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.
in the absence of God satan moves in people we have took him out of school the public everywhere that is where all this is happening
so your god is a whiny b!tch who won't save little children because they don't chant his name every morning? Wow. Enjoy your disgusting deity.
Eddie, punctuation is your friend. Those are the funny little marks on the right-hand part of your keyboard. You do know what a keyboard is, right?
Moby Schtick – Atheists are winchy b!tchy fools blaming what doesn't exist.
Neither god nor satan exist. Take some responsibility for yourselves.
Hey Moby, how can you blame God??? I thought He doesn't exist ???????
It's called sarcasm, jenny. My words highlight the stupidity of the christian reasoning when they claim that this happened because we're not stroking god's ego often enough and in the right way.
Only in hindu darkened mind of a hindu atheist, ignorant self centered.
THAT'S WHAT THE STUPID ATHEISTS DO, THEY SAY THERE IS NO GOD AND THEN WHEN CHAOS TAKES PLACE, IT'S GOD'S FAULT....LOL!!
That is not the reasoning of an intelligent Christian. Not all christians are alike, Moby.
So true, Just Me:)
jenny: "Not all christians are alike, Moby."
Well that's the truth. It almost drove that one man crazy because of the persecution between them in his state. Let's see, he said:
During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.
Who was that guy? Wait, let me see – oh yeah, it was James Madison, chief architect of the U.S. Constitution.
force gun owners to give up their guns, and then force them into jail
force ministers into jail!
20 children die at the hands of an insane man today, millions of children die every year from disease, war and starvation. Yet God does nothing to stop it. God either doesn't want to stop all this death or cannot stop it, either way god is irrelevant.
Yep. A god who wouldn't stop something like this over his wounded wittle pride is evil incarnate. I prefer to disbelieve in his existence.
God is not our baby sister, take your own responsibility, hindu atheist, criminal self centered.
Simplest explanation: there is no god.
Agreed. He is referred to as "our heavenly father" but if a human father just sat back and watched as his children butchered each other, we would thrown him in jail and call him a monster. But apparently, christians think such a person is worth praying to.
if you under stood God you would see things different he in the bible call's this death he say's if you will follow him he will give you life more abundantly this children is heart braking but God know's what he is doing he can look down though their life and know if he should take them now or later if a child lives one year and a man live 100 years and both have eternal life which one had a long life
Athy, simple explanation for a simple person.
Provide a better one, jenny.
Eddie, you claim to know the mind of god. Just a teensy bit arrogant, perhaps?
You have a false sense of who you really are. You and I would not be here if God stopped all the evil.
can't we force this country of dolts to be more like us??? I'm pleading with you!
And you forgot about all the depression drug we forcing our kids to take, which known to make people more violent, it was used in world war two for that purpose
The bible warns us that all proof of God is in front of our eyes... think just how perfect our bodies and world is until sin came along. Also guys, Jesus Christ himself came in front of many eyewitnesses, performed many miracles, and rose from the dead (did I mention in front of eyewitnesses). Repent guys, we are ONE nation UNDER GOD.
God, Jesus, Allah, Santa Claus, the Eastern Bunny are all figments of your imagination.
illuminated genius – The FSM and evolving from apes are the funniest imagination for all dumb ATHEISTS.
I continue to be amazed at the number of people who believe in the mythical God. I understand the need for fellowship and community, but believing in mythology is the problem with the delusional.
True Believer – I am amazed that anyone would believe that we evolved from apes instead of human beings...how closed minded can you crazy atheists get?
Mankind's entire pantheon, including Jesus son of god and the Abrahamic god itself, never existed. All religion is a fraud. If you suffer from a brand of the delusion that holds any of it as "reality", it is no less crazy than any other.
@justMe: why are you fighting Chad for King of Stupid? You understand no one claims we evolved form apes, right, ignoramus?
Im against haters! Wont you join me in stomping out hate once and for all!
Oh, goodness. "This shooting would never have happened if prayer had not been banned from public schools." How do you idiots explain other mass shootings like the one in Aurora? Were prayers banned in movie theaters? Oh, wait...there was no insti tutionalized prayer in movie theaters to BE banned, was there? Gosh, however can we explain this horror, then?
Doesn't it ever occur to you morons that untreated mental illness and access to guns will result in violence? That it has NOTHING to do with prayer anywhere at all?
Are you brain-dead?
Hey, brain dead, how can you stop ATHEISTS from going on a shooting spree?
Pretty weak god ya got there. Fool.
So you know that this man was an atheist? Do cite your source of information.
No Christian in their right mind would ever commit this kind of killings, unless he/she is a borderline Atheists. Atheists are known for their evil acts all over America.
Free will occurred in this tragedy of tragedies. Humans are not robots and God is not an ogre. If He wanted angels, he made angels and they have purposes in the scriptures; if He wanted robots, He would have created robots. He chose to make humans with free will, freedom of choice, an ability to make good and/or bad decisions. That is what happened here. Through all this, God is love. Man is the one who exhibits enough hatred to kill or injure. The gun did not kill. A person did.
No comment here will bring the children and loved ones back again. But King David said we go to be with them in Heaven if preparations have been made. Life here is not eternal. Was not made that way and will not evolve into it either.
Hatred comes in various forms at all times. Judgment is in the hand of God where it belongs. God did not cause this. In the end, man is responsible for his actions and cannot place blame elsewhere. We will never know the reason for this - but one thing is certain...God did not disappear. It is our need to be ready at any time because similar things might happen anywhere or we might simply reach the end of our earthly road.
No blame goes to God. No blame goes to the gun. It lies squarely on the shoulders of one person and no amount of justification by so-called educated folk will change anything.
why are people asking where God is? most of you don't want God around anymore, you do everything possible to get him out of your lives.......God is still on His throne in Heaven. Pray and He will answer your prayers. Pray for our nation, for our youth, pray for our leaders. Read the Bible and strive to do the will of God, you will be surprised. Will there still be evil? of course there will be evil...... we are sin from head to toe, but if we strive to do the will of God life is so much easier and hardships are easier to accept. God is still around and He hears the prayers of the righteous. More praying in public schools, kids need more love and attention. There are so many hurting kids and youth today.
Why are you stupid atheists b!tching about a God that doesn't exist? Science created the weapons that this atheist punk used to kill the children!
You moron. No one is "blaming" god. You idiots are the ones leveling blame.
Are you retarded?
I think that a disturbed person/mammal/animal did this act, but christians claim that if school children were forced to chant the name of god a few dozen times a week, he would have prevented this. It seems to me that you're describing your own god as a whiny, self-absorbed azzhole, not the atheists.
Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son – RETARDED.....your stupid atheists are angry at God and have been blaming Him. Can't you read, moron?
Do cite a post in which I "blamed god." Thanks in advance, azzwipe.
As I recall, they do chant the name of God every morning during the pledge of alliegiance.
Here it goes, retarded moron:
Rational Libertarian – God is in full control, therefore he must love murdering children.
Just Me, you state that no Christian would ever do something like this. How do you explain Hitler? He was a "Christian".
True Believer – Hitler was raised as a Catholic, but denounce it. He formed his OWN religion and created his OWN bible...damn, you atheists are stupid....really you are!
God does not ever interfere with our free will. Rather than ask "where was God?" ask "where were we"? WE are supposed to be helping each other and keeping everyone safe from harm. Where were the parents when the kids were playing violent video games? Where were those who cry against hate crimes when violent gansta rap was played over our airways and sold in virtually every store? When are we all going to finally say, "Enough!!" and take our country back from the sewer we have sunk into, where our heroes are pop stars and the value of a human being is judged by how white our teeth are.
God will be near to those who are grieving although it may be a long time before they can feel anything but devastation. Those of us who believe (and we are still the majority) will be praying for comfort for all touched by this tragedy. But don't blame this on God. We are the ones who need to stop this here and now.
Six million Jews dead in WWII. 24,000 dead from gun violence each year. 30,000 dead from car accidents each year. There are no gods to blame. Neuro-science has debunked "free will". You are simply deluded. Time for the human race to give up fantasies, and fairies in the clouds. You have not a shred of evidence of any god. Grow up.
Keeping God away is keeping goodness away, evil is the absence of goodness. We need to bring God back to our lives and society. His love and healing is the answer to this degenerating world. Again CNN should be ashamed of using this tradegy to promote there atheistic views.
Learn to spell. And think.
God is part of the problem and so are the fanatics that follow him.
Your IGNORANCE and FOOLISHNESS is the problem. Science created the weapons that this ATHEIST used to kill innocent children and you want God to stop an ATHEIST from killing?
Guest. It's "their," not "there." Typical mistake for a bible spouter.
The human race is the problem, not god. We are what nature made us...killers. Darwin realized the truth long ago...we are nothing but animals sprinkled with a tiny bit of higher brain function. If the primal side receives too much stress, it overrides logic and you get this recent disgrace.
and this to "school of the simplton" nor is there a shred of evidence that you have any brain matter in your head. You also are deluded.
Having a different view doesn't make one illiterate. You disobey God and kill people and you want to blame God for it. "Evil" is rising which is a result of our actions and you want to blame God. Tell me in which chapter did God say to create weapons of mass destruction. To invent guns and kill innocent people.
force people to give up their faith, force people to denounce religion
And you, Hillary, are a part of the problem, not a part of the solution.
You think people giving up their faith is going to stop humanities insanity?
I hate asking that question.
force romney supporters into jail!
hat tip harry belafonte!
God is in complete control, and he is allow us to learn to love. We take the hard road. I lost my loving Mom this week and she knew God all her life. I wanted her to always be there, but yes it was God's will in control, not mine.The greatest form of love is sacrifice, something we don't seem to have the capacity to fully understand.
God is in full control, therefore he must love murdering children.
Rational Libertarian – Since when do you call an ATHEIST a god? ATHEISTS kill more children then any religion in America.
force gay marriage on the public
Hillary, you really are the "Tool of the Day".
No god would allow this kind of insanity....ever. I will be getting my license to carry a concealed weapon as soon as I can get the paperwork filled out and the background check finished. If some other freak decides to do this to me or in my presence I would like to have some chance at putting him down myself.
Good on you.
Kudos, my friend. Most rational response on the entire 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.