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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 • Opinion

soundoff (4,566 Responses)
  1. Doug

    You do realize that god was created by man to fill in the gaps on the unknown? There is no difference between santa and god. If you behave, you will be rewarded. To all you believers out there, try to think rational for a change.

    July 29, 2012 at 8:12 am |
    • Jake

      God is indeed the Adult version of Santa. Rewards comes to those that are good so says Santa and...God. Nothing good will come to does that have not been good so says Santa...and God.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:17 am |
  2. Charles Bowen

    Looking for God in this life? Look in the mirror that person you see is as close to god as you will get on this earth. This old god of ours is tired of the same old question he is in all of us and that is where we should seek him...... A very very sad event . My condolences to those who lost their loved ones.... Charles Bowen Solomon Stone

    July 29, 2012 at 8:12 am |
  3. SDFrankie

    Typically shallow and myopic explanation by someone who makes a living scamming people with obvious lies. God allows us to "choose" good over evil? Great for the chooser. Not so great for the poor victims he chose to murder. So it's so important that a murderer exercise free will that innocent men, women and children will be sacrificed to support it. What are these victims, props in someone's psychodrama? This liar's drivel explains nothing? If it's the choice that adds value, what about my existence? I never chose to exist. The Aurora killer never made the choice to exist, much less to exist as a broken, psychotic toy.

    July 29, 2012 at 8:12 am |
  4. cajolumael

    a) God created all that exists
    b) God has never done evil
    c) Evil exists
    That humans have the freedom to choose evil does not explain the paradox. For humans to be able to choose evil God had to create evil which would be impossible if God had not done evil

    July 29, 2012 at 8:10 am |
  5. Abrondon

    The problem of suffering is typically held as a problem for theism, specifically Christian theism, but it's really a conundrum for every world view, and most troublesome for atheism. On atheism's view, the suffering is only illusory. There is no right or wrong, good or bad, and ultimately nothing matters. This view flies in the face of what we know with every fiber of our beings when suffering occurs. Yet even atheists get outraged at suffering, love their families, promote justice, and everything else that reinforces that we are all more than just molecules hurtling through time and space. A more consistent view, on atheism, would be not to care at all. So why criticize this article?

    July 29, 2012 at 8:10 am |
    • cajolumael

      There is not a single 'Atheist' view of suffering. Atheists are only consistent in that they don't believe in God but their views of the world and suffering as varied as the Atheists themselves

      July 29, 2012 at 8:18 am |
    • lemonsaintlemonade

      You have confused the concept that no mystic being created the world and then gave us all just enough information to decide whether or not we want to be tortured for eternity (atheism) with the concept that our lives are meaningless (nihilism). It is your opinion that life has no meaning unless daddy is watching- which is childish and sad, but by no means moral. That people can love, seek justice and contribute to life is not a theist gift to the world, it is life. That life evolved from chaos may frighten you, but it doesn't make life less astounding. And it doesn't invalidate the shared set of mores that buffers our society from the harm created by selfishness.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:28 am |
    • aginghippy

      I don't know where you get the idea that atheists should naturally not care about anything or anyone. We love our families and friends because humans evolved to feel love for those with whom we share a bond. We feel empathy for others because humans evolved a sophisticated brain which is capable of feeling empathy. We appreciate beauty and kindness and hate ugliness and violence just as you do.
      In fact, atheists despise violence against our fellow human beings with an intensity that may be greater than that felt by any theist, because we realize that we all get one time around, we are all in this mess together, and the only hope is for us all to work together. Contrast that with the theist who naively believes we get more than one life, the latter in the form of a ghost.
      I am sickened by articles of this kind because all we are reading is pathetic apologies for God. The reason the free will vs God's will conundrum is so unsettling to theists is because it negates prayer and renders God impotent as protector. If God had no ability to stop the madman with a gun, then any parent asking God to look after his or her teenager while at the movies would be senseless. If God has already made up his mind to do something, to allow something, or NOT do something, then prayer is a complete waste of time.
      There is no God, so there could be no God in that movie theater. Human beings, many of whom may be atheist or agnostic, in the form of police officers, paramedics, nurses, surgeons and therapists made the only difference that day. However, the obstinant nature of theism will require the believers to thank God for the "miracles" performed by men and women of science. That is truly outrageous.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:45 am |
  6. Evonix

    I feel so sorry for people who spend any time at all thinking about questions like this, because they are delusional and wasting their lives.

    The answer is very simple: there is no god, and bad things happen often and randomly due to the fundamentally cruel nature of our species. Male lions kill all the cubs when they take over a pride so that they can re-seed all the females; the survivors don't complain and say where is god?, they just go on. We're no different, our only specialization is immense intelligence and self-awareness, so we invent reasons for our existence, but at the end of the day we're no different than other animals.

    July 29, 2012 at 8:09 am |
    • dcleveland

      always good to know there are rational people on the planet....thanks for an intelligent post.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:16 am |
  7. phnxrth

    Pastor Rob, you see the picture very clearly. Rarely have I read such an accurate account of life.

    Except for one thing, God doesn't grieve. God has no part in death. That has been a big lie. When death occcurs the right thing to do is approach the situation honestly. If we ask God to show us the dishonesty that caused the death or deaths, that we may learn, it puts the subject in a better light. Grieving is an emotional attachment to death. If you think about it, that's sick.

    God never approaches us on our terms, for that would not be God. God has never and will never approach us on our terms. Our terms are ridiculous. God doesn't have to do anything other than wait.

    We must learn to approach God on God's terms, whatever those are, and if and when we waiver we must expect to lose whatever standing we had invited the loss of, then correct our mistake.

    We are here to learn and to do it all on God's terms, whether we like it or not. God's will shall be done at some point in the course of human development. It's just a matter of time.

    July 29, 2012 at 8:09 am |
    • jp

      "on god's terms" ? and what exactly is that? god is the misbegotten invention of ignornat and fear drive peole who then killed other people to prove their god was better

      Eyewash all of it

      July 29, 2012 at 8:12 am |
  8. Vince

    What a crock!
    He is able to intervene, but he doesn't? What is his problem? Is he a deranged psychopath?
    Who wants a ridiculously childish god like that who is just playing sily games with our lives?

    July 29, 2012 at 8:09 am |
  9. Zaphod2010

    Incredible that we are still stuck in an all powerful being (I don't care what religion) that does so little when bad things happen then people turn to him after the massacre.
    Zeus and Thor were also thought to be gods. We know they didn't exist!!!

    July 29, 2012 at 8:09 am |
    • PraiseTheLard

      How do you know that Zeus and Thor didn't exist? To their worshipers they were as real as is the "god" who's the focus of all those m0r0ns who went to church this morning as well as the ones who went to synagog yesterday and to the mosque on Friday...

      July 29, 2012 at 8:20 am |
  10. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    July 29, 2012 at 8:08 am |
    • NoTheism

      You are correct, see the Harvard prayer study.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:09 am |
    • jp

      prayer does Nothing

      July 29, 2012 at 8:10 am |
    • Guest

      Do you spam this on every single thread?

      July 29, 2012 at 8:14 am |
  11. gager

    Where was god? There is no god that's where he was.

    July 29, 2012 at 8:07 am |
    • truth be told

      your opinion and a buck might get you something from the dollar menu at McDonalds

      July 29, 2012 at 8:11 am |
  12. Josh

    Gods word tells us why people do bad things. And God gives all of us free will to choose do good or bad. In 1 Tim 3:1-5 it tells us we are living in the last days, and how people will behave. But after these last days we can look forward to the end of wickedness! See Psalms 37:10,11 and 2 Peter 3:13. In the meantime Gods word can have a powerful effect on all
    Of us if we apply it in our lives. For those of us that have lost loved ones to horrible acts like what happened in Colorado they will live again! Job 14:13-15! God wants to bring them back! Jesus spoke I this too! John 5:28,29. And they won't just be resurrected to conditions we face now but to a paradise on earth!

    July 29, 2012 at 8:06 am |
    • David

      Great book josh iys as good as green eggs and ham

      July 29, 2012 at 8:07 am |
    • gager

      Biggest load of crap anyone can post. Look at what you are saying, you're saying that god is evil.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:08 am |
    • Deanna

      Josh, surely you have the truth! And you stated it correctly, resurrection to a paradise earth. I hope to be there when they are awakened from their sleep.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:19 am |
    • Will

      ...and you learned this from the Watchtower Society which also issued a hundred years of prophecies that never came true. It's OK to have a faith, Josh but you'd do better to stay away from ignorant kooks who just act like they know something.

      July 29, 2012 at 10:14 am |
  13. xMoonWitchx

    CNN, I trust you to stay impartial and not give a perfunctory soapbox to the least enlightened among us. I don't come to a news organization website to see the musings of a deranged man, I come for news so that I may triangulate the truth. I don't want your analysis and I certainly don't want the prospective of the mentally ill. As if there isn't enough white noise encircling the truth, you further muddy the waters by including the beliefs of a dwindling sect in our American populace.

    Where is my opportunity to write my Nihilist opinion on the matter? Where can one further my deeply held notion that this has no meaning? It has no consequence but for the people involved in it. It has no deeper meaning. One of our walking biological time bombs went off. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Why does it happen? Because it happens, roll the bones. Tragic as it often is, it is all apart of being human. You can't have your Einsteins and Ghandis without acknowledging that the same brain that made them brilliant is also the same brain that can go haywire. There are lots of connections, my friends, and defects in any one can lead to a pattern of what we term "illogical" behavior that makes absolute and perfect sense; mall shootings or postulating the sun doesn't revolve around the Earth. The world needs it's heretics no matter the chosen form.

    July 29, 2012 at 8:04 am |
    • Guest

      " I come for news..."

      If you come for news, I would strongly suggest that you're not going to find it on an opinion page or in a blog, You might want to go to the news sections instead.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:16 am |
  14. Scott

    And we must remember that there is a spiritual war going on, between light and darkness, and that once in a while we actually see the result of the battle. We know that light will win, but until Christ returns, the battle will continue.

    July 29, 2012 at 8:04 am |
    • xMoonWitchx

      Scott, you are out of your mind and you are a walking biological time bomb. The world has far more to fear from you than you ever did from it.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:06 am |
    • jp

      christ isn't coming back until he can play the paino; we didn't treat him so good the first time now did we? son of god? NOPE just s mildly interesting itinerant preacher of storis and fables and a lapsed jew

      July 29, 2012 at 8:14 am |
    • Guest

      Would a loving and all-powerful God permit a senseless war to continue when He knows the outcome?

      And why would such a divine being (two of them, if you're a "good god vs. bad god" believer) need humans to carry out this spiritual warfare, to their own detriment?

      July 29, 2012 at 8:19 am |
  15. spectraprism

    We are losing a sense of direction and purpose to a sort of cynical nihilism that if we are animals, why act any differently. though animals tend to actually act with more common sence than we do. they for the most part do not have wars and deliberate killing.

    July 29, 2012 at 8:03 am |
    • jp

      no one needs religion; it is merely a crutch for the very weak and ignorant

      July 29, 2012 at 8:15 am |
    • SDFrankie

      You should take a biology class. Or at least watch a few nature shows on TV. Animals do wage wars and quite deliberately kill members of their own and other species.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:20 am |
    • spectraprism

      And you should should learn to actually read. I said FOR THE MOST PART that animals do not wage wars. not that all of them don;t. Maybe you should take a simple rudimentary reading class.

      so becuase humans can be weak, that makes God untenable? like i said, a lot of athiesm seemd to stem from the idea that people are mad at God, for the mistakes of men. two big ones being the wars and suffering from reilgion, and people waiting for God to act directly in their lives seem to put off taking situation in their own hands. while forgetting about the good things religions has done.

      July 30, 2012 at 7:34 am |
  16. Will

    I lost my son when an avalanche swept him over a cliff. I've wrestled with the grief of losing a person who had so much promise and who honored and loved me as his dad. Nothing can fill the void that remains but I've also seen how God uses suffering to deepen us and humble us by all the indecipherable questions and these things draw us to a transformational place we could never have found without our pain. For more, visit http://www.snugharborfoundation.org

    July 29, 2012 at 8:03 am |
    • David

      Will your an idiot. Only time helps you get over a death. Sometimes short and sometimes ling. Think about your situation and if you never wrre brainwashed with god. You would get over it eventually without the help of a fake character called god.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:11 am |
    • yo yo

      OK, pain is good. So why is God trying to end it?

      July 29, 2012 at 8:12 am |
    • SDFrankie

      God killed your son to deepen and humble you? Really?

      July 29, 2012 at 8:23 am |
  17. spectraprism

    I certainly can understand people's mistrust and nonbelief, I can understand being an athiest. On the other hand, i think that if you think ONLY that people are no different than animals in any way, or more 'evolved in some way, then many people see no reason to treat people any better than such.

    July 29, 2012 at 8:01 am |
    • Gekaap

      >>>>then many people see no reason to treat people any better than such.

      The problem with your position is that you assume that atheists are inclined to treat animals badly, or to treat all animals uniformly without distinction. You fail to consider that maybe it's just that atheists treat animals alot better than you do, because they realize how close to us they are. Many an atheist has a four legged best friend that they probably shower with more love than you do your neighbor.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:04 am |
    • gager

      Nonsense, religion is not needed to have ethics and morals.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:05 am |
    • John

      Humans are different from animals in that we have the capacity for abstract thought, which is the basis of any rational moral system.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:07 am |
    • lemonsaintlemonade

      The tragedy is that we are so immersed in dominionism that we have no appreciation for the wonder and beauty of life. "Treating each other like animals" can only happen when we create a paradigm where "evil" is something we do to those who are inferior.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:15 am |
    • jp

      you fail logical thinking 101 retake the course and come back when you can string together an argument

      July 29, 2012 at 8:16 am |
    • yo yo

      According to your logic, all religious people treat their fellow humans with compasion and respect. This is twisted logic.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:20 am |
  18. Gekaap

    It's a shame that so much effort was put into such an eloquent essay, when ultimately it fails as entirely illogical, and self contradictory.

    The author says that God endowed humans with the faculty of reason. If God gave us reason, then we should use it. If we should use it, we should only believe in God if it's logical to do so. However, the concept of God defies fundamental logical principles (such as the three laws of thought). Therefore, we should not believe in God. This is why arguments about "you can't subject God to logic" are failures.

    The excuses about free will are simply failures of arguments as well. If God is all powerful, then he CAN prevent evil without violating our free will. If evil occurs, either God CAN'T stop it (in which case he isn't all powerful), or he WON'T stop it (in which case he isn't all good), or he doesn't exist at all.

    Of course, this all only applies to conceptualizations of God that apply the "3 omni" rule (omniscient, omnipotent, and omni-benevolent).

    July 29, 2012 at 8:00 am |
    • Gekaap

      As was once said: "God is dead. God remains dead. We have killed him."

      July 29, 2012 at 8:01 am |
    • Will

      What if God doesn't want to prevent evil? What if evil has a purpose? What if suffering deepens us and compels us to ask questions we would never ask if we hadn't suffered? What if we would all be shallow, thoughtless, self-centered, and unremorseful if we never experienced pain or loss?

      July 29, 2012 at 8:10 am |
    • jp

      what if Eleanor Roosevelt could fly??? get a grip; NO GOD... next

      July 29, 2012 at 8:17 am |
    • discouragedinMI

      It's easy for a non-believer to simply dismiss God. It is difficult for a believer to cope with the choices of other humans except for God. This pastor explained it right to the core. God does not force us to choose one way or another otherwise we wouldn't be writing these words or living your "free" life. The choice of one human reflects the fact that God has given us free will in this life and it is up to us to make the best choices. I would rather live surrounded by peaceable Christians than surrounded by humanistic, relativistic philosophers who only make up reasons as to why God doesn't exist.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:18 am |
    • Guest

      "I do not feel inclined to believe that the same God who has endowed men with sense, reason, and intellect intended them to forgo their use." - Galileo Galilei

      July 29, 2012 at 8:24 am |
  19. Albert Einstein

    Why can't we just say that God is all the good and bad that's within us and what we can make up in our imagination? in other words: it's just us. or as Einstein wrote it:
    "My religiosity consists in a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit that reveals itself in the little that we, with our weak and transitory understanding, can comprehend of reality. Morality is of the highest importance - but for us, not for God."

    July 29, 2012 at 8:00 am |
  20. kate

    Does it matter? because the Devil obviously got there first..

    July 29, 2012 at 7:59 am |
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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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.