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My Take: This is where God was in Aurora
Twelve crosses comprise a makeshift memorial across the street from the movie theater where last week’s mass shooting happened.
July 28th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

My Take: This is where God was in Aurora

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.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Church • God • Opinion

soundoff (4,566 Responses)
  1. steve505

    What a bunch of feel-good, made-up nonsense. God wasn't there because God does not exist. Get over it already, fundies.

    July 30, 2012 at 11:51 am |
  2. Dev

    God was there at the theatre. God died, God pulled the trigger. I am that, I am.

    July 30, 2012 at 11:51 am |
  3. ozion hillary

    For those that do not believe the existence of God eighter because they are sad or confused pls note we are at the endtime & Bible prophesy must be fufill. Thank U

    July 30, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • tony

      Make love elsewhere

      July 30, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • James PDX

      I assume there will be lots of fire seeing as how God loves pagan ritual sacrifices and the smell of scorched flesh.

      July 30, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • Thing55

      Oooh, how positively frightening. You respond to fearmongering, don't you? How many times have we heard the "end times" nonsense? You people have been wrong every single time and yet you persist.

      July 30, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • Thing55

      Yes, James PDX. Gotta have lots of fire.

      July 30, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • EnjaySea

      I don't believe you, ozion.

      July 30, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • MARCUS

      God Exists! He spoke to me last night. I have a personal relationship with jesus and he said to tell you Christians, he is not coming after all. As a matter of fact he says he doesnt even like you. He says to tell you to get a life. He also said to stop calling all the time and you are boring him. He also said he prefers to hang with atheists as they are much smarter.

      July 30, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • Thing55

      @MARCUS: What a coincidence! I had the exact same experience. I challenge any God-fearing Christian to prove this isn't true.

      July 30, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  4. Thing55

    Drinky Crow: "@Al, so let me get this straight; I am not in control of my life, god is [in] 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!!!!"

    LOL is right. As crazy as it seems to people who can think straight, you have it right, Drinky Crow, with one little exception: according to the Christian myth, God gave us the free will to choose our path. Here's the catch, though. He is omnipotent, so he knows what we'll choose. He knows many of us will choose to be atheists. In fact he created us knowing this in advance, but he damns us to burn in hell for eternity anyway. What kind of perverse being would deliberately create atheists just so they could be tortured for eternity?

    July 30, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  5. Zil

    Pastor don't ask where God was during the shooting. The question should be: Where was the NRA during the shooting?

    July 30, 2012 at 11:48 am |
  6. frank Johnson...

    Bull#hit..... There IS NO GOD.... wake up mindless fools and "see the light"... How can so many, be so dumb.... Absolute garbage, all of it...

    July 30, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • Zil

      Frank I respect what you are but you should also respect we believers. Okay.

      July 30, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • tony

      Should we also respect that supermarket clerks could give us only half the right change if they truly believed their math was better than the provable one.

      July 30, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • Jesus

      Respecting believers is the same as respecting any delusional thinking. Do you respect the mentally disturbed street person? No, you try and help him, if possible...but you don't "respect" his blithering of nonsense. You believe in a man who lived in a whale, a guy who gathered two of every animal on the planet on a boat, a society where women are stoned to death for not being virgins, etc. That is ridiculous!!

      July 30, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • Thing55

      Thanks for returning to earth to set us straight, Jesus.

      July 30, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      What is there about frank you find respectable?

      July 30, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  7. James PDX

    Perfection does not create imperfection and then punish it because it is imperfect. The very idea is ludicrous and disproves Christianity.

    July 30, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • tony

      Just about everything in front of our eyes continually disproves Christianity.

      July 30, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • SurelyUjest

      Very good point, I want to add that an all knowing all seeing perfect God already knows who is going to mess up and who is not. Satan has power on earth? God only has power on earth if we pray? What kind of BS is that? Yet this GOD is all powerful? Lets face it most of the Bible stories are borrowed from other religions, the new testement while warming is still unprovable as the written facts outside of the Bible do not support a "son come to earth" in any way. Yes I will just ask that people suck it up and be responsible for your actions, your society and your country. No more waving the "imaginary" god card around telling everyone to believe. It isnt helping our society at all, it just creates a place for people to hide from reality.

      July 30, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • Thing55

      True. Pretty tough to disprove made-up BS like the Christian myth, though, especially in the minds of people who don't respond well to rational arguments.

      July 30, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • James PDX

      Good point, Surely. If I create a being that I know will murder 12 people, the only one who is to blame is me for knowingly creating a murderer. If I didn't want people to be murdered, I wouldn't create murderers.

      July 30, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • Thing55

      SurelyUjest: It's heartening to see that there are still some rational people in the world.

      July 30, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
  8. Mike

    Somewhere in the Bible it says that whatever man allows on earth, God allows in heaven. I think this means, that until MAN ceases to do evil, evil will be allowed on earth. God doesn't reach down and stop every act of violence, or any of the other truly evil things men do to each other every minute of every day. You're going to have to wait until the "second coming" before these things cease to be. Until then, really bad things will happen to really good people, every single day.

    July 30, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • tony

      The second coming is bit late for all the innocents who have been killed prematurely in the meantime. Heck of a loving god you've got there.

      July 30, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • Jim

      Good message from the author.
      I do believe in God's supreme gift to mankind of free will. He took a huge "risk" by granting it... but, however can He tell if we freely want to love others and Him?
      People perform evil and good daily. We're stuck in a tension of both battling it out in our minds.
      The mass shooter in Aurora, CO is an example of evil thinking taking over. Reason gets confused with goodness and these things happen. Reason in the minds of good thinkers then act out of compassion to remedy the tragedy and bring light into darkness.

      If you want to make something good out of something evil, then you have a portion of God's mindset. Romans 8:28. He's doing that everyday. Longing for the day when all the evil is cast out, that's a common sense pathway. Hope is always available.
      Once again, a good article. Thank you pastor.

      July 30, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • EnjaySea

      Okey doke, I'll just wait for the second coming. (Looking at my iPhone). When will that be again, so I can set a reminder?

      July 30, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
  9. SAN

    This is one of the biggest enigmas of the world. We still cannot understand why there is so much evil in this world. The existence of evil in this world is incomprehensible to out minds. Many of us see it as God's way to punish us. I have always denied the idea of a God who punishes. I have always thought that evil does not come from God or satan. . For me, the existence of evil in this world is only the effect of the main cause of our mistakes and the absence of true love in our hearts. The evil, we experience in this world is the effect of our own wrong doing or others. People have to understand that every decision or action we take, not only affects ourselves, but also others. Our incapacity to understand this concept is our biggest mistake and therefore we suffer its effects. GOD does not punish, GOD is love. Unfortunately, we live in a world of imperfection, evil is only the effect of the absence of true love in the hearts of men.

    July 30, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • James PDX

      If God is love and does not punish, clearly you do not believe in the Old Testament. Of course, that means you also do not believe in the New Testament either since it is nothing but a poorly written sequel.

      July 30, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • tony

      Here we go again!!!. Believe in the parting of the Red Sea, then you must believe in the Tsunami massacres as punishment of 100,000's of innocents. You can't cherry-pick your miracles.

      July 30, 2012 at 11:56 am |
  10. johnny

    Rationalization is a wonderful thing.

    July 30, 2012 at 11:46 am |
  11. Brad Hesler

    more bs as usual...there is no god & no reason to ever think there is one. People can spend everyday praying & going to church...will still die just as easily as a non-believer. What did any of those people that died do to not be "saved"? World would be a better place without religion..stop believing in a fake person & a book full of crap made up over the years..get over it.

    July 30, 2012 at 11:46 am |
  12. tony

    The pastor speaks for no-one but his own internal fantasy. Nor does anyone care of believe what he thinks. CNN gives him the publicity to spout the nonsense. It attracts advertising to their site.

    July 30, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • Matt

      These were my thoughts as well. I first thought "Why would CNN give this person a platform for this BS?" Oh, ya...most American's are mindless followers when it comes to religion, so they will click, increase traffic, etc

      For those "in the fold": do some reading on how your bible was created. It's not as perfect as you think. Try Elaine Pagels' "Beyond Belief", some Marcus Borg, Walter Brueggemann, etc...

      July 30, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
  13. Dean

    There is no need to guess at the matter, for the Bible clearly shows that an intelligent, unseen person has been controlling both men and nations. It says: "The whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one." And the Bible identifies him, saying: "The one called Devil and Satan . . . is misleading the entire inhabited earth."—1 John 5:19; Revelation 12:9.
    On an occasion when Jesus was "tempted by the Devil," Jesus did not question Satan's role as the ruler of this world. The Bible explains what happened: "The Devil took him along to an unusually high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, and he said to him: 'All these things I will give you if you fall down and do an act of worship to me.' Then Jesus said to him: 'Go away, Satan!'"—Mathew 4:1, 8-10..
    Think about this. Satan tempted Jesus by offering him "all the kingdoms of the world." Yet, would Satan's offer have been a real temptation if Satan was not actually the ruler of these kingdoms? No, it would not. And note, Jesus did not deny that all these worldly governments were Satan's, which he would have done if Satan did not have power over them. So, then, Satan the Devil really is the unseen ruler of the world! The Bible, in fact, calls him "the god of this system of things." (2 Corintians 4:4).)

    July 30, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • tony

      So you are saying God and Satan are both the one and the same God?

      July 30, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • EnjaySea

      But the Bible was written by men, just like you Dean. Why should I believe them, and why should I believe you?

      If this evil, invisible lizard really was controlling man, then why is there no evidence of these fantastic claims, other than the in the opinions of Biblical authors?

      July 30, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  14. Bob Lewis

    From a Buddhist perspective, everything in the universe, including us, is the Absolute in form. There is no such thing as good and evil, although psychotic people cause much suffering. Pain is attachment to the impermanent and not to cheapen the horror of the event, but ultimately there is no death, since belief in ourselves as separate beings apart from the Absolute, is an illusion.

    July 30, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      Though semantically different, your observations are consistent with Christian theology. "Life everlasting" "One in being with the Father"

      Blessing to you my friend

      July 30, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
  15. Kim, Ohio

    One thing I learned about Atheist is they choose to deny God because they do not want to be accountable for their actions. It is convenient to say I dont believe in God and run a muck. Do anything and everything and not be morally accountable is convenient to say you dont believe in God.. I also thought it was interesting to find that the majority of people who volunteer to the needy are of Christians faith. Nobody said Christians are perfect by no means but that means alot to our society.

    July 30, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • realist512

      You are absolutely wrong. An atheist can be extremely moral. Some "God fearing" folks are very immoral.

      July 30, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • tony

      Your arrogance is only exceeded by your ignorance.

      July 30, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • David A

      Kim. Wrong.. I am an athiest.. I take 100% responsibility for my actions, speech, and thoughts..

      July 30, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Kim, can you show any statistics that support your claim that atheists take no responsibility for their actions and run "a muck" (amuck)? Can you prove that the percentage of atheists who commit crimes is higher than the percentage of believers who do?

      July 30, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @Kim
      Atheism is a negative statement that says only what one does NOT believe.
      It does not imply any behaviours, morals, or characteristics whatsoever.
      Concepts such as ‘state’ and ‘society’ and ‘government’ have no existence save as physically exemplified in the acts of self-responsible individuals.
      Bllame, guilt, responsibility etc. are matters taking place inside human beings singly and nowhere else. Therefore, we should be rational and realize that not everyone will share the same evaluations of good and evil. We must try to live perfectly in an imperfect world, aware that our efforts will be less than perfect while trying to remain undismayed by self knowledge of failure.
      This is true for both theist and atheist.

      July 30, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • cedar rapids

      "One thing I learned about Atheist is they choose to deny God because they do not want to be accountable for their actions. It is convenient to say I dont believe in God and run a muck. Do anything and everything and not be morally accountable is convenient to say you dont believe in God"

      Then you need to go back to school because that one thing you have learned is not correct.
      I do not believe in god because the whole idea is absurd. An all powerful being, able to do anything, creates life for some unknown reason, whose sole purpose is apparently to live a life to determine where you go when you die....which the being already knows because he knows everything. Its nonsense.

      As for running a muck.....i dont drink, never smoked a cigarette, never done drugs. never been in trouble with the law, heck never had a speeding ticket. I have gotten into bother because of my honesty when it would have been easier to lie. I have lost count of the times I have found wallets and handed them in...and then been angry at myself for having pride in my 'doing the right thing'.
      My wife (who is a believer by the way) describes me as the most christian atheist she has even known.
      You do not know anything about atheists.

      July 30, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • Atheist

      That is a very ignorant comment, and I suspect you don't truly believe it... or at least I hope not. In a way, I'm sure it is a safe and self-affirming way to characterize those who don't share your view, so it is a tempting generalization.

      If you truly do believe that, then you must associate only with folks who share this belief or you are extremely good at avoiding history, current events or just reality in general.

      July 30, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • EnjaySea

      Hi Kim. Your comment's inaccuracy is only exceeded by it's complete lack of kindness and understanding. Is rudeness part of this Christian faith you're so proud of?

      July 30, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
  16. Priest

    2Timothy 3:1-4 But realize this, in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.

    July 30, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • Andy

      When has man NOT been all of these things?

      July 30, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • cedar rapids

      sounds like every other day of mankind's existence.

      July 30, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • Ratburger

      I agree with Andy.
      You imply that the world is nearing its end because of the horrible things recently occurring. But when hasn't there been horrible things occurring? In this country's history alone we have The Civil War, slavery, the massive Native American slaughter and landgrabs, an uncountable number of natural disasters including the Chicago Fire and San Francisco earthquake of the the early 20th century. There have been huge epidemics, massive crime waves and atrocities against fellow Americans.
      I'm sure if you asked people going through any of those events you would find someone who said these must be the endtimes and clearly they weren't.

      July 30, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • mitch

      Sounds like you are describeing the council of cardinals, Bennys boys in black, it is not only the devil that wears Prada.

      July 30, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
  17. cb

    it is called FAITH.

    July 30, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      And faith is not a virtue.
      It is the willing suspension of rational inquiry so that you can accept dogmatic, rote answers.

      July 30, 2012 at 11:46 am |
  18. realist512

    Give me a break. An all powerful God would give us the intelligence to create stricter gun laws such that Holmes could not have acquired a gun which shoots 100 rounds in a minute and hoarded a military size stash of ammunition.

    July 30, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      Yeah, if there was a God, He would act like I think he should.

      July 30, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  19. rkulla

    To say that the genocide in Syria is "part of God's plan" is to give pardon to the perpetrators who did the killing. It's beyond offensive, as well as delusional. It's time we as a human race moved past such twisted views.

    July 30, 2012 at 11:41 am |
  20. Truth

    Why does there have to be a god? Why did we have to be designed? If we were created in his image, whom created him? Why are there so many books that are all the true word of God? Whom created creation which in turn created God whom in turn created the universe in which we live in? .....God is in your heart? Its called false hope. Hope there is an afterlife, hope you will see your beloved auntie again. If your Morman you will be a God of your own planet. Its true, and theres a guy who os going to lead our country that believes that. And thats scary.

    July 30, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • EnjaySea

      Well, actually, Romney is campaigning to be god of this planet. Apparently he's impatient.

      July 30, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • Joan Brewer

      PSALMS 82.

      July 30, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • Andy

      His magical underwear will save the world.

      July 30, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • Created_by_God_Almighty

      Truth,
      How sad your life must be...dark and abysmal. I have an answer and you need only to turn to Jesus and accept what the majority of the world believes. We are not made for this world as we pass through it -time here is short and punctuated by riducule. Christians with eyes to Heaven know well that its temporary and there is a place made for us and eternity with the one who knew us before we were born, loved us enough to die for us and chooses us over all others. Our sin (and yes Christians sin) keeps us tethered to this world but we have a light within us that leads us...it can be in you...God loves you Truth whether you love him or not-and he is waiting for you!

      July 30, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • JSmith

      Andy, Don't you wish you had some?

      July 30, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • tony

      The best bible quote is Genesis 1;14.

      Blessed are the Astrophysicists, for they shall watch the signs in the heavens and learn to understand the Universe.

      July 30, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • EnjaySea

      Yes, Truth, god loves you. Unless you don't believe in him, then he hates your guts and will roast you over an open fire for eternity.

      July 30, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
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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.