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.
force people to believe in scientism
force the rich* to give us their money
Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field:
But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.
But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.
So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?
He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?
But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.
Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.
-Matthew 13:24-30, KJV
Wow. You're really making sense of it all with your worthless bible quotes. Good job. Do you even realize what's happened here?
force people to be thin, force people to vote a certain way, force people to like people like me
Wow, lot's of know it all ignorant atheists out there. Love how they claim to be so tolerant of religion yet in the same breath make fun of it!
I tolerate your retardedness, please tolerate my mocking of your retardedness.
Atheism = Religion
They get p!ssed when I say this.
Rational Libertarian – Me too, I tolerate your mental retardation that you atheists do have day in and day out....there is no hope for retardation fools unless God delivers you from retardation.
Why should we be tolerant of your religion?
You have the right to believe anything you want, but I have the right to tell you you're a fool for believing in a fairy tale.
Just Me = dovchebag troll
he gets pizzed when I say this.
Why should atheists be tolerant to religion. Its a disease.
@Just Me – I'm not upset that you think atheism is a religion. I will cheerfully mock your ignorance though.
You should be tolerant since you claim superior intelligence to the believers.
Being tolerant to adults who say evolution isnt true because their imaginary friend tells them so which in turn hurts the education of the country yea....no thanks
A person of faith believes in evolution.
I love how people who believe in god blame this on people that don't believe in their god....that is ignorant.
jenny? Do you know how to use apostrophes? I don't think you do. I win.
You ask where God is? Lets think about this for a moment, you have asked him to be removed from schools when you took prayer out of the schools, when you banned "one nationg under God" from our children, when thinking about taking "in God We Trust" off our legal tender, perhaps God being a resonable person has said alright then, you don't want me here, than i'll leave you to your device, but one day you will call upon me again. We can see this in out everyday lives, turn the news on, and there you have it. Thats my rant, troll all you want, i really don't care. Also if you beileve in banning guns, just look at how well the war on drugs worked, how you can go pretty much anywhere and aquire meth, or any other substance you want, yeah i forgot they were on top of that as well. Merry Christmas, and hopefully a happy new year.
force churches to close, force atheism in school, force compliance !!!!
and just how do you propose to do that ? shoot everybody who doesn't agree with you ?
God is the place he was when JOB suffered his trials , on his throne of grace. the children are
in a far better place than they were and they will see their parents again.
"He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." Revelation 21: 4
Praise God for this day is near!
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
Rational Libertarian – Kook, junk you put there....never heard of it.
My heart goes out to the families, victims...of not only this tragedy, but all senseless violence. It saddens me to see all the negativity posted on this message board. We just saw an example of hate today that tears us all up inside. It is natural to feel angry, hurt, scared...and yes even hate. Let's look at what happened today. Something horrible. Let's all stand together, lift these families up. We can leave speculation, blame...all of this behind. Right now..lets love these people. I am not speaking for the masses here. I can tell you that I am a Christian. I have faith. No matter the tragedy, I still believe in god. I can not answer for him, interpreted for him... or even vouch for him... but I don't turn away. I know there are so many questions of why God... Why Jesus.... but let us ask this..not just today... "why any of us?" Why do we lose people early... why do we not lose some earlier. It all depends on what you believe. But if you believe...in God, Jesus Christ.. and you listened to those stories... true or not... we learn that in life...we will be tested... we will lose people we love... it will hurt... but there is something you can do to try.... have faith... and if you don't thats okay... I STILL LOVE YA no matter who you are. Today was horrible.... I am angry... but I know without a doubt that those children... are loved...
With you. Not about faith or god or Jesus but respect your words and your faith. You are a real christian. Today was not about believers or non-believers like myself. Today was something we can't possibly understand, something that should pull us all together and not divide us. Peace to you and all our thoughts for those who lost their lives today and their loved ones.
I BLAME ATHEISTS FOR THE DEATH OF THESE CHILDREN. AFTER REMOVING PRAYER FROM SCHOOL, THINGS HAS GONE DOWN HILL FOR MOST KIDS IN SCHOOLS.
I blame god for not stopping the gunman. Azzhole.
I blame you for not doing a better job of appeasing your god, what is your major malfunction?
Moby Schtick – Just another azzzhole blaming what doesn't exist.....what a damn fool you are!!
Blessed are the Cheesemakers – I blame ALL ATHEISTS fools for the death of these children!!
Sarcasm goes over your head, does it?
The problem is that God does not exist, he is a figment of your imagination like Santa Claus and the Eastern bunny.
as if 2000 years of religion, torture, slavery, and conversion by the sword was such a peaceful time
pull your heads out of your ass. god doesn't exist.
Well, if that's easier than blaming a system that allows for assault weapons to be something any idiot on the street can obtain go right ahead. I suppose this isn't the time for logical thinking.
puting prayers and fantasies is not the concern. The gunman was an adult not an attending individual. Blaming atheists describes your understanding. Blame the mental instability and morals. The belief in god failed innocent people so watch what you say.
ban white voting rights, ban patriarchy, ban smokestacks
Where's God you ask. Remember, the bleeding heart liberals threw him out of the public schools many years ago. If you're old enough take a step back 30 or 40 years nad see "how far we have come". Can't even say Merry Christmas anymore because of the godless people.
I'm assuming when you say godless you mean intelligent people
Jay – "Intelligent" people who has caused the death of these children.
So you're god is a whiny b!tch who won't save little kids because a few liberals won't chant his name a couple times? What a d!ck.
If only the teachings of Thor was taught in school this would not have happened
no, not Thor – Quetzalcoatl.
Did I say Quetzalcoatl, no I meant Isis and Ra.
Where is God? In his teachings. When we reject God or believe he doesn't exist, we're saying we know better than God and we'll make up our own rules to live by. When that happens we tolerate the filth pumped into homes through all forms of media, we tolerate the destruction of the family, we tolerate sin and wickedness of all kinds because of man-made moral relativism. The result...a higher likelihood that a violent evil person capable of today's atrocities is raised and fostered by the society we created without God. Our hearts are broken for the lost of so many innocent people today. It doesn't have to be this way. There is a proven set of values we can turn to, unless we just want to keep making up our own and reaping these results.
NO THERE IS NO GOD. IF GOD EXISTED HE WOULD HAVE STOPPED THIS TRAGEDY AMONG MANY OTHERS. GOD DOES NOT EXIST BECAUSE HE IS NOT OMNIPOTENT.
IG – God does exist and he is devastated by the evil perpetrated today. "Love thy neighbor" is His teaching as is "thou shalt not kill." Both ignored by today's shooter. Omnipotent does not mean that he will provide guidance and then stop us when we try to break that rule. The most precious gift given to us by God is our freedom, which is misunderstood and abused. When we want things both ways...For example Don't Kill (His Rule) and Kill unborn babies (Man's rule), we are writing our own rules. The more we create our own rules the more likely we are to foster a confused evil person like today's shooter.
Your suggestion that the destruction of the family has anything to do with non-believers is utter rubbish. The highest rate of divorce in the US is with Christians. The highest obesity rates. The lowest literacy rates. The poorest people. All believers. Google it. It's not a secret.
IJ – You read too much into it my friend. Believers and non-believers can be duped into misguided values that hurt families. Strong families are the cornerstone of any healthy civilization. As families breakdown (believers or not) the chance to raise kids who understand right and wrong is dramatically reduced. If you google "single parent family study" You might be surprised at the number of studies and reports that show how damaged children become when subjected to the divorce of biological parents. The issues for children are also just as severe coming from abusive or highly dysfunctional homes. Another form of broken families. God is in His teachings. His teachings are more reliable than our ever-shifting situational morals.
I don't really care where God is or isn't. I care about us taking our fates into our own hands (rather than waiting for divine intervention that we know isn't coming) and rethinking our legal system, our culture, and our legislation so that we can prevent more tragedies like this one. Parents are going to bed tonight knowing that their children died a violent death, knowing that they will never see their kids again. Families will be burying their loved ones over Christmas. This has to stop. It's time to set aside our prejudices and our knee-jerk reactions and find a real, lasting solution. There are places in the world that cannot even conceive of thousands of people dying every year from gunshot wounds. Let's make the US one of those places. And let's start right now. No need to wait for God.
God was in Africa giving aids to babies.
You must have infected God with AIDS before you went to Africa.
A Gervais classic.
Seriously? I take pity on you... I bet you waited all day to scribble something stupid on a message board that will be read by all. I bet you are a Kardashian. Do you really think this is the forum to act like this? How about tact....
@Zorko its a ricky gervais joke geez. If you cant handle the internet well.....you know click the lil X
God is here, he just doesn't know what to say (probably too shocked at our barbaric behavior). He does say than you all need to meditate and stop being violent to all living beings. Be loving and kind to all.
Are you confusing god with Bowie's theoretical Star Man?
THERE IS NO GOD
Science created guns.....
But surely god created science. And Bill Gates created god, therefore Bill Gates murdered those children. I'll posse up a vigilante gang, you get the burning crucifix.
god killed everyone on the face of the earth save noah and family. worst mass murderer ever.
is that the same bible that says slaves are ok?
Didn't God kill the first born of the jewsbecause mosus was pathetic? Didn't he order cities to be wiped clean in the old testament? God is pathetic and has no relavance in what happened today. A terrible thing happened and talking about a god is making it worse.
There is no God and he does not exist, the real problem alone does not lie with just gun control and weapons in general but the way society treats itself. We need to rid of this world of murderers and make strong punishments for those who inflict harm into other human beings. The punishments need to be stronger, humans don't respect the law. It is time for a zero tolerance policy. As for God, well the supernatural one seems to be nonexistent not just here, but in 9/11, Columbine, Virginia Tech Massacre, 200,000 dead in Haiti's earthquake, Nazi Germany's holocaust of Jews, the millions dead in the Crusades, kids dying of cancer such as Leukemia and the millions dying from HIV-AIDS, or insane lunatics killing themselves in the name of Allah for 72 virgins.
Yet, the dumb atheists says this is God's will and is at fault.....hmmmmmmmmmmm.
Adam and Eve disobeyed his command... we live the outcomes truth! God does not lie! He has also promised, that it will all be sanitized in his hour!
God does not harm or work miricles...he simply aske us to follow his wise counsel. Until we faithfully choose the right path, then and only then he will protect. The innocents of children was taken by the very people who do not have faith or hope. Those who seek the path of diapproval...will never be happy or safe!
We live in what God promised would happen, if we disobey his commands! Now we see he is true!
"Yet, the dumb atheists says this is God's will and is at fault.....hmmmmmmmmmmm." Apparently you don't know how to read or have horrible comprehension. Atheists don't blame god. You can't blame something that doesn't exist. It's you believers who say awful things like "it was god's will" or "god had a special plan for them". This may make you feel warm and fuzzy but not me.
ban churches, ban mosques, ban temples, ban ethical culture societies, .... no, just make that ban churches
Stop typing, please!!!
God, any God, has nothing to do with insanity and stupidity. The first is difficult to deal with. The second - well, how else other than stupid do you define the principles of the NRA? What have they "defended" up to now. How many innocent deaths are on their conscience and on their cold hands, or whatever that stupid quote from Heston was?
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.