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.
Attacking Christians (true followers of Christ) is nothing new... It's been done for thousands of years... what's the definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. God's message will not be silences, again.. been there done that... we're still here.
Insanity is believing in imaginary "friends" (god)
Funny, you guys keep on praying for things and they don't happen (without another rational explanation). What's your point?
There are 2.18 billion Christians in the world. The world's population is 7 Billion. This means there are approximately 5 billion non christians. Are they all wrong? Are they all going to hell? You folks are truly irrational and insane
God answers my prayers everyday.... Don't knock it til you try it.
"God answers my prayers everyday.... Don't knock it til you try it."
Listen, I was a believer for well over 40 years. I prayed devoutly. Stuff happened - good, bad, happy, sad, etc.
I have not prayed for 20 years or so, and guess what? Stuff still happens, exactly the same - good, bad, happy, sad, etc.
(I suppose that that tingly feeling of being SPECIAL and of having the fantasy that my prayers somehow are a bit of magical power and control about what's going on is missing, but realism is what it is)
Name K: Sorry, god doesn't answer your prayers everyday, or any day. There is no god. You live in an imaginary world; a world where the tooth fairy and santa claus live. But you're supposedly an adult. You need to outgrow the fantasy world.
I just took a bunch of acid.
ok, that's not me... nice try though... very cleaver. I wish you peace and happiness. Love K
You catch on quick. People should listen to your thoughts as they are invaluable to grasping the ephemal enigma that is life. Thank you for existing. Please post more tidbits of knowledge, oh wise one.
Well....not everybody can spread the Hate... some of us just don't have it in us.... thanks for being there.
People are the problem, Jesus is the answer.
God is not the enemy; Man is the problem.
God is Grace
God IS Love.
I like to beat off to the Macy's catalog.
God is fiction. Many people would say the same of love too.
God IS Love, Grace, Forgiveness and Mercy to those who believe in Him.
God makes mistakes. Look at asian people.
That's not especially funny.
Yep, he goofed and made some people who actually use logic. DOH!!!
racist, yes. correct, no. funny? absolutely.
God is not real!!
He is real for those who believe in Him.
Atheists boast like they know just like the religious do.Faith anyone?
"Atheists boast like they know just like the religious do."
Some do. Most don't.
This article talks about free will, but doesn't address the bolt of lightning that was missing that day. I find it offensive that the writer talks about suffering in other parts of the world as though it is acceptable. But if others feel like they need to lean on the idea of God, I say, do what you gotta do to feel better. The idea of a God that is omnipotent but chooses not to act scares the crap out of me. I prefer to believe in the alternative.
This pastor quotes only from the bible? Are other religions, such as Islam, fake?
Of course! His book says their book is fake, so it must be!
Well, Islam IS a rip-off from the same Jewish "god" story that Xianity was ripped off from prior to its invention..... but then Judaism was ripped off of pre-existing Greek, Egyptian, Persian religions, etc., etc., etc.....
Every creature in the universe knows right from wrong.
So that is why when a lion takes over a pride of females the first thing he does is kill the cubs. So if it right for that animal then it should be right to kill all the stepchildren when a male human remarries.
Two different creatures.
Except...strangely...Jerry Falwell, Jim Baker, Jimmy Swaggert, and the rest of their ilk.
Whatever helps you sleep at night.
this actually does happen quite often around the world, even in the US. It's a natural emotional and instinctive response, which we repress through our society's social laws. But yes, it's quite natural for primates (like humans) to engage in such behavior. Nice? Certainly not. But natural? Seemingly so, yes.
Where was God when the famine in Ethiopia in the mid-1980's caused the death of over 1 million people?
Where was God when a US soldier killed 11 innocent children and 4 women in Afghanistan?
Where was God when the United States bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki that killed over one million innocent people?
There was no god, there is no god and there never will be a god.
He was everywhere as always. You sound like you think God is obligated to come to the rescue of his enemies. You do know that all save a few are rebels and enemies of God, right? Yes that includes those 11 "innocent" children who were made estranged from God by Adam's sin. God has chosen a few who he goes and gets.
Either prove it or shut the f*cuk-up!
nottoolate – you're fvkking insane if you believe that. what a horrible sick old fvck of a t-wat you are to say that about children being murdered.
God watches everyone all the time. Therefore, he attentively watches young children go to the bathroom. What a pervert. God should mind his own business.
Blah blah blah, you mealy-mouthed faker. Another human that wants to speak "for god". Not a word about the guns available everywhere, easier to get than a driver's license. Let the killing continue, this charlatan will be there with meaningless mumbo-jumbo. Fool.
It's not the ownership of guns. The issue always was and still is about the sociopaths that live among us and, those who can't or don't want to control their anger..
Where you been girl, late getting back from church? I bet you did not get your welfare check and had no cash for the plate so the pastor took it out in trade, spit or swallow for jesus.
Why does CNN put this article in the Living section? Shouldn't all religion blogs be in the Opinion section instead?
No one likes you. Why is that?
Ahhh! I see that Zeus DOES exist! I'd blush but I'm blue so you probably wouldn't notice. By way of explanation, CNN placed the link to this article where it did to drive more people to read it, and hereafter comment on it, thereby driving the number of page views up, thereby increasing CNN's online advertising revenues. It's all about the money.
You are still here? G. Zeus, you really need t o get a life. At least if you were Christian, you could have left your moms basement for an hour this morning.
really: You may care to note that I have not commented on the last 10 or so pages, thus indicating that I was quite absent from this blog for some time.
A plea to proud Christians:
Please stop judging everyone else. Please peacefully live your religion instead of trying to force it on others.
I have seen terrible acts done by people saying they are in the right, that it is God's will to do the act, while hiding behind their religion. It is not enough to ” make up” for an entire week of terrible behavior by attending a one hour church service on Sundays. Please treat people kindly and fairly, judge not lest ye be judged, treat the world with love, because if you live otherwise, you are not living the word of God.
Maybe they secretly understand that God does not exist, and religion is just a means for justifying what they already want to say, think, and do.
Haha. Maybe. They are all atheists in disguise, in a master conspiracy to give Christianity a bad name. If it can't be brought down with reason, it will be destroyed because ” Man, those Christians are a bunch of d-bags!!”
I don't know what is true or not. I an not educated enough to claim either side. I just know what I have been witnessing, and it has been pretty bad and very hypocritical. I don't like how it is the dominant religion in the USA, when there are so many different religions and so many good people with other beliefs that are just as valid for them. Religion can never be a universal truth, because the human experience is never the same. My unicorns and glitter mentality tells me everyone should just f*ing relax and live and let live. Maybe the purpose of life is to live it, not to be right?
Everything we ”know” or ” believe” should be presented as a question instead of as facts. Humans are smart, we are curious, but our egos are gross and stand in the way of advancing what we have learned about the world. No one is right. No one is wrong. Everyone is different.
Neptune and Zeus were busy that day playing tennis with Thor and Odin so I'm not sure what the other gods were doing.
Really isn't fair. Odin's depth perception is shot having only one eye.
God was too busy drinking his own splooge.
Being god, I suppose he could, even without resorting to having a rib removed. Hey! Maybe that's where Eve came from! Adam said, Hey God, I'd like to be able to snack on my own love stick – can you remove one of my ribs to make it easier? So god did, then said, hey, what am I going to do with this rib? And Adam, recognizing that self-service isn't the answer, said, Hey, if we were to take that rib, and make it into a woman . . . .
Most of the writers have missed the point!
Every creature in the universe knows right from wrong.
All of us were given free will.
That said, most religions are instructions for building civilizations and societies. They were intended to promote the growth of humanity. It's only those who choose to use religion as a power grabbing tool who twist it into a reason to kill.
Every creature knows right from wrong?
every creature is destined to be in the stomach of some other creature...
Mother nature has a great sense of humor.
Every man has a free will and the ability to reason. This makes man different from all other creatures. That said, an old Cherokkee grandfather's story to his grandson is worth taking note. The grandson inquired. "Grandfather, why are some peole good while some are evil?" The Grandfather replied "in every person there is a good wolf and a bad wolf". The grandson asked, which is the one that wins in the end?" The Granfather answered, "it all depends on the one that you feed the most". Isn't it time that we start to turn from our eviel ways?
yes Zeus... the knowledge of eat or be eaten... there is no morality needed.
human beings created morality so assist in the development of cultures.. along with that they developed property ownership and then wars to fight over that property.
it did not take long for that property to include land, food sources, OTHER PEOPLE.
The value of the property created commerce. . which created trade and bargaining...which lead to money as a convenient way to transport wealth.
Gods were created to put controls on it all by creating a guilt trip... the god creators wanted the wealth but had no skills to
earn it or create it so they created myth tales to control the minds of others. when you control the mind you control the wealth.
The myths are funnels of wealth to the lazy.....they bully, lie and make impossible promises to keep the interest flowing back to them...
There is very little differences between the politician and the preacher... they both want what is others to control it for themselves.
The depend on each other to support each others mission.. to control the masses while telling the masses they are doing it for them and not themselves.
Votes are no different that prayer promises....they both funnel the wealth from the masses to the few...
We need another way to govern our masses.... what we have is not working... they are too easily used as scams .
The human population is getting to large to manage....there is a limit to mass management... and we have long past that.
that is why we are failing ourselves and this planet.... as we rush to over population... the chaos will continue to grow.
Daniel Quinn was right..... in Ishmael....and Story of B.... we are doomed.. and not god or program will help us.. we need to change our way of life....and that is way to late...
Good post Gavin.
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.