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.
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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.
Where was Zeus in Aurora?
James 1:13-15 Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.
That you know that verse indicates an amazing waste of time over your life.
What do you hope to accomplish by posting bible verses on blogs? Do you think you get extra "god-points" after you die?
There is no God , it explains EVERYTHING. All the injustice and random luck and bad luck all over the world. You people need to grow up already and forget that there is a sky daddy watching over all your moves and will protect you every second.
God was where he always is...in our mind and spirit. We either act like good people or we act bad. The choice is ours and God ONLY hleps those of us who help themselves to the betterment of ourselves!
Where was Allah in Aurora?
New American Bible
[Mat 26:52] Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy gun into his place: for all they that take the gun shall perish with the gun.
Guns mentioned in a new edition of the Bible?
Is that the one that has manna as Pop-Tarts, the Apostles using Popiel Pocket Fisherman, and ShamWow soaking up the Red Sea for the Hebrews?
God was missing
Profound. He's been missing for hmmm ever.
Sadly, this 'god' concept explains nothing; who created god?
Just a lazy solution that passes the existential buck one level up...
Why mourn death anyway, when life is supposedly just a test for the 'real' eternal afterlife?
Such hypocritical inconsistencies are simply maddening...
Where was my finger in Aurora?
I believe God was in a meeting with the NRA discussing strategies to fight against sensible gun laws and thus was too busy to stop the killing of innocents that day.
He was at Chick-Fil-A trying to define marriage.
Were was I in Aurora?
Imaginary Skydaddy!!! best thing in this entire discussion. LOL
Great Article! We have as a nation turned away from God but the good news is it is not to late to turn back to him and humble ourselves and realize we are nothing without him.Seek his face. By taking prayer out of schools,bibles out of courtrooms,and thinking we as humans can do what we want with no consequences just shows as a nation where we have staked our claim.We are put here on Earth to live out Matthew 5:16 anything contrary to that puts our nation at risk.Choose to stake your claim on the solid Rock (Jesus) so when storms come we will not sink in the sand,but remain steadfast and unshaken.
I truly feel sorry for you...such a poor, blinded fool....investing your hope in nothing more than the fantasies of old men....so afraid of death (for that is what religion is all about)...I know when I die I will rot into nothing....no afterlife, no fun heaven with the pet dog from the 80s and sweet Grandma and I'm so happy in that knowledge....it's liberating knowing with certainty ther eis nothing....you are living in fear of death and hoping for something more....it must be such a burden.
By judging everyone in this country like you do, you really are sounding like an a$.hole.
And another thing since you have a hotline to god... why does god bother with a country's borders? Why does he punish the US seperately from some other country. You are so self centered you don't even see what you are saying.
Freedom of religion in this country means all religions, not just yours. Turning away from god? Whose, just yours? Separation of church and state is there to keep any one religion from making policy based on their own holy book. After posts like this, I'm grateful it's in place. Even if christians do what they can to try and legislate morality.
Where was the Angel Moroni in Aurora?
Where was Hercules in Aurora?
Where was Superman in Aurora?
Where was Wolverine in Aurora?
What devastating nonsense...a shameless clutch at the age old "God does good stuff not bad stuff" argument....pathetic. There is no God. There is no Jesus. No divine force. No spirits. Nothing. We are human. We are organisms. We are real.
There is no need to look for higher reasoning in the case of the Aurora killer....to "explain the inexplicable"...this type of killing has happened dozens of times, hundreds perhaps, across the world and ages. Some human beings are junk, they're bad...the wiring is messed up. Nothing more. It will happen again and no fake, unproven God or equally fake or unproven Satan has a thing to do with.
Trying to explain things like Aurora in terms of God's role will always be frustrating, since God does not exist. We only invoke God because of our own weakness and lack of knowledge. Weidos like the guys in Aurora and Crofton will always exist. We need to learn how to detect them early before they go off. God will not help us with that. Fortunately the Anne Arundel County police were able to do so.
Prayer changes things. If you do it a really long time, you'll miss the bus!
@HS. You did, as you were typing you drivel.
GOD is in georgia usa.
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.