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.
Karl Marx referred to religion as "the opium of the people" and anyone needing evidence to support his assertion need only look at American society. In the aftermath of Aurora, instead of asking whether is is a need for more effective control on guns, the question is, "Where was God?" It is the same with illicit drugs and poverty, "When will Jesus return to set things right?" Granted that gun controls won't solve all problems, it will certainly reduce them greatly. To ignore gun controls is to do nothing about the gun-viiolence in the USA, as well as what is exported elsewhere, such as to Mexico.
Why does God always show up after the facts?
So well writtend and so true
Yes, I wondered if this might be a good way to go. You can only give it a try if it doesn't work I think you could exrpot it to a new blog couldn't you?
Such nonsense. All of the excuses and rationalizations that are given to explain why any god allows bad things to happen are just coverups for the simple truth: god is imaginary.
"Reason, emotion, dexterity and choice" are not the exclusive province of humans. Other creatures demonstrate some or all of these faculties. We are not special. There is no god. Wake up, people!!
Thank you for this. Exactly my thoughts as I read this article.
Nice one Pastor Brendle. Americans have tend to see God as a talisman. God is everywhere. His healing and saving power is available and makes sense to only those who believe in His only Son Jesus Christ.
"Since God in His wisdom saw to it that the world would never know Him through human wisdom, He has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom.
So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it's all nonsense.
But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God". (1 Corinthians 1:21-24)
Remember, being all knowing, God knows the future. So he knew about this massacre when Holmes was born. When his victims were still in the womb. He knows who will make which choice as a result of their "free will". He knows which baby will become a killer, which will become a car saleman, a doctor, a rapist. What "free will" are we exercising, if god knows well in advance which choices we are going to make and exactly what will happen throughout our lives, how our lives will end?
Because God knows our choices (everything) and the results of them (everything) from beginning to end, does not at all impact that we do have free will.
Where was God? I dunno, Ceti Alpha VI. Who cares where he was?
I'm not an atheist, but it's ridiculous to keep bringing God and Satan into these discussions. The longer we keep doing that, the longer it will take for humans to take responsibility for fixing our own world. We're supposedly intelligent beings who have dominion over the earth - at least, that's what we argue when we're torturing and slaughtering and experimenting on other animals. But it turns out that we're helpless as baby rabbits and as wacky as the Aurora shooter probably is, with our pathological magical thinking.
Tolerance much? Millions care. Why admonish Believers for their Faith? This article explores an issue that a great many struggle to understand (emphasis on 'explores'). The author isn't trying to accomplish anything else.
Because your "faith" is making the world a worse place.
Why don't you go ahead and google the phrase "my father my father that witch must DIE"
thanks again to Chick Fil A for supporting "real" families , while b o, dems and hoe moes try to recreate sodom and Gomorrah in the U S
Best leave the country then before you burn alongside us.
Remember, being all knowing, God knows the future. So he knew about this massacre when Holmes was born. When his victims were still in the womb. He knows who will make which choice as a result of their "free will". He knows which baby will become a killer, which will become a car saleman, a doctor, a serial killer. What "free will" are we exercising, if god knows well in advance which choices we are going to make and exactly what will happen throughout our lives, how our lives will end?
It is one of the many paradoxes in Christian Theology. If everything is predestined by an all knowing god there is no free will.
fair point...used to wrestle with this...Then I came to realize that foreknowlegde does not necessitate control...simply put...just because I ( as a human) know that the Sun will rise tomorrow, does not mean that I made it happen... While God may able to see all that happens ahead of time, that does mean that he made this happen or that free will doesn't exisit...it means he merely sees what will happen. This event is a product of a fallen world and our choices in a fallen world , most directly Mr Holmes' dark choices.Then the question – why not intervene? Perhaps it's a quandry of God's nature ... to give something you love free and total choice, and to refrain from removing that choice in order to save them from the ramifications of choices...even choices that were others...But God was able to send his son as a means and messenger...that we might choose him of our own free will...But these points of academic knowledge may mean little to the families for whom my heart breaks for in these days ... compared to simply saying what means the most, ..You are loved & not alone... I just want you to simply know that.
@avoice – analogy with sun is not right because the sun (or earth) does not have a choice. It follows laws of physics. We can talk about people who are supposed to have choice. Could Holmes have decided, on the morning of that day, not to do it? He couldn't possibly have, because God knew exactly what was going to happen. With ironclad certainty, because God has perfect knowledge. God knew exactly what thought processes will go through his mind, what decisions he will make, and what consequences he will face. Ever second of his entire life was predestined according to what God knew.
self awareness is overrated.
And this pastor knows all these truths about God because-what, he went to seminary and that's that they told him? How can he know that God is everywhere, intervenes in human activities, etc? He can't, he's just making this stuff up.
He may of gotten part of his belief from a book by Harold Kushner, "Why Bad Things Happen to Good People", which purportedly answers these questions for these times ...When Bad Things Happen to Good People has brought solace and hope to millions of readers and its author has become a nationally known spiritual leader.
According to the Word of G-d, we are G-d. This is not new age. It is in the Bible. Through the Blood Sacrifice of Jesus, G-d gave us the ultimate in Giving; as He is Love and Giving. This may shock many people and there are churches and pastors who will fight it with all they have.
If you read the Word of Jesus in John 17;35-36, it is clear that the Lord was quoting scripture that the Jewish people were familiar with. In fact they admitted that G-d was their Father, but their blindness could not handle Jesus telling them He is the Son of G-d who was separated by G-d and sent to deliver the others....
To a Jew who reads Torah and understands the scriptures – to say the Words "G-d is I" is not a challenge. The only difference in them and those who believe Jesus is Mosciah or the Messiah, is that the Jewish people believe that they are the ones who have the Spirit of G-d and the non-Jews will come to that place at some later time. Jesus said there were others who were not of the Jewish flock (He never left Israel) who are part of His fold.
So we have the ability to create our destiny – honor and obey G-d and His Word and He will dwell in His Joy, Peace, Healing, Wholeness and Peace. We can choose to do as we please and have the fruits of rebellion. The word "satan" means 'the adversary' or the enemy. It is the spirit of the first man who rebelled against G-d – Adam. Every human being has the Spirit of G-d and the spirit of Adam (that came through their blood) . Jesus did not have a blood connection to Adam. (There are different interpretations of scripture by the followers of Jesus and others. Not enough space to go into it here.)
People choose who is in control. As Adam was made in the image of G-d – an exact representation and chose rebellion, he is equal to G-d, and can only be defeated by the Blood of Jesus. This is why people have to take responsibility to understand the Word of G-d and the Blood of Jesus to enforce the victory over evil in their lives and the lives of others...
Judaism is the belief that an infinitely old, all-knowing, immortal being, powerful enough to create the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies, has a personal interest in how much skin I have on my member.
Atheirsm is the belief that the above belief is ridiculous.
I haven't the faintest idea what the hell you're talking about.
People have the belief that in order for you to believe you have to see it....you can't see love but you feel it does that make it not real? Is there suffering in the world yes is there horrors that we just can't imagine an human doing to another human yes but it's how you cope how you push through the pain to try to male it right if possible to be a better person that is when god is at your side... The idea that God is interfere with every decision that is made takes free will away...think about is.
Why do you believe thay "free will" is from the Creator?
God commanded Adam and Eve not to take of the tree of self knowledge of good and evil,.,that they were not free to decide for themselves what was right.
But He did tell them that they were free to take of all the other trees that He established and said were "good".
It is man that desired to be free from the Father so as to be free to do his own will
..,for man to establish what is right and good for his own self-interest.
Today this way is known as the belief in freedom of self-rights, human rights, universal values.
Story proves we have free will,,, to choose our paths, to decide how & when we will do things but also we have to live with the consequences of our actions.
Bereaved Parent: God, you let my little girl get killed. That maniac walked into our theatre and started shooting. I hid and prayed that he would not shoot us, but you ignored our prayer. Why, oh Lord? I have been a good person all my life. I have kept your commandments and attended church every Sunday.
God: It’s all part of my “grand plan” for you. Your small mind cannot comprehend such matters.
Bereaved Parent: Try me. You killed my little girl! You expect me to turn up at church next week and acknowledge and praise your endless love. I think you owe me an explanation. She was only five years old!
God: I was moving in mysterious ways.
Bereaved Parent: What the hell does that mean?
God: Well, I kill thousands of small children all over the planet every day, and if I say I am “moving in mysterious ways,” for some reason people stop asking questions and go back to worshipping me. My most common method is starvation, but I also use wars, preventable disease and miscellaneous acts of violence.
Bereaved Parent: I can’t believe what I’m hearing.
God: Yeah, it’s pretty rare that I speak so frankly. Look, if it makes you feel any better, tell yourself it was Satan’s work. Satan possessed the shooter, I just sat back and did a quick miracle by making him not kill everybody to demonstrate my infinite mercy and omnipotence. I did the same thing with the cross I miraculously left standing at Ground Zero, having allowed Muslim terrorists to murder 3,000 innocent people.
Bereaved Parent: But you’re God! You just said you’re omnipotent, you could have stopped Satan.
God: Ok, you’ve got me there. Look kid, the truth is, I don’t exist. I never have. Wasn’t it obvious to you that you made me when I seemed to love all the same things you love and hate all the same things you hate? Haven’t you noticed that every culture that has ever existed has had its own gods and they all seem to favor that particular culture, its hopes, dreams, and prejudices? What, do you think we all exist? If not, why only yours?
Bereaved Parent: That’s a shame, because I intended to give you a free pass. I was going to still believe in you, despite everything telling me you are nonsense, simply because I have nowhere else to go. The cold hard truth of my daughter’s death – and my own mortality – is pretty tough to face. And look at it from my perspective, I have been taught my whole life to believe in you and told I must never question you, so I accepted it when they told me it was wrong to doubt.
God: Well, look at it from my perspective. How long would I last if I positively promoted free thought, healthy skepticism, and independent inquiry? You people would see right through me in a minute.
Bereaved Parent: Ok, I have to go now. My wife needs me. We have a little girl to bury.
God: Good luck. I’ll say a prayer for you. Hey, even I need a god sometimes.
If there was no God churches would be poor.
anyone who reas this post should clearly know this is not the mind or heart of God.... while it is self-eveident sarcasm, it is a total distortion While a respect his persons right to speak, I do not agree.
The great contradiction: Pain is good, God uses it to bring us closer to him. Pain is bad, one day God will return and put an end to all pain.
He was probably too busy making sure black people did not get married in white churches.
To the hateful Christians here including 'A Dose of Faith,' you should watch this video:
God was there enjoying the show. He likes killing. He does lots of it . Just read your bible.
Religion is for the ignorant.
Real man don't become pastors. Get a real job and get a pair.
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.