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.
God was where he always is – nonexistent.
I'll tell you where God was. He was instructing James Holmes to carry out his mass murder.
You'll hear him tell it during trial. It's part of his insanity defense: "God spoke to James Holmes and made him do it."
Isn't he one of Ted Haggard's buddies?
He needs to relax, go get a massage.
This article offers no answers, only excuses. What a surprise. "PLEASE REMAIN BLIND SHEEP AND KEEP MY POCKETS LINED."
But at least we know where God was during the holocaust... on the belt buckles of the Nazi officers: "Gott Mit Uns" - "God With Us."
If the evidence points to the fact that Holmes is a person with schizophrenia then the pastor needs to change his premise from the classical to the evidential problem of evil and there the argument from free will is invalid. Agnosticism should be anyone's answer to God's presence in this event. The atheist simply looks at the event and concludes it looks like something one would expect if an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving god didn't exist.
I don't mean to be disrespectful but justifying things we don't understand with an explanation of a God in charge of it is like trying to smell with your toes. Its pathetic....especially considering the number of people that need practical help. This "servant" of God could have taken the time that went into writing this nonsense and given someone a hug and done a lot better for all of us. The wisest among us know when to say....I don't know. The worst among us waste their lives and ours chasing their own tail. No matter what you believe you end up right here and now....where everything always makes perfect sense because it is what it is. Its only when we look back and forward and try to make "sense" of it all that we die a little before we are really dead.
How do you know he didn't give a hug or lend a helping hand. The article is what it is. It's childish to tear down an individual and accuse them of something we know nothing about.
WU, very well said. Better to expect individuals to help others and themselves rather than admonish or suggest that we go follow the unclear and contradictory whims of some invisible supernatural being.
Without evil, good cannot be recognised and we would not have opportunity to grow. Ignore both and your soul is just chaf in the wind.
People will soon have enough with these questions. Man has created all of the issues we have in the world. God did not create guns, but man... It was a man who killed these people and not God.
"People will soon have enough with these questions. Man has created all of the issues we have in the world. God did not create guns, but man... It was a man who killed these people and not God."
You're right, God did absolutely nothing to cause this, because fictional beings can't be held responsible for actual incidents. We can't blame Santa or the Tooth Fairy for the same reason.
If you are going to say man created guns, then the same must be said for all of the inventions created since the beginning of time. People are beaten to death with sticks too. Does that mean I can blame God for those?
THE MOST RELIGIOUS PEOPLE I KNOW ARE DIRT POOR..GOD BEEN HELPING THEM ??? NO....MILLIONS OF PEOPLE DIED EVERY YEARS, WHERE IS GOD TO STOP IT ????
SYRIA GOVERNMENT IS KILLING THEIR PEOPLE AS WE SPEAK, WHERE IS GOD ????
what a pathetic man. and you call your self a marine.
Why should God become the numbing agent to wipe out all life's suffering? Much of the bad that happens is a DIRECT result of the wrong, sinful choices made by PEOPLE. We, people, have a free will. We make our own choices, and often others suffer for it. We CAN'T blame God because someone makes a terrible decision. Blame that person, and blame the true cause, SATAN.
"Blame that person, and blame the true cause, SATAN."
too funny, we apparently cant blame god because its the person's choice....and oh yeah, its also satan's fault.....but you cant blame god.
@ John and AJ – You must explain to me how your god is different from Wala, Malakbel, Xiuhtecuhtli, Ekhi, Ra, Ptah, Apollo, Agni, Inti, Tohil, and about 100 more (and these are just Sun gods). Nevermind, I can't stand the suspense! I'll answer my own question. – You weren't born into these
AJ 'We, people, have a free will. We make our own choices, and often others suffer for it. We CAN'T blame God '
A child that suffers with cancer does so for his/her bad choices while exercising free will? Nice. Like they say, Jesus loves the little children.
An appropriate response:
Cool story, bro!
“If every trace of any single religion were wiped out and nothing were passed on, it would never be created exactly that way again. There might be some other nonsense in its place, but not that exact nonsense. If all of science were wiped out, it would still be true and someone would find a way to figure it all out again.”
― Penn Jillette
ok, i like that.
It is an appealing quote. Not provable but appealing.
iIt actually has been proven. In history, entirely autonomous civilizations have come to develop similar technologies and general understandings but their religions are quite different. Had technology never allowed them to meet, it would have progressed even further but the technological advances would still be similar while the religions diverged.
But what if you're a polytheist like me Mr. Pastor?
Then you need to burn in Pasta Hell with hearty marinara! All Hail the Hypnotoad!
More bafflegab in another failed attempt to to defend ridiculous beliefs. Complete and utter nonsense.
I HONESTLY BELIEVE THAT THEIR IS NO GOD....IF THERE IS A GOD, HAVE ANYONE SEEN HIM ????????????????????
THE BIBLICAL READINGS OF GOD IN THE OLD DAYS I THINK IS FAKE.....
I WILL BELIEVE IN GOD WHEN I SEE HIM IN PERSON, THAN I WILL BELIEVE.
You are, you're, your, yore fake.
I've never seen your brain. Therefore, based on your argument, is doesn't exist.
Jose, you shouldn't worry about god......you should worry about going to school and learning how to spell and use proper english.
AJ, you clearly don't understand structured reasoning and logical fallacy. You commit two failures of logic in your comment...
1) Straw Man
2) Argumentum Ad Ignorantiam
Get an education and then come back and debate. It makes me wonder if YOU have a brain, because I now have some evidence that you may not.
God is on vacation. Send an email or text, however, he may not respond since he did bring his iPad or cell phone with him.
Rainey the Rabid is at it again with his threats and posturing. Sad. 'catholic engineer'is is another pousuer. Logic and fairy tales all go together in his world, Kyrie Eleison.
atheists are freak,
they are weirdo
what the hell they are doing here
they don't belong here.
It isn't atheists who still believe in the Tooth Fairy.
So, radiobutt, you have your radio up your butt with your head? No wonder you you are so dense and ignorant. Thanks for telling us how ignorant you really are, your honesty is so refreshing.
What's the connection? Haven't get over your lost front teeth yet?
It's the atheists who put their butts over their heads.
LinCA, did you know you stole Jesus' truth again, changed the wording and called it your own.
Fairy tales are fables. Itching ears is to have preachers stroke you with lies instead of Hearing Jesus truth of what you need to hear.
2 Timothy 4:3-4
3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
4 And they shall turn away [their] ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
@all atheists are gay but not all gays are atheists
Some of the harshest critics of homosexuality have been later identified as being homosexual themselves. Also, studies show that there is a strong correlation between homophobia and arousal by homosexual imagery.
Could it be that all these homophobes are actually gay and just trying to hide that fact? Smart money says they are.
That's like saying that people who don't believe in invisible pink unicorns are freaks.
If you keep feeding it, it will follow you home.
I have a news for you..you HIT it!
I'm gay but not an atheist and I keep my head and butt where they should be.
I also have a news for you...you may not be a troll but OBVIOUSLY, you're a TOOL!
If people who protest most strenuously again gays are in the closet, What does that make people who protest most strenuously against God?
Come on Lin, you guys are supposed to be the logical ones aren't you?
You said, "If people who protest most strenuously again gays are in the closet, What does that make people who protest most strenuously against God?"
Realists? Rational? Non-delusional?
But my protests aren't against any gods, as they are highly unlikely to exist. I only have issues with those that try to force that nonsense on the rest of us. While you are free to believe as you see fit, I don't want any of it. It's just like smoking. You are free to poison yourself, just keep the smoke out of my air.
You said, "Come on Lin, you guys are supposed to be the logical ones aren't you?"
Of course we are. Did you ever doubt that? Just because you don't understand simple concepts, doesn't mean that I'm less logical for it.
Billy, how does someone "protest" against something that they don't believe exists?
JRR Tolkien once wrote: "You cannot pass!"
Mark Twain once wrote: Apparently one of the most uncertain things in the world is the funeral of a religion.
your error is obvious.
I have bought the book "Mythos des 20. Jahrhunderts" by Alfred Rosenberg who was the leading high priest of the Third Reich. Of course, he had never admitted publically that he was an atheist, because the Catholic and Evangelic Germans had been disturbed by that, and Hitler needed them as "Kanonenfutter". Rosenberg simply invented a new Jesus. Rosenberg's new Jesus was a proud and violent ruler according the demands of the Masterrace. Rosenberg's Jesus was the devil.
So, if someone asked Rosenberg: "Do you believe in Jesus Christ?", he certainly answered: "Yes, I do." But, of course, he believed in a pseudo-Jesus which had nothing to do with the meek and humble and righteous Jesus of the Bible.
It is all about getting rid of a bad conscience. It doesn't matter, if you try to explain away God or if you invent a pseudo-God or pseudo-Jesus, the aim is always to justify the personal sins.
The ancient Greeks did the same. They were passionate fornicators and thus they invented a God, called Zeus who was also a strong fornicator, in order to justify their sin.
Dear atheist, there is a righteous God, as you know, and he will finally judge you. Hence, don't doubt his existence, but repent right now, before you die.
Rainer, don't obfuscate the primary prenuptials with rasberries. Often, the pertinent cat presents fabled necessities in the parking chamfer. Realize your net precedent. Triangulate! Save the best for the alligators. Ever the bastille notches the orchestra but Wendy is not green and horses will capitulate. Filter out the log from the turnstile and cry prevalently.
So there brown stare. Feed your inner walnut and resolve. Subject your lemon to the ingenious door in the presence of snow and animals. Aisle 7 is for the monetary cheese whiz. Faced with the kitchen, you may wish to prolong the sailboat in the cliff. Otherwise, rabbits may descend on your left nostril. Think about how you can stripe the sea.
Regale the storm to those who (6) would thump the parrot with the armband. Corner the market on vestiges of the apparent closure but seek not the evidential circumstance. Therein you can find indignant mountains of pigs and apples. Descend eloquently as you debate the ceiling of your warning fulcrum. Vacate the corncob profusely and and don’t dote on the pancreas.
Next up, control your wood. Have at the cat with your watch on the fore. Aft! Smarties (12)! Rome wasn’t kevetched in an autumn nightie. (42) See yourself for the turntable on the escalator. Really peruse the garage spider definitely again again with brown. Now we have an apparent congestion, so be it here. Just a moment is not a pod of beef for the ink well nor can it be (4) said that Karen was there in the millpond.
Garbage out just like the candle in the kitty so. Go, go, go until the vacuum meets the upward vacation. Sell the yellow. Then trim the bus before the ten cheese please Louise. Segregate from the koan and stew the ship vigorously.
And remember, never pass up an opportunity to watch an elephant paint Mozart.
Present proof of you gods existence. No proof, no point in worshiping a diety. Easy enough.
Post by 'Rainer Braendlein' concludes with a threatening form of the flawed argument known as Pascal's Wager.
Jill, too funny. I think we love you.
"My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. ...Today, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed his blood upon the Cross."
– Adolf Hitler, speech on April 12, 1922
'But, of course, he believed in a pseudo-Jesus which had nothing to do with the meek and humble and righteous Jesus of the Bible'
That's the average Christian, right?
"I believe today that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator. "
– Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Vol. 1 Chapter 2
"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
"What we have to fight for is the necessary security for the existence and increase of our race and people, the subsistence of its children and the maintenance of our racial stock unmixed, the freedom and independence of the Fatherland; so that our people may be enabled to fulfill the mission assigned to it by the Creator. "
– Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Vol. 1 Chapter 8
And yes, we ARE in love with you Jill. :)
I must say when one tries to explain the existence of the invisible man in the sky they can get very creative in doing so. So, I give you kudos of your creativeness. Is is that same trait that allows you to believe in the invisible man in the sky and lead your life on a book of fiction written by humans about the invisible man in the sky. Keep up the good work and keep up the child like enthusiasm for something that is not real.
Saint Jose Maria Escriva once wrote "The great Christian revolution has been to convert pain into fruitful suffering and to turn a bad thing into something good. We have deprived the devil of this weapon; and with it we can conquer eternity."
Right on. The devil was deprived of columbine 1. So now he has moved on to Aurora. ;-)
How tight is your celice?
That is as beautiful a description of Christianity as I have ever seen. Thank you CE.
What?!? Maybe you could explain why you find that statement so aesthetically pleasing.
For those who have faith, no explanation is needed.
For those who don't have faith, no explanation would be enough.
You said, "For those who have faith, no explanation is needed."
I think we can agree here. I'm not sure you can consider it a compliment.
You said, "For those who don't have faith, no explanation would be enough."
A rational one, supported by evidence will do. The problem is, that there isn't one.
"The great Christian revolution has been to convert pain into fruitful suffering and to turn a bad thing into something good. We have deprived the devil of this weapon; and with it we can conquer eternity."
So are you saying the Catholic Church missed the revolution? Because there are a lot of abused children that would say they "turned a good thing into a bad thing and converted the joy and happiness of childhood and turned it into a lifetime of pain"
For those cynics of faith in Jesus Christ, I have but one question: Do you love your mom? Prove it. That's faith. You just know it in your heart. I could sit around and poke holes and easily prove you don't love your mom. But yet, you do. Give Christ a chance in your life, an honest to goodness chance and see what happens. I promise you, you will be happier, more loving, more at peace, and more understanding of the world because you will start seeing it as God does. God Bless.
"No Truth, Just Claims"": It sounds to me like you put a lot of faith in man. If you do that, you will always be let down. We are sinful. Christ was not. God is not. Put your faith in them, learn about them, and stop worshiping mankind because again, you cannot help but be disappointed. People in the church are many times just as sinful as those who are not. The difference is that we have faith that we are forgiven, and the result is growing and getting better....and becoming more righteous and doing some good in the world, even if just a little.
All I know is that nothing is absolute and everything can be questioned.
If you don't believe in something, you will never ran-out of reason not to be convinced.
It's all in our mind.
"We are sinful. Christ was not."
except he got angry and violent at the moneylenders, and that is a sin.
Moby, I'd love to explain further but the thread has run away. I suggest meditating on the crucifixion of Jesus. Think about His intentional acceptance of suffering and how what appeared to be a bad thing to those gathered with Him has blossomed into such beauty.
My mother exists, the christian god is so absurd in definition and mythology as to be nearly certian it is a fable. I am sure you have great feeling for your non-existent god, that does not make it real.
My point on the church is everyone talks about how belief in jesus makes them a better person, or churches are where we get our moral compass from. But the catholic chuch as an organization has failed time and time again to show they act in a more moral way than any other business and it could in fact be argued they act worse, that kind of track record does not make me think they have the correct theololgy, can't their god help them with all the praying and worship that they do? Apparently not.
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.