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.
It saddens me deeply to see how quickly, even in the face of something as horrible as this tragedy, people are so quick to attack eachother, and devalue eachother's beliefs and values. To all the people who attack others under the guise of "Christianity"... you need to learn a LOT more about what Christ actually taught, especially considering the main thing the man taught was love, equality, TOLERANCE, and ACCEPTANCE. Not judgement and belittling. Second, all the Athiests out their that are attacking Christians for believing... you are just as bad as those religious zealots that demand you believe in their "God".... Go ahead, get angry, call me names and say I'm telling you what to believe, at the end of the day when you lay your head on you pillow, you are still just angry and confused... attacking me won't help you, and you are the only ones you are hurting by holding all of that anger and hostility in your hearts. And yes, this refers to everyone, not just one group. If you are attacking people because of what they believe, I am talking to you. Now that I have gotten that off of my chest, here is some food for thought. Not saying you need to believe it, just think about it, really....
What if, there is a god, or many gods, or they are just beings with abilities beyond our own scope. What if he/she/they did place us here from another dimension (which for all of you atheists that believe in "science and proof" go do your research and look up the discoveries they have been making at CERN about multiple dimensions. So now, with this in mind. Imagine that when we come into being in this dimension, we come to learn about things we don't get to experience in our home realm. And that in order to learn we need to experience different emotions, including pain. Now if "God" were to stop these things from happening, we wouldn't learn. It's kind of like a parent teaching their child to skateboard or bike. If the child falls and skins their knee, do you take the board or bike away and make the problem disappear. Or do you help them up, dust them off, treat the knee if needed and send them back on their way? Like I said, this is only one view, and you don't have to believe it. But seriously, maybe the biggest problem this world has right now is how much animosity PEOPLE hold towards eachother. Especially in the face of such horrible tragedies, this is when people need to support eachother the most. Stop being so judgemental and just accept eachother.
Sorry I forgot one thing... I really honestly don't understand this, so please, if anyone can answer without being hostile, please do... but what is so outrageous about the idea that God or Gods and science coexisting... would there not need to be a scientific process behind everything, even the supernatural?
One of my favorite cities is Salzburg, Austria. The Christian Church built numerous churches and basilicas with the wealth gained from controlling the salt trade of the region. People were taught to believe in the Christian God, and in exchange, they received work on the churches and beautiful city buildings of Salzburg. I found it difficult to locate any information regarding the citizens of Salzburg declaring that their Christian God let them down during periods of war and/or unrest by local peasants. So I arrived at a theory that this Christian God was good during periods of prosperity and the availability of jobs, and this Christian God sort of checked out during the hard times, or periods that could not be explained by the Christian Church Leadership. I am just guessing, but I am leaning toward gun manufacturers liking this Christian God, because gun sales are up, and the ammo manufacturers cannot ship their products fast enough. God is good for some, and absent for others. It all comes down to which end of the gun you are facing.
Read the bible. God has supposedly murdered countless people. The ones that are counted, that god either murdered or caused a human to murder, comes to over 2,200,000 people! It does not even include uncounted people such as when he supposedly murdered everyone on earth with the flood. Look to the bible for stories on a super natural mass murderer! if there is a god, he was with this killer, he was probably proud of him. the whole event seems eerily similar to an old testament story.
Set apart from the rest of the creatures? Duh...other "creatures" don't wantonly kill their own species. This Christian thinking is bogus and pie-in-the-sky fantasy. Thank God that She gave us the Buddha to show us the true, Middle Way!
Where God was? are you kidding me!! We dismissed God from almost everywhere off our life, public areas, schools, hospitals etc etc even from some Churches and we even denied His existance ... and after all that we dare to ask where was He in this massacare? shame!!
lol, that is your argument?
God is in control of everything that happens in this world, working all things for a good purpose. See more on this topic on my block, accessible by clicking on my name above.
We were created in God's image? Don't think so. More likely, given human psychology, we created God in our image. I have no idea whether there is a god or not. I do think, however, that to worship a god who lets this sort of thing happen is not something I understand nor want to be involved in.
It is folly to condemn what you yourself admit that you don't understand. Would you really expect that your finite mind could understand the infinite Creator? God allowed it to happen because he has a purpose for it. People create gods in their image all the time. These are what the Bible calls, "idols."
ummm what about free will? So he is making people's choices for them? Also what is the deal with all these "new" churches... Most preach the bible yet don't follow the bible or what Jesus said... I mean if the only priests who have the power handed down by god are Greek orthodox and catholic priests then how can pastors from other churches say they have these powers? The Greek orthodox and the catholic church are the only two that you can trace every priest being ordained all the way back to Peter and Paul..I do not understand how there are such die hard bible fanatics that ignore this.. Such as baptists.. If Jesus made his church through Peter and it is the catholic church then what argument do they have? There priests in other christian religions do not have the power.. Either way why can't people just be good and help other good people? Why do people need to curb there temptations with fear?
Even if the Romanists and Greeks could trace their ordinations back to the apostles in an unbroken chain of succession, which they can't, this would not mean a thing if they are not adhering to the doctrine of the apostles handed down to us in the Holy Scriptures. The power is God's, not ours, and not a human priest's. God has a right to do with His creatures as He pleases. He is the Creator and the entire universe depends on Him. Without His will, we could not even make choices.
God is in control of everything that happens in this world, working it for a good purpose. See more on this topic on my block, accessible by clicking on my name above.
Don't you need to prove something exists before you can ask it's where-abouts?
I guess the SETI folks are off base then? :)
Well, that's a pretty long-winded way of saying ... you can't explain it. If a God exists, and he is omniscient and omnipotent, then why all the game playing? Step up and handle it, dude.
But "He" doesn't, because "He" doesn't exist anywhere outside the thoughts and beliefes of his followers. Believers refuse to face that fact because they use "God" to explain away their confusion and pain.
And if they don't have that handy dandy excuse (it's His will ... He works in mysterious ways), then they're sunk.
Or so they believe.
Please do all my homework teacher. If you don't do it for me, then you must not exist. Parents must not exist either because they won't grow up for me. Handle it teachers! Do it parents! ;)
sorry. i was out taking a rightous dump on the people of Syria.
God is everywhere,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,dude,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,he is the Matrix,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
Atheists galore on here. First pantheist comment I read.
Blame evil if you must, but then you have to remember that this god apparently also created evil, and is supposed to be more powerful.
And if there was no evil, we would have no perception of good.
God did not create evil. Evil is the absence of God. It is much like the analogy of darkness. Darkness does not exists except for the absence of light. Darkness cannot cover light. Evil prevails when good men (and women) do nothing.
"I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things." (Isaiah 45:7)
People do not understand that there is good and evil. It took me a while to understand but if everyone's life was so perfect, than who needs God. God will always allow things to happen to shake things up in our lives. Look at the miracles that took place in Aurora, like the lives that was saved. For me more successful I got, the less I prayed and went to church and gave God the glory. It was all about me! When my life went haywire (lost a parent, career industry went under, and had to file bankrutcy) I had to rely on God and he has blessed me abundantly. I got a new home, healthy children, new job money in bank and a peice of mind that I lost) It was not from me who was so smart, it can from my Father up above. NOBODY COULD EVER CONVIENCE ME OTHER WISE. I know where my mental state was and I know without God I would not be where I am today.
I have a job, house, family, kids, life is good. I didnt need god to do that.
Why did you? it looks to me like you were using religion as a crutch.
So God allows people to be brutally murdered, die violent deaths, or let's 2 year old children die from cancer just to shake things up in someone else's life? I'm sorry, but I think it is you who misunderstands the nature of God.
see dr owour a prophet among us.
Intresting you would call the atheists cowards when it is you that ducks the questions you have no cogent answers too.
Really what happens to the 5 Billion people that think that belief in jesus is a joke, or the 900 million catholics you disparage are going to end up, in the hell envisaged by HS?
Answer this one if you can muster up the courage.
Where was god? Where they always are in the story books that they were 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 if you believe in karma, the seven paths, the 72 virgins for the martyrs, magic underwear, dianetics, the FSM, whatever, they (the gods) are just part of the stories the authors wrote right here on earth. Atheists see these stories as pure fiction, they do not have to reject god so much as not believe ANY of the stories about the many gods. You are obsessed and blinded by your faith in your silly story but please explain why it makes more sense than the other god myths.
Don't duck the questions, man up, and try to convince us that you are right.
And what of the THEORY of evolution? Not the fact but the THEORY.
This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:
Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.337
"And what of the THEORY of evolution? Not the fact but the THEORY."
oh jeez, another fool that thinks that a scientific theory means the same as everyday usage of theory. Why dont you folks get educated on this so you can drop trying to use it as an argument once and for all?
Well thanks for that, you are the only theist that has attemted an answer, for quite some time.
It is great to find out I will be OK. You see I am my own god and sincerely believe in myself and in my heart to lead a moral life and of course I do in my actions what his will is because he is me. I do have to admit that I am not all that graceful, such a minor flaw. on my way to salvation, Hallelujah
Oh wait I do know about jesus and the fairy tales, just when I thought I had it made.
And what of the THEORY of gravity? Not the fact but the THEORY. It’s just a theory so you can ignore it right?
Pahleeze, no more about "GOD" when discussing Reality. It's unfortunate most of the world hasn't evolved past this point.
What a load of garbage. Mankind would be much better off if it divested itself of these creation myths. Pastor, go read some Darwin or Hawkings or at least the Grouho Letters.
Scientist have been back tracking from Darwin for decades now. Find a new fact, also science is ever changing God never changes He's the same yesterday today and forever. Also, if you want to know where He is take a look around you, where did it all come from a big bang. Oops, I think not nothing can't exploded you need substance. Something can't come from nothing. We all had to come from something, therefore if not God then who or what? God is a God of choice you can choose to follow Him or not. If you choose not to that's ok for you, not everyone has that opinion.
It is sad that we are all gods and don't know it yet, haven't discovered our true potential.
Fake Heavensent, that scripture means we all belong to God. As in we are God's. It's not my problem you folks are dumb as bunnies. Go call PETA that you are PITAs.
Obviously god was present that evening. How could he not be. He is everywhere all at the same time. Everything that happened happened according to his mysterious plan which of course we humans can't possibly comprehend. Eventually, in 30 or 40 years, it will all make sense and his design will become apparent to us undeserving human beings. Until it becomes clear it remains our duty to worship him daily for granting us the privilege to continue our miserable existence.
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.