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.
Since there have been many famous quotes tonight, I would like to contribute a quote myself:
"The plastic bag will not fully inflate, although oxygen is flowing. Secure your own mask first before helping others."
hal, wise words. And I would offer my own, "...would you like fresh ground pepper?"
The earth is not flat, the sun does not revolve around the earth, and there is no invisible guy in the sky. Grow up people.
My girlfriend is flat!
You have a girlfriend who was in the Bible? Wow you date old women!
and killing each other is just what the human animal does
A true statement. It still doesn't make it right.
I agree, but that's because I'm not an athiest. If I were, your response would be meaningless to me
Well, Dostoyevsky, I'm an atheist and I don't think it's meaningless.
Just because we don't believe in the talking snake, it doesn't mean we lack compassion.
whether you have compassion or not is not up to you. Nature either wires you to be compassionate or it doesn't. And if you lack compassion, you are living out how nature made you. Having warm fuzzies doesn't make your compassion rational
It is up to me.
Question to all atheist,. whenever there is tradegy like this one you start blaming God and questioning where he is. But when He blessed and gives mercy like He to allows you to live another day you blaspheme and not acknowledge Him as God. So all of the sudden atheist becomes agnostic when tragedy happens cause the God that they claim doesn't exist all of the sudden exist so to put a blame on God? Why is there evil? Is because of sins. Doesn't this tragedy and past tragedy prove that act of sin? Think about unmerciless act of America of aborting babies per year.
Ct tragedy is horrific I give my condolences to all the families who lost their love ones.
I'm not blaming god. There isn't one. Some guy went nuts. That is all there is to it.
The Bible never mentions abortion. Why not read it sometime?
A rhetorical question is a figure of speech in the form of a question that is asked in order to make a point
Actually, atheists like me do no such thing. Blaming God for tragedies like this is like blaming unicorns for stock market rallies.
You confirm that you are incapable of thinking with any level of courage...
I know it won't matter what is written because of the lack of courage, but here goes:
an atheist doesn't accept the claim of the existence of any god, much less yours. They are using various ways to challenge the belief systems of those who claim there is a god or gods...
It varies...some are here for the pure entertainment level and your inability to think beyond what you've been taught to believe, confirms they have spent their time wisely...
How can an Atheist blame something they don't believe in?
We are not the ones blaming god or asking where is god or any of that. Those are written by Belief Blog writers, none of whom has identified themselves as atheists.
Stupid people. There is no "god." There is only the Human capacity to understand and act. In this case the GOP's comittment to the NRA's position on gun control results in death. America will continue to see such death and violence until America quells the NRA's position and the GOP.
There's your "god."
Stupid, ignorance in America.
no that's the libs and obamas problem now. they have political control so guns, syria, N.Korea, afghanistan, iraq and Gitmo are all on your watch.
Why didn't you close Gitmo by the way? It was gonna be ohbummer's top priority 4 years ago. Wonder why??
Right... take all the guns away and problem solved. Btw, what kind of gun did Timothy McVeigh use?
Timothy McVeigh? You do realize that in the aftermath of Oklahoma City, Ammonium Nitrate fertilizer has had many laws put in place to keep people like you or me getting our hands on it.
Taking away guns wont solve the problem. Those with the will to kill, will find another way to kill.
Don't close GITMO – pour gas on it and the fellas inside and set it alight.
Let's not focus on deities, regardless, they're not going to do anything.
Let's not blame guns.
Instead, let us focus on healing, and solving this raging epidemic of random shootings.
Why do you feel the need to tell everyone what to do?
Because I have an opinion and the website is open for comments/opinions. Wanna try again?
Sure. Let us all speak for ourselves and stop thinking that, since we have an opinion, we have the right to tell everyone what to do.
You must be foreign. Welcome to America, where you have the RIGHT to be offended!
Shall we go another round?
The problem is not your opinion, but your fascist desire that everyone obey your pronouncement.
Yes because my gestapo are going around beating my opinion into your mind!
If you don't like what I'm saying, ignore it.
Obviously you love my opinion!
If ya wanna settle for hate, then happy day!
Our cup runneth over!
The ONLY honest answer anyone could give to this is "I don't know." It's really that simple. Personally I am an atheist so I believe god does not exist and thus has nothing to do with any of it, but I can't claim to know for sure there is nothing that could be called a god, to that question I have to say "I don't know"....and no one else does either. Unless god comes down and says himself why, it is all speculation and pretty pointless to even ask the question because you can never be sure that the answer someone gives you is the truth. I just find it funny myself that whenever something good happens people give all the credit to god, but when something bad happens everyone says god has nothing to do with it, it's humans free will that caused it. Makes absolutely no sense. If god is powerful enough to cure someone's cancer or whatever great thing he gets credit for, then surely he is powerful enough that he could have prevented this tragedy. I cannot for the life of me figure out any good that could come out of this that any all powerful god could not have brought about in another way without taking the lives of 20 innocent children.
The christian god is 100% myth if you investigate using comparative religion. Convincing the believers is the hard part since evidence is of the devil in the minds.
Yep, just like we have to say "I don't know" if we want to be honest about leprechauns existing.
Yes you are right about the leprechaun thing and it would also be true of fairies and even Godzilla lol....but it is fair to say that the chances of those things existing are extremely small based on the evidence which is the same that can be said for God. There is such a thing as "preponderance of the evidence" in court and the same holds where god is concerned.
People here are dumb. I'm still waiting for a creative response!
How about giving us a creative comment?
The Christian god aka Yahweh/Jesus/Jehovah is everywhere yet nowhere except in the collective minds of the delusional.
@ athy... O .k I'll keep it short ,like your faith? in GOD.
Could you repeat that in well-written English?
and the person controlling the electronic lock on the front of the school
i blame the bullets, not the guns
You have a point. Like Chris Rock said. "Tax the bullets" If we make bullets so expensive people wont buy or shoot them. It's a way to get around the 2nd amendment. The 2nd amendment pertains to guns, not bullets.
The second amendment does not refer to guns at all. It refers to "arms", which would include far more than guns. You technically have the uninfringable right to own weapens of mass destruction.
Blame the trigger pullers.
@8 – don't give them ideas.
This is truly tragic and should not have happened. God however, did not cause this. God is love. This is truly tragic. It is also truly tragic the number of abortions that have taken place in America. Abortion has to stop as well.
No one said God did it. He just sat around and watched.
You might want to read the Bible sometime. It NEVER mentions abortion. Try reading it.
JTH, you are confused and abortion is okay btw.
If God is love, i will settle for hate!
If you believe in god, then you must believe this is his will. I hope you lose sleep over that.
God is love. He sure is, until you don't follow his rules or stop believing in him. Then you roast in hell. What a guy!
What's the point if Christians seldom read the bible with complete lack of critical thinking.
You can still point them the screwed up stuff allowed by their specific god and they're still nod like bobble heads.
he doesn't punish you for rules not being followed,.
that's religion, not god
Excuse me observer, but the Bible clearly states, "Thou shalt not kill." Pretty plain, eh?
Unless they're not of the same tribe which your imaginary god has no issue killing.
Cause a miscarriage: pay a FINE.
Cause injury to a PERSON: pay an eye for an eye.
Read the Bible sometime.
It's not some supernatural deity's who killed these children – it is each and every one of YOU!
1. You begrudge giving one dollar to feed hungry children and their families.
2. You begrudge giving one dollar to house the homeless children and their families.
3. You begrudge giving one dollar to provide mental health for poor children and their families.
4. You begrudge giving one dollar to provide medical care to poor children and their families.
5. You despise looking at homeless children and their families.
6. You spend billions on your pets each years and deny poor children of food, clothing, housing, healthcare and love.
7. You spend millions on commercials showing abused pets with beautiful songs about BEING IN THE ARMS OF ANGLES while a massacre of children is going on but you won't spend a penny on a commercial showing how poor children in this country are starving, abused, homeless, uneducated and swept under the rug.
8. You fight over stupid political crap that doesn’t mean a damn thing in the long run and show them that hate is a good thing as long as it is against them and not us.
9. You fight over the right of a fetus but allow the ones that live a life of sorrow, filth, abuse, neglect and the opportunity to grow into the monsters that murder.
10. You allow filth to be piped into your living room, computer, laptop ,video games, smart phone that allow children to practice play killing until they are capable of doing the real thing.
11. You allow our Country to go into WAR after WAR to kill millions and show it daily on Television like a badge of honor. You parade murders through the streets as Hero’s.
12. You, yes each and every one of you pulled the trigger today – YOU ARE THE EVIL BEING TALKED ABOUT!
And YOU may want to consider decaf.
Well, now I feel thoroughly begrudged!
Oh the tripe ....
"It is your fault."
The same c-r-u-d that gets posted on every incident.
Thank you for that incredibly self-righteous blame-a-palooza. You must feel very proud of yourself.
You should take that crap to Washington and read it to the republicans. They don't care about anybody but themselves.
Yeah, you guys are right, but I really really really hate Christians today
13. THE NRA
Pot's legal in some places...give it a shot.
pay the pied piper imo
If I saw someone drowning and did nothing to help him, even though I was a champion swimmer, I would be hated for not helping. If I saw a man fall onto the subway, and I did nothing while he flailed then was killed by the train, I would be hated. If I saw a man going into a kindergarten with an assault rifle, and I did nothing to stop it even though I had an electronic door locker that would have trapped him outside, I would be hated for it.
If in each of those situation I said "but I am just giving them their free will", I would be hated even more.
So why is it okay for your God to do things that are monsterous if a human does them? How can anyone claim morality comes from god when his morality is far worse than ours?
God is a ridiculous concept, and anyone who give it some thought must come to the conclusion that there cannot be a god. All else is delusion and self-deception
as someone else posted. Death isn't a failure to god. He pretty much laughs at death with the eternal life thing. His son pretty much laughed at death too. Death is nothing.
100% agree. It is amazing to think that if all the people that believe in this nonsense had not heard about it until they were in their late teens or early 20's, how many of them would say "Wow...that's delusional and ridiculous. You really believe that??" but because they were indoctrinated into it from the time they were born, they buy it.
honestly, you brain is too small to comprehend the layers of control god has. Just stick to what jesus said, and you;ll be fine.
You can't blame God for the screwed up gun laws in this country.
Why do you feel a god would only lay claim to the good stuff? He either controls and runs the show or he shouldn't get any credit for touchdowns, game wins, war wins, getting a raise or that good jo, or winning the lottery, or any ot the other millions of trivial things christians thank god for. If he is to be thanked for good things then he should be despised for the bad things.
Akira, you there?
We truly feel for the loss of 20 plus children. Blame of belief systems may not supply the desperately needed answers. While only time will heal the wounds may the use of firearms be slowly replaced by the civility of the true word of God the creator of all.
Ogao, the religious right in this country think that guns and killing are god's plan. What are you talking about?
Christianity does NOT have a good record of civility. It has a long record of war and torture and oppression.
And did atheism offered something better that actually made its proof?
Dan I didn't say there weren't. But because you said there are millions of those planets can I see... idk one or two.
Simply answer for you.. get a telescope.
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.