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 is Just not fair!
Arrogant, petulant and self-conceited people like atheist et al think that we or God owe them an explanation, even an apology, when terrible things happen. Well bad, very bad news for your kind of people, neither us much less God owes you such an apology.
HE does as HE will, HE allows what HE will allow; so get over yourselves you trailer park atheists.
If you're not a child of God you're a son of hell, as simple as that!
Therefore you'll do lesser things like posting in blogs using someone else scree name or worst like that in Aurora.
However God continues today to be in HEAVEN just like HE was that day and for all of ETERNITY.
Arrogant, petulant people think that God owes them an explanation or even an Apology. He does not, neither the people of God for our belief and Faith.
Not everyone who dies goes to Heaven. Just because someone dies tragically, that in itself is not a ticket to Heaven.
meh, staying away from cnn, it feels like a bible study group recently.
Even the Bible writer asks the believers to think and reason about the resurrection and what it would mean if Jesus had never been raised from the grave – useless faith. But Jesus did resurrect, so the Christian's faith is a sure faith and very real. That is why true followers of Christ have faith, because they believe it is true.
2 It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you—unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place.
3 I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. 4 He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. 5 He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. 6 After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. 9 For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church.
The Resurrection of the Dead
12 But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? 13 For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. 15 And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. 16 And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. 18 In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! 19 And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.
You have an extreme case of cognitive dissonance and mental gymnastics. Go see a shrink to take care of that infinite brain loop called dishonest circular logic.
Stating it's circular reasoning is one thing. Demonstrating it's circular reason is another. Please demonstrate.
Yahweh/Jesus/Jehovah was in my toilet while I took a dump.
When is everyone going to realize GOD is a fictional character.
Probably never since the fu-ckers breed like rabbits and brainwash kids with religious nonsense since the cradle.
'We pastors face the unenviable task of being asked to answer for God'
No we dont want you to answer for God, we're tired of having others talk for God. What I want is for God to talk for himself.
Meh. Who really cares were God was?
I dp! Without GOD we will not be able to live for one second!
Which god? Ah right the god of the three desert blood cults. Shove a Torah/Bible/Koran up your @$$.
Dear Brian P.
If the entire mankind believes in One God and submits to Him only Him, does not elevate a bit of the position of Almighty.... and if the entire mankind does not believe in Him that also does not lower a bit of His position... no matter what you say, He is there above all and not part of this creation but He is the most High and Compassionate the most merciful otherwise you wouldn't be able to put in a statement what you did...
The jig is up. The news is out. You finally found me.
See this is what I am talking about. Who are you?
i am reality, and you are delusional. go get some help!
I hope all you Jesus freaks know that after you die you go the same place as the ant you squashed on the sidewalk goes...NO WHERE!
You all waste your freaking time going to church and praying for nothing...i laugh at you all. Btw religion is the root of all evil.
If you truly believed that you wouldn’t be wasting your time commenting on cnn belief blog.
Athiests are all evil people. Even if they live good lives they will go to hell, according to revelation and the bible and my pastor. Their words are nothing but letters in the wind. Mine are HIS and HIS word is the WORD and thus MY word is LAW. The holy spirt is TRUTH and when the tongues and the doves descend on me and my pastor and my letters they are not in the wind but HIS wind and the wind of truth. You can not break wind. You can only smell the wind.
Ha ha ha ha ha. Take your head out of your ass....
No offense, but this is why athiest dont listen. u seem a little EXTREME
How quickly we again see clear evidence of Christardian logic at work in the world. Well if you want to call it logic – it actually doesn't even pass muster as "thinking". Like Christianity, you have contradicted yourself just between here and your last post (a reply to "reasoning").
There, you say "Don't point to notorious 'Christians' that aren't Christians at all. Read about Jesus and see what he taught." But here you say "..they will go to hell, according to revelation and the bible and my pastor.". Lol.
Revelation was written by someone on some very bad weed. The epistles were mostly written by the politician and self-proclaimed "apostle" Paul whose words often contradicted Jesus' simple lessons. So based on what you say you know, at this point I would say fine, love Jesus – he probably loves you back. But the rest of the bible and your pastor – throw them out with the bath water. (I say this about your pastor because if he loved you, he would have educated you more about the bible so that you know these important distinctions. Now if your pastor is Southern Baptist or evangelical or Mormon or Catholic – you are on your own. This is because these religions specialize in putting other "prophets" words above those of your beloved Jesus when it is politically convenient for them to do so.)
NewYourGal12 = parody
Obviously this is a troll that hijacked @NewYorkGal12's screen name
I didnt' write the above comment. Someone's somehow using my name to write this. Probably an atheist :)
But seriously, I didn't write it. You don't have to believe me. I didn't know people could have the same username..how does that work?
How silly... this is exactly what atheists do. THey take some stupid comment that someone makes and say "See? This is why we don't listen. This is why Christians are retards." Well, guess what? I'm a believer in Jesus Christ and I didn't write this stupid comment.
Harold, imuhl, and especially Save The World – please save your breath. If you really believe this is what Christians think, you guys are just looking for excuses, excuses, excuses.
Do your research.
And you pride yourselves in being smart. Lol, I'm actually laughing out loud. Thanks for the good laugh, guys.
Yes, the juvenile(s) who do the name hijacking are ridiculous; but on the other hand, shouldn't Jesus and the Holy Spirit be protecting your ever-so-righteous, holy, heaven-wrought words?
Really, Smitey? That's all you could come up with?
What in the world is wrong with you, false prophet!? Flatulence! Speak of breaking wind and smelling it? Christians do not break wind and when they do it does not smell. And when it does it is divine!
People, I have not written half of these comments! You are all making me very mad, now, but I am not vengeful. I am not arrogant. I will not laugh as you suffer. You are no more than typical athiests and Christian extremists. I am trying to preach love to you all and tolerance! You think you are right to make fun of the TRUE believers, but you are not right. I know the TRUTH. You are arrogant. Your actions will bring the wrath of the LORD and I will stand by His right side and LAUGH while you are burnt.
You definitely smell the wind when you break wind. That is gospel.
Islam gives the freedom of individual's belief as the Quran teaches 'la ikraha fid deen' meaning 'there is no compulsion in religion' chapter 2: verse 257....
Also I would not judge who is going to hell and who is going to heaven... its all up to The Creator of heavens, earth and everything between... someone may be doing something at this moment but you do not know about the future... that person could turn to a great scholars of Islam... as you were not what you are now.... so the life time is given by The Almighty and its up Him to judge.... but what should be the hated is the action... for example someone wouldn't speed when he knows that in this street that is always cop sitting with his speed gun to give ticket for the violators of the law and so on... also when someone gets to the court and if he apologies judge give minimum punishment as he recognized that he is guilty...
So to my friends who judge others that he/she will go to hell – please stop that... who are you to judge... if you want to live in a society you have to respect each other but when it comes to practicing of you religion – 'you do your and i do mine' that simple but we can all be together helping the neighborhood, the poor, and so on...
Peace to all…
Jesus never died, there is historical evidence.. you blindly belive strongly in things that your teacher told you that happened much longer ago. People were just as critical then as they are now... no one would sacrifice themselves for a falsehood that they know for a fact didn't happen. people do bad because we were given free will. what pleasure would God get out of making automatons? he wants to be engaged with us. most of you talk about how they know God is false, but clearly never opened the bible for themselves. HOLY BIBLE =
B... (they're not even hard!)asic
OH AND WE WILL BE LEAVING EARTH SOONER THAN LATER! YOU BETTER GET RIGHT...
JESUS > religion...
that s@$# cray
"God" was in the only place all gods are: in peoples' fears and imaginations.
"God" was in the only place all gods are: in peoples' imaginations.
I don't understand the selfishness and narcissism which many religious use to defend their beliefs in the face of tragedies. Either "God" loves us so much that it protects us, or the "Devil" wants us for its own and steals us from "God". How can we assume in any sort of confidence that, even if there is a sort of sentient being which is undetectable to us and capable of doing even half of the things many claim it can, it gives a single moment of its time to caring about us. In the grand and glorious scope of the universe aren't there more amazing things than us? How many times do we tell our children that "the universe doesn't revolve around you."? Does this not apply to a "God"?
I think it just shows how small we are that we can hold at our cores the idea that all of this was "created" for us. How selfish to say that the animals are here for us to exploit, the Earth is here for us to strip bare, even that other religious groups have less of a claim to land or life than we do?
I know that my words will change no minds, but if the human race has any real chance at reducing the violence we do and the hatred we feel we must first listen to our mothers and realize that the universe doesn't revolve around us.
I don't know if you will change anyone's mind, but your reasoning is wrong, at least from Christianity's point of view. If you want to know about Christian beliefs, read the Bible. Don't point to notorious "Christians" that aren't Christians at all. Read about Jesus and see what he taught.
"I think it just shows how small we are that we can hold at our cores the idea that all of this was "created" for us. How selfish to say that the animals are here for us to exploit, the Earth is here for us to strip bare, even that other religious groups have less of a claim to land or life than we do?"
The Bible never says the earth was created for us. The Bible teaches that God created us so that we could glorify him and enjoy Him forever. Some people don't like this because they don't want a supreme being "telling them what to do" and to whom they have to "pay homage" to.
The BIble doesn't teach that we should strip our planet bare. It teaches that we are to be good stewards of the earth and its animals.
Nor does the Bible teach inequality or discrimination against anyone – no, not even women. I won't even get into this topic because it is very extensive. If anyone is really interested in understanding the view on women or slavery, you need to search the right websites that don't mock the Bible but that actually study the Hebrew languages and their cultures.
Not sure what religion you are speaking of when you say they teach that we are to strip the planet bare and that God created the earth for us. Which religion is this?
@NewYorkGal12, I suspect you are a very decent person, and I understand why you would want to distance yourself from so-called christians that don't have the exact same perspective on god, that you have. This is a typical function of religion. It's all about kinship and exclusivity. It's so exclusive that even christians aren't REALLY christians.
I grew up in a christian home and spent 13 years in a christian school. I have studied the bible thoroughly, and there is no doubt in hebrew, greek or any other religion that god ordered the murder of women and children in the old testament. Nor is there any doubt that in 1 Cor, Paul is very discriminant toward women. He goes so far as to say that even touching a woman is bad... but if you're going to touch her, you may as well be married. Women are to be submissive to men and not speak. Further, Jesus told people to abandon their families to follow him.
While it may feel good to distance yourself from other followers of the bible who don't see it the same way as you, and extremely convenient to dismiss or explain away the parts of the bible that don't fit with modern society, the fact is that you are inseparably tied to them whether you like it or not. I'm sure there were some moderate Nazi members who have loving and supportive families and didn't agree with everything that Hitler did. However, we cannot distinguish them from the atrocities of the whole.
[Forgive the Nazi dig. I'm only using it as an extreme to show that association matters, no matter what your level of participation.]
Also... "And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth." Genesis 1:28
"Subdue and have domination over" is very different than tending and care-giving. Surely you can see the difference.
As one of the newest member of the believing Christian community, I found Colin’s article to be quite misguided and unfortunate. I am neither a bible thumper nor completely void of beliefs. Here is how my God would respond.
God here! During the time of the attacks in Aurora, I was high above watching with a broken heart. The rumbles of thunder and down pouring of rain across the world symbolized my not only the sadness I feel for such insanity but also the fierce anger I have that people do not see the true value in humanity.
You see. I do exist. I always have. Since the beginning of humanity, you have always doubted me. You have always searched for ways to be unique, to strive and grow. You have always asserted your individuality and have always wanted a hands off approach from me. You crave the freedom to do as you wish. You seek out your beliefs in a way that personally suits you. You are unique.
And guess what? I made you that way. As time passed millions of years ago, I always knew that one day I would create you. Mold you. Show you who I am by making you like me. From the dawn of time, I knew that the only way I could create pure “freedom” for you was to take a hands off approach. You see, I love you enough to let you fail. Just as you fall numerous times going from crawling to walking, you also fall throughout life. It is because I made you that way. I gave you freedom. I love you.
Throughout the ages of humanity, suffering has always existed. There has been the persecution of the Jews, the young girl in India and a million more examples that your puny minds cannot even fathom. I remember them all. I feel the pain of every instance of suffering, brutality and hardship. I made it that I see the whole picture while you see glimmers of the grand plan.
Colin, and the rest of humanity, take a moment and think about the scope and magnitude of creating the human race. Although simple for me, the balance has to be just right. I do not rule you. I do not govern you. I do not dictate to you. I created you with the ability to be self-sustaining. I gave you everything you need. I see you reach planets now that were once untouchable. I see you creating new medicines to live longer. I see the joy those who experienced a child because of technology. I see the child overcome trauma to create and slow the spread of AIDS.I see it all Colin, in a way your mind cannot yet fathom.
The inherit knowledge that I have given you has made medicine fuel progress, so do other facets of life that you seem to overlook. I gave you the gift of innovation to not only be able to talk to anyone in the world but you can now see them. I gave you the information to filter water, grow animals quicker to help with supply and demand and gave you everything you need to make homes for everyone that seeks one.
I also gave you a heart. A heart made to feel pain, sadness and agony. A heart to feel love that can crumble nations, bring people together and bond families for life. I gave you a soul to guide you throughout life as a moral compass. It’s a soul that one day to be forever present next to Mine.
Colin and all, if you search your soul you will realize that although you are lost. I am real. I gave you freedom as a gift. I gave you and the Aurora shooter free choice. While he chose to take the path of evil and commit the ultimate sin, you are choosing to take the path of a doubter. I gave My son to this world to show you My love. I gave you my son and created you so that you and the Aurora shooter can choose whatever path in life to take. You cannot ask for and live a life of free will while asking me to take that away from others. I am a fair God. And I am a just God. Their judgment will come.
Yes, I do exist my children. For as long as you have walked this world, you have proven that some of you will be righteous; some of you will be vile. Some of you like Colin will doubt. But in order for me to carry the weight of evil, I must allow all of you the chance to live life as you want, not as I command. I am always here.
Welcome brother. May the peace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you always.
Wow Nate..That was wonderful...Thanks !!!
An absolutely amazing post........
tl;dr false prophet claims to have wisdom.
How come you gave that bogus cure for Leprosy in Leviticus...? and that sure-fire thigh-rot sign of virginity?... and that high-five to slavery?... and that recipe for breeding striped goats? and calling bats birds, pi as 3, rabbits chewing their cud, and the Earth being flat? The LORD allegedly spoke all of these things, Nate.
I didn't write the above comment. . not sure who's using my username.
NYG12 Take it as a compliment. You've obviously touched a nerve with something you've posted that leaves the hijacker no recourse other than to steal your name. It happens when the dialogue reaches ground that threatens someone's ignorance.
That is a much better question to be asking.
Murder rates are lower in more secular nations and higher in more religious nations where belief in God is deep and widespread (Jensen 2006; Paul 2005; Fajnzylber et al. 2002; Fox and Levin 2000).
And within America, the states with the highest murder rates tend to be highly religious, such as Louisiana and Alabama, but the states with the lowest murder rates tend to be among the least religious in the country, such as Vermont and Oregon (Ellison et al. 2003; Death Penalty Information Center, 2008). Furthermore, although there are some notable exceptions, rates of most violent crimes tend to be lower in the less religious states and higher in the most religious states (United States Census Bureau, 2006).
Finally, of the top 50 safest cities in the world, nearly all are in relatively non-religious countries, and of the eight cities within the United States that make the safest-city list, nearly all are located in the least religious regions of the country (Mercer Survey, 2008).
You put a lot of effort into this only to have me tell you that correlation is not causation.
It is true that correlation is not causation however it is a relevant question when considering where God is during violent acts.
Death: “ WHAT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED IF YOU HADN’T SAVED HIM?
Susan: “Yes! The sun would have risen just the same, yes?”
Susan: “Oh, come on. You can’t expect me to believe that. It’s an astronomical fact.”
Death: THE SUN WOULD NOT HAVE RISEN.
Susan: “Really? Then what would have happened, pray?”
Death: A MERE BALL OF FLAMING GAS WOULD HAVE ILLUMINATED THE WORLD.
Death: Humans need fantasy to *be* human. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.
Susan: With tooth fairies? Hogfathers?
Death: Yes. As practice, you have to start out learning to believe the little lies.
Susan: So we can believe the big ones?
Death: Yes. Justice, mercy, duty. That sort of thing.
Susan: They're not the same at all.
Death: You think so? Then take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder, and sieve it through the finest sieve, and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy. And yet, you try to act as if there is some ideal order in the world. As if there is some, some rightness in the universe, by which it may be judged.
Susan: But people have got to believe that, or what's the point?
Death: You need to believe in things that aren't true. How else can they become?
The problem, of course, being that, at some point you are supposed to keep believing the "big" lies, while giving up the little ones. BTW: sorry with the all caps. Its how he "speaks" in the book, and finding a complete quote of both parts... proved problematic.
hey now, dont be a lil bitch.
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.