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.
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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.
why is it that people who dont believe in a higher being feel the need to try to convince everyone else? are you trying to find comfort in numbers since you realize that your existence is meaningless?
Why do you as sume that the lives of atheists are "meaningless"?
If you need some "god" to make your existence have meaning then you are truly pathetic.
all existence is technically meaningless, there is no point to mankind being here, we just are.
but you are getting confused over who is trying to always convince people of the existence of things.
An atheist existence is far from meaningless. Everyone chooses the meaning of their own existence. This being a big scary choice most people hand it over to someone else, usually a priest, in the name of god, or political leader, in the name of a cause. Atheist are the ones brave enough to make the decision for them selves.
The free will argument is one of my favourites.
I suppose Christians believe that free will is one of the greatests gifts God has given them. Without free will, Christians would be mindless slaves who have no choice but to obey God's will. But with free will, just as people can do good things they can also do bad things as well. When a person dies and goes to heaven, does she still have the capacity of free will? I am asking this because heaven is described as the most perfect place. The most perfect place would surely have us retain our capacity for free will but that also means there is the chance of bad things happening in heaven. So either Christians go to heaven with a not so perfect place where evil still exists, or people go to heaven and get their capacity of free will taken away from them making them mindless slaves. Heaven doesn't sound like a great place after all.
and dont forget that all christians hope to become communists when they die....
To go to a place where there is no rich or poor, all are equal. No needs or wants, everything is provided for you. Where the authority in charge forever remains in charge and the inhabitants spend their time worshipping the authority. Communist utopia.
Actually, there will still be free will, but Christians believe in a changed nature, one that is best explained by means of the Eucharist. As God has created a universe separate from Himself and has broken into time, He is now "reconciling the word to Himself." When God will "be all in all," indivuduals will (in a way probably possibly but difficult to explain) be interconnected with God in a way such that there will be no internal inconsistencies. Therefore, evil will not be chosen. And by the fact that God will infuse Himself completely in them, evil will not be possible though all individuals will retain their agency.
I don’t see how you can retain your agency if God infuses Himself completely in you while removing your choice to do evil. You can only do and choose what God has infused into you. If He infuses everyone in heaven exactly the same than wouldn’t everyone’s action to a certain situation be exactly the same. They would react just as God would react. The lessons you've learned from your sins and the pains you've endured from other people's sins are told to make a Christian a better person. All of that does not matter in heaven when God infuses you with His soul.
Why doesn’t God accept everyone into heaven (even the sinners) and remove the evil things from them? Everyone will still be interconnected, no inconsistencies and God gets to show the bad people they were wrong and how it feels to be perfectly good.
@Michael: So God creates an evil-free free will in heaven and does not choose to do so on Earth? His followers could have had a world with an evil-free free will but God chose instead to allow evil in the world and He does nothing to stop it.
Perhaps God could have given us free will, allowed us to choose to do good or evil but protected the innocent from the consequences of evil actions. He is supposed to be powerful enough to do such a thing.
Perhaps God isn't really omni-benovolent and actually wants us to suffer. Maybe he is just indifferent to what happens on Earth.
@Ranin God does not remove "bad things" from those who go to heaven. The Bible teaches that our nature must be changed into God's. In fact, Jesus says that we must "eat [his] body" and "drink [his] blood" in order to have life. God cannot remove the "bad things" from people going to hell because it's their nature that is the problem. Heaven is for people who have a new nature and have died "in a state of grace," though those people may from time to time commit imperfect acts, though certainly not habitually (1 John).
@jayjay A lack of understanding of God's choices do not invalidate them. In fact, if you could understand all of God's choices, He wouldn't be very wise, would He? There are many scenarios which could justify the conditions He has chosen for earth, as well as heaven. One such scenario is that He desires that our choices are Earth carry MEANING. If the innocent were always protected from violent acts, then our decisions would be arbitrary since the consequences of such would be indeterminable. God's justice requires that any wronged suffered will be right, albeit perhaps not in this lifetime. Therefore, judgments based solely on temporal experience(s) are invalid.
*on Earth (I think I was in between two thoughts)
The author is 'high' on God.
To explain something simple - like, Where were you when a crime happened? - he spews out a bunch of non-nonsensical BS (belief system) which borders on nothing short of psychosis. Mind you, this only appeals to those who believe that crap.
So, the believers of this crap keep their beliefs intact and those who were against these hallucinations (hell-ucinations), in the first place, know why its all a load of crap.
Everything is where it was.
Atheism is good for children and all living things.
Enlightened and thoughtful. Thank you.
The Christian god is a tool used by the church to control the masses. It was made from many other gods associated with the pagans and modified to better implement that control. Look at Lucifer. He was the light bearer to the Greeks, and the Christian church rebranded him as evil. They used the horned gods of the pagans to give him a new face that would seem familiar and terrifying. The Church has been and will always be a political organization trying to keep a bunch of slaves under their thumb.
so ignore God and continue to worship yourself as you usually do.
How does one ignore that which does not exist?
Yep you got it. People do good things and bad things, no need for the divine. Mainly used to control the masses.
Looser...... How can you ignore something that doesn't exsist?
Maybe God missed it because he was busy peeking into bedrooms to see if two single consenting adults were engaging in a sin.
sounds like you have slirping on Barry juice a bit too long
What does your name mean, looser?
@ Barney, AMEN TO THAT!
To be fair, he was doing okay right up until the 'satan' BS. The minute someone starts the satan crap, it's over.
God must have been in the next theater watching "Ted"
I saw the 'Dark Knight Rises' this weekend. If God was watching some other movie, he, uh, He missed a good one.
Rob, well said. Excellent response.
"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, God has the capacity to intervene but choose not to in Aurora. Are we expected to worship a supreme, omniscient, omnipotent being that let the people of Aurora suffer because he works in mysterious ways? Give me a break.
Much ink has been spilled trying to answer the question, "Where was God?" in this and countless other human tragedies. The answer is extremely simple: He was nowhere because he doesn't exist. We would be far better off as a society if we chose to direct our mental energies toward solving the underlying problems that cause these tragedies.
Like it! Well spoken!
"Where was God in Aurora?"
Nope, god wasn't in Aurora.
God is the same place it's always been, nowhere.
too bad you weren't in Aurora
looser_libbies, I take it that you are offended by us_1776's comments because you are a Christian.
"And they'll know we are Christians by our love."
Oh please! Greater disasters happen almost daily in Africa and no one in the American media asks where God is.
God didn't make me win the lottery so I dont believe in him
Isn't it about time this subject is dropped from the news?
God wasn't there, and never will be there.
Get over it and move on to something that makes sense.
God was too busy watching priests molest little boys in his church. Don't know why but everyone keeps saying that he works in mysterious ways or that his actions need no explanation.
Your answer to that is....'jesus loves the little children, all the childre of the world...' It is in 'his' name that these freaks commit their crimes. He is, like his priests/pastors, a pedophile. (Since they act like this jesus is real, I use it against them here).
Yeah where was Mbombo? Or is that not the god we are talking about this time? After all there are close to 3,000 imaginary sky monsters so I think it best if every article states which one from now on.
Leave Christ, Allah, Bhuddha,etc. out of the conversations and expound their teachings such as love thy neighbour, tolerance, kindness, unselfishness, forgiveness etc.
Its a sad commentary that all of the posters here want to convince others to disavow their faith. Go worship yourselves and each other......may you find loneliness in your time of need.
What's your name referring to, looser libbies?
I agree. I am a muslim american and my heart goes to all victims and families. According to Islam, a human being has the power to choose between right and wrong so he/she can be held responsible for his/her own actions. This goes to the heart of purpose of human creation, Allah says that humans will be tested through losing their wealth and loved ones and personal sufferings in the same way when they are tested by having wealth and children's so we can see who was the most patient and righteous at the end so let's not blame God for all evils a human being is able to commit.
Rob Rendle really believes the tripe he espouses. Comforting people that that the loved ones have gone to their 'just rewards' is so not right. At every funeral, the pastor/priest/rabbi, et al, say that the deceased has gone to heaven, BS. We all know that that isn't the case. Some were sinners, according to you xtians, so they went the other way, right? The dead are just that, DEAD. They don't have any cares or worries at all. Period. They are gone forever, and not one has ever returned or communicated that there is a heaven, much less a xtian he;ll. All BS, like the stuff Rendle spouts. He is a coward for life. Death is his message, live to die so you can go to heaven. Wow. I say live the best you can, as fully as you can, and do what is right for you and your family and communtiy.
And the man who killed all of those people, "did what was right for him." The dead are completely aware of where they are.
The "opiate" of the masses is not religion. It is believing that you will never be held responsible for your actions here on earth.
Two observations for the person who wrote the "Which God??" post::
1) You clearly have not studied the Bible or what Christians actually believe about God, resurrection, heaven/hell, etc.–or what others believe about those things as well. You might want to before posting about it.
2) You call Rob Rendle a coward, yet he puts his name on what he writes and stands by his views. What about you? You're nothing but an anonymous hypocrite.
What do Taoists have to do with anything?
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.