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.
God allows evil to exist cause, its part of us- if God was to eleminate evil's existence he'd be force to eleminate human kind, it's through the mercy of God we continue to exist dispite our sinful nature...God is not powerless to evil, but his mercy and love for us permits our evil to exist to keep the opportunity for salvation of our souls, that being the reason god allows our evil to exist, to allow us to exist and have the opportunity to repent of our sin, only through the mercy and sacrifies of Jesus Christo his son, who came to save us and show us the way the light and the kindom of God.
Why lie to yourself so much? You don't need to jump through all those mental hoops to get religion to make sense. There is no god. *POOF* there, it all makes sense now why god does not intervene or answer prayers, etc.
Only mindless soul would conclude that God is Great :-(
@onemorehere, You claim to know a lot about god. Could you please cite the sources for your claims?
OneHoarMore, utter nonsense! There is more evidence for the Loch Ness Monster than there is for God–and evidence is a far cry from proof.
God sure seems POWERLESS to EVIL today in Newtown !!!!!!
There's no god, pure simple and clearly frightening to many of the brainwashed out there. However if there were a god, and he did have the power these pious fools believe he does, then he's a psychopathic murdering lunatic – that is for sure
I know that God is good and great but he certainly doesn't have the power to stop evil totally :-( so let stop saying God is Almighty.
we haven't exactly affirmed to the LORD that we have any respect for life in this country when we abort
millions of babies every year. maybe if someone asked god where he was , he might say here with the little
children killed by the shooter and all the other children killed by their own parents.
Abortion isn't mentioned in the bible. Apparently your god doesn't have as much of a problem with it as you.
at BET, beg to differ, under the old testament an eye for an eye, if a pregnant woman was killed or injured the same
was done to the offender. in the new testament it speaks of john the baptist leaping for joy in his mothers
womb at the mention of mary being pregnant with jesus after being told by the angels she would
concieve a son.
Why does 20 children has to be made an example so that fanatics can claim it is the Almighty God's will :-(
What about other monotheistic beliefs? Only Christians ask this? o_O
God was where he has always been–nowhere. He doesn't exist and never has.
Then there are a lot of crazy people in the world and country who should be (or should have been) locked up for believing in him: Obama, Colin Powell, Eisenhower, FDR, J.R.R. Tolkien, Mother Teresa, Gandhi....millions upon millions.
And, apparently, you are smarter than all of them. =>
It's going to take a while from our species to realize that there is no god, I get that. But when it appears so obvious that there is no higher being actively making our existence better – why do we even ask the question? This is true for every religion: what you know about your god came from some dude.
I have not lost faith in God. I have moments of anger and protest. Sometimes I've been closer to him for that reason. – Elie Wiesel
Do you also have faith in unicorns and leprechauns? The Tooth Fairy? Santa Claus?
Does it ever occur to you to wonder why so many very brilliant people have believed in God (people you probably respect)? You should ask your bosses and coworkers who believe in God that, btw. =>
Why do the religious dingbats here all think that it is the atheists asking "where's God?" There are no writers for the Belief Blog that have identified themselves as atheists, and they wrote this. It is a question only Christian would ask.
Actually, we are guilty of running away from him. How can you run away from your parents, get all strung out, down on whiskey row, puking your guts out, then blame Daddy?? He's still at home, waiting for you to come home. But, you have a choice to make. You can deny his existence then wonder where his hand was. Even a child knows that.
I don't find myself asking, "Where is G-d?," even in sorrow. What I am left wondering, today, "I wonder how much revenue this topic generates? Does Cee eN eN contribute to victim's funds with it?"
It's god, not g-d.
It's CNN, not Cee En En.
god is dog la la la.
No, Dippy it is you who are wrong.
Where was God? When Humans understand their station in creation you will have your answer.
"It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble." We know God cares, the question is why doesn't he intervene? God wants us to choose life while at the same time choose to do good over evil. This man chose evil and sealed his fate. The world he altered today will never be the same, who knows what those twenty six individuals could have done in this lifetime. May they rest in peace. The same God that we feel was not there, is the same God who can provide the only shred of comfort to the families and that is a belief that one day they will see their loved ones again.
That is cruel beyond words.
The children don't get choice or free will? God only lets the killer have free will? The parents must suffer and torment terribly?
Your god is evil. Good thing he doesn't exist.
ChristianCrap, there is no God or Jesus or Santa Claus or Tooth Fairy.
You none beleivers will burn in hell with the shooter no matter how good you want to think you are. We all will burn if we do not accept Jesus Christ as our Savior. I know you do not want God in the picture until something goes wrong now you blame him. WE are all given free will, while God knows what will happen he will not change the FREE WILL or you liberal idiots would not like him telling you what to do. Get on one side or the other......Just remember...IF THERE IS NO GOD THEN NEITHER OF US HAVE ANYTHING TO WORRY ABOUT, BUT IF THERE IS A GOD THEN I AM OK AND ????
How can an insane person have free will?
Why didn't the children or other victims get free will, only the shooter did?
what if Thor is the real god ? what about Zeus ? you might be burning with the rest of us
You sound like the devil (and Jonah and the Pharisees).
Why would anyone want to believe what you believe?
The Bible is all about God's love.
After reading the bible I can accurately 100% say that your POS god is not based on love but on fear.
So take your apologist crap and ram it where the sun don't shine.
God's love? He slaughtered the first born of Egypt. That is not too high on my loving acts list.
He slaughtered the entire human race except Noah and his immediate family. Not terribly loving.
He will slaughter everyone again, then throw most into an eternal torture chamber. That's psychotic, not loving.
BloJo, Jesus saves baseball cards and string–not souls.
We can't kick God out of every facet of our communities and culture, deny his very existence, and then have the gall to scream "where was GOD??" when things like this happen.
We rejected him. We still do, every single day. Think I"m wrong? Look at MOST of the posts on this board.
Longing for us. That's where he is. Watching us as we choose our own fate. (You are aware your biggest gift is FREE WILL, right?) The door home is still open, His porch light is on. We can't choose to not go to the door and then blame him. He's where he always has been. It's us that have left. We ran away.
Sad truth, and our heads are stuck in the sand.
Think it's coincidence Revelation reads like the news papers now? It's not. This evil has very little time left. That's our silver lining.
Christians insist OVER and OVER that this is a Christian nation.
Please tell the millions of them that you think they don't know what they are talking about.
Wow, Truth. You seem totally incapable of logical thought. Pity.
Oh stop this already!
This is one of the most Christian believing nations in the world....exactly what more do you want?
100% agree with everything you said
The actual fact is, you are blind to THE truth. What's more is, you actually know it in your heart.
God will do the conviction on that to any who care to actually know the truth. Conviction. But not condemnation. Think about that.
Sad thing is, if I'm right, we will all know it for an eternity. It you are right, no one will ever know.
That's sure going to put a dampener on the "I told you so".
Revelation?? Everyone knows that idiot John the dope head crashed his camel in a field of burning poppies or worse to come up with that mess.
Your reflection on Revelations conflicts with your notions of free will. Impossible to have predestined events and free-will at the same time. Anyone with a brain understands that you cannot have the sum of all part's outcome not constantly change when the variables keep changing.
Think before you just type whatever.
I am not worried about you being right....your god is petty and vain.
@INKBLOT That only shows your ignorance of the Word. You are free to choose: God / Absence of God. Hell is only the absence of you in his presence, not a place his is "sending you because you were a bad kid". And, as always, we are free to choose. But, those are the only two choices.
Some choose drugs. Some don't. Some die because of their bad choice. Some come to their senses. Which are you?
There is no god. Thus, there is no god to blame. We may as well place the blame on pink unicorns. Truly tragic and my heart goes out to each and every person affected by this horrific act, but drop the idea of a god to blame. The blame is squarely on the shoulders of the shooter.
Untruth, you're full of horse feathers, my bed-wetting friend. The only truth is that God does not exist and never has. Put your Bible to good use. It works very nicely as a coaster for a tall, frosty mug of beer.
I put a bible in all my bathrooms in case there is a shortage of a certain hygenic material.
@ evie's Garden THANKS FOR the TRUTH OF GOD's WILL,,,
Where's God? He was right there taking all the good children away from the killer, you people didn't see that?
And he lovingly left all those parents to suffer and be miserable. Ah, loving Jesus!
@Theodore The other sad thing is, the truth is in your heart, and you know it. It's not about Christians. It's about a God who created us that we rejected, just as you are doing now. It's this very nature that has us in a cursed state. Smell the coffee. You can't be your own God. You can't even control your own bowels.
Maybe instead of just WATCHING, God could have saved them and you wouldn't so ignorantly thank him for letting ONLY 20 innocent kids die.
Correct me if I'm wrong but it was the id iot w/the gun who took those children away from their parents.
This is a horrible tragedy. Unfortunately, there is evil in the world. Unfortunately, there is a lot of pain and sorrow in the world. We like to act like everything is roses (a neverending sitcom). We're all going to get old and die.
What does it mean? Just saying "God doesn't exist" doesn't negate God's existence if He exists.
If He doesn't exist, those of us who have put our faith in Him are going to be disappointed when we die (or not if this is the end of existence). If He does exist, it would really suck to have spent one's life foolishly but proudly declaring that one knows something that one didn't actually know just for the sake of acting like a know-it-all.
@Observer – so when was the last time you talked to him and asked him to intervene in anything? We are separated from God, by our own choice (just like yours now). You cant deny his existance, then expect him to come running to your rescue.
I guess everyone is oblivious to the CURSED state of this world? Really?? Have you seen the news lately? Feel the curse ramping up? Anyone who denies that is either ignorant or a liar.
"Have you seen the news lately? Feel the curse ramping up? Anyone who denies that is either ignorant or a liar"
Is this news today or for all of the last 2,000 years or so?
Nothing new to claim the world is going to pieces. Look at the same claims from the Bible from THOUSANDS of years ago. Read the Bible sometime.
God gave us a free will and free choice and this is one of the examples when Evil was a choice.
There is nothing surprising about this. Our society is morally decaying. This is what happens when humanity forsakes fundamental Judeo-Christian values and ethics, when 10 Commandments removed from Schools, Government and Public Places. How there could be respect and value for the human life if there is no respect and protection for unborn children. When mentioning name of God in public schools becomes offensive for some people, when traditional marriage and family values are replaced and there is no personal accountability to God.
Insane people cannot possibly have free will.
Those victims did not have free will.
The whole free will argument is a lame cop-out by Christians who do not want to admit the obvious.
Move to Iran then.
Oh, Hack. We don't all believe a god is necessary for us to live good lives. Some weaker people apparently do, however, so let them believe. Just don't force it on us free thinkers. And don't keep capitalizing common nouns. Makes you appear stupid. Are you?
This post reminds me of that creepy Christian lady in the movie "The Mist"
Free thinkers? Is that a joke? You people are about as closed minded as you claim Christians are. The truth is we believe something different, but dont be a hypocrite.
Read Sam Harris' Free Will to get a really nice picture of just what "free will" is.
STOP trying to blame the media for YOUR inability to read. YOu are an idiot.
I think Anon just proved your point for you.
God is here. We are in the end times and God said to endure to the end, no matter what. He said there would be terrible things that test our faith, but don't lose faith, endure to the end.
Jesus clearly said the end times would come in the lifetime of some of the people standing there listening. Jesus was wrong. Jesus said that if you believe and you pray, your prayers would absolutely be answered, even if you pray for a mountain to throw itself into the sea.
Gods cannot be wrong. Jesus was wrong. Christianity is a phony religion.
Jesus is myth.
It's amazing to me that people actually believe this shit in the first place.
I blame forced childhood indoctrination and lack of critical thinking.
So God is not the Almighty after all :-(
Why? Because people do evil?
Free will. One chooses to seek/obey Him; others choose evil.
Thank God for heaven and hell. I'm glad that this fool and people like Hitler are getting what they deserve.
What screwed up god would invent hell if he knew first hand you were going there in the first place?
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.