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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 • My Take • Opinion

soundoff (4,566 Responses)
  1. Ron

    There is always an answer from clergy and people who are "believers", but I find remarkable that such a loving God would allow disaster, war, murder and the like to happen on his watch and do absolutely nothing to prevent. From this article "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.

    So serious burns to you including disfigurement and ridicule for the rest of your life are a promise from the almighty, but you will not die. That's just great!

    Lets save all the stories and scripture for comedy and stop the nonsense already. Find god, do a few parlor tricks and put it up on Youtube and then make it rain in Africa, just enough to get something growing, like food and et all, then I will buy the bs!

    July 30, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      It's raining in Africa right now

      July 30, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
  2. angelika

    God has nothing to do with what happened in Auroa. Its people who are behind the drigger of guns and weapons that shouldn't be in their hands int he first place. It makes me made of the comments that are made here. Cause God is only a being of super natural spirited beings. So give him darn it a break!

    July 30, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • Ron

      Really Angelika – Do you think he is gonna get mad at us?

      July 30, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      angelika: You need to get back to your grade 1 grammar class little girl and stay off of your Mommy's computer. You made absolutely no sense but that is not surprising given your intellectual age...only children and schizophrenics have imaginary friends little one.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
  3. Matt S

    Well, speaking for myself, as a person that leans towards Atheism with no agenda toward anyone's belief system, which I absolutely respect in every way, I say in the end: its a damn shame that a tragedy like this had to happen. Did some good come out of these horrific events? Absolutely. People showed courage in the face of an extreme situation.

    This is in the opinion section for a reason

    July 30, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Good came out of many atrocities, but if you weigh up pros and cons, the bad almost always outweighs the good significantly.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      I disagree Ratlib. If that were so, mankind would not make progress. Since we have in fact progressed, Ii say that good triumphs over evil

      July 30, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
  4. Vic of New York

    Actually, in Aurora, God was having lunch with the NRA.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • Bishop Hairy Palms

      Jeebus wants everyone to own an assault rifle with high capacity clips.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      It isn't just Jesus freaks who support the const.itution.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
  5. "God" was too busy ...

    God was too busy determining the outcome of a sporting event. Oddly enough, God had favored both teams, according to the players and coaches.

    Pain and suffering of human beings? Sorry, gotta give an edge to Jeff Gordon, too busy to take out a maniacal dictator.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  6. realist

    It should be obvious to anyone who's ever picked up a newspaper: If you choose to believe in God, you must adopt the "Watchmaker" theory, that God creates the watch, then let's it run on its own, only fixing it at times of His own choosing for His own reasons, which He may or may not choose to share with us. If you don't like that, sorry, but that is clearly the way the world operates.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
  7. jim from kingston, pa.

    wow! pastor brendle gets it! as a roman catholic, i struggled for years with the question: 'why do bad things happen to good people?" ... the same question rabbi kushner deals with so profoundly in his writings. my God is not a puppeteer who pulls all the strings from heaven. He puts us on this earth with free will ... and He will meet us on the other end. In between, if we pray, He is with us to get through the suffering and pain that is inevitable on this earth. pastor brendle said it beautifully!!!!!!!

    July 30, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • plaster city

      jim,
      I suggest you read through some of the posts on this blog. It might open your mind to the farm more likely answer. There is no god.

      July 30, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Jim

      How do you reconcile God's plan with free will? If you believe in the all powerful Abrahamic deity, then you must acknowledge that everything is his doing, and there is no free will.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      reference C.S. Lewis "The Problem of Pain"

      July 30, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
  8. rjp34652

    WHERE WAS GOD? You'll have to ask Him, but since there are no voices answering except those that pander to political correctness one is tempted to assume to worst. If God = protection then none was at hand. Why was He absent? THAT is the question.

    The answer is obvious. America has turned its back upon God and God in turn has abandoned America to its own devices. Want proof? Using 1948 church attendance levels as a statistical base, 2010 attendance was down by 43%. That's a Gallup Poll number. According to Christianity Today the number is just shy of 24% and an actual head count reveals a number closer to 17%.

    America is a no show at worship services. It could be that God is now a no show when it comes to national disasters and humiliations. It is certainly obvious that the majority of the population wants nothing to do with divine rules and regulations either. Many Americans detest the very thought and use of the name of God in public matters. If you were God and you were hated and ignored that much, what would you do? Be honest when you consider an answer, because God is the author of such honesty.

    " in the streets the children screamed, the lover's cried, and the poets dreamed, but...
    Not a word was spoken – the church bells all were broken
    And, the three men I admire most: the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost, they...
    Caught the last train for the coast the day the music died

    And, they were singing, bye bye Miss American Pie
    Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry
    Them good ol' boys were drinking whiskey and rye, singing...
    This'll be the day that I die
    This'll be the day that I die" (*)

    but that's just me, hollering from the choir loft......

    (*)American Pie
    lyrics by Don McLean

    July 30, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • we live in hope

      Thank god that god has given us the free will to turn our back on god.
      Thank you jesus, thank you jesus, may your name be forgotten right soon. Hallelujah.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • mensa member

      You silly fool. You uneducated, ill-read moron. You simpleton. God is not a nationalist. God is not involved in American politics or Chinese politics or the politics of any other country. People stop going to church because they get sick and tired of the hypocrisy, the raising of money for new buildings, the scandal-plagued clergy. They have determined, correctly, that religion has caused more bloodshed than any other factor in human history. Quite simply, they aren't buying it. And rightly so. When I see the likes of Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Rick Perry and the rest of the pseudo-Christians trying to enshrine in law their religious viewpoints I want to puke.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • limbodog

      You look to 1948 church attendance as a proof that the USA was protected by a god back then, but not now? So, then, was 1942-1945 just an off season for this god?

      The truth that everyone will eventually reach is that there is no "God." There was no Zeus, there was no Apollo, no Osiris, no Odin, no Zoroaster. If you are willing to twist and bend into all sorts of uncomfortable positions in order to align reality with what these dogmas teach, then fine. But if you want to begin to understand how the world really works, you need to see it as it really is: populated by living creatures, dominated by man, and controlled by nobody.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  9. J

    Opiate of the Masses...

    July 30, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
    • Patrician

      Except, of course, for the masses in places like North Korea, FARC-held parts of Columbia, areas of Palestine under the influence of the PFLP terror group, and other "enlightened" portions of the globe.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Isn't that from Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto? By that I read that communism seeks the eradication of religion, which I think history supports. The problem is, as many seem to forget, that basic human dignity and freedom are derivatives of religious thought. The bulwark protecting personal property rights, including the right to life are codefied in Catholic doctrine. Eliminate the Church and you eliminate the basis for freedom.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      "that basic human dignity and freedom are derivatives of religious thought."

      you dont need religion to have that thought.

      July 30, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Maybe not now but at one time mankind did. Otherwise wise we'd all still be under Caesar

      July 30, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
  10. Barry

    Atheists love reading these articles more than believers.
    To have a problem with God allowing pain or evil is to admit those things are inherently wrong (thus casting fault on God)
    To say pain and evil are "Wrong" is to do away with the materialistic view of the universe that most atheists adhere to.
    This is not logical.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      You're an idiot. You know nothing about Atheists or what we believe in. You can make all the assumptions you wish but you'll still be wrong. You need to provide evidence that your imaginary friend god exists. We only state that we do not see evidence and therefore, we see no reason to believe. You christards base your belief off of faith-belief without evidence, not caring in the least that what you believe is true. The only thing all Atheists share in common without a doubt is our disbelief.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
  11. mitch

    Actually we do know what we do, we would like to see the money grubbing religious folk pay their fair share of taxes and have their immense wealth and property distributed to the poor and needy, but that would probably be too much of a jesus thing to do. The christian enigma talk the talk but don't walk the walk, the greed for wealth and power being just one. How about thou shall not kil....Onward Christian soldiers, Onward onto War, with the Cross of Jesus....really.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
    • esoll

      Would a father let their children being killed? I think not. So Either God is not as powerful as we think he is and can’t do much, or he does not care about his children, or does not exist.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      esoll is victim to a logically fallacy. "If there was a God, He would act like I think He should."

      July 30, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
  12. bostontola

    First – My deepest sympathies to the victims and their families.

    I find it sad that church leaders spend time explaining the inexplicable. It comes across as defensive and selfish.

    I personally believe that we are here through an almost unimaginable series of naturally occuring strokes of luck. Appreciate that great luck while it lasts. No need to criticize others for having supernatural explanations.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
  13. Bob the Cat

    Sigh, the silly free will argument. Sorry folks but god is a delusion.

    meow

    July 30, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Calling another's argument silly is not a refutation.

      Rowr

      July 30, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
  14. ArthurP

    He was guiding the hand of the shooter so the chosen could get to heaven faster.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
  15. trekie70

    Glad to see at least one member of the clergy that is not condemning the victims of Aurora. I don't necessarily agree with the entire article but respect him for trying to offer comfort to the affected families.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
  16. Hotsoup

    Basically the pastor completely avoided the question. He gave a brief summary of his basis for belief, and then proceeded to ignore the issue at hand, an explanation for "god's" lack of intervention. To say that god was "on the lawn in front of the Civic building" makes zero sense; why would god be present after the fact if he already has the ability to stop it in the first place? The pastor gives a completely roundabout answer, answering "where was god in Aurora" with everything except the actual shooting. The reason probably being, there is no explanation, even with the assumption that there is indeed an omnipotent god. It's stupid, illogical, and this is the type of thinking that debilitates positive change, to praise god for everything that goes well, and to relieve him of guilt for anything that goes wrong, such is the cycle. What's really interesting for me at least, is that this question of "where was god" comes up when 12 people die; it's an issue worth mentioning when, oh I don't know, thousands or more perish across the world everyday as a result of violent crimes. It's not even a question, only an incredibly stupid grasp at meaning.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • rukiddingme?

      We have removed God from everything in American life. We don't want Him to be mentioned in school, at public meetings, in public places... the list could go on. THEN, we want to know why He didn't stop the shooting? As if we believe that we get to pick and choose when we want God to show up, when it is convenient for us. The Bible is very clear: we either serve Him or we serve evil. Like the pastor said, God didn't promise us a life of ease, He promised to be with us through the hard times.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
  17. billwhitmire

    This article is total BS. I thought this was the news, not people's ancient mythology stories and opinions.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • cnn isajoke

      Cnn is garbage now

      July 30, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
  18. Ray

    Maybe god was at an NRA meeting.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
  19. paul

    If God created man in his image, why did he have a p e n i s?

    July 30, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  20. Dev

    God was in Aurora. God ran from the theatre in fear. God ran into the theatre to help. God pulled the trigger. God died on the theatre floor. I am that I am.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • Huebert

      So you define god as all of existence, is that correct?

      July 30, 2012 at 12:49 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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.