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.
We let God down; not the other way around. We have free will which has consequences. Our society has freedom, which has consequences.
Should we then remake society through what we teach in schools, what laws we pass, etc?
How can we let your god down if we use the free will he gave us and use that free will to diss him? If he wanted all loving respect he should not have allowed free will in the first place . Rather a stupid circular arguement, what came first god giving man free will, or god knowing he was going to be pis*sed because we used free will or........
As you can see I am partial to stupid circular arguements like...How do you know there is a god? cause it says so in the bible....But the bible is gods word and truth...so god says he is god cause it is written by him ...or it could all be just BS...or
longhorn – We already know that we are incapable of keeping the law.
I fast forwarded down quickly to type in my comment, simply because I don't want the read the comments of those who choose disbelief of something that is so freely and lovingly offered to them. thank you for this article, and may it help those who seek comfort and Gods' will in all of this tragedy. God is always there. Always, With His love, forgiveness and healing. I cannot wait to stand in His midst one day, in all my humility and shame.
I find it interesting that you consider threats of eternal punishment to equate to being "lovingly offered", excuse me if I scoff at the notion.
Atheists don't "choose" disbelief. The burden of proof is on you, not me.
"I fast forwarded down quickly to type in my comment, simply because I don't want the read the comments of those who choose disbelief"
Eyes shut, fingers in ears, humming, lalalalalallalalallalalaalalalalalala................
A republican is like god, full of stories, and shirks responsibility when things go wrong. Such things are hard for us to understand. Thats why we have ministers and preachers and popes who manage to make a living telling stories and covering for their hero.
Or you could put a jerk like Richard Dawkins on a pedestal who preaches cold hearless logic and subjective morality while spewing hate at anyone who believes in a religion different than his. (I define religion as a set of beliefs based upon a single premise [commonly that God exists, but its the details of what that means that differs], irregardless of the presence of a diety in them, and therefore the active belief that God does not exist [Atheism] is a religion)
Christianity is a subjective moral system, get a clue.
Truth: You are correct, it is subjective, but it is a common one held by a large number of people. If you were playing a game it is easier to play when everyone plays by the same set of rules, rather that each individual having their own set of rules they want to play by. I was referring to individual subjective morality, but did not adaquately label it, which is what prominent athiests propose, rather than a 'common' (group) morality.
I appreciate your point but morality by popularity is really no better than saying might makes right. I do not find that to be superior.
Bob, your "take" is silly. You provide your opinion of where God was AFTER the shooting. How about during? You know, when people were being slaughtered.
One could have a different "take"....Man created God. Man did this because many people simply can't accept the idea that their own life is finite, and that one day they will simply cease to exist.
I'm all for moral codes and the concepts provided in the bible, but religion and God often seem like a concept or crutch for people to deal with hard times.
Well said. People seem to frequently confuse the need for morality with the need for a deity. They are not logically conjoined. We can have a wonderful, moral, ethical, happy, hard-working society without any supernatural support. We don't need 10 commandments when four of them (not praising other gods, keeping the sabbath, idolatry, blasphemy) are entirely self-serving for the religion itself! IF we focus on avoiding doing harm to others, that's 90% of it right there. Don't really need a religion to teach us that, do we?
that the gods rotate from different tasks so all their time is not taken up by work, so Ra, Zeus and Dionysus were on answering prayer duties, Vishnu and Shinto were on weather and storms, and Jesus and his Dad were at the Big Rock Candy Mountain making sure the kids didn't eat too much and the later day prophets Smitty, L. Ron, Jimmy S., Jerry F.,Boobby H., Hickey and some others that were supposed to be looking after tragedies, flew to Vegas and were playing in a poker tourny and missed the whole thing. Hard to find good, reliable help......
longhorn Can you point to such a society as you describe at any time in human history?
There are many counties in Europe that are majorily secular that have more peacefull society than we do here in the U.S. Norway would be an example.
Well Bill...not really. Because everyone who has espoused Atheistic views has been threatened with death or other harm by the Jesus freaks. Socrates was among them. But of course that was just part of the story. During the Roman Empire, Christians were executed for their rejection of the Roman gods in general and Emperor-worship in particular. When Christianity became the state religion of Rome under Theodosius in 381, heresy became a punishable offense. Not exactly a great place to try being an Atheist.
One can certainly make s case that Russia under Stalin was an atheistic society, as was China, North Korea, and Cuba. I'm sure you already knew that. But understand that these are all communist dictatorships first and foremost. Nobody as tried to create an Atheistic and free society rooted capitalism and democracy.
God didn't come to the rescue for the same reason you never see Santa Clause or the Easter Bunny. All religions are man made cults.
Thanks for the thoughtful article. I have some differences with your conclusions at some points but concur for the most part. I would also add one more point: God was also in the back alley as the gunman opened the door and opened fire. He is sovereign. He is God and He owes us no explanations. Job got it right. he worshipped and acknowledged, 'blessed be the Name of the Lord.'
Are you serious?
Doug, do you feel God also resides over the non-believers? Our government? Or schools?
Might does not make right. If you think if god commands genocide or other obviously immoral behavior you are then justified in acting in such a way you have a messed up moral code. Divine command believers make good terrorists.
Doug you"re obviously one of the delusional religiious zealots that need to watched. You must be a card carrying member of the american taliban. God is a man made myth.
are there any thoughtful respondents or just angry ones?
Unfortunately I have to agree with Doug. If God granted humanity choice, then God must (by consistant logic. I don't claim to speak for God) stand by when we exercise the choices we make, for good or evil. Holmes made a choice to commit evil, which is accompanied by consequences for himself and others. That does not mean that God isn't present in the hearts of good people who mourn and comfort in times of darkness. The goodness in people IS the very nature of God. Evil is the absence of it. That applies whether you want to say God is a supernatural being or an abstract concept we made up.
I call out his argument as one of immorality, I give my reason why and instead of coming back and arguing why i am arong he takes route of saying people are being mean.
Boo hoo, you made a point that we should not question god, I said you are wrong, now back up your argument.
to No Truth, Just Claims: Nice try. Have a good day.
Yep, that is what I thought,
If you can't defend your statements of belief you should probably keep them to yourself.
Truth: Doug said nothing of Divine Command. All he said was that God was present every step of the way. He did not say that God pulled the puppet strings. He did not say God enjoyed it. He did not say that Holmes was justified simply because God was present. He said he was there, and that is all.
I realize he did not explicity say 'divine command'. But he did say "He is God and He owes us no explanations. Job got it right." This to me is aying god is always right and we have no reason to ever question him, I think that thought leads directly to divine command.
But that is what you do NT. You don't respond to what the poster says. You respond to what you want it to mean. Often different. Doug is saying, and he uses Job as an example, that God is sovereign whether we are pleased with the situation or not. Whether we choose good or evil. Whether we "get" Him or not. Sovereignty doesn't override free will, it simply is a statement of His ownership of creation.
If we can't question god then he is beyond reproach. I don't buy that but abviously you do. That kind of 'reasoning' leads directly to atrocities done in the name of god.
When are we going to quite paying people like this pastor to make excuses for God?
An abusive real father would be jailed for treating his children this way.
If you say a father is bad because he allows a child to make a decision and suffer the consequences doesn't not necessarily make him a bad father. In the world of helicopter parents, no-fail self esteem schools, and foam playgrounds perhaps, but not in the real world.
This is intellectual silly putty. Muddle masquarading as paradox.
An all-knowing, all-powerful creator knew what Holmes would do when he created him. Holmes had no choice as he was made to commit these acts. There is no free will when it comes to the God described by mankind.
Come on Nick! You can't use LOGIC with Religion, that would blow their mind! People that believe in God can't be reasoned with. They also believe in Santa, Easter Bunny, and tooth fairy.
And just how is it you know that Holmes was created just for this purpose. That's nonsense. Holmes made a choice to commit these evil acts against others. God did not tell him to do it. God did not create him to destroy people's lives. God allowed him to go down a horrible path, and only He knows what purpose/good comes from it in the end. At some point, people have to be held accountable for their choices – one of which is refusing to understand and completely denying the existence of a good and Holy God.
If we on this board invented God, we are also telling you that God gave us free will. So how can you support your statement that we created a God that does not give us free will? You make no sense whatsoever.
Me and God were playing poker that day. He was down $500, didn't want to leave the table.
God? Where was He? Well, actually He (or She) was, and is, being held hostage by the NRA.
Just like the rest of us.
Religion is not logic/science it is faith/believe.If I explain Aurora tragedy logically,gun control could stop this,law enforced act fast ,he used drug,he was abused when young he wants come to news etc!!!!!!!!!. But by religion lot of good or bad things happen in this planet you like or not.This earth is not perfect.God give humankind free will.He will not intervene.If He does first He will stop Hitler,he is the most murder ever .We are not belongs to this planet & will not.This planet our transit. Where are we going? by faith according to our deeds hell or heaven.non believers nowhere or they don't know.
How do you explain this to the family of a victim, that John Holmes was allowed to do this by god because god wanted him to have free will.
They wanted their son/daughter/husband/wife alive. That was their free will.
So you don't believe in miracles?
Umm yeh M.c.. All your guns are belong to us.
The Lord who is GOD is right where HE always is at these times. Our deaths are little concern to HIM though HE feels and contends with our grief and sorrow. Aushwitzs, D-Day, Hiroshima, Syria, Libya, tsunami, (150,000) Fall of Rome, Spain, Mexico. HIS question would be something like this. Where were any of you with the rearing and direction of James Holmes. When the list of deaths of all eternity are considered, the complexity of Where was GOD, is there for all of them.
I thought I found the most arrogant post a page or two ago. But now you took lead.
Wow. That's the winner, the dumbest, most arrogant defense of a non existent man in the sky so far. DJR, you and I will rot in the ground just the same at the end of the day...trust me, there's no where else afterwards....relieve yourself of the burden of "faith".
DJR. Ar you serious? You are sick beyond belief.
Are atheists blaming God of this atrocity?
Are you absolving your all-powerful, all-knowing "God" of his responsibility for this atrocity?
How did you make that connection? Really, I want what you are smoking!!!
no, only one god, since we are all gods with untapped potential. it is written.
It was answerable by yes or no.
Is this a trick question? You can't actually blame something on a thing you don't believe in.
No. Here's a newsflash for you though; we don't believe in god. How can you blame that which does not exist?
No, your ridiculous, leading question is not answerable by yes or no.
since Athiests know that there is no god, why would we be blaming anyone except James Holmes? What a nonsensical statement!
As an atheist I can answer that. No, we blames James Holmes.
Atheists blaming god? Not a true atheist then. One has to believe in something before you can blame it, I don't.
To blame a God would be to acknowledge both its existence and its influence. As an Atheist, I acknowledge neither.
Why would an Athiest blame somebody they don't believe exists?
if you really want an answer, then it goes like that... we are bothered by the notion that when it comes to origins of the universe, then God is the cause of anything that ever was, is and will ever be... but when it comes to evil and suffering, He has nothing to do with it... but as said already, we don't really blame anything on God since we don't think He exists at the first place...
YES.... And so should anybody who has knowledge of the bible.
Isaiah 45:7 King James Version (KJV)
7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.
Your question makes ZERO SENSE! How could people who don't believe in God blame God?
Imaginary sky daddies never shows up when you need them.
Why are preachers and religious people such idiots? He says God does not force people to choose good, yet his religion teaches that you go to hell if you don't believe in Jesus. I think ETERNAL DAMNATION is certainly God's attempt at forcing you to choose him. "Worship me or I will send you to hell to be tortured till the end of time" is the loving gift of free will?
Following and choosing God is not a religion, it is a choice. WE get to choose who we want to serve, but based on the many replies on this site, it is apparent that when Jesus gave HIS life on the cross, HIS love had no bearing on your choice. Next time you get in your car, remember, you get to choose to speed or not to speed, to potentially get a ticket or not get a ticket. In this life, we choose to live eternally or die eternally. Its our choice...whether you believe it or not...your opinions won't change anything.
It's a choice in the same way as a paying protection money to the mob is a choice. " Pay money of your own free will or we break your legs and burn your business to the ground." Not much of a choice, methnks.
God's Follower, much like I stated above, you are not making any sense. You are saying that I have the choice "to live eternally" but ONLY if I believe in Jesus. That is not free will, that is being forced to choose (or believe, or have faith, whatever) or face being forever tortured for not making that choice. That is not free will. It is God saying "Worship me or I will kill you." Otherwise I could not believe in Jesus and have zero risk of being punished for it. But I would guess you think I will be punished for thinking Jesus is a bunch of non-sense.
Your read Bible so you get the anwers. Don't listen to the preachers.
READ YOUR BIBLE.
It's 2012, people. We've put men on the moon and sequenced the human genome. When are we going to leave these silly religious beliefs back in the bronze age where they belong?
When you prove them untrue.
Where was Ra in Aurora?
chilling with Zeus, of course.. his cousin was getting married
yeah – I mean he hasn't been seen much recently which is sad. Whenever I think about him, I touch myself.
There is no zeus in Aurora. Be quick!
Grooving to the Bengals "walk like an egyptian!" at the spynx rave!!
Decision theology has its limits. It says we can make a decision for God which means we can say no to God and thus have power over God. Makes no sense. The all powerful God does not simply wait around for a human to make a decision. We can't even know him without him revealing himself. This place we inhabit, Earth, is the kingdom of the cross not one of Glory. Look around, everything decays and dies. God promises to be with us through our afflictions not remove them. Bad things happen all the time as we live in a fallen world.
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.