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.
There is no god.
There never was a god, and there never will be a god.
Why is this so hard for you people?
Years of heavy indoctrination are very hard to overcome for many, especially people of limited intelligence.
There is no such thing as atheism after ones mortality, why is that so difficult for others to accept.
Let us lay our children's bodies on the altar of the gun, in rows, and live under the high stern statue of fear- that our government of democracy and people will not hold- and hold those dear children's lives, and all our own future of peaceful freedom and safety forfeit, to that arcane fear, forever
Where is Allah when someone of the the Islamic faith walks into a crowded marked place wearing a bomb vest and blows up and kills several innocent people? This action is praised by some of these people and is never questioned. The horrific tragedy in Connecticut and suicide bombers have one thing in common, no one is taught the difference between right and wrong anymore.
Nobody is taught right and wrong anymore? Is that your simple-simon analysis of this? That's just incredibly stupid.
You can teach all the right and wrong that you like, but insane people cannot get it . . . because they are insane.
Nice one, buddy.
The Christian Deity has no compassion for children. He let at least 250 million of them die from smallpox in the 20th century alone. The free will explanation put forth by Christians in an attempt to explain away their deity’s indifference to pain and suffering, just doesn’t hold water. If a man could save a child, and did nothing, we’d call him a monster. We certainly wouldn’t worship him.
Well, at least you didn't blame Him for all the abortions. Geez...
The Christian Deity has no problem killing fetuses in the womb. See Isaiah 13:15-13:18, for one example.
13:16 Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled, and their wives ravished. 13:17 Their bows also shall dash the young men to pieces; and they shall have no pity on the fruit of the womb; their eyes shall not spare children.
Also remember that according to the Bible, the Christian Deity drowned all those children, babies, and fetuses in that great flood.
So, what all have you done for the least of these?
@ Mark –
Are you familiar with the Canaanite 'genocide' issue that seems to have people like Richard Dawkins' panties all up in a bunch? Well, those Canaanite were roasting up thousands of children at a time, which was the main complaint God had against them, for wiping them out.
Murder was so rampant pre-flood that the population wasn't growing... and that was before birth-control.
But, killing anyone is God's prerogative, not yours or mine.
re: "If a man could save a child, and did nothing, we’d call him a monster."
How about millions? No, we elect him president and praise his position as a virtue.
every teacher should get a key and a locked up pistol!
Until a teacher wth a pistol shoots up a class.
Wow, this turned into a religious war fast!
"One day when we came back from work, we saw three gallows rearing up in the assembly place, three black crows. Roll call. SS all around us; machine guns trained: the traditional ceremony. Three victims in chains—and one of them, the little servant, the sad-eyed angel. The SS seemed more preoccupied, more disturbed than usual. To hang a young boy in front of thousands of spectators was no light matter. The head of the camp read the verdict. All eyes were on the child. He was lividly pale, almost calm, biting his lips. The gallows threw its shadow over him. This time the Lagercapo refused to act as executioner. Three SS replaced him. The three victims mounted together onto the chairs. The three necks were placed at the same moment within the nooses. “Long live liberty!” cried the two adults. But the child was silent.
“Where is God? Where is He?” someone behind me asked. Total silence throughout the camp. On the horizon, the sun was setting. “Bare your heads!” yelled the head of the camp. His voice was raucous. We were weeping. “Cover your heads!” Then the march past began. The two adults were no longer alive. Their tongues hung swollen, blue-tinged. but the third rope was still moving; being so light, the child was still alive...For more than half an hour he stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony under our eyes. And we had to look him full in the face. He was still alive when I passed in front of him. His tongue was still red, his eyes were not yet glazed. Behind me, I heard the same man asking: “Where is God now?” And I heard a voice within me answer him: “Where is He? Here He is—He is hanging here on this gallows.” –Elie Wiesel, Night
God is a horrible death?
That's about right.
Oh, he's not talking about the Christian god.
Actually, I'm talking about human hatred, like yours, which is what was at work in that classroom. God, if he exists, had nothing to do with this. Hatred like yours did.
no – it wasn't hate. it was mental illness.
don't be daft, david.
What's so sad, but true, is the fact that the unbelievers I know lacked a good relationship with one, or both, earthly parents. And after reading the comments posted here by these sad unbelieving bozos, I can promise you – each one of them are carrying some kind of animosity towards one, or both, parents. They lack respect for themselves, and for a Heavenly Father. But, then again, they are acting like their father, the devil...so, obviously, he's blinded them. :-(
Wow. So the only way to know god is through having a good relationship with your parents? That's ludicrous. It's more likely that if you are close with your parents you tend to be raised believing what they do, and since every generation is more religious than the one before you are more likely to be religious.
oops.. every prior generation is more religious that the one after it... my bad
Again, duhhh? Is anyone supposed to understand you? Constipated thinking...
I had great elationships with all my family. Sorry, but you are just lying and slandering again. Nice superior Christian morality.
Don't let reality stand in the way of your delusion.
@You are a dingbat too ~~~~
I really don't even believe you had a family, who would want to claim you....other than God?
Interesting. Both of my parents are Christians. In fact, I'm the only one in my entire family who doesn't believe in god. Guess what? I love every last one of them and have great relationships with them. You'd like to think that all atheists are just rebelling against their parents, wouldn't you? It certainly beats the alternative that some of us decided to think for ourselves and realized that the church is full of it.
Well Will, I think Wizzy believes were were all created in test tubes in North Korea.
The only thing I am sure about in the gun control debate is that Wizzy should be banned from every owning guns. He shouldn't be allowed anything sharper than a butter knife, and then only maybe.
@Taylor ~~~ That is so bogus! You don't even know what Love is, so how are you going to 'love' each on of your family members? God is Love...and you don't know Him; Sooooo....... How old are you, 11?
I have a great relationship with both of my parents, grew up in a loving middle class family. We just stopped believing in god around the same time we stopped believing in Peter Pan, Santa Clause and the other man made stories.
@You are a dingbat too ~~~~
How many remedial classes are you enrolled in? You are so dumb, fo real though.
@Eyes wide shut ~~~
Master's degree, self-made fortune. Retired very comfortably at 35. And you?
No one would ever believe that chit!! You can say all you want behind that computer screen, but I think we all know how the fire department had to take down a couple of the walls on your dwelling place just to get you to your doctor's appointment. How'd it go?
that last comment was directed at 'You are a dingbat too'
"God is love"? What kind of love is coming from this god of yours that stands by and let's this lunatic shoot up a kindergarten class?
Why do you bother praying to this god? If he doesn't have time or care to save 20 kindergarteners, why do you think he will listen to what you have to say? He either doesn't exist or is sick and twisted.
God wasn't the one gunning down those children, fool. What do you want from Him? It was one of your fellow man who did this. Open those cataract eyes of yours, clown. You want to put God into your sorry ass box....He'll never fit.
"You want to put God into your sorry ass box....He'll never fit."
gods exist in only one place: between the ears of the delusional people who believe in them.
couldn't help but notice – he fits inside your head "wisdom4u2" - which is no more than a box, housing nothing of importance – and which i surmise as being shrunken, considerably.
You couldn't handle the truth, could you?
Sorry, all true. Master's degree, self-made fortune. Retired very comfortably at 35, been travelling an doing charity work since.
Slander all you like, Christian.
Where is God? He's probably in the North Pole chillin with Santa and the Elves getting ready for this fictional holiday, thats where!
I love celebrating the day that isn't Jesus' birthday! I have lots of non-birthday stuff like a tree, which is pagan, and stockings, also pagan, and we exchange gifts and have candles and share toasts, just as the old celbraters of Saturnalia did.
Jesus' not-birthday is a great holiday, filled with all sorts of pagan things.
It's a shame those Puritans started the war on Christmas.
Where is God? Outside of our schools as we wanted!
We? I'm glad you wanted it too.
correct, everybody had problems with prayers inviting GOD in schools every morning. So he left and guns came in and the same idiots wanna blame it on GOD or insist he doesn't exist now ugghhhh! shouldnt have kicked prayer out its more that it seems on the surface and i dont understand any reason to deny something greater than us, which speaks alot as we are pretty powerful as well.
So god does what people tell him to do? That's interesting.
You do know that the killer was from a church – going Catholic family. God and prayer had lots of opportunity with him.
Or are you saying that God slaughtered 20 children because they didn't kowtow and tell him how great he was?
"How could God let this happen?" I don't know. How could we?
After reading some of your comments I laugh at how ignorant the people who don't believe in God really are. You people ask why does God allow this? Study the Bible and find out! Stop getting ideas based off of word on the street. You people are ignorant fools. And I will laugh at you when you come to realize that there IS a God and that you were wrong all along! It is written. The world is only going to get worse until judgement day. Go to church!
Nice! And that same bible that you claim to have all the answers is pretty clear that it's not your place to judge anyway. But I guess you just conveniently ignore that part?
It's all the same really... Ignorance is bliss. Believe in god, don't believe in god.
Unbelievers are not the ones asking where god is. Only religious people do that.
Really, you should use your brain a bit more, because that was really obvious.
You are confused, nonbelievers never ask the question "Where is god.". There is no god.
Where was God? Where he's always been, either non-existent, not willing to help or not able to help. In fact it was events like this that made me realize God isn't to be worshipped whether existent or not... Why didn't he defend those poor helpless children? Why doesn't he help any of his followers?
Dear Ex-C, First I want to tell you I am sorry for the pain, disappointments you have experienced in life. Many call themselves Christians, sadly don't resemble Christ at all. I hope you find joy and peace in life. Maybe you don't believe in God right now, and I hope you will be open to renewing your relationship with him. Just as real as God is, there is real evil. Satan gladly kills, steals, & destroys lives while people search for understanding and only question God. Instead the blame lies purely on evil. Satan has been misrepresented too. Hypocritical, judgemental religous individuals act as if God is more like Satan than Satan is. Ready to strike anyone instantly for a single sin or indiscretion.That's not God at all. God sent Jesus to bear our guilt,shame, sin, to provide us mercy, grace, forgiveness. He is not going to force Himself on anyone. He wants a relationship with us, with you. He can and will intervene, but we must ask, pray, believe. I am sure you are a special person, God has not forgotten you. He hasn't stopped believing in you. I know He can come through for you, just ask. I pray for you, and hope you can believe again. Sincerely, Sheri
@Sheri I don't believe a word about the god/satan stuff, but I can truly appreciate a human being reaching out to another and wishing the best for them. I've always held that you can believe whatever you want as long as you don't try to legislate it, so in my opinion you are wrong on fact but right in virtue. My hat's off to you.
As an Ex- Christian you never truly knew the L-rd and I am sorry. G-d created us to love and choose freely to worship Him but He didn't make us like robots that love and worship Him no matter what. He gave us a choice and some chose not to love while others chose to love. He gave us the world to govern and gave the instructions so we are held responsible for what we do. For years now people push G-d out of schools, government, work and remove prayer and reading of the bible in schools thus pushing Him away.If He had defended those little ones would we have known? Or would an armed intruder have been apprehended? G-d takes care of us even when He is rejected and when people are ungrateful. How many times has He taken care of us and we had no idea? But now He does not intervene and people blame Him? Is He not the Creator who holds life and death in His hands? We need Him and when we continue to push Him out he may just step back but He is also a loving God who loves you and all those in this shooting. If anything G-d should be angry at how evil we, humans, can be. I will share this verse...
Lamentations 3:33- for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men.
Were you guys always atheists? Your parents?
No, our parents just wanted to ensure we weren't brainwashed and could form our own opinions after a good, secular education. Native intelligence and education has led us to understand there is no god.
"Were you guys always atheists? Your parents?"
Everyone is born an atheist, including you and your parents. It's not until indoctrination later in life that religious beliefs are formed.
Our society has told God we don't want him around. Maybe he listened.
Wow some god you have there. So as an example he allowed the murder of 20+ innocents. That's a god you want to worship is it?
He will not give us something we can't handle,this as happened a lot of times,common sense would have told the schools leaders to get armed guards in school,complaining about gun control.take care of what needs to get dome before other bigger things .4 armed guards in every school .including colleges . ,
Angels and ministers of grace defend us (Hamlet, Act 1 Scene 4)
I'll tell you where I see God. In the hearts of clean drug addicts at church, or in ex-felons doing ministry, or in kid's youth group, or at soup kitchens, or in homes that have marriages healed and lives changed. God WANTS us to know him. It is OUR choice. This young man who did this evil had a dark hole for a heart. God was no where in sight. Evil is satan's business. And we saw the results today. We must ALL humble ourselves before the Lord and He will lift us up. Blessings come with obedience. Seek him first and all things will be added unto you. Knock and it will be answered. That's "where God' is.
You see god where you want to see him, because it it just your imagination at work. You find what you want to find. Muslims do the same thing. So do Hindus. All swear it is evidence that their god is real, and that yours isn't. Anyone can play that game.
Wow... another true believer claiming to know the heart of another person.
God is a lie. All the bible thumpers that posted comments need to get out from under the rock they have been living under and smell the roses.
Dear Lord, please save me from your followers.
Why dose God permit Wickedness? There would be no wickedness if God had not endowed intelligent creatures with free will. But God has given us the capacity to choose to obey him because we love him or to disobey (Deut 30:19,20) Josh, 24:15) Do we wish it where otherwise? If we are parents, whic makes us happier if we lived in a world where were forced to obey God ? Before destroying this wicked system, God is allowing opportunity for people to demonstrate whiter they really want to live in harmony with his righteous laws or not. At his appointed time , he will without fail destroy the wicked 2 Thess1:9,10 but to answer the question most false religion cannot answer Why dose god permit wickedness ? (1) In the garden of Eden the rightfulness and righteousness of Gods rule was challenged(Gen, 2:16,17; 3:1-5)
(2) The integrity of all of Gods servants in heaven and on earth was called into question (Job 1:6-11; 2:1-5 Luke 22:31) God
Could have destroyed the rebels Satan, Adam and Eve) immediately, but that would not have settled matters might dose not equal right, the issue raised where moral ones so gods allowing of time was not to prove anything to himself but to permit all creatures with free will to see for themselves the bad frigate produced by rebellion against his rulership man has shown that they are not capable of self governance or moral self governance beyond any reasonable doubt.With these issue settled , never again will Gods way of doing things be questioned and his destruction of wicked people and Governments justified.
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.