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.
Humans are insecure and gullible. They need to believe for their insecurities. When children are insecure they know their mother and father will take care of all the unknowns and protect them and will not let the bad things happen to them. Similar concept with adults depend on thought of God will take care of unknown and bad things. This is a human nature. Religions have come to play the part of giving security to the masses for the fear of unknown.
True. It has also been a means to keep the masses in line. And it has long been a power structure as well, competing with kingdoms and states for wealth and power.
God was invisible and intangible, and He stood by and did nothing while real people died. Give it a rest, there's nobody here but people. "God's" a myth like Zeus and unicorns.
True. Glad you have the copyright for "Bible Clown," by the way. LMAO
What a joke CNN has become. This is neither news, nor an intelligent opinion piece. Instead it is a self-serving (opens with him being present for a death, in all his glorious spiritual compassion) pile of steaming drivel.
I noticed he put himself first in an article about God. I bet his collection plate overflows this Sunday!
He asks where was god then answers that he was there AFTER all the stuff happened, at the hospitals, at the vigils, etc.
Sounds like too little, a LOT late.
And here he we go with the "rational" and "logical" crowd applying "reason". And they're already starting to quote Einstein and others too, lol. Why is it not a surprise? Typical. You know, dumping on someone's belief system doesn't make you sound any more intelligent, it actually makes you sound LESS. I always find it amazing when someone says they believe in God, how many others stand up and kick them just because they don't believe in the same thing. Most people with faith are good people, nice people, and want to do decent things for others. And you find that bothersome? If someone is going to believe in God, and doesn't force it on you, then why the arrogance and intolerance? I know those are two American traits, but still, get over yourself and just let people believe what they want.
That would be no problem at all, if only the believers didn't try to deny rights to others because they confuse their religious beliefs with the law.
"If someone is going to believe in God, and doesn't force it on you, then why the arrogance and intolerance?"
er, because they do force it on people, thats why.
Good nice things for other people – like denying them civil liberties, censoring public discourse and generally condemning this and that from a fiery pulpit. Or worse yet, offering smarmy, condescending remarks like "I'll pray for you" all the while revelling in apocalyptic schaudenfreude.
I think you have blinders on. Atheists don't criticize the religious any more than the religious criticize Atheists. We are all people with the same feelings. As for this article, the idea that God let this nutcase "decide" anything is the stupidest thing I've heard. This guy did not use "free choice" he has a severe chemical imbalance that is not his free will, any more than it is your free will to catch a cold.
Fair enough, let me ask you a question. If I told you that "I believe Elvis is the second coming of the messiah and he had to die of a drug overdose to show us the error of our ways in order to be reborn as the King". You would think I was delusional, the intolerance comes from years of having the same intolerance of other religions being perpetrated by the Christian church, calling witchcraft on some, blasphemy on others, and yet still claiming to be the most oppressed religion on Earth.
To quote someone interesting since you brought it up, "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ" Mahatma Gandhi
" If someone is going to believe in God, and doesn't force it on you, then why the arrogance and intolerance?" When I was a child, all the stores had to close on Sunday because selling food or gasoline on Sunday made God furious. God might kill you with a sickness or blow up your house or car if He saw you buying a can of beans on His Holy Sabbath Day. So we all had to pretend to be afraid of the boogie man in the sky until the government finally stepped in. My friend was arrested and taken to jail for selling an Englebert Humperdinck record album to an old lady. You DO force it on us.
"If I told you that "I believe Elvis is the second coming of the messiah and he had to die of a drug overdose to show us the error of our ways in order to be reborn as the King". You would think I was delusional"
No, there's an actual church that believes exactly that, also He had a twin, they were both born dead, but his mom held Elvis up to be struck by lightning and He became Lord. You can perform Vegas marriages, etc,.
Would people give it a break? We get it, you don't believe in God. It was fresh the first 3,000 times. Now can we move on? The author is trying to grapple with a conflicted theological issue, no matter how imperfectly he has addressed it. If his beliefs do not coincide with your world view, move on and let others waste their time on this question. What does it hurt you?
" If his beliefs do not coincide with your world view, move on and let others waste their time on this question. What does it hurt you?" We get it, you believe and you hate us. How about if YOU be quiet and let US talk? How would that hurt you?
I struggle with belief myself. Why have so many people suffered through the recession while the rich get richer? People lose homes, jobs, etc. and the wealthy aren't even touched. Poverty running amok. The horrors in Africa, Syria, etc. I really don't know how anyone could believe in a God who would allow these things to continue to happen.
How long, O Lord? Psalm 13, the how long psalm
God left us to our own devices after the Garden of Eden, and we have been doing evil ever since.
In exasperation, He sent us a Messiah to show us how we should live, but the Messiah disappointed us by not kicking Roman a * s * s so we hung Him up.
one day mary you will find out the falseness of your statement
Mary, that was FUNNY. Hung him out to dry. Yep.
Seems like the god this guy "worships" is nothing but a sadistic serial killer....
why not, christians do it all the time, and apparently its god's number one pasttime.
ok i see. you see some Christians do it, so you're going to do it too? You're problem is not them or god, your problem is you.
"You're problem is not them or god, your problem is you."
(now where did i hear that before?)
Nope! we both don't trust in god.
Where was God? Why does anyone ask this question? Atheists don't believe in Him anyway, and believers should know from reading the Bible that suffering happens, even to good people, but that's no reason to doubt God. Even Christ was allowed to suffer, are we better than Him? This article was well written and gives any believer the same type of reasoning that should come from a careful reading of the scriptures.
Blah blah, God works in mysterious ways when bad things happen and all praise be unto him when someone get's their car fixed or finds a job. This ridiculousness has got to stop, God is a figment of human imagination, God is created in the image of man to allow man to feel special and unique in the world.
"He was on the lawn", give me a break and give those people some credit for being caring, loving human beings.
Oh, and it's Rob Brendle... my bad...and yours too.
It is very difficult to maintain comforting illusions in the face of harsh realities.
Hey, my right on was to James. Phil is not so bright and his comments are ostrich like as well....
Aurora isn't that far from Columbine, and the whole region is getting rich sucking on the big government teat via hi tech defence spending - which is all about killing people in large numbers. While we're getting all moral and values-oriented about the massacre, I just thought I'd bring this up.
remember – dont have the word God and your parents', spouse's, or kids funerals. just comfort them by telling your loved ones that now they can sit in a box underground and be eaten by worms
And the world would be a better place too if everyone realized this is ALL there is instead of a phony con designed to trick people into supporting delusion...
if you cant handle that fact looser then you keep right on clinging to your god to comfort.
Yeah, since that's pretty much what happens. Well, it won't happen to me, since I will be cremated. BTW, since you seem to be an intelligent believer (snicker), answer me this; what happens to your body when you are buried? I mean, since supposedly it's only the "soul" that goes off to float around on a cloud, eat ambrosia and play a harp forever.
Aw, I always just tell the next of kin that Jesus will have their loved one back up and walking around in a few days. It's comforting, so it's the right thing. Besides, He's going to raise everyone anyway, so what if I get it wrong? Have some faith, heathens.
Your mom loves to be eaten by worms
What a bunch of c r a p !
Self-serving rationalization. if your god was in Col, your god is this devil. And if he wasn't there, he doesn't exist!
Grow up! You ignorant fools who place faith over reason, make-believe over reality– YOU are what's wrong with America.
Enjoy your hell on earth you self-worshiping looser
Too funny! This person doesn't even know how to spell "loser" and yet he uses that word in his screen name. LMAO
the one who says there is no god is the fool - thankfully GOD is merciful too - HE wants you to come to HIM in repentence of you sins and beliene on HIM in faith - i pray you will make this choice
Sorry you feel this way. You are one of many that have yet to understand that YOU are not in control of your life. God created you and me for His glory...not yours. I pray you get to know Him before your heart stops one day....which it will !!! If not you will be devastated to know the Devil himself !!!!
"God created you and me for His glory...not yours"
why? why bother? whats the point?
was he bored?
@Al, so let me get this straight; I am not in control of my life, god is control. So then, according to your logic, he is the one that decided that I would not believe in his existence, yet he is going to send me to hell for all eternity for not believing in him. That sound about right? LOL!!!!
"the one who says there is no god is the fool " You got that out of a book, right? Oh, it MUST be true.
"self-worshiping looser" Your mom's looser. She's looser than Bristol Palin.
the shooter was a transgender white-hispanic atheist who was angry because he thought life wasn't FAIR
Actually it was a white Anglo Saxon mental patient under the care of a physiatrist, and someone sold him guns and ammunition, final verdict, “In the USA is legal to sell guns to mental patients”
If you're looking to insult liberals with your moniker, it would behoove you to spell the insult correctly.
@ losser. I have figured it out. "Looser" is for the crap your mouth spills., like your "looser " butt
The shooter was looking for your mom.
This guy is an idiot. It is very obvious god doesn't can. That shooting is nothing compared to many other things. God does not care.
You are one of many that have yet to understand that YOU are not in control of your life. God created you and me for His glory...not yours. I pray you get to know Him before your heart stops one day....which it will !!! If not you will be devastated to know the Devil himself !!!!
GOD does care - HE proved HE cares by sending HIS only SON –JESUS - todie for my sins and yours –one day –JESUS –is coming back to right the sins of the world
In the beginning Man invented god and ignorance and intolerance fell upon humanity. All discussion about god are as relevant as discussion about flying pink elephants.
what makes you speak such drivel?
Good to know that you're interested in "flying pink elephants" discussion.
Since you can't prove that they don't exist, Elephantheism must be true.
It's called, HATE!
Man invented God precisely because of that ignorance.
Marc! Let me preach unto you the Glory of the Flying Spagetti Monster!
So are you into elephatheism?
"Man invented God precisely because of that ignorance."
While gays, are into atheism because of Leviticus 20:13.
the man who says there is no GOD is a fool –HIS creation shouts HIS presence every day and will untill HE comes back
I reject Orthodox Elephantheism becuase it denies the Truth of the One True Proboscidae.
They claim that there are also fuschia wooly mammoths, which is just absurd!
I said, elephatheism, NOT elephantheism. But honestly I supposed to say elephanatheism. LOL!
I believe in elephantiasis
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.