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.
The concept of God removes responsibility from where it truly resides. With us.
Keep waiting, in vain
IF there is a God and he allowed this to happen when it could have been stopped, he is useless to humans. If there is a God and he wasn't able to stop this from happening, he is useless to humans. If there is no God, then, oh well, it doesn't matter.
I rarely denigrate what people believe…however, the convoluted and tortured explanation of where God was in the Aurora tragedy is simplistic and mindless.
After reading this I know why I left the church. Who in their right mind can believe God presided over this awful scene. So God wanted inocent people to be killed? Can anyone give me a good reason? (And it better be logical, not just because "I believe ...")
Isaiah 45:7 – 7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.
He was pulling the trigger.
I can see there are many atheist posting but I fail to have read one post stating that there shouldn't be crosses erected in the city for the victims. Where are the true non-believers during a tragedy. The "athiests" are fighting for every cross to be taken down around the country but then I see 12 crosses being set up. Surely there was at least 1 who wasn't a Christian. Why not demand the crosses taken down?
Jesus loves you.
Because the crosses represent the exsistance of each person. There is no connection directly to God.
I would say that we aethists have good manners that is why. People need to see logic and reason in an illogical and unreasonable happening such as this. If a cross makes a family member feel better than why should an aethist step in and hurt a person? I would find objectionable crosses erected in the spot permantly, first it is offensive to non believers and second it's offensive to people not christian but believe in some supernatural being. There is a difference between politics and grief and thankfully aethists see this.
DKW, I've thought about a similar issue quite a bit actually. My conclusion is that Christians have no qualms about imposing their beliefs on others.
At the same time, it is a sensitive issue and it shouldn't be wrestled with right now. What we need to do is try to prevent such things from happening in the future, in respect to those that have different or no faith/religion.
I am not religious, but those people are expressing their grief and sorrow (and respect for the people killed) by erecting the crosses. Why should I (or anyone else) intrude? They are not trying to do anything else than grieve in their own way.
The AF Chief, it's nice to hijack and redefine symbols, terms and meaning, isn't it?
@Barry, "Why should I (or anyone else) intrude?" in order to respect the victims, that's why.
Because there is no perceived government endorsement of religion. Atheists do not object to individuals practicing their religion. They object to the perception that the government is endorsing that belief, such as having a cross in a courthouse.
nothing says "sorry for your injuries" like erecting a replica of an ancient torture device.
Why is it so hard to grasp that God has given us free will to do good or not so good or downright evil? And God doesn't interrupt our free will but just gives us comfort and forgiveness when we blow it PLUS a chance to turn it all around in our lives? Mr. Holmes, like others before him, was an evil architect and when one of those goes undiscovered and unchecked, we get murdered people, lots of them.
Why aren't people asking where God is NOW or BEFORE the bullets flew? And why aren't people asking where the devil was?
God's not evil or impotent or absent when evil stuff happens, we are.
So your god doesn't want to protect the innocent because he wants to make a point...
then there is no heaven or hell?
It's hard to grasp because it's so darned silly. Why is it so hard to grasp that you have constructed an argument so ridiculous that it defies logic? This idea of free will is ridiculous. You still have a god who willfully created people he knew would commit evil acts upon innocent and good people. He had too. You can't simultaneously argue that god knows all and that he grants free will. If he knows all, then he knows what choices you will make and he created you to make those choices in that manner. For example, he has to know that a book written 2,000 years ago by a group of barely literate goat herders wold not be enough to convince me hat he exists and therefore he created me with the intention of making me fry in a fiery pit for all eternity. That makes your god a sadistic P O S. There really is no defense for the god Christians have constructed, but that's okay because he doesn't exist anymore than any other man-made god.
The many people in the world that believe in different deities, what ever their story books tell them, also have free will, do they not and could care less where free will came from. The Flying Spaghetti Monster can't even bother listening to or answering prayer, for example, HE just doesn't find peoples activities (free will=you are going to do what you want, anyway) and problems all that interesting and HE doesn't solicit contributions; I would bet Pastor Rob passes around the plate, gotta make a buck somehow.
This man is either an idiot or a fool. Paraphrasing him: if you live where there is an abundance of suffering, senseless tragedies won't bother you.
By that 'logic' if you've lost 2 children death, you should be used to it, and losing a third child should not affect you.
Clearly God was too busy wondering why his picks for the GOP nomination didn't win.
Fantasy football time, spend your sundays researching your picks, heaven will just have to wait.
Where was God when those folk in the picture were getting too fat? When it comes to fattening food; 'lead us not into temptation and guide us from evil'.
One problem with your analogy pastor. The victims had no choice to choose good or evil. A baby has no thought process on god. So how does your theory apply to a god that makes a choice for someone instead of letting them choose ?
If your theory is correct, god purposely killed those people.
Even worse, he routinely creates people he intends to torture for eternity. Nice guy.
the pastor is right .god made you and me .his ways is not our ways . any you might not see it yet but everything work out for the good the lord intend it for . when anyone ask where was god.first ask yourself where was god when they toke his only son and hung him on the cross. the die for the sin of these world..if you thank god is not in control ask the people to reply that tryed to go to that move that night and something came up. u will be suprize of how many people was block from going .and my i subject god had work for those people to do up there with him. god bless all of u .and god please forgive that young man to.and belive it or not .all of u will get your joy back just keep trusting in the lord.if feel for all of u and i love all of u even tough i dont know u all by name .but i love god more to trust that will be dont . not our.love u one guy trying to do wright in crest.
There are no easy answers because the questions don't make sense. 12 people died because a disturbed and disconnected youth bought some ridiculously overpowered weapons and used them. The dead are dead, they aren't suffering, their consciousness was simply switched off. We can mourn the dead, and be glad we knew and loved them. It's really quite simple. God had no part in any of this, because gods are a human invention, just like dragons, fairies, ghosts, witches, demons and so on. The reason theologians cannot agree, is because the bible, and all 'holy books' are incoherent. The irony here is that our strange quasi-religious anti-intellectual culture breeds these tragedies and then we turn to religion and ask "why God, why?"
I have to say to this: Amen brother.
Parked in front of the TV watching PRo SPorts again – the same as He's beeeen doing since the beginnning of the 20th Century. I thought the holocaust would have cured Him of His lazinessss, but no dice. Now that thjere's another WIld Card team to the MLB playoffffs he watches ALL the games!!!!!
I forgot to mention, I'm a great big moochin' idiot with nothing else to do on Sunday morning.
Humans created fairy tales to deal with our daughter being scared of the monster in the closet. Works on most nights, until there really is a monster in the closet in full body armor and fully armed with an AK and banana bullet clips.
Very well said. Thanks for sharing Rob!
I've gotta question the pastor's judgment. Remember Ted Haggard – started New Life Church, strong stand against g-ay rights, outed by a male prost-itute who was paid to have s-ex with Haggard a number of times? Rob Brendle's take on that?
From the Denver Post: As for Jones' allegations, Brendle said, "I have no question in my mind that everything this man says is false. I know Ted to be a man of the utmost integrity and the highest moral character."
That's one man that made mistakes. I follow the Bible, which is our evidence. It's an amazing connection when you open your heart to God and allow him into your life....not through haggard or another person. Jesus is the way. When you get close to God you can better discern who is speaking the truth and who is not. Always check the words a pastor is saying with the Bible, if it doesn't line up then u leave. Many people go to church to feel good and be scene, but never open their Bible.
It was the pastor – the author of this article – making mistakes. And as for the bible being "evidence", then Lord of the Rings is "evidence" that Middle Earth existed.
Hey Jeff, you seem to be a nice guy. I totally believe that you live a moral life that is much different that the life the bible teaches to to live and that's a good thing or you couldn't eat pork or shellfish. You could also have slaves and even sell your own daughter as a slave according to the bible. The bible also teaches that you need to give up all of your worldly possessions, leave your family and follow Jesus. I imagine you haven't done these things because it's ridiculous. I agree. I disagree that people should "open" themselves up to allowing this very flawed belief system into their lives. I think we should throw off the shackles of religion and actually become good people without the silly rules outlined in that book. We are perfectly capable of making rules for society without that horrible book.
Where was god, where they always are in the story book that they have been created in. So many gods in so many books, with so many different creation myths and the religious latch onto one of these god stories and become obsessed to the point of blind faith. So whether you believe in karma, the seven paths, jesus and heaven, the 72 virgins for the martyr, magic underwear, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, whatever; they (the gods) are just parts of the stories created by the author/s righr here on earth. The atheists sees these stories as pure fiction; they do not have to reject god so much as they simply don"t believe any of the many stories about the many gods.
What makes me sad is that people only have a desire to know God when it comes to a disaster, a killing or another dark situation. Then they are the first to ask, "well where was God when this happened?" Or "why did God do nothing to stop this/".
Well here is a good idea as to why God does not get involved. God gets involved with those who want him in their lives. The ones that seek him out, who serve him by changing their lives for the better, Seeking and saving the lost and so on. these people he is with. But for the rest of the world that ignores him and wants nothing from him til it is convenient for themselves, he leaves them alone. In the hopes that what ever trauma they endure will guide them to seek him out. If they do not, then it is on them.
"God gets involved with those who want him in their lives." Do those people not suffer then? Are you really saying that those who follow your god are treated by it in a special way?
So explain to me why god allows babies to die when babies cannot even have such a pattern of thought that you suggest
Well said Ronald!
God was no where near here.Satan was here in all his glory.We have turned our backs on God and he has turned away from us.Until we as a whole country get right with God this sort of crap will continue to happen but it will only get much worse.
which god ?
And if YOU should be the victim of a tragedy, will this still be your point of view?
You are fractally wrong. The question of which god is apt. There are over 38,000 different versions of the christian god alone. So which god have we "turned our backs on?" Besides, god should have known this would happen since he knows all. If that's the case, he intentionally created us so that he could torture us. This Satan character was also created by this very same god according to your mythology so did god do this all on purpose? That makes your god an evil, petulant god not deserving my worship anyway.
And throughout the centuries people get paid to come up with this garbage
Agree...This religious stuff is completely BS
People died here bcos of some dumb guy and on top of that, this guy is giving a religious explanation :-(
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.