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.
God was right there in the Theater and Everywhere. This question seems to be always asked by people when "bad" things happen. Where was God during the two Great Worlld Wars. God believes in free will and if us humans want to slaughter each other as we constantly do, God just stand there shakes his head and wonders what we are thinking.
Another arrogant post by someone who claims to know what god is thinking. Yes, you have special powers that the rest of us don't.
And you know this how? God has a head? Does he have a white beard and a long robe? How do you know he does not have a red nose and clown shoes? You are a joke. You should be thankful that there are less and less of you around so that our civilization advances although it may be annihilated by the religious before too long.
You welcome that, don't you?
@Zev: “God believes in free will and if us humans want to slaughter each other as we constantly do, God just stand there”
That means prayer is useless and god is impotent.
"God was right there in the Theater" helping the gunman aim? Puh-leeze.
There is a reason that religious people think that the world is 6000 years old – that is when recorded history began.
And as man has increased in knowledge and ability, religion has had to adapt to meet those changes. Gallileo had to recant his asertion that the earth revolves around the sun under penalty of death from the church. Only after he was long dead and only after being show irrefutable evidence did the church recant.
That religion changes based upon man's discovery PROVES that all religions are LIES. God did not create man in his own image – it was the other way around.
Mankind is only the current landlord of the earth. The dinosaurs ruled the planet for over 30 million years. Was god a dinosaur and then changed himself into a man like being and then created man?
Using that logic, at best guess, the earht has about 4-5 billion years to go before our sun dies out. I KNOW that man will be long gine by then – either by his own hand or by NATURAL selection.
I am thinking it will be the bug's turn to run the planet. There are already far more of them then there are of us.
I bet their god will look like a bug.
The age of the Earth is irrelevant in the grand scheme of the wolrd. We can only quess the age. However that was not the author's point. I disagree with himon one point- God gave each of us the Devine Gift of free will, in which we make decisions pn our action that He (god may not or does not condone. When eHE created us HE chose not to be in control of our minds to the extent that we aren't ableto think for oursleves.Whether or not we choose our actions will be judged by HIM; but we have the ability to to "do right things" oveer wrong things. Maybe He wants to teach love over hate, goodness over bad.
I love science.. it is not because of Christians blocked science.. it is Catholic churches that made rules to prevent anyone to focus on science that disagreed with. those inquisitors were doing wrong.. Jesus taught us love, not hate.. It's why Galileo was working in a Abbey (under Catholic rules) please read the history again.. corrected it yourself!
I might agree that the age of the Earth is not crucial to this particular question, but "We can only quess the age" is just wrong. There is rather conclusive evidence that gives the age of the Earth within a reasonable margin of error.
I am glad you are a supporter of science but it is not just the catholics. protestants are trying to contradict evolution based on their holy book. And Stem cell reasearch, just a couple of examples.
The Catholic Church is not against stem cell research. It only opposes embryonic stem cell research.
So? The catholc church has proven they are not a moral leader. Why trust them on this issue?
God is watching me mazterbate! Yay... I love God!
Can I watch too?
If there was a god, I'd dount he'd care to see such a small performance.
Would love to have you join the fold, You will be blessed, enjoy.
Oh yay Bill Deacon doppleganger is back. I must be hitting nerves
it is funny to see you people lecture to any christian that God is false.. wow you guys are doing wrong way to tell us that God is false.. shame on you.. True Christians believe in God and if they got His will to witness anyone.. it is perfectly legal and if any of you agnostic, atheist or any other religion rejects God's will.. so be it.. it is your choice but do not regret that you shalt face the judgement's day.. don't blame us for not helping you.. but as for you, it is interesting to see you lectured us yet you persisted to tell us that God is false.. looks like you're disrespect to others who believe in God and keep destroy them.. shame on you!
which of the 10,000 or so god's that man has believed in are you talking about. Be more specific, o pious one. It would help to clarify so I am praying to the right god. Wouldn't want to burn in fake hell over a typo.
Wow. Amazing how truly infantile you are.
You can believe what you want. I let my kids believe in Santa, the toothfairy, and the easter bunny. Same thing right? I am just saying put it in perspective. If you need these religious beliefs to get you through life, go ahead. Just realize it is all ancient stories and you don't need to use it to expain everything.
yeah, I agreed with your perceptive, it is what you have your free will.. you have a choice to choose.. accept or reject God, that's all you decide.. I want to choose God over anything
Dear Pastor Brendle, (a response would really be appreciated but please only from the pastor)-
We welcome you to the 21st century with a prayer:
The Apostles' Creed 2012 (updated by yours truly based on the studies of NT historians and theologians of the past 200 years)
Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven?????
I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)
Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,
He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.
(References used are available upon request.)
Perfectly stated, I am saving your post for use later.
No need to save it he will troll again
There is simply no arguing with "belief". Believers don't believe in facts. This mish mash of hogwash form CNN could have been so eloquently stated, so on the mark if the "god" factor had been eliminated from the context. Between the lines he speaks intellingence but washes it over with mythical, magical bullsh@! Yes, there is good and there is evil. We don't need a deity to define those differences. There is no God and there is no Satan. How about you listen to Julia Sweeney's "Letting go of God" for a light hearted look at the foolishness of belief. It's appalling that there are so many different religions all claiming "my god is better than your god" This stupidity will be the true unraveling of mankind on the earth and we will likely self extinguish before we ever reach our full potential. Oh yeah, book burning doesn't sound like such a bad idea........I could choose a few candidates..... I like the story about 50 Shades of Gray replacing Gideon's bible in the hotel in England.
You want to burn books but I bet you're one of those that think Christians are always trying to control what people think aren't you?
Where is God? I suppose there are many penultimate answers to that question, which is why the question can get so many different and even defensive answers. But ultimately there is only place where God is definitively and reliably found – in Christ, reconciling the world to himself. Any other answer is a dead end.
Your answer is just as much a dead end.
How can I trust an answer from someone who doesn't know what "penultimate" means?
So basically what you're saying is that God was there in the theater watching each bullet strike its target and he did absolutely nothing! But he's doing something now...comforting all the victims who are victims because God did not act. This is so ridiculous that it makes my head hurt. Religious people have to come up with ever more contrived excuses for why bad stuff happens while they argue that God is great and powerful and loving,... blahblahblah. He can create the universe and all sorts of difficult things but he cant stop one psychotic person? Give me a break.
Bravo, man. You couldn't have said any better.
I don't think the argument is that god cannot stop these things happening, but that he chooses a system where he does nto want too.
Religions that insist on their god being 'loving' are the only ones that have these issues with bad things happening. Worship based on fear is much sounder.
This is a question which is hard to answer for Christians who always want to find some grace in tragedy. But I think it is wonderful that the Internet allows many doubters to express their views here as we become a more open society. In the past they didn't have the chance to meet or discuss their views and felt a bit isolated. Today there are organizations for non-believers such as http://www.secular.org that have meetings and interesting projects and just good conversation..
Personally, I don't think we can blame God for these killings anymore than we should give him credit for the survivors. He seems to stay out of almost every human event. He doesn't do much that I am aware of.
"Jesus started his ministry by declaring, “I am the light of the world,” and ended it with 'you are the light of the world.'"
Actually, he ended it with "My God, why have you abandoned me?"
Then he suffocated on his own weight.
You have gathered many of the premises necessary to see clearly the answer they converge to. Yet you avert your eyes when you reach the clear conclusion, but you will only toy with.
Why it is so hard to posit an infinitely loving and merciful God, in the face of the evils of this world? Because unless you close your eyes to the evidence as believers do everyday, your intellect compels you to conclude that no such god can exist. Your mind balks and ignoring its protests is called to have faith.
If the Holocaust could convince only a few that there is no such merciful god, Aurora will fail to do so even more spectacularly, because of people like you who sees god in hands of surgeons and sympathizers, but does not want to see God's hand and God's will in every bullet Holmes fired. Yeah, that was the will of God too, don't you know? You well know that there is no reconciliation of the facts with a merciful god, and still write to perpetuate the vice of believing something for no good reason at all, and then you call it a virtue. You should start with stopping lying to yourself.
Have you see the movie "God on Trial" ? If you haven't I think you would enjoy it.
I won't justify the article by reading it, but the answer to the headline is really simple. Where was god? The same place all gods have been since they were created. Fictional charactors created to explain what the things they did not understand and at the same time use these explainations to define how we should morally live to please him. Maybe a few thousand years ago we needed this, but we have a much better understanding of the world around us now and I think as a society we can figure out how to live together without all of these gods telling us what to do and how we should live. I don't need a god to tell me what this nut did was wrong. I wouldn't need a god to get through it either. Believe in and be confident in your self, your friends, and your family to get you through anything. Not some mythical being invented thoughsands of years ago.
I suspect I would agree with your position, but I won't justify your comment by reading it.
me too lol
One day is the distant future, mankind will come face-to-face with beings from another world that will in all likelihood not by "human".......and man's uniqueness in the eyes of God (whoever/whatever that is) will come tumbling down.......hopefully along with all the snake-oil regious nuts. Religion is the single most significant barrier between God and man......as man is taught to see God through a lens of religious dogma at the expense of true inspiration.
Interesting question for you though
What if we come into contact with extraterrestrial beings and they're humanoid just like us? Furthermore, what if they also have a similar monotheist religion? Would you more or less inclined to believe in god then?
Just so you know, I too am an atheist and agree with your post, I'm just playing devils advocate
That is just wishful thinking. Most of the religious nuts on this planet will fight to the end to ignore the truth and keep pushing their beliefs until the end. If the they can justify all of the war and personal suffering because of religion, they will find some explanation and keep fighting.
Pastor Brendle, you are a wise man.
Well paid for his empty words, too, I'll bet!
God was busy telling Billy Graham to stfu and it was his last warning.
Its sad when the only place Atheists can lash out at a God they don't even believe in, is in a virtual world where their comments mean about as much as the TP I just used to wipe my ass with.
And your comment in the virtual world is worth the same, no?
Another angry theist. The truth hurts I guess.
Luckily Christians never lash out at atheists.
How is it possible to lash out at something that does not exist? Some of us are just trying to break you free from your delusion. It frightens you to realize that you will die and all of the time wasted on your fairy tale will be for naught. Live for today and live for your family and children not a myth.
It is incredibly refreshing to be free of dominion of the sky fairy. And my disbelief and pointing this out to you is not lashing out at god. I cannot lash out at something that does not exits. Perhaps your belief structure or the image of god but not god. You are overly sensitive because you know you are wrong yet are too cowardly to do anything about it.
Religiosity recedes as intelligence advances.
Dale, you speak the words I live by and try to teach my chilldren. Live you life for yourself, your friends, and your familly. Don't spend your time worrying about what happens when you die, because you know, you will be dead. Not is some magical fairyland. Think how far society could be now if so much time and effort had not been waisted on religion.
You are right it is sad, but it is getting better, historically people kept their mouth shut for fear of being burned at the stake. We are feeling more and more comforable with putting up opposition to the absurdities of religion. It is spreading past the internet and pretty soon you will have to deal with an atheist face to face.
Actually, God can destroy Satan so EASY, but it is not.. it is according to our Holy Bible, it is just because God is in heaven and Satan is in hell.. only our hearts will lead what we choose.. not because of God isn't here.. or satan.. its just because of your FREE WILL! , God GAVE you a free will to choose! you can follow or reject God.. it is only two choices you have and that man murdered people, had been his choice to decide.. also for pastor or anyone said of God isn't here.. where are You? nope only We have faith in him is all that matter.. God decided who will die and who will live.. it's His Will!
How old are you?
I hope you don't turn that in for your 4th grade essay- you'll get an "F".
God didn't give man free will. Man gave god the excuse of free will.
my age is of no importance.. and thank you for being an English grammar N.azi!
enjay, Yes, God gave us.. why? we can't serve two masters but one.. therefore we can serve either one.. it is our choice to choose.. I chose God to be his follower.. btw , yes God already chose me before I was born.. just action in my present to know that I have a free will to choose. (do i know God chose me?) my answer is no.. because I know nothing but His will does
If it's the gunman's choice to decide good vs. evil, why don't victims get a choice? Sounds like the all loving god you worship got his priorities ass backwards.
I see alot of athiest minded responses on this, and its quite weird to be honest with you. I see this type of thing everywhere, people who dislike religion, just want to push it all away and destroy everyone elses faith. If you have an opinion about what God really is, and why he does what he does, keep it to yourself and move on with your life. People dont need someone to tell them what they believe sounds like the most absurd thing ever, Its what they believe in, and you should respect that. Theres no need to shatter someones hope. If I were you I would read into it, maybe pick up a (insert religious form of text) and level with someone and ask non-threatening questions. We all can be friends that way! :D
It's well within reason, That Guy, that we debate the faithful about dogma which they want so badly to impose on me through the government of my country. I will debate them endlessly, and I have no obligation to respect their beliefs until they show that they're willing to respect my lack of it.
Dear rob, in short you are saying that GOD has all the POWER to do what he wants, but he is not RESPONSIBLE for anything that happens. Let me ask you few questions: –
1. GOD chose not to utilize his power, rather allowed men to go by his choice. Fare enough. My choice is to live till the age of 75 and not to hit by any stray bullet. So why cann't GOD, who allows someone to fire on his choice, allow me not to be hit by that bullet ? After all the powerfull GOD, creator of nature, should be able to prevail over the laws of nature and stop that bullet !!
2.If all that GOD assures is comforting AFTER you suffer, then GOD definitely has more role to play in the non-western world. Where should I go to get some comfort and feeling of safety BEFORE I suffer ? Sounds like I should looks else where if I am healthy and well to do.
3. And how can GOD take credit for the compassion, hope, and courage displayed by the survivors and others gathered to support them, when he does not want to take responsibility for anything that happened, in spite of being all powerful to turn the earth whichever way he want to ?
What a crock. God is man made as is anything related to it.
Jim must not know the rules of the debate. He who makes the claim must provide the proof. Since you cannot provide the proof of your assertion Jim, you are being re-assigned to atheist re-education. There you will learn that the only good defense is a good offense. You must always finagle the believer into making the assertion thus allowing you the opportunity to demand proof.
That is unless you have proof of your assertion?
Finagle? Does not the fact of belief in a god also as.sert the existence of said god? Does not the use of the Bible or Biblical references imply the existence of a god? I see no finagling, it is an inherent claim, is it not?
Atheism, on the other hand can be simply non-belief, which makes no claims.
Jim did not assert his disbelief in anyone's claim. He made a positive statement of his own. Why don't you demand he prove his assertion as you would a believers?
Hi Bill. Nice to see you again. I'll help Jim out on this one.
The Bible exists, and it was clearly written by man. The fact that the Bible was written by man tells us at least one thing, that man is willing to arrange a theology to explain his deity, and then commit it to writing. At this point then, the only evidence presented on this issue is the Bible, demonstrating that man has published these speculations.
In the absense of any further proof of god's existence, all we're left with - all we know so far - is that man has invented god. Show me that these men wrote these things for any other reason than as a extension of their own imaginations, and I'll gladly proceed to the next step. Provide no evidence, and my only option is to recognize what actually exists: mans codified speculation of god's existence.
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.