By Dan Gilgoff and Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editors
(CNN) – As he waited with parents who feared that their kids were among the 20 children killed at a Connecticut elementary school on Friday, Rabbi Shaul Praver said the main thing he could do for parents was to merely be present.
“It’s a terrible thing, families waiting to find out if their children made it out alive,” said Praver, who leads a synagogue in Newtown, Connecticut, and was among nine clergy gathered with parents at a firehouse near Sandy Hook Elementary School, where the shooting occurred.
“They’re going to need a lot of help,” Praver said of those who are close to the dead.
From the first moments after Friday’s massacre, which also left six adults and the shooter dead, religious leaders were among the first people to whom worried and grieving families turned for help.
Over the weekend, countless more Americans will look to clergy as they struggle to process a tragedy in which so many of the victims were children.
“Every single person who is watching the news today is asking ‘Where is God when this happens?’” says Max Lucado, a prominent Christian pastor and author based in San Antonio.
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Lucado says that pastors everywhere will be scrapping their scheduled Sunday sermons to address the massacre.
“You have to address it - you have to turn everything you had planned upside down on Friday because that’s where people’s hearts are,” Lucado says.
“The challenge here is to avoid the extremes – those who say there are easy answers and those who say there are no answers.”
Indeed, many religious leaders on Friday stressed that the important thing is for clergy to support those who are suffering, not to rush into theological questions. A University of Connecticut professor on Friday hung up the phone when asked to discuss religious responses to suffering, saying, “This is an immense tragedy, and you want an academic speculating on the problem of evil?”
“There is no good answer at that time that anyone can hear and comprehend and take in,” said Ian T. Douglas, the bishop for the Episcopal diocese of Connecticut, referring to counseling family and friends of the dead. “They’re crying out from a place of deep pain.”
Praver, the rabbi, will join a memorial service Friday night at Newtown’s St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church.
“We’re going to have a moment of prayer for the victims,” Praver said of the service. “We cannot let it crush our spirit and we march on.”
Some national religious groups are also sending staff to Newtown, with 10 chaplains dispatched from the North Carolina-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association on Friday.
Public officials including President Obama, meanwhile, turned to the Bible in responding to the shooting. “In the words of Scripture, 'heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds,' ” Obama said from the White House, citing the book of Psalms.
On Twitter, #PrayForNewton became a trending topic.
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Some religious leaders argue that modern American life insulates much of the nation from the kind of senseless death and suffering that plagues much of the world every day.
“Most of the world, for most of the world’s history, has known tragedy and trauma in abundance,” wrote Rob Brendle, a Colorado pastor, in a commentary for CNN’s Belief Blog after this summer’s deadly shooting in Aurora, Colorado, which left 12 dead.
“You don’t get nearly the same consternation in Burundi or Burma, because suffering is normal to there,” wrote Brendle, who pastored congregants after a deadly shooting at his church five years ago. “For us, though, God has become anesthetist-in-chief. To believe in him is to be excused from bad things.”
My Take: This is where God was in Aurora
Lucado said there was an eerie irony for the Connecticut tragedy coming just before Christmas, noting the Bible says that Jesus Christ’s birth was followed by an order from King Herod to slay boys under 2 in the Roman city of Bethlehem.
“The Christmas story is that Jesus was born into a dark and impoverished world,” Lucado says. “His survival was surrounded by violence. The real Christmas story was pretty rough.”
Many religious leaders framed Friday’s shooting as evidence for evil in the world and for human free will in the face of a sovereign God.
“The Bible tells us the human heart is ‘wicked’ and ‘who can know it?’” the Rev. Franklin Graham said in a statement about the massacre. “My heart aches for the victims, their families and the entire community.”
Many religious leaders also said that such tragedies are a good time for lay people to express doubts about God – or anger.
“This is a time to go deep and pray,” says Lucado. “If you have a problem with God, shake a fist or two at him. If he’s God, he’s going to answer. And if he’s in control, he’ll find a way to let you know.
Where's God? We abandoned him. We abandoned God when we did things like turn Christmas into XMas. He asks very little of us and we (including me) cannot do them.
you do realize that the "X" in Xmas is the Greek letter Chi, being the first letter in the Greek spelling for Christos, don't you?
Simpleton. You worship a god that hunts down and massacres children because some people say Xmas instead of Christmas? Wow, what a horrible god to worship. You sir, are lacking a reasonable decision making ability.
How can you abandon something that doesn't exist?
Which god are you talking about? I'd bet dollars to donuts that you have abandoned your belief in Zeus. Maybe YOU"RE to blame!
It never ceases to amaze and disappoint me that there are people as ignorant as you, Stan.
If this is how your god behaves who needs a devil?
or in capitals: ΧΡΙΣΤΌΣ
Wow, Stan, your god sure is petty.
Sam Stone, well said.
Wow, ignorant. XMas is a CHRISTIAN abbreviation. It's why there is an X, and a PX figured so prominently in so many churches.
"Lucado said there was an eerie irony for the Connecticut tragedy coming just before Christmas, noting the Bible says that Jesus Christ’s birth was followed by an order from King Herod to slay boys under 2 in the Roman city of Bethlehem."
How is this even remotely similar??
What an ass.
Perfect religious critical thinking. If one random phrase or event has "child" in it, then it must be related to any other phrase or event that deals with children. Makes sense to me!
I think during this national crisis, the prez ought to suspend the 2nd and 1st amendments – just to be safe
That would be a dangerous thing to do, you idiot.
OK, not suspend them . . . rather, suppress them – indefinitely
THE GOD OF THE UNITED STATES IS MONEY. SORRY, IT CAN'T SAVE YOU ON JUDGEMENT DAY. YOU'RE SCREWED.
GOD CANNOT BE BOUGHT.
God is bought and sold every day. Look up "tithe." Bibles aren't always given away, either. Necklaces with that poor dead guy on them, plates with the non-existent jeebus on them, toasters of the "virgin" mary. God is bought and sold every day. He's being sold to you this very moment in this article.
faisal: judgement is a bad joke
I am sure that Pat Robertson will enlighten us in the comings days as to where God was during this, or what group and their sinful lifestyles were responsible for God allowing this to happen as punishment.
I am not an overly religious individual, but please don't ever lose faith.
Faith that Santa and the Easter Bunny are real? Umm – okay if you say so.
If you have faith, you should definately lose it.
"Thinking A Lot" eh?? It sure doesn't show!!
Where was God????????????
Remove prayers from public school, ban religion from public square, and then come back and ask where God was when evil things happens
I totally agree!!!
Okay, where is god?
Let's see – same place gods have always been – only in the minds and imaginations of people.
Mom ... 5 Amish children were massacred in their Amish school in 2006, where I am sure that Christian prayer is an hourly activity. Your next dumb comment is ..... ????
God was where he always is, killing people and making people sick.
Hey, "Mom", your take on this is sickening.
If this is how your "God" behaves, who needs a devil???
Oh, puhleeze, moronic Mom. Do you honestly believe that if these children had recited the Lord's Prayer incessantly throughout the school day that this horror would have been prevented? How fvcking stupid ARE you?
mom: your belief system does not belong in our public schools. teach it to them in your home, or your church
New International Version (NIV)
7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.
God can and should be mocked.
God can't be mocked because he doesn't exist.
Apple is right. Misquoting from "the Holy Grail": you don't frighten us, English pig gods!
hope you will remember those words on judgement day.
Hey, bucky – no worries about Judgment Day. Because John Connor will defeat Skynet and all will be well, But thanks for caring.
bucky, you'd better hope there's no spelling requirement for admittance to Valhalla.
petr: your god is a vindictive, petty punk. it should be mocked, along with it's followers. now, get back on your knees like a good little slave
Bible, Psalm 14
1 The fool[a] says in his heart,
“There is no God.”
Bible, Matthew 12:36
36 But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.
The shooter what was he thinking? why he felt so deprived of love and mercy he didn't know what it was or how to show it to his fellow men, children and his own mother and brother what kind of culture created this person and rised his among us...many people took part in his life and not one was successful at showing him what it means to have mercy on others or the love for children??? How is it that the yougn man, felt there was nothing to live for worthy of his presence on this earth that he traded his life, for the pleasure of taking many life along side his???did he feel death a better place then to continue to live among us? and the death of his victims only are companions to his death???what is in the heart of man that, causes him to want to take the live of others among his own????despair, distrust, unfulfilled promises of a live the wasn't as he being intended by God...for him...the death of the shooter is a tragedy as is the death of all those he took along side of him,
THIS IS A BLESSING IN DISGUISE. NOW PEOPLE ARE LOOKING FOR GOD AND REALIZING CHRISTMAS IN AMERICA IS A HOLIDAY OF THEIR TRUE GOD, MONEY, NOT THE TRUE GOD WHO DWELLS IN HEAVEN. SHAME ON THE UNITED STATES CITIZENS WHO LIE TO THE WORLD CLAIMING THEY ARE CHRISTIAN. YOU WORK FOR THE DEVIL, AND THAT'S THE END OF IT. GOD IS GOING TO DESTROY YOU SOON.
There is something mentally wrong with you if you believe that.
you are talking evil fiscal, only the darkness in the soul of menkind can cause you to sinn in such a way...
You're a Muslim. Mind your own business and go back to raping and beheading women for sorcery.
A "blessing"? You are beyond stupid to call this fitality a blessing from God. I understand the point you are trying to make, but this is a result of evil running ramped on earth, not the byproduct of our loving God. We have to do more to protect our children in these evil times and fulfill God's true will for mankind: love, peace and prosperity. God's will fulfilled is a blessing. Satan's tolorated acts become our tragedy.
i think you should go up to the families of the victims and tell them that
stan......right.....your god is much better.
ATTENTION ALL NYTIMES REPORTERS:
DROP WHAT EVER STORY YOU WERE WORKING ON AND RESEARCH THE FOLLOWING "LEADS". ALL HANDS ON DECK!:
1) Did the shooter in CT vote for Romney?
2) Were any of the victims black?
3) Was he against teachers unions?
4) Was he ever in the military?
5) Was he against gay marriage?
6) Was he a member of the Tea Baggers?
7) Did he know any of Sarah Palin's children?
8) Was he a victim of the Bush economy?
9) Was he a member of the NRA?
10) Did he believe in God?
If the answer to ANY of those questions is "YES", we have our lead story until New Year's! If the answer to ALL of those questions is "NO," continue to cover our current lead story that Obama cried during a presser.
Where is God, you say?
I say where is man!
He was using the bathroom,making a number two.(poop)
Y;know,it takes me life 15 min to finish,and all.Wipe,fix my clothes,clean my hands,and try not to touch anything.So maybe thats what god was doing.
Prove to me he WASNT doing that,I dare you.And how you know he was doing something else.
God is not missing from people, people are missing from God.
It's even simpler than that, Carol. God is missing. He doesn't exist. He's a figment of your imagination. That's all.
I guess we can agree to disagree Athy.
Do you really think, Carol, that this young man would have been cured of his mental illness by a belief in a god? REALLY? Because I have news for you: it ain't necessarily so. I know of one family that was extremely religious. BOTH parents ended up in a state mental hospital.
There's no religious inoculation against mental illness, dear. In fact, religious fervor may even contribute to such illness.
"Where was God?"
God gives everybody a free will on this Earthly life. Then we will be judged when we die.
We sin too much!
Poor innocent children are angels watching their parents, siblings, and family from heaven.
So those kids killed today sinned too much?
I blame Sarah Palin and Jesus for the shootings!
there is no GOD, there never was and there never will be,,, if there was then he don't care,, killing all the kids like that,,, if there was a god and he has all that power then why didn't he stop it?? let all these drug people live and take the kids,, i guess if there was a god then he has it all wrong..
Hey, idiot spammer! You know who you are. You're the one yammering about your sky-fairy being "pushed out of the public schools."
Knock it off. You're not even slightly credible. Nobody banned your Jeebus from public schools. Your kids are free to pray whenever they wish. You simply can't force everyone to do so in unison WITH them. Boo hoo. If your god can't hear your kid praying silently, he isn't much of a god, now, is he?
Tom, you are the son of Sa tan. We wouldn't be surprised seeing you on TV next time killing religious people....
Go to hell your moron!!
it's ironically funny that this guy would think "go to hell" is an effective pejorative.
The fact that the dope can't even spell a three-letter word is telling.
Who the deuce is Sa tan?? Is that supposed to be Sa Tan? Maybe Sa'tan?
As usual, god isn't there to help prevent or do anything about this horrible event, because god doesn't exist.
right on denise! the only god is in your wallet! we need to arm the children! get them automatic weapons!
Atheists = EVIL
They cannot comfort people and refuse to accept God. I hope all kids had faith in God
Oh, bite the big one, John. I doubt the families of the victims are comforted by your swill.
Atheists are not evil. We just don't believe in nonsense.
If you still believe in God after today, you need to get your priorities straight and get yourself checked out. If there was a God, this would be a time to step in and take away free will from someone.
You don't believe in Islam then you are an Atheist to Islam, you don't believe in Hinduism, then your an Atheist to that religion as well. To them you must be evil according to your own definition.
So true. God haters are evil.
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.