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.
Where was man?
shooting man and woman.
The ever so mounting difficulties of our time would cause any person to question their faith & their own personal belief system. In that system of processing those things which elude our natural mind, we must at some point settle that the greatest thinkers in history failed to answer quite a bit more than they obtained in their understanding & they certainly, even at the height of their skill set were unable to elude an inevitable natural death that no man can evade. Now, I cannot speak for others beliefs & how others view their god, but in speaking humbly on the behalf of Abba Father, YHWH God, the God of the Bible, I can relay this. It is recorded that even at the height of the Aurora tragedy, at the pinnacle of the shooting spit fire from the haters of Christ who excitedly seek to disprove His authenticity because they define Him as a phony based on what they see as His Father’s (the God of Heaven’s) failure to show up, curtail, fix, mend.... two things must be considered in this equation. Firstly why are people looking for a God to show up who they profess not to believe in & secondly, why are so many people looking for God to come when they have not invited Him in (asked Him into their personal lives). At the end of the day after the blood was spilled & death made it’s grand entrance; the people of God, the Christians gathered for prayer, not because we had the answers or that we are somehow better than those who don’t believe what we believe, but because even at the center of despair, we feel an undying need to taste our Father’s grace when all else seems to be lost.
“But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. (11 Cor. 12:9)
I understand people want comfort in such a time. But, the author is not here to defend their right to do it. And I'm not attacking their need for comfort.
He is trying to convince those that are starting to doubt that his way is still correct despite the shocking evidence to the contrary. His "fallen" world brings him comfort because it explains why bad things happen while still leaving a gap for gods. Its only a comfort to the living. The murdered get no say in the matter. Survivorship bias.
The problem with atheists is that their not doubting their faith...they're doubting yours.
Oooh Chris, I like that. Thanks!
Wow....PLEASE take this religious BS and delete it all, CNN. It has no place at all in a news organization, which is supposed to be uncovering *facts*, not propagating dangerous myths.
Can you prove he does not exist? If not, I have no reason to believe you over the fools of religion who say he does.
Isn't this the perfect place for it? It serves as a platform for discussion. A place where everyones preconceived notions and/or prejudices are at the very least challenged? I for one have no desire to surround myself with mindless, head-nodding sheep. Questions and debate are good. They're healthy. More importantly they can create an atmosphere of dialogue, understanding and respect between what on the surface may be two totally opposing viewpoints. Case and point- my wife and I ('Christians') met a married-gay couple while away on vacation earlier this year. Since then the four of us had numerous dinners and have been overnight guests of theirs. In our initial conversation we were both very open and respectful of each other. They know exactly what my beliefs are and I know exactly what theirs are. While we do have opposing viewpoints, a friendship and mutual respect has emerged because there was a platform for dialogue (albeit, drinks around the pool).
food: you seriously think people can prove a negative? and you call others fools?
@Food for thought, can you prove there is not a magical invisible horse revolving around Venus?
I Get Where The Pastor Is Coming From!!
Pastors aren't supposed to come. Well, not the Catholic ones, but many of them do anyway.
Forgive yet do not forget the short time you spend in this world. Understand this could have happened anywhere and happen daily to many lives beyond your land. Do not blame God for your failures as a nation, but ask God if your nation can be forgiven for going against his teachings and holy word by praying this day. Go beyond the call of duty and soathe your neighbors feelings, for your heart can mislead you, your mind distort your path, and your soul cry out for the Lord to fix the problems you all have placed on yourselves. Go, be baptisted by the holy waters that have been since Jesus' awaken unto your world and do his biddings, for you are made to be his children and to love him without fault. Lucifer, the fallen one and the one who is the brightest morning star, is only here to take you away from God's arm; let him know you will not back down and his transgressions will not be forgiven, for this battle is against him and his angels, not against your creator and father.
Billions disagree based on their own faith and think you are wrong and are going to hell.
Why is one faith right but the others wrong? Since faith rejects reason what criteria can you use to determine which faith-based world view is right? Maybe rational thought, not faith, is superior in seeking truth.
There are no useful reasons to follow the teaching of your particular version of your particular god. One god is the same as another or even none at all.
I can smell your fear of god from here. Ah yes... love me and fear me or I'll burn your soul. What a sweetheart of a god you've got there.
He was @ Chik Fil A
I've noticed a few of these "Where was God during [tragedy]?" articles over the years here on CNN, and I always have the same problem with the reasoning.
The where is God question in this case is used as an argument against God: if he is who you say he is, why would this happen? Atheists and Christians agree this is a valid question.
The Christian answer, however, invariably seems to take God's existence as a given. The assumption is that God had to be SOMEWHERE, because he just had to. So... oh look, there he is, at the funerals! I'm not trying to be disrespectful, but I just don't buy it.
Atheists say "that looks like a random act of horrific violence, congruent with a godless universe" and Christians say "hmm, that does look like a random act of horrific violence congruent with a godless universe... I guess that kind of thing just happens sometimes in a universe ruled by God."
Where does personal choice enter into this? how about the blessing and curses that God said,, I have set before you life and death,, and then says to us choose life? God allows us to have choice in how we live much like if we choose to accept Jesus and along with those choices comes the results.
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).
Obviously coorelation is not causation, but if religion were true wouldn't you expect the opposite?
Vermont and Oregon and you are comparing them to Alabama and Louisanna? Are they even considered Bible Belt States? Let's take Aurora's crime stats before this crime....you know the place this crime happened.
If we consider this to be a Bible Belt Religious state ...according the stats they had One violent crime.
I will challenge you also on where the crimes happened in Alabama and Louisiana. It is the same as blaming the entire state of New York as a violent state for a crime that happened in the Bronx. If New Orleans is rampant with violence, does that hold true for the more rural areas of the state?
Well NY is has one of the highest crime rates and is not particularly Christian maybe it has something to do with population size and density??
James Holmes is Christian and therefore believes he has been forgiven by God for these murders and will go to heaven.
It is possible religion directly contributes to violence.
Your argument has been refuted. You've included the refutation in your latest version and reasserted your hypothesis. You're still wrong.
The mistake we make is to see this life as all there is. The Lord created us for eternity. If you are familiar with the military, you know that a member must attend basic training for two months, in which the purpose is to wash you out if you don't have the strength to be in the military. If you pass basic training you are prepared for twenty or thirty years of military service. This life is basic training for eternity. You either choose God or you reject Him. If you choose Him, you must then run the race to the end. When God intervenes to heal or save us, it's special. He is not required to. We should never say "Why didn't God intervene?" It's none of our business.
If I was an all powerful being, I'd definitely create people who were capable of evil, then torture them for eternity after they did acts that I created them to do. Sounds like fun!
Which god? You have to be specific, because there been thousands of gods worshiped throughout history, but no evidence to support the existence of even one of them.
Salero is not a good Christian. He is a lunatic.
I am no longer a lunatic. I asked god to heal my mental illness and he did. I stopped the xanax and quanapin just last night. I do feel like I am constantly on an escalator. But it is the escalator to heaven so I feel good. You?
Wow, me too! I am just down to my Paxil and the Adderall for my ADD. God healed almost all of the other stuff. Of course my toe fungus is getting worse. I just need to pray harder. Salero, you are alright after all. I thought you were satan.
no no no I am STAN. Stan Salero, from West Hollywood California! I work at club Rage serving drinks and handing out pamphlets warning of the return of the antichrist. But since I quit the Xanax I may quit the job and go straight to full time pamphleting. The government will pay unemployment for 99 weeks. I love that. god gives money to those who take it.
Hey guys. The best thing to mix with your Paxil is wine and god. My god is a has a little oak with a hint of cherry. It's good in excess. I'm drunk on god and gallo right now!
I'm more of an old fashioned bootleg whiskey and 8 lb 6 oz baby Jesus guy myself.
Why call human compassion and solidarity "god"? Why not just call it human compassion and solidarity? The question "Where was god in Aurora" refers to when the horrible event was happening, not after. "God" was not there when the bullets were flying because there probably is no such being at all. Humans rising up to comfort one another in the wake of a tragedy is a beautiful thing and I view it as slightly insulting to have someone label it with a ridiculous label like "god".
Great and thoughtful article from a man who has been on the front lines... no just harping, lonely, isolated, on a computer.
Satan is the ruler of this world. God is the ruler of heaven. God Bless ALL of you that do not beleive in him. God cas Lucifer to this world because Lucifer thought he was also God. There were many that followed him to this world. There is only one Lucifer in this world but there are many, many, many evil ones around us. God has his arms out, all you have to do is reach out to him. God never said we would not suffer in this world. He said we would not suffer in heaven. So, as I said before. God bless all of you that do not beleive in him and just do what is only right for you because we were created for God, to praise and love him. That's right, that's all we were created for. Love God first – the alternative is gnashing of teeth.
Awww you gonna keep posting and running? What a useless post.
Don't you understand that the Atheist indicts god based solely on what happens in what is, cosmologically speaking, the blink of an eye? There is suffering by what are transient biological forms for an instant in time: therfore there can be no god. They seem fond of contemplating the vastness of space and time, but incapable of admitting that there is a lot of real estate to cover in the quest for the divine: spatially as well as temporally. If you were the creator of a universe 100 billion light years in diameter, would you hang around trying to impress a group of arrogant primates who a miilisecond ago were brachiating among the trees of Africa?
I have seen this argument before... but be careful. The great Deceiver has his name for a reason. He may (per the context of the bible) may have been cast down. God still has already defeated him.
I do do what is truly right for me – and your version of your god has nothing to do with it – as is proper/.
dina: how do you expect that people would be able to fear a god in which they do not believe? this is true even if they wanted to do so.
SALERO21 GOD REPLY TO U IS TALK TO THE HAND
I bet talking to a hand is as useful as talking to your god.
U SAY GOD IS NOT FAIR WHO OR U TO SPEAK ABOUT HIM U OR THE EVIL ONES NOT GOD BATON ROUGE LA IS WERE
MY REPLY CAME FROM AND I SPEAK ON HIS BEHALF JUST READ THE GOOD BOOK AND THERE U WILL FIND WHAT U
Except that it's NOT a "good book" now is it?
When you encounter someone who professes to be an Atheist, take the most expedient and most personally advantageous action: eat him. They are high in protein and a good source of B vitamins and amino acids.
Just do not allow yourself to be apprehended by the authorities until the eating of Atheists is fully recgonized and sanctioned by the state. Remember, you have nothing to fear except law enforcement.... as long as you have braised, roasted or broiled the Atheist to an internal temperature of at least 180 degrees. They are also good in a casseroles and fricasses.
Atheists are a small and weak minority who should be exploited.
Make no mistake...I am an Atheist myself...but I will never reveal that to the world. It serves my interests best to call myself a Christian in order to further my purposes.
Do not bore me with ideas about how I should obey my "inner moral sense". My moral sense is nothing but a biological construct, a primitive survival advantge I have outgrown...much like I have outgrown the need for God. I can discard them both easily...they are wothless to me now...After all, God Is Dead and the only good is what is good for ME. I am the Superman. I am beyond Good and Evil.
GOD IS NOT EVIL MAN IS EVIL
GOD REPLY NO COMMENT
Because God does answers or responds to theirs every whim, self-proclaimed "atheists" complain and belly ache.
But God is Just NOT Fair!
he is just not fair because he just doesn't exist.
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.