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.
Ummmm....this article is totally inaccurate, trust me, I'm Jesus.
CNN = Athiest News Network
No, that would be A.N.N. .. channel 1674237 on Dish, 964673 on DirecTV, 47854 on Cox cable, 768359 on Comcast, 45789 on Time-warner, or just channel 1 on over-the-air.
If god is not real then how can the devil be real people seem to believe tht when everythinng bad happens it demonic or evil or everyone tht dont believe in god dont have any problem in telling someone to go to hell and if gods not real how come you never hear of miraculous storys of non beleivers being healed of incurable diseases and miraculous money thts owed disapearing maybe you dont believe cause u have no faith and nnever seen a miracle of god of maybe ur acestors sold their souls and the devil has giving you and your ancestors everything u have ever wanted so u will continue not to believe and he can bring them and you to hell but i bet non believers have more stress and heartach than believers do i bet the the familys of thhe victums who believe are have an easier time dealing with there grief than non believers so Be real and think about it there is a god and jesus died for your sins
Neither is real – not god, nor the devil. There – your little logical problem is solved!
Smurfette, it was a miracle you read through that post–considering how it is written.
Actually, NoTheism, I read "If god is not real then how can the devil be real" and stopped there! That was enough for me!
PUNCTUATE MAN , PUNCTUATE !!!!! So your saying if 1 of my precious 5 children dies and 1 of my neighbors precious children dies just because they believe and i don't they will have an easier time coping ? That is just total and complete bullcrap .
Sorry i hit the wrong button i meant to say 4 children not 5 (even though i have taken on a 5th as mine) wow would u look at that im not even a believer and i have a heart ..who wouldve thought that !!
Wow. Imagine a parent whose approach to his children is that he "promises no exemption from suffering. In fact, he all but promises suffering." We would consider that child abuse, remove the children from his custody, and put him in jail. The fact that "god the father" is (supposed to be) all good and all powerful is not a reason to condone this sadistic approach, it is a reason to condemn it all the more. Or, more rationally, to conclude that such a god does not exist.
The reason to conclude that such a god does not exist is because there is no evidence supporting such a god or any other gods.
Sorry. I prefer my evidence to be of the more solid variety.
Prayer changes things
Organized religion, as we know it and have known it for centuries, is not healthy for children and other living things.
Falsely-based, mythical, delusional religion, continues to be one of our most destructive forces.
There is a fine line between particle physics, quantum mechanics and consciousness. It's time to replace God with science.
God is science God created all things science included. Why stop short of the goal?
Then who/what created god? If you can't provide an answer than your logic fails.
Prayer changes thngs
Yes, yes, yes – prayer changes things. It certainly changed things for Rachel in the article, didn't it? I bet that the pastor just prayed his butt off, and you know what that prayer accomplished? Absolutely nothing.
yes prayer does change things. next time you get sick, DO NOT GO to the doctor!!! instead stay home and just pray!!!
the author says the will of Satan could also be at play ... If God is all knowing and all powerful .. where did Satan get his Power .. Was the power of Satan given to him by God ..to use for evil purpose
actually, yes. He was a very important angel in heaven well he fell to betrayal and greed and was overcome w/ evil. He held the unforgiveable sin – of not wanting salvation. These are difficult, unexplainable times. But, that is when God's power w/ us is so clear. At least for those who have faith. God does not "stop" all bad from happening. Don't for one second think evil doesn't also have power.
Jason, as far as I understand (and not that I care much for theology), angels never had free will...
Also, what you're saying is that your god either can't or doesn't want to stop all, most, or any evil at all... it sounds to me like he isn't all that great.
And don't for one second think that Jason is capable of thinking for himself or made it past 3rd grade.
So God made angels – but screwed that up and some rebelled? What – he didn't see that coming? Then he made people – woops! Mucked that up, didn't he? So bad that he had to flood the world to kill off everything. Not sure why he needed a flood – couldn't he have just snapped his celestial fingers, or hit his heavenly reset button? And he's not very good at saving people who , through absolutely no fault of their own, and put in perilous situations. Really – if you were an employer, and god showed up with a resume like that, would you hire him?
so many wrong things with this article, I'm trying to figure out where to start...
Why don't we start from the beginning, the initial question. Where was your god in Aurora? Basically, the author is saying, everywhere except where he was needed to prevent the tragedy, taking credit for everything that goes well and exonerated from the evil he allows...
Fantastic logic, Rob.
This article is laughable. I was waiting for the donation request to be crowbarred in somewhere. Go read George Carlin's take on religion. Never heard anyone else describe it so succinctly.
or incorrectly. He had no idea. he was a man who had no faith. Therefore, in his mind, easy to dispel and disprove. If you don't want to believe, there are plenty of reasons not to. That is what faith is all about. Believing in something past all other input. George Carlin is by no means a measuring stick here.
jason: Faith is defined as belief without evidence...you poor gullible little boy...not capable of thinking for yourself and not caring that what you believe is true...back to the sandbox now little one.
You know, those 250,000+ people killed in the 2004 "Christmas" Tsunami might justly agree that a deity does NOT exist. What a "Christmas" present he gave to them! Now that is something that a human did not do, and a deity could have easily prevented, even with a simple warning a few minute before hand. But he/she/it did nothing to help at all. If "God" exists, then that was nothing but unadulterated murder by "He/She/It". Promising suffering is not a benevolent deity ... it is one who inflicts pain, just like Hitler.
And just why does "God" need these silly humans to be his secretary to hand out messages? If he can talk to them, he can talk to anyone. It is quite difficult to believe that any human has anyone's best interests at the fore. If y'all religious fanatics are hearing voices, perhaps you need some mental help. Can you say "religious schizophrenia"?
And more over, all those sacred books have a copyright page in the front, and I have never seen "God's" name as the copyright holder. Some human wrote them, printed them, distributed them, and now uses them to justify their bigotry, hatred and murder. They used to justify slavery with it too, but we became wise to that old trick and passed an amendment to keep that from continuing.
Shame on any religious person who does nothing but spend time reading a mythology, talking to the air, and not doing something productive. Yes! and Why? Because, if you believe in the supernatural, and a deity and a devil, angels and demons, you believe in something that is more akin to Greek, Roman, Norse, Chinese, etc. mythology.
A silent, absent and invisible anything is just a nothing! Sounds more like the "nothing" in the "Neverending Story" fantasy book to me. It just does not exist.
You may disagree, and that is your right, and you can believe any fairy tale you like. But religion is based on fear, and keeping the "sheep" ignorant and under control by those who wish power and money. Now that is fact and truth.
u simply don't know God. When a christian says, God has been talking to them, it doesn't have to be a real voice. It is all within faith, knowing yourself, and trusting in God. Again, it isn't supposed to be easy to believe. Deception is always easier than believing.
not believing is not deception.
Oh, this is so bad. If you go to CNN to learn about God, you are seriously mislead. Please take some time away from mainstream media, think about what you are doing then go spend some time at you local place of worship for some one on one input from someone who might care about you. mainstream media is the least moral place one earth.
Forget the house of "worship", you won't find a more biased opinion. Try doing it yourself, at a real library. You know, the place with those things called "books". There you can find points of view, pros and cons. Do the research, look for the evidence, The LAST place you need to go is to a church. Their only aim will be that if you have questions, they'll see a potential "convert" and another source of income for that church.
FAITH!!!!!!!! All it takes is a mustard seed of faith to believe in God and then you will see him working everywhere! I personally have seen him work in my life and my friends life! This country has taken God out of the schools and has left the door wide open for evil and the more they take him out of this country the more evil that comes into it! It is truely very sad to see that there are so many non-believers in this country! NO GOD, NO PEACE! KNOW GOD, KNOW PEACE!!!!!!!!
You sound demented. Please get to an asylum immediately. Once there, please jump off the roof.
I see your mustard seed and raise you a peppercorn!
Shouldn't that read NO GOD KNOW PEACE, KNOW GOD NO PEACE??
The reason your particular imaginary friend is not in the schools or public square is because it is not the only imaginary friend that people have and thus, you have no right to impose it on other people. You do live in secular nation based on secular beliefs.
How anyone can look around this world at the beauty that is in it and not know there is a God is beyond me! I mean how do you think this world came to be? The sun, the moon the stars the oceans the different cultures. I couldn't imagine going through life not believing in God! I will continue to pray for all of the non-believers that they will come to know God through his son jesus Christ! You can bash me all you want but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is real and he lives in my heart and is always by my side through the good and the bad! He protects me, comforts me, and loves me! He gave us all free will and how you choose to believe and live is up to you! But you will only have eternal life through him! I for one know that when I die I am going to heaven and I have a great peace knowing that my entire family will be there with me one day!
A lack of god does not mean evil – religion is in no wy needed for morality
You are out of your mind! Good or evil is a human condition, religion has nothing to do about it. Keep dreaming.
This man, like many who are so devoted to religion, is deluded and illogical.
Why do people have to make excuses and reasons if there is a god? Why doesn't he explain it himself. The god of the Bible used to burn bushes and talk to people and make stone tablets filled with words. Guess god is a bit camera shy.
You make it sound like God spoke with everyone via a burning bush. No. He spoke to one man that way. He does speak to us all everyday (though we're usually not paying attention or we simply attribute it to "luck" or whatever) but not usually in a verbal way. You want it to be easy ... for everything to be laid out for you. But guess what ... you actually have to work for it.
According to the bible, God/Jesus talked to people all the time. Jesus went around turning water into wine, raising the dead, casting out demons, and appearing before his fans after he rose from his death.
For some strange reason he hasn't done any of those things for a few thousand years.
Could you give God a break,,, he retired to Florida and was watching the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises .... he had to put his phone on silent so nobody could call him til the movie was over. That's why he made it to the emergency room but was unavailable for the shooting event itself. I can't believe the author didn't realize this,,, it fits like a glove.
God doesn't exist?? well if you say so , you are playing God yourself ( you claim to have total understanding of the whole universe and know who does and doesn't exist... interesting ... You are no God, so keep your opinion to yourselves!!!!
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence...Carl Sagan
We make our 'claim' off of the fact that there is no evidence to support a god or gods. You make your claim off of faith (belief without evidence). We don't claim to know everything but we do base our claims off of evidence, not stories written in a book that have no backing. We do know that the evidence that has been peer-reviewed states the universe is 13.7 billion years old, your buybull claims 6000 years old and has no evidence to support it. We do know that evolution can be proven with peer reviewed evidence to be true, your buybull claims creation-yet another thing that we know has no evidence to support it. In the end it is you who is gullible.
All of this "for or against god" arguing is exactly why we should keep church and state separate. All of you people should be thankful to all the guns and veterans who have given that right to you. And never forget that right was forcibly taken from people who insisted they were correct and should rule over you. It is all about the freedom of choice, in almost all matters.
there is no god....
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.