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December 14th, 2012
06:17 PM ET

Massacre of children leaves many asking, 'Where’s God?'

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.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

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.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Christianity • God • Uncategorized

soundoff (9,195 Responses)
  1. Ken Colwell

    A Godless Nation equals Godless acts. Simple

    December 14, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      So? You are attempting to put a negative spin on "Godless". Actually, if you read your Bible, you would see that your god is a whiny, petulant homicidal t-wat with s-ex issues. Given that god, it's good to be godless.

      December 14, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
    • Adam C

      Agreed. Without Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Apollo, Artemis, Aphrodite, Ares, Dionysus, Hephaestus, Athena, Hermes, Demeter, Heracles, Hestia, Hera, Janus, Jupiter, Saturn, Genius, Mercury, Apollo, Mars, Vulcan, Neptune, Sol, Orcus, Liber, Tellus, Ceres, Juno, Luna, Diana, Minerva, Venus, Vesta and more, we are truly lost.

      December 14, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
  2. Bill

    Over 1500 children are murdered every year with guns!!! so, now, the 2nd Amendment is responsible?

    December 14, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
  3. Rational Libertarian

    Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
    Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
    Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
    One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
    In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
    One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
    One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them

    December 14, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
  4. Hillary

    ban religion, ban guns, ban the internet, ban fat people, ban people I don't like

    December 14, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
  5. Mick

    Where is God? This is not God's fault. Do we want a God who removes agency from everyone because they can choose to do evil things? Do we want God to stop every act that is contrary to His will? Then we lose the very purpose for which we are here. To gain a body, and to learn to love one another. When this type of terrible thing happens we must pray for comfort and peace for those who have suffered so greatly and we reach out in love and support to them. It is a sad commentary on where our society has gone that this kind of terrible thing has taken place more and more often. God is there and weeps when he considers how vile of a world we have become. "This know also, in the last days, perilous times shall come, for men shall be lovers of their own selves, . . . without natural affection , , ," (2 Tim. 3::1-5). Pretty sad.

    December 14, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
  6. woodstockwoody

    He's busy wondering how many times He needs to have innocent people gunned down before we get the message.

    December 14, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • Marty

      oh, your god is busy? I hope he isn't texting and driving at the same time.

      December 14, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
  7. there is no other truth but truth absolute, and truth absolute is LORD AND GOD OF THE WORLD.

    AND 'HE' GAVE US THE AUTHORITY, AND gave US THE CHOICE, AND MADE US "HIS" ASSISTANT AND WE FAILED, TRUTH ABSOLUTE GOD HAS NOTING TO DO WITH IT. THINK ABOUT YOUR OWN RESPONSIBILITY, THAN LAYING IT ON TRUTH ABSOLUTE GOD.

    December 14, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
    • Joe from CT, not Lieberman

      You couldn't even offer a simple condolence, you self-righteous prig!

      December 14, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • there is no other truth but truth absolute, and truth absolute is LORD AND GOD OF THE WORLD.

      hindu's pigs like you do not deserve any.

      December 14, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
  8. Jazzy

    “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)

    December 14, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
  9. Faisal

    AMERICA YOU DO NOT HAVE GOD WITHIN YOU, ALL YOU HAVE IS LIES.

    December 14, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
  10. Chrystal

    As a believer it wasn't God. It wasn't – it was pure form of evil. Not anything else. For arguments sake we act as if we don't need God everyday. Is this our fault? No. Let's not fault believers and/or Atheist at the end of the day children have lost their lives to someone who wasn't well enough to know or he may have known. Who knows. We can go in circles talking about who's wrong, who's right etc. We still have bodies to bury, not just the children, the shooter, his mother, his father and one heartbroken older brother. There's not much else to say.

    December 14, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      If god exists, it was god.

      December 14, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
    • Damocles

      @chrystal

      What in the world are you on about? You blame the person that did it. Why is this so damn hard for people to grasp? He made the choice, he pulled the trigger, he killed. I don't give a rat's ass why he did it, it was ultimately his choice.

      December 14, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
    • Chrystal

      @Damocles I was making a statement. While we are hear arguing about it what's left to argue about? Bottom line this is sad all the way around. And if you think I was not blaming the shooter then you're crazy. Coming at me loud and wrong and not even thinking about what I was saying. It was a deeper meaning but this is exactly why our world is the way it is now. If you don't understand what I am talking about then don't reply.

      December 14, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
    • Chrystal

      @Rational Libertarian God didn't let this happen. There is God and there also is the Devil. He has free room because we let him. If you can't understand that then you are just as lost. Sorry *shrugs*

      December 14, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
  11. Newsflash 2 you

    THE UNITED STATES, ESPECIALLY UNDER OBAMA, BELIEVES GOD CAN BE PURCHASED. BLOOD CAN NEVER BE PURCHASED, FOR JESUS HAS THE KEY TO EVERY SOUL BY GIVING THE BLOOD OF HIS OWN TO SAVE US. GUESS WHAT'S IN STORE FOR THOSE WHO BELIEVE THEIR MONEY AND INFLUENCE WILL SAVE THEM WHEN GOD COMES TO SET UP HIS KINGDOM? HE WILL REJECT THEM UTTERLY.

    December 14, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
    • Athy

      No caps lock, please. Makes you look childish. Are you?

      December 14, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
  12. Ken Colwell

    1 John 2:18
    Little children, it is the last hour: and as ye heard that antichrist cometh, even now have there arisen many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last hour.

    December 14, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
  13. John

    In case you haven't figured it out yet, there is no God or one that has control over our day to day activities. If there were, this woudn't happen.

    December 14, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
    • John A

      Dear John.

      That is to your loss that you don’t believe. The only one you trick is yourself. One day, you mortal life will end, and no hope for eternal life is there outside of God.

      December 15, 2012 at 12:46 am |
  14. Dan

    Where's God? There is no god. Stop living in a fantasy.

    December 14, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
    • Mick

      God is there, some people just have to blame him for everything.

      December 14, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
    • John A

      What you thought was 'fantasy" you will be crying one day. You missed out on eternal life.

      December 15, 2012 at 12:50 am |
  15. buzz

    God is playing cards with the Easter Bunnie and the tooth fairy

    December 14, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      St-rip poker?

      December 14, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
    • John A

      You choose to mock, you too will be mocked buzz.

      December 15, 2012 at 1:15 am |
  16. Jazzy

    Read the Bible..... God gives everybody a free will!!

    Read read read.... it's not that hard. Jesus suffered too

    December 14, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
    • AmericanHumanist

      Take your brain out of your r e c t u m.

      December 14, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
    • heywaitaminit

      God also didn't care much for the safety of children.
      See 2 Kings 2:23-24

      December 14, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
  17. Common Sense

    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.

    December 14, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
    • Marty

      yeah, like the Holocaust wouldn't haven't been the time for that. get real!

      December 14, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
    • Bill

      Your an idiot! God didn"t do anything, YOU DID! Over 1500 children are murdered every year!

      December 14, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
    • Dippy

      Bill, it's "you're," not "your."

      December 14, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
    • Common Sense

      You just proved my point though, if there is a God where was he then? Stopping being delusional and get with reality. If you want to help the families, get off your knees.

      December 14, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
    • Mick

      So Common, what you do is okay and God shouldn't step in to stop you but if the sin is really bad then he should stop it, right. Wickedness among people is not God's fault. It is there choice. This is truly a sad day that we should mourn for those who lost loved ones in Connecticut.

      December 14, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • Marty

      I'm just saying that there have been many terrible things happen in the past few decades. Doesn't seem to sway people's faith in God. If anything, it strengthens it.

      December 14, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
  18. Thinking a Lot

    Faith is all we have left.

    December 14, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
    • AmericanHumanist

      You might as well have Nothing then.

      December 14, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      I have some chocolate left in my cupboard.

      December 14, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      I have some cheese and salsa dip, some cajun tortilla chips, and lots of red wine left

      December 14, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
    • John A

      Fools have no interest in faith in God. There laughs will turn to tears.

      December 15, 2012 at 1:17 am |
  19. Andrey

    Answer to above question: "Repent and believe the gospel"

    December 14, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • Marty

      or else your children will be murdered. wow, what a loving God. where do I sign up?

      December 14, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
  20. A Darkes

    America has been asking God to stay out of our schools for decades, and he complied. Now everyone wonders where He is? Exactly where you asked Him to be.

    December 14, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • Marty

      and where is that? Thought God was omnipresent.

      December 14, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
    • Akira

      Bullsh!t.
      Your God is still there, and how lovely that he would take out a bunch of little children because his ego's bruised.

      Isaiah 45:7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.

      He owns it, and he is petty.

      December 14, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
    • heywaitaminit

      So you're saying those who want to honor the separation clause of the first amendment have more power than an omnipotent deity?

      December 14, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
    • Adam C

      Only people that are questioning their faith ask where he is. Most rational people already know the answer – he doesn't exist.

      December 14, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
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About this blog

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.