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.
BRC... according to you, God is both God and the Devil....since he created both good and evil...I am confused
Not according to me, that would be according to the Bible (I don't believe in "God"). It's really simple, if God created everything, then he is responsible for everything. More specifically, he Created Lucifer, he caused Lucifer to fall and become Satan, and he chooses to allow Satan to run rampant (again, all Bible, I think it's all BS). So yes, in a very simple way, evil acts are in part "God's" fault. Does that help?
in a very simple way indeed
Are you saying I'm wrong?
No...Actually I agree with you
I am saying that you are correct but that you have oversimplified the concept of good and evil. That's probably an ok place to start the discussion but it doesn't indict God as the creator of human suffering. The concept of intentional suffering is not addressed (very difficult). The Buddhist concept of attachment is not addressed (very helpful). You just kind of throw it out there that God created suffering and everyone goes "BOO GOD" without deeply considering the meaning, cause, purpose and release from suffering that is available to us.
Don't mistake simplicity for underdevelopment. Any engineer will tell you the better designed something is, the simpler it is.
I don't adress some of the points you made, because you don't need to. I didn't discuss suffereing, suffereing is not 1:1 corrolated with evil. I addressed the concept of evil. Good and evil are diometrically opposed, what is one cannot be the other. No matter how minute of a point or how nuanced of an angle you want to take it from, in the end they must be seperate. Yet, according to Christianity, there is only one source for all things. If there is one source, and good and evil are seperate, then that source is responsible for the existence of that evil. It doesn't need to be more specific then that, because that encompasses the entire issue.
I didn't adress Buddhism becasue it negates Christianity, and would be unrelated to the point.
I said nothing about suffereing, I addressed evil. If you'd like to discuss suffering, I'd be happy to.
I believe BRC is a complete liar. Trying to be part of the "Atheist" fad on cnn.
So you believe that I believ in god's? I don't, but there is no way for me to convinve you of my convictions. What makes you think that I am lying?
Evil and suffering caused by the free will of humans is the easiest to explain and the easiest to reconcile with the existence of a loving God. What is much harder to reconcile is suffering caused by nature, which, if there is a God, was created by him. Disease, earthquakes, deformities ... all these are built into the fabric of the created order by its creator. If that creator is God, and not just nature, then God, not the sin of humans, is responsible for virtually all of the suffering in this world.
I love articles like this – they do so much to reinforce my Atheism!
So your rejection of one belief system reinforces your adherence to another? How religious of you.
Oh come on now bill, how many times do we have to explain, atheisim is a LACK OF BELIEF.
Where was God? In your imagination, where he was born and lives. Time to evolve people.
Asking where God was in Aurora is like asking where Santa Claus was or where the Tooth Fairy was. Ockham's Razor teaches us that the simplest explanation is most likely the correct one, and the simplest explanation is that there is no God. The world is manifestly indifferent to human values and human suffering. What could be clearer to the most casual, open-minded observer?
It's clearer that people are the Least Significant Bit.
In addition, even the less astute observers of human nature should be able to understand how myths 2000 years ago could be elevated to major religions.
Mike has it right. Not onlyis the world on planet earth but the universe is completely indifferent to the human condition. This pastor is blowing smoke up people's behinds with statement's like God tells his people that they should expect suffering and that god was with the neurosurgeon's when they said "miraculous". Why a miracle for one of the victims and not the others? What made that one person special? Did she receive special favor from god at the expense of the others? That is morbid and disingenuous. What about that poor little girl who died? She had barely begun to live. Why was she not granted the miracle of survival? The pastor also said that light will overtake the darkness and beauty will shine throgh. Well I'd like to see him in the shoes of that poor mom who lost her daughter and miscarried and was herself shot. Do you not think she will be scared for life after this traumatic event?
Religion is a man-made hoax to soathe fhe fear of nihilism that a indifferent universe imposes upon our species. I'll tell you what a miracle is. A miracle is any day that you wake up and go through your day disease free, pain free and free of any traumatic accidents like a drunk driver hitting you and causing you severe bodily injury or death. That is a miracle.
the stupid pastor should shut his self-serving mouth. There clearly is no God. And any God that allows the deaths of the innocent and children, is unworthy of being worshiped in the first place. Case closed.
Because if there were a God, He would like like you want him to?
My god they kil*led Kenny.
It is okay he was far to brainwashed to lead a normal life, he is much better off to be in some imaginary exsistance.
He will be missed.
No, not really, all that stupid babbling.
God isn't real he's just a name for everyone to believe in. He's a wall for humanity to hide behind so that they can say whatever they want and feel right about it. He wasn't in Aurora and he isn't in reality. Religion is a shroud for everyone. Im not saying James is right because he's not. but it dosen't surprise me in any way for what happend. For the simple fact in the simplest terms they should of put a bullet in James Holmes but instead everyone looked to "God". now there's going to be a trial. If he is a god he would of smited him as they
He will be judged by man and hopefully pay the ultimate price. But the worst part of this is when he has to face the judgement of God.....that will not be pretty :/
No, true believer, ..... all he has to do is ask for forgiveness and it's all good....... and he can do it again,
What a load....
Begs the old question "did god make man or did man make god"
We came to this world with our own agency. Unfortunately, innocent lives will be taken due to the decisions and actions of others. Losing a loved one in this life is very painful. Heavenly Father has a plan for all of his children here on earth during our time of mortality. His plan is centered around families where we can live again in His presence. We are told that we can obtain this through sacrifice and obedience to God's commandments. Those that die and pass on will go the Spirit world as they await for resurrection. Resurrection is the reuniting of both body and spirit in perfect form. Jesus Christ was the first to be resurrected. It is through Him that this gift is given to all of us no matter what we do in this life. If a loved one dies in this life before they hear the gospel of Jesus Christ, they will have the opportunity to accept it in the Spirit World. Some might say..."Well, I will just accept it in the Spirit World and do what I want in this life". There are conditions to this. Eternal Life is the ability to live in the presence of Heavenly Father. We will all be judged accordingly to our "works" and obedience here on earth. Remember..."no unclean thing can enter in to the Kingdom of Heaven" and therefore, we will spend the eternities according to the three degrees of glory in heaven (Stars, Moon, and the Sun). The "Sun" being the Celestial glory and where God dwells. As children of God, it is our goal to live with God. This requires faith, love, charity, sacrifice, and obedience. When we do this, our reward is "all that the Father has". The Bible and the Book and Mormon explain this in more detail – seek them out.
We came to this world with our own agency. ...... . Heavenly Father has a plan for all of his children here on earth
You've contradicted yourself within the first 3 sentences of your very long post.
I have actually "sought out" the book of mormon, just being curious, and boy was I surprised. I thought what mormons believed was just a little weirder than your average christian's myth, but it is a whole other layer of crazy. It's amazing how many 'revelations' Joseph Smith had, even more amazing how many of those "revelations" seemed to benefit him personally (i.e. god-sanctioned three-, four-, and more-somes). Once I got to the"Kolob" part in the book of Abraham, I knew it was time to quit. It's sad that so many people can fall for this nutty tripe. What's sadder is that half of America is seriously considering to vote for a candidate who openly professes to believe this junk.
Madtown..."agency" is the freedom to choose. God presented a plan for His children to return and live with Him again. It is your "choice" to want that plan or not – He is not going to force you.
Madtown..."agency" is the freedom to choose. God presented a plan for His children to return and live with Him again
Thank you, I understand agency. It's just that if God has a "plan", that means we don't have it, agency that is. If we have free will, seems to me there could be no plan, with "plan" meaning a pre-determined outcome.
According to scripture Isaiah chapt 45 verse 7 God created good and evil. Where was God?? He was right there. He is everwhere all at the same time. Well why did this Happen??? Because God allowed this to happen. There is nothing that happens that God is not aware of. We all have a choice to do good or evil, to believe in him or not. But I choose to do good and believe in him. But if you don't that's your choice but that God is still gonna be God.
You seem to have special powers to know things about god that nobody else can claim to know. Do he talk to you? Do you have a recording that you can play for the rest of us?
Ihope you realize that by your logic, you just said that "God" was there that night, causing teh shooter to do exactly what he did. Did you really mean to say it that way? ANd if so, why would you ever follow that god?
there's NO GOD!
we will see
Where have you looked?
That's what you think. The only correct answer to any of these questions is: "we don't know for certain". All statements of definitiveness, from either side, are incorrect.
hahaha, no Art, we won't. There is no God
The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." Ps. 14:1
Forgive them Father for they know not what they do. The haters, the doubters, the blind sheep who do not want to be held accountable for their own sins. Have mercy on their souls, show them the truth, the way and the life in Jesus Christ. In your Holy name we do believe and pray Lord. Amen.
Yeah. That's it. We don't want to be accountable for imaginary crimes against an imaginary god that just so happens to perfectly agree with *YOU*.
You got me.
show them the truth, the way and the life in Jesus Christ
Yes, show them. Especially those human beings born into the world where they'll never learn of christianity, because it isn't practiced or prevalent. If there really is only 1 way, please expose all your human creations to it, because we're all equal.
You've just bought into the lies they've shoved down your throat.
Stop with this god nonsense? You people love to find away to blame god and "his" mysterious ways for everything. We have 300 million people in this country. Lots of them are insane. We don't know very much about insanity. We think we do...but we don't. However, we allow anyone that wants a gun to buy as many as they want. Insane or not. We as a society failed here. Not god. So stop trying to figure out god's plan and start asking yourself how Jesus would react to your need to arm everyone with assault rifles, to your constant, self created, fears, to your need of absolute protection of your properties, and to your blaming his father for your own short comings!
But God created insanity. So in turn, caused this.
Because unless convicted of a felony, we are free men with personal property rights. Including the right to life and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure by our government. It's called America. The greatest advancement in self government ever created.
When will people stop allowing their life to be controlled by a mythical figure in the sky. The bible was written by men...and edited several times. But it's big business for these pastors to perpetuate the myth, so they can live comfortably on the backs of others.
I know where God was that day... he was in your imagination.
Where was God during all of this.....he was right there with all the people who suffered horrific injuries and yes even death. God does not cause bad things, nor is he to blame for any of this. He gives human kind a free will, and people through the help of pure evil do bad things. God will be with you families of Aurora, CO, even when the pain is too much to bear. I lost my best friend and brother at age 16. I was so mad at God for years...why God why? I eventually realized that I may not have the answer that I want, but I do know that he gave me the strength and courage to go on! I pray for his help and presence for all of you affected by this unspeakable tragedy. Look to him, for he will give you the strength you need to get through this!
Rather than wasting all that time hating god, and then more time still becoming a "true believer", did you ever contemplate that there is no god?
Or what if that was part of his life plan, and that through that pain and sorrow he learned something that evolved his inner spirit. and that before he was born into this life an arrangement was made to NOT stop the tragedy from happening. What if, the reason God doesn't stop the bad things from happening, is because we asked him not to before we came into life. Just some food for thought...
"He gives human kind a free will, and people through the help of pure evil do bad things." According to your religion, "God" created that evil. So yes, it does share responsibility (if it actually exists).
I think your answer is far, far less likely.
Same thing as the virgin Mary. What was more likely... a virgin birth or a teenager told a lie (or it never happend at all).
So, the god thing gets all the credit for the "good" stuff and NONE of it for the "bad"? Must be AWESOME to be the god thing...
"God does not cause bad things, nor is he to blame for any of this. He gives human kind a free will, and people through the help of pure evil do bad things"
what about the victims of that free choice evil? they didnt ask to be victims, they were not given the choice to be on the end of that evil.
The majority of these posts either blame God or say there is no God. Sadly children and innocent people die everyday in the world. I hope that tragedy never knocks on your door, but if it does good luck on trusting in the things of this world to make it through. God is Love, and his heart grieves more for this tragedy than all of ours put together. He is a very present help in the time of trouble. James Holmes is guilty of the senseless murder and maiming of scores of people, blame his evil nature and not the goodness of God.
Wouldn't it be better to just have a group of loved ones who support you, and develope the inner strength to not need to rely on a "God" to get you through the hard times?
BRC...it is true that during a tragedy, loved ones play a big role in helping you get through it. But people have limits and they can't heal broken hearts and spirits
Sure they can. It happens all the time. There are millions of people in this world who don't believe in the supernatural and get along just fine, even through hardship and loss. To seek "God" for comfort is a personal choice. I'm not saying if that's right or wrong, just noting that life is easier if you don't, because then you don't need to.
@true: ummmmm one.....well a couple questions: 1) how do you personally know that any god is grieving over anything? humans grieve due to the emotions we have. which the very thing of emotions is basic survival instincts viewed through a more complex brain.
2) you don't seem to find it a little perplexing that "god" feels as you do?
@ plaster... believe what you want to believe, just don't hate on others for having different beliefs than yours, as far as the virgin mary thing, that is something out of a book written by a bunch of pagan rulers losing control of their society, and has absolutely nothing to do with my statement, I was merely offering another possibility. I never once said I was a bible toting christian, you assumed that.... I personally do not like organized religion, most (notice I say most, not all) organized religion control people through fear, not help them through love. The majority of Christians (again, notice the majority, not all) I personally find to be hypocritical. Look at a LOT of the posts on here, people claiming to be christians yet passing judgement on people because they don't believe the way they do. Christianity is supposed to be based on Christ's word.... Jesus, the man, taught love, compassion, acceptance and tolerance. Those are the things I believe in. But again, I would never FORCE these views on someone or be angry with them because they chose to continue to believe what they always have. The way I see it is that this world is full of pain and suffering, and if believing that confessing your sins to another man, or saying a prayer every night, or going to church every sunday makes all of these things bearable, then all the power to you! Just don't bully people into looking at things your way. Same with Atheists, you should see the spiritual debates in my household, my husband is an atheist... and he has that right, as does anyone else, just don't try and force those of us who choose to believe in something better, to stop believing. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a little hope and faith. And to me, it's much much much better than spreading hate and animosity. Have a great day!
Why would God help you through your suffering but leave your friend and brother to theirs?
It was YOU who got you through your suffering and the simple fact that time heals all wounds.
Religion has always been perpetuated so the dumb masses don't get round to wondering why they are being controlled by the few not quite so dumb rich.
Over 95% of this world believes in some form of a deity, so you're saying they're all wrong, but you?
I believe your 95% are wrong. It's happened before (flat earth).
"Over 95% of this world believes in some form of a deity, so you're saying they're all wrong, but you?"
well seeing as all 95% cannot be correct because of all the different religions its a silly argument.
If the population of the world is 33% christian then a vast majority of people think they are wrong.
there's NO GOD! Many need psychiatric care if they believe God exists. OMG! OMG! OMG! human beings wrote that bible! ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
The Bible was written by man, but it is just a map to help you get through life. Believing in God does not make you psycho. I know he exists and it gives me the strength and will to go on. How sad to think that this life that we live is it. Whats the point of going on then?
True Believer-wow-youre so lost-the point if we only have this life is to cherish and enjoy it and love-it makes it sacred and unjque and somethign to be treasured. I hope there is a god, but I live as if there isn't-we all should.
Whats the point of going on then?
To enjoy it?!?!?!? To experience all the lovely things all around us, in spite of all the crummy things? I believe there's more to our spirituality than this physical life, but c'mon....people who believe this is it have plenty of reasons to "go on".
IF you cannot see that life is worth living for life's own sake, then that is very dissapointing.
One of the worst attempts at Christian apologetics I've ever seen.
I know. If these guys back-petal any further they will fall off a cliff!
Sounds like everyone is getting some publicity with this case.
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.