak to introduce classes into funadmanetalist schools that will teach over 1 million young girls that they must always be subordinate to men. Christians have successfully eroded child protection laws for so called faith healing placing childrens lives at risk.

      All faith based religions peddle ignorant lies that lead to the suffering of people.
      Atheism is the moral high ground that fights against the lies of relious con artists peddling anciient lies to the scared.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • ArthurP

      The best thing is that there are plenty of people who will be qualified to work in the service industries. "Would you like fries with that & Welcome to WalMart". Mind you all the high paying jobs and investment will have moved to Canada but no matter God will provide.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
  7. Nietodarwin

    There's plenty of Atheists and Christians commenting on here, but never any mormons. I'm pasting this from a former mormon that's now a christian. I don't care for either, but christians should educate themselves about the mormon faith, (or cult.???) Think about it before you vote to put a mormon in The White House. Think about it from YOUR point of view, not mine.

    LDS Article 1: “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.”
    “Mormons do not believe in the Trinity as we understand it. They believe that God and Jesus were separate physical people” who dwelled on the earth, Johnston said. God was Jesus’ father, and both men died.
    “They do have a ‘Holy Ghost’ that is very similar to our understanding of the Holy Spirit,” Johnston said.

    Article 5: “We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.”
    “When Christ was on earth, He set up a priesthood and an organization of the church,” Johnston said. “After he died, the people fell away and the priesthood left the earth. It didn’t return until the priesthood was given to Joseph Smith.”
    That means that born-again believers, Catholics, Jews and any other religion does not have “the fullness of the gospel” and therefore does not preach the true gospel.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • LinCA


      You said, "There's plenty of Atheists and Christians commenting on here, but never any mormons."
      You're not too bright, are you?

      Mormons are christians, and plenty of them post here.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
  8. tony

    My collection plate says your collection plate isn't the right one.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  9. Lomy

    Atheists =/= Americans

    In God We Trust is our motto. Go away!

    July 29, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • Smurfette

      You're right – Atheists do not equal Americans. To be American requires citizenship of a specific country, whereas to be an atheist requires a lack of belief in a specified deity. I understand that the alleged theatre shooter was American. According to your logic, Americans equal mass murderers. You might want to retake that logic course you took in college.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • exlonghorn

      Actually, the phrase "In God We Trust" only made it on to our paper money in 1954, and the phrase first appeared on coins after the Civil War. Hardly a foundation of our nation.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • Hello

      thats because the government knows it can not put " in our government we Trust" because that will never happen.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • LinCA


      You said, "You might want to retake that logic course you took in college."
      Whatever gave you the impression that Lomy ever graduated from elementary school? If he/she made it out of high school, I suspect he/she aged out.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • Smurfette

      @ LINCA – sarcasm, dear

      July 29, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • LinCA


      You said, "@ LINCA – sarcasm, dear"
      Well... in that case, may I offer you some sarcasm tags? ;)

      July 29, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
  10. bellaterra66

    Good grief, we don't know where God was in Aurora. And we may never know. Not even after we die. (Who really KNOWS there is life after death? And even if there is life after death, we will know The Answers even then?) Sacred books, like The Bible, try to answer life's ultimate questions (such as: why is there so much suffering and why does so much of it seem needless?). That doesn't make the answers in those books true or real. What is wrong with living without answers, other than it is very difficult to do. It's certainly better than living in illusions.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • stacey

      Well said!!!

      July 29, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • truth


      July 29, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
  11. St. George, UT

    Atheism prepared the soil for the growth of Hitler's Nationalsocialism

    Atheism prepared the soil for the growth of Hitler's Nationalsocialism

    July 29, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • LinCA

      Hitler was a life-long catholic

      July 29, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • tony

      Being irrelevant three times at least does not add votes to increase the value of your unsubstantiated opinions

      July 29, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • No Truth, Just Claims

      So why did he have the phrase "God is with us" written on the belts of the SS?

      July 29, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • Ting

      I wasn't aware that Warren Jeff's people had access to the internet. Do you also have cable there in St. George?

      July 29, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • Kyraeta

      Not only was he a long life Catholic, he forced all in his country to conform to his religious views. He also achieved support of the Vatican in his efforts. Apparently the Vatican was just as genocidal.

      Proving that there is or is not a god is just a bunch of posturing and rationalizing, #agnosticism

      July 29, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • Kyraeta

      Hitler recieved the support of the Vatican in his efforts. Him and the Pope were good buddies.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • Hello

      Hitler used the religious tools of mass control to get into power and trick the German's that he was a god.

      He committed suicide because he was a coward when he failed ....

      July 29, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • Arvoasitis

      Actually Hitler used a religious, apocalyptic, format in the speeches (ref. James Rhodes):

      1. Hitler: Germany is in danger of imminent collapse and annihilation.
      Translation: End of Being (ontological destruction).

      2. The cause of this is a world Jewish conspiracy.
      Trans,: Demonology (identification of the devil).

      3. Resistance is necessary via the "Volk."
      Trans.: Call for eschatological war.

      4.Only National Socialism is capable of mounting such a resistance.
      Trans.: Identification of the agents of God.

      5. This will usher in a new Reich, characterized by both blood improvement and economic improvement.
      Trans.: Salvation, redemption, the new Jerusalem.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • Christian

      Great article Krish, Thanks. It's gutintg that you missed the game, I watched it with a bunch of non football fans and (despite their jeering, snoring and comments about certain unnamed Man United players)it was an incredible Barca performance. I've written a (potentially) interesting piece on spiritual fitness of the Church and individuals, for my column in next months Sorted. Speak briefly about the Church's opportunity to be more of a spiritual Barcelona than a pub footy team, and an unavoidable pun about Messi Church. Blessings brother,Sam

      November 8, 2012 at 9:48 am |
  12. Ambassador

    My rebuttal to atheist Sam Harris' dishonest anti-Christian tirade (link here... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZbqybEsbbs), which alludes to the "why does bad stuff happen" topic being discussed here.

    I am responding to what he says in this video... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HthQ6a7FZeA

    July 29, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • Hello

      this is where your christian myth came from..


      July 29, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  13. tony

    There's not really any difference between the mass slaughter by guns and the Kool-aid mass killings of whole families at Jonestown. Major Nut has muderous beliefs and is free to kills lots of innocents. When the chips come down, "god" is nowhere to be found.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:59 am |
  14. St. George, UT

    If I was president I would require everyone to be Christian, or live as second class citizen.
    Non-Christians = Anti-American.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • Ting

      You would have made a fine inquisitor.

      July 29, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • Tim

      If you were President you would be impeached before dawn.

      July 29, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • No Truth, Just Claims

      As president you would not have that power, which shows how ignorant you are.

      You are one of many reasons I donate money to organizations stop fundiots like you from establishing a theocracy in this country.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • A dose of reality

      Hmmm,Hitler said something very similar. Do you have a funny little mustache?

      July 29, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • JWT

      Your sound like bush.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • exlonghorn

      Happily, you are not, and will not be, President.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • SM

      Wow, St. George, your ignorance is mindblowing. You pretty much represent everything that is wrong about religious nuts. What a downright bizarre existence you live in!

      July 29, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Hello


      " [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SUPoLMW6dNM&w=640&h=360] "

      July 29, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
  15. exlonghorn

    Faith that could stand up to any form of reason is long gone. Our knowledge of the world from 2000 years ago to what we now know about the world has irrevocably changed the need for religion. We do not need God to explain things; and religion becomes obsolete as an explanation when it becomes optional or one among many different beliefs. We now see that the leap of faith is not just one leap; it is a leap repeatedly made, and a leap that becomes more difficult to take the more it is taken, reaching its pinnacle in blind allegiance and active denial and rejection of any other possibilities. At that point, the credibility of the faithful is entirely lost.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  16. Squally

    Ah prayer, the biggest waste of effort one can do during times of crisis.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • exlonghorn

      Not just during a time of crisis. Honestly, if it makes people feel better, less vulnerable, etc., then they can pray all they want. I just wish they'd stop trying to put it in my face.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
  17. Priest

    I never said I was holier than thou, far from it. If you read the book of Revelations you will also see a vengeful God. Punishments is rendered in terrible fashion. I don't have any problem with Luke 19; there will be an eternal punishments for those that deny God. It is what it is.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • LinCA


      You said, "I don't have any problem with Luke 19; there will be an eternal punishments for those that deny God. It is what it is."
      Ah, yes. The merciful and all-loving god that will torture billions of people for an eternity, for simply not buying the bullshit stories about it.

      If that monster that you call your god actually exists, it is the vilest creature I can imagine. It puts all earthly mass-murders to shame. Compared to your god, the likes of Stalin and Hitler are sissies.

      Such a creature isn't worthy of worship.

      July 29, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • Note from the Vatican

      Thank you for stopping the behaviours that was costing the church a fortune and was draining the treasury, Bless You.
      Please remember, to not suffer the children to come onto you, if you feel your base instincts getting the better of you, have a good wa*nk before ministering to your congregation.
      Benny the Ratzinger

      July 29, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
  18. Ec1warc1

    Why does CNN give a platform to the religious? Shouldn't CNN only report the facts? This story is garbage.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • LinCA


      You said, "Why does CNN give a platform to the religious? Shouldn't CNN only report the facts? This story is garbage."
      It's in their "Opinion" section. They don't claim it to be fact, or news.

      July 29, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • Ting

      Could it be because most people are religious and they vote?

      July 29, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • cnnLover

      Opinion piece on their Religion blog, maybe?

      July 29, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  19. sanjosemike

    As an atheist, I am satisfied and happy with my life. I pay my taxes, including those taxes NOT paid for by religious groups who don't pay their fair share, have never relied on welfare, paid back all of my student loans, with interest, raised happy, fulfilled and accomplished children (who are also atheists), and I vote in all elections.

    I am sick of being blamed for societies' ills, of which I have nothing to do with. I have donated a substantial amount to many charities, and have donated thousands of hours to several charities over my entire life. I am happily married to the same lady for over 44 years and I have NEVER cheated on her. I have never taken a hand to her, and have supported her throughout everything in her life.

    I do not believe in any god or gods. I am satisfied with that. It is nothing I have any control over. I do believe in the fellowship of humans as a species, that I believe are worth continuing in existence.

    Contrary to what most believers think, millions of atheists are quite well adjusted and happy. They are your friends and neighbors. They are patriotic and serve in the military.

    In short, please stop libeling atheists as the "essential" of evil. We're sick and tired of hearing it. Worse, it is not true. You don't know me and have NO right to judge me.


    July 29, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      Atheism prepared the soil for the growth of Hitler's Nationalsocialism.

      The communist and bolshewist destabalized Germany in the 19th century, and destroyed the good old pruzzian order. Later Hitler, the idot, violated the weakened Germany.

      July 29, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • St. George, UT


      Move to North Korea or China

      July 29, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • tony

      Religion and the divine right of Kings has caused more wars and mass slaughters throughout all history than any other form of human endeavor.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • Johnboy

      I agree with your ideas completely, Mike. Were there a real God, he would not allow such crap to happen. It's all so simple really....psycho goes on a rampage and kills innocent men, women, and children. No god was there, because there is no god. We're on our own here, and sad as it may seem, we have to deal with such issues everyday. I don't need a god to have a happy life. We make our own happiness.


      July 29, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • exlonghorn

      From one responsible, well-adjusted, happy atheist to another...well said. Thank you, sir.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • ThisIsReality

      Well put. Thanks for speaking up.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • SM

      Great post, SanJoseMike! Spot on.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  20. Rainer Braendlein

    Don't invest in Germany, but in your home country.

    When will you die? Tomorrow? This evening? Now?

    It is beyond your influence when you will die (excepted you sadly commit suicide).

    Let us accept death as a thing which will once hit us, sooner or later.

    Before that background the massacre of Aurora gets somewhat relativized.

    Of course, Holmes did a great harm to his victims, but if he had not killed them, they had died another time (this is no excuse for Holmes).

    More important would it be to answer the question how we can live a meaningful life which will end in a peaceful death.

    Don't let us waste our money for too much food, cloths, big houses and cars and travels, but help the disadvanteged people.

    With the dollars which we waste for our egoism we could fund schools for poor children or hospitals for the poor or we could fund mission here and abroad.

    It is clear that we become righteous by faith alone, but why should we hide our righteousness. I guess our righteousness will rot within us and become poison, if we don't live it.

    Hence, become righteous through faith in Jesus Christ, and at the same time start a life of charity. This means health and deep peace for your soul, and finally your body will become healthy. Get the real thing.

    By the way, this has to do something with the credit crisis. Money which you use for travels is thrown down the drain, but if you use it for investment (building schools) you strengthen the economy of your home country. Think a little about that.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • tony

      It's God's willingness to let 9 yr olds get shot before they get a chance to live the life of love promised by the religious, that knocks down the whole false and empty house of cards.

      July 29, 2012 at 11:56 am |
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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.