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.
Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.
I like that.
lol look at all these people in this thread desperately trying to convince themselves there was a purpose to it all. Well, sorry to say there is no purpose. No good, no bad only points of view. For some reason the killer wanted to do this.... doesn't make it correct or "ok" but will you people stop with the "where was my God in all of this" isn't it obvious (if a God exists at all) she/he/it doesn't really care about you or me. I'm fairly sure that an all powerful truly Omnipotent being had trillions of other things to do else where in the universe. Perhaps he was sending yet another Jesus to an alien planet to save them lol....
Ready for Jesus in your life?
@VoiceofTruth: blinded, narrow minded fanatical: believing what you think is true, facts be damned. Ah, yes, and then foolishly believing that you must convert others to the same foolishness. Thanks, but no thanks.
IF someone chooses evil ( some versions of the Bible call it "calamity") then why wouldn't God allow it.
It is one of his creations. (See Genesis and the tree in the middle of the Garden that was told to them to be off limits).
When evil is a choice, this is what you get...mass murder, war, and allthe rest of those things that you had been warned about.
Evil is not one of His creations. Choice is His creation. God cannot sin, therefore He cannot create rebellion against Himself. Lucifer sinned and became known as Satan. This is a mystery that takes the Holy Spirit to fully understand.
Where was your god? The same place he always is: in your imagination.
Sounds like someone needs the love of Jesus Christ. Ready for Him to fill that deep void in your heart and soul?
god drowned babies, pregnant women, the elderly, the disabled in his great flood. also when he destroyed sodom and gomorrah. god killed babies in egypt to punish the pharoah. god has killed literally millions of innocents. how can anyone say yahweh is a god of love and compassion? did you skip those chapters in the bible that show him to be a cruel, h.omocidal maniac? only if you cherry pick could you possible say the christian god is a god of love, selective reading. yahweh is a bloodthirsty killer.
@booty, wat up boyeee,Kush is good. Yahweh is the name of a false god. The true Hebrew God has three letters in his name . Most Christians would know that if they read the bible.PS talking parrot
Need the love of Jesus in your life? Your blasphemies have now put you at risk for a curse in your life, but the blood of Jesus can set you free. Without the Holy Spirit, it is impossible for you to understand why the Lord executed judgment against those blasphemous nations in the Old Testament era. Trying to read the Bible without the Holy Spirit is like a blind man trying to read a book without braille. Our Heavenly Father is a Judge of Judges and can foresee sins generations in advance. But Jesus brought in the age of grace and forgiveness. Ready for forgiveness?
amusing to listen to these freaks. ya gotta love em. no matter what happens its gods plan. so why pray? (to make yourself feel better) and thats fine. excersize makes me feel better. and you fat phucks reading this should try it. church is full of obese people. its a sin.
Has your evil warped your heart and mind to hate? Try the love of Jesus so He can release the bitterness in your heart :)
Life is so much easier if we abandon fables such as dragons, gods, elves, fairies, spirits, etc. We delude children with these imaginary beings, but many cling to them until the day they die. The world isn't flat. There are no dragons or gods. It's just reality.
How do you know things wont et much worse without the Sovereign Lord of Lords?
Free will. But everyone will face ultimate justice one day.
"Ultimate justice?" Are you kidding me? The existentiality of it all is that we will all die one day. There is no 'justice' in finality. So love, cherish, and enjoy your one and only life here, and your family and friends, because the day will come where you cease to exist. We humans are not that significant after all.
@LAIBACH: Death is not a normal state, so therefore, the Lord has given us an opportunity to overcome death.
Do you want to live for ever on earth? Ridiculous.
How long are we still focusing on that Aurora matter?
Yes, regretably some people had to die and some were hurt. Yet, it is sure that if they had not died by that massacre they had died later, maybe the next day by a disease or an accident or another crime.
Our time on earth is limited. Let us accept that fact.
Better, we would aspire more for spiritual peace than for a very long life on earth. Imagine a man, sixty years old, he has eaten some thousand steaks, has seen a great portion of all countries on earth, has driven many different cars, etc., etc.. In a word, after a while every thing only repeats and life becomes boring. Hence, it cannot be the meaning of life to stay on earth for ever.
We should aspire for eternal peace which only God can give us. This divine peace will help us to die peacfully if time has come. God's peace is stronger than the biological death, and thus believers will only pass away. By the way, the divine peace is a person, it is Christ who will carry us through death if we believe in him from now on.
It is only, when we decide to live as believers we have to accept some sorrow here on earth. Jesus was rejected und suffered, the same fate has the Christian Church.
The Roman Catholic Church with here temporal glamour is merely a distortion of the true Church. Every true believer should forsake the Roman Catholic Church of the pope and join the low and persecuted Church of Jesus.
When you die, that's it. There is no magical eternal place (wouldn't THAT be boring?). So, enjoy your steaks while you're here.
wouldn't you like to spend some "time" with a very kind person?
Heaven means to spend eternity together with the most kind and righteous person: Jesus Christ.
I hope to meet Jesus soon.
Rainer, yours is one of the worst arguments I've read through today.
"after a while every thing only repeats and life becomes boring. Hence, it cannot be the meaning of life to stay on earth for ever."
First off, you assume there should be a 'meaning' of life... that's all I'm going to say about that
Secondly, how can you say that a man can do everything in a lifetime? That's ridiculous in many ways.
"We should aspire for eternal peace which only God can give us" Begging the question, who or what is this god you speak of, and why should we aspire to this 'peace'? Going back to your previous point, wouldn't that get boring or are you going to make some special pleading?
Even a disbeliever would admit that life is not only about food and cloths and shelter + some journies.
Even a disbeliever would say that community with pleasant people is something which makes life meaningful.
Christianity only means to acknowledge Jesus as the most pleasant person whose community we should seek.
Wow, what an incredibly depressing outlook on life. I hope you don't have children. I'm sure they would love to know that you found raising them boring. Even after my kids are grown, I look forward to grandchildren and traveling during my retirement. I hope to live a long time to enjoy all aspects of life. Unlike the poor six year old in Aurora, who in all likelihood would have lived another 70 years. How do you know that spending an eternity in heaven is fun? An eternity is a WHOLE lot longer than 70-80 years.
I don't know what happens after death. Neither do you. Probably nothing (I wasn't around for the last 14 billion years so it doesn't make much sense that I will be around for the next 14 billion). I plan to live life to the fullest and not take it for granted. Looks like you are wishing life away hoping for something better. Good luck since it probably won't happen.
I agree with the bulk of your comment, but I think it detracts from your comment to malign all Roman Catholics. I am not a Catholic, but I know many who are just as valid Christians as any others.
@NoTheism, Oj and Jen: Our Heavenly Father is a God of Love and Forgiveness. He has given us this gift of life to enjoy but a mere taste of what He has in store for those who love and worship Him. Life can be enjoyable, and eternal life will be infinitely more enjoyable. He wants us to be happy in this life, and happier in the spiritual life to come. Death is not a choice God wanted us to make, but we made it anyway. And now Jesus restores us to the phase of existence before Adam and Eve chose death. You can have life, and have it more abundantly now and forever :) Ready to get to know Him and His Son, Jesus Christ, today?
Religion can never answer the difficult questions when tragedy strikes especially when it hits good ole chrisitan folks along with non-believers religious leaders always give the same lame excuses instead of loigical answers.The reason we have suffereing in the world has nothing to do with any fictional satan character from the bible or sinful behaviour MANKIND is the cause of all suffering,the incident in Aurora was caused by a MAN!!! Not satan,sin or an angry God punishing us humans it was the result of the twisted actions of a mortal man
Ok then. That's it for me. I'm outta here.
Some humans (not all) are indeed responsible for allowing the destruction of suffering to enter our existence. But surely someone who purports to have all the answers has to realize that such incredible evil has a deeper origin. Humans were not created to just inflict suffering on each other. We were created to love one another. So if the Source of Human Life created us to love one another, what Source of Destruction encourages us to do the opposite?
God gave us reason and free will but also added animal desire and incomplete knowledge. Suffering results because mistakes are inevitably made whenever the latter two are part of the mix. The outcome of suffering must, therefore, be by design. God's still responsible.
Endowing humanity with incomplete knowledge and desire is like giving a child a knife and sending him on his way. If that's by design, no good can come of it, and the one who gave the child the knife is responsibl for whatever happens.
There is NO proof, of the past, or present existence of a 'superior being', i.e. 'God'. And we do know evolution is real and that the planet is billions of years old. The very fact of life and existence is humbling enough without us pretending (with false certainty) that there is or isn't a 'God'. Fact is, we just don't know. And we never will. So, being agnostic is the ONLY logical viewpoint and reality on the question of 'God'. Whether you like it or not.
When you let go of a ball a million times and it drops every time, you have not "proven" that the next time you let it go it will not fly up. When religion tells you that the physical rules that we live by a million times a day are false, you have not "proven" religion wrong, but you are a fool to believe it. You have discovered the limits of inductive reasoning that every scientist lives their lives by and you feel that you know a profound truth that others do not. The truth we know with odds of billions to one is that religion is a primitive, ignorant, and lazy way to understand the universe.
How can you use the imperfect tools and measures of Man to explain the perfect and loving Eternal Father? Your wisdom is foolishness with God, and your carnal mind will find God to be a myth. So why make a public statement that only you and your fellow anti-believers will appreciate? You worship your reason, we worship our Eternal Father and God of Wisdom.
to "Voice Of Truth" How can I do these things? I can do them because I was was lucky enough to have about 50 IQ points more than you, and dedicated enough to do decades of studying.
Fool! Your soul is required of you tonight!
The Roman Catholic Church is the ascendancy directly from the Messiah, Jesus Christ. He is, to me, the true Son of God. Despite numerous attempts by humans to explain His existence, and in the modern day, His mission, people might still have a very hard time understanding the Way. When Jesus ascended, He did say that in the World, you will have troubles, but have faith. I have overcome the World.
So the question about God not having a direct say in things and being the Master of the Universe, something that we humans in our terms cannot understand does not diminish the plain fact that God is all powerful. I believe that ascribing to God bad things is actually part of our own reluctance, as humans, to accept the imperfections of our human race and then, blame God, even as we pray and honor him, because we have no direct control over human events as they tend to play out in our own lives. Free will does that and humans are imperfect. God is part of our lives but we should not ascribe bad things to Him. Instead, we should pray that our own problems have answers so that we can move forward and solve our problems, despite pain, hurt, anger and resentment caused primarily by other humans, and not really by God, who has provided humans with free will. We can follow God or not, and suffer due consequences, good or evil, and evil often because of human nature and not because of God's nature.
We're buried in the thread, but I wish everyone could read what Another John here has written. It's the circular logic of reason evident in religion. This is the very logic that pastors and parents use to corrupt and brainwash children who can't necessarily reason through circular logic.
You'll have no success with my children as they've been taught to reason THROUGH logic. Your logic is flawed in that it presupposes every attribute to which you lay claim.
"The accident couldn't have been my fault because I am a good driver."
"Sir, no one was around, there is no defect with the car, you appear to be at fault"
"You don't understand, I am a good driver."
"Your car is upside down in the ditch."
"The car is, yes, it is upside down, but it doesn't change the fact that I was driving, and as driver, I drive very good."
Regardless of evidence, regardless of logic, regardless of reason, without fail the religious cannot see this circular logic. Only YOU presuppose he is omnipotent and then yes, perhaps your claims are true, but since he doesn't exist to begin with, we can't start from the point of existing to prove he exists. It's enough to drive a functioning mind mad but to them, it makes absolute perfect sense.
"...something that we humans cannot understand does not diminish the plain fact that God is all powerful."
I mean seriously. Who can think like that..?
@xMoonWitchx: Another John did not say a "Good Driver" is not at fault. Using your example, what Christians say is that a Good Driver can be forgiven by the Judge, and that Someone comes forward and pays the fine on behalf of that Good Driver who seeks mercy. That "Someone" is Jesus Christ. Ready to accept Him in your life so you can enjoy peace and love today?
-first you must under stand what was they watching? a evil dark knight that the only protection from him is a guy dressed up as a bat. IN REAL LIFE THE ONLY DEFENCE AGAINST EVIL IS GOD AND HIS SON JESUS CHRIST. This is a form of entertanment but God was not the defender in the movie. 2nd we are in a real war, good against evil. What we do puts us under His protection or in harms way. None of this I'm sure of but this is what is sure that God loved every one at that movie. Maybe entertanment is geting out of hand and leaning toward evil?
Take it easy buddy.
Good post. I would add that Hollywood's entertainment has been deep in evil from its beginning, and is getting worse and more obvious
You can't be serious. You're joking, right?
If you are convinced that if you do not take a leap of faith and accept Jesus that you will suffer in hell for eternity, but if you do then you will live in heaven forever, how is that free will?
I don't know what all this fuss is about. We should be celebrating this. Those people got a quick ticket to Haven. They did not have to live through years of various kinds of suffering here on earth. This is what they strove for so why all the sad faces. Be happy rejoice. The got to heaven in quick time. Remember to thank the killer. He did them a favor. He sent them to meet God where they were trying to get anyway.
Arthur. I laughed out loud... something in your sarcasm is very funny... the way you put it... don't get me wrong, I get your point and I agree w/ you.
everyone is lost as to why we are born and what life is all about. this is a universal void and religion tries to makes sense of it all. take it or leave it.
You are in need of serious psychiatric help. That argument is one of the many that defines religious belief as mental illness...you honestly think that the murderer did those innocent peoPle a favor by slaughtering them? You're a very twisted, evil man...and I'm glad your perverse, bronze age god is a fairy tale.
@Sean: Huh? Did you reply to the right comment? God will deal most severely with all murderers, but He will do it on HIS time, not OURS.
That's not true. I am completely and entirely certain as to why I am here, what I should and should not do, and what will happen to me next. Just because you are confused, does not mean the rest of us are confused. I can tell you what life is all about, but I am not convinced you would believe me, or understand it.
I think this article will create more non believers than believers, especially many of the comments here, well thought out and lucid. Organized religion is the bane of mankind and is more about power and money than saving souls. The author of this article has shown what BS artists most Pastors really are.
AMEN, Brother! What a bunch of Hooey!
They are, perhaps, the most deluded of all in the history of mankind. Today's pastors and believers continue, given the wealth of knowledge we have at our fingertips, with all the science that directly contradicts the Bible, to cite scripture. It's actually astonishing. I'm not so sure the Sumarians, (the believers of the original version of Christianity) armed with the same information would blindly make that leap. If I explained Thunder to them, do you think they'd continue to believe it was the angels bowling..? Actually, looking at today's modern Christians, probably.
Organized religion is the bane of mankind, but the love of Jesus Christ is not. Ready for the anti-bane of mankind to enter your heart and restore it to love?
Believers and not believers, think of God as someone telling you to drive a car. If you drive it well, with care, you will get to destination. If you drive it careless, God cannot be there to spare you from the accident in which you will be involved. God is there, thanks to others. We might disappear, but what do we know about our souls, about our consciousness? True, Earth has existed for billions of years, to let living organisms developed and... by luck we appeared. We are so different than animals, that there is just more than a biological explanation. The more we know about science, the more questions we have. We (think we) know about the Big Bag, and now about the Big Rip (end of the Universe), and still many questions will forever remain unanswered. By the way, I know Rob Brendle, even if he does not necessarily know who I am. I've occasionally attended his service, and to say the least, it is really cool. He is a good guy.
So all innocent victims were "driving the car" incorrectly? Why would god miraculously wind a bullet around a woman's head to spare her and let others die? Maybe things just happen. Bad and good.
You know what I think...we are sitting in the car watching. And no one is driving,
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.