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.
Where's God? The liberals banned him from the schools years ago so he couldn't be there to help.
Well with your line (lack) of logic, church killings and clergy r@pe must never ever happen.....oops
Oooooooohhh!! The Liberals!!! Scary!!!!! If you were to read your fairy tale book, you would see that your Jesus character has the characteristics of a liberal – you know, helping the poor, curing the sick, feeding the hungry, warning of the dangers of riches, throwing the money-lenders (aka bankers) out of the temple.
Poor thing.I guess he was out in the parking lot ,watching on helplessly.Oh and I guess he couldn't get a ticket at the Aurora movie theatre either.Another example of religious apologetic reasoning.Man o man.
Mike. Get real.
We are not a theocracy, therefore mandated prayer and Bible readings are not allowed in public schools where there is currently a ~23% non-Christian population. That is the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment in action (ruled in 1962 & 1963). Go live in another country if you can't live by the Constitution and its Amendments.
James Madison, 4th POTUS, chief architect of the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and several Amendments including the 1st:
Every new & successful example therefore of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance. And I have no doubt that every new example, will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Govt. will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.
The Civil Govt, tho' bereft of everything like an associated hierarchy, possesses the requisite stability and performs its functions with complete success, Whilst the number, the industry, and the morality of the Priesthood, & the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the Church from the State.
Our most recent constitutional Amendment, number 27, adopted in 1992, was first introduced by James Madison in 1789.
I want to know how many of the children killed were black?
So much ignorance about God. To suggest that "God" kills....stupid. God doesn't kill any more people than handguns kill. Death is a part of life. Death, disease, mental illness, whatever. We have free will to choose in our lives. God has nothing to do with this.
The Christian God does NOT care about human life, adult or child.
How many has God killed? How many people did God kill in the Bible?
More than 25,000,000 people! ........................ adults and CHILDREN !!!
God has nothing to do with anything, coz there is no God.
I thought everything happened for a reason? isnt it all part of god's will? i thought nothing happened without god's will?
God can not kill, because God is Imaginary! __ http://www.GodIsImaginary.com
However, many christians kill in the name of their god!
It's time to ban guns, soda pops, trans fats, salt, gasoline, flush toilets, smoking, free speech, freedom of religion, oppositional thought. . .
Hillary please stop giving the Muslim Brotherhood billions of dollars in Egypt. I doubt it'll work out like you think.
God was told to leave the schools long ago. Shame on us.
BECAUSE: GOD IS IMAGINARY _- http://www.godisimaginary.com
The (imaginary) Christian God does NOT care about human life, adult or child.
Another stupid post by a dumbbell.
And God obeyed sheepishly, biting his tail between his legs. What a shame!
So when your deity runs off in a huff because some mean old humans told it to go away, who does it run crying to?
Balderdash. God lives in the hearts and minds of those who believe! You don't kick God out of places like schools or shopping malls. To the true believer God is omniscient and ever present no matter the laws of man. Get over it!
@ portland – hey, Tony – was god in the hearts and minds of those believers who decided to make a few one-way trips on 9/11? I would say that they were very strong believers – strong enough to die for their beliefs. So their god clearly approved of what they were doing.
It doesn't say much for parenting skills of the religious if they have to blame the public school system and our Constitution for their failures.
GOD IS IMAGINARY _- http://www.godisimaginary.com
Does an Atheist blog site exist? Don't fib, now, sugar.
This has nothing to do with God. And Jesus will not save you from a nut with a gun. This is about deranged people and whatever it is that makes then snap.. Period!
The incident will be judged, perfectly, for all players involved. So how can you say God is not concerned?
@ lol – and so the children killed will be judged? And the absolute hell that they're parents are, and will be, going through for the rest of their lives – is that part of the judging process too? Is that to teach them some sort of lesson?
Seriously, how do people like you tie your own shoes?
For all of you questioning God during these tragedies, you remove Him, prayer and anything related to His Word from schools, courts, etc. and then you have the audacity to question His presence! Remember, man has free will. Whether he chooses good or evil...well then you know the rest of the story. Stop blaming God for man's messes.
Why? You credit him with everything positive that occurs. Why shouldn't your god take the rap for disaster?
Tanya M! Anybody home in there?? Get some education, dear.
Do you have kids, Tanya??? If so, tell us how you teach them morals.
where was the free-will of the kids not be murdered?
why is god only interested in granting free-will to criminals and not to their victims?
why cant god allow the shooter the free-will to shoot but protect the victims from being killed? the action and intent is still there so your 'free-will' still exists.
The personal god you believe in doesn't exist! Throughout history humans have created gods and goddesses. None of these deity ever existed. If their were a omnipotent deity, he, she or it wouldn't allow the murder of children. Sorry!
The Bible prayers are not conducted at schools outside the Christard nations (which anyways US is not). Yet we dont hear of people going around with guns in schools.
Where is god? If Americans realized there is no god and looked at this terrible incident as the act of mentally unstable individual they could spend more time grieving and less time questioning their faith. Bad things happen. I have had terrible things happen in my life and as an atheistic I deal with them and recover without having to deal with the ridiculous questions of "how could god let this happen" and having people tell me "don't worry, you'll meet again in heaven." Whys is it that such a small percentage of people in America understand this? I have great sympathy for the families involved in this incident but I won't waste time praying for them.
Yes, GOD IS IMAGINARY _- http://www.godisimaginary.com
"Where is God?"
This question has entirely different meanings for theists and atheists. While for atheists, it is simply a rhetorical question and needs no further comment coz there is no god, it is the theists who should be shaken up and should feel the need to question their own beliefs, bcoz if there really was a loving god, there would be no suffering. But sadly, the religious impression gets so deeply rooted in some brains that even events like these cannot wake them up.
I Agree Paul, Ive been a non believer for over 50 yrs ( an extreme Doubter 10 yrs before that) raised in a religious belief home causes a lot of doubt in a young immature inexperienced mind. I don't know the answers and certainly don't claim to have the answers but as a logical thinker of reason I would question,"are these killers connected in some way to Hours of Lilling Games that are so popular and seem to be addictive, Are they Smokers? are they victims of Physical, Verbal Bully abuse, Is Hollywood to blame as Violent movies seem very poular Though there are a lot of Family and feel good romantic comedies, Are they connected to Hunters,Military families. Lets try to put together some a nswers But certainly Religion is not a good solution and to what part (if any) does it play??
Paul your hypocrisy is showing much, i was ready to give you credit until you said "without having to deal with the ridiculous questions of "how could god let this happen" . That's where your hypocrisy shows up. Only atheists people are asking that question, read the comments on this board you will see. Believers don't cast doubts on God about why he let those bad things from happening. We know those a re acts from mentally deranged people. And when those things happens we go out and lend those in need a hand and do whatever we can to help. Atheists are not supportive in those moments, we don't see them in the streets trying to help in some ways. We found them on the internet spreading they're lies and insulting people instead.
Why God? Funny when little black kids are killed/missing the media and America could give less than 2craps but oh my when white people are shot it is a massacre–where were Obama's tears when over 30 little black kids were killed in Chicago? It was sad what happened to those little babies in Connecticut, but just sad that little black babies are overlooked in America when their precious lives are taken as well
TRUTH TRUTH TRUTH
I don't know where the GOD is , but GOPs know where the GUNS are. It was very sad for those victims at the school.
Not too sure why people are getting so bothered by the fact that some people believe in God regardless of the horrible things that are going on around us. If you do not want to believe in anything, then don't. That's your choice. You have people posting things on how God doesn't exist and how he doesn't love children. Man you sure are doing a lot of work to disprove something. So if you are trying to disprove God, hmm... are you admitting there might be a chance he does exist? Let's focus on those children and their family members. Stop bringing people down b/c they do not believe the same things you do. All across the board people know this was a horrific act of violence. Again, lets not lose focus on what is really important.
Did you not read the article? It is the religious leaders that have come streaming into the tragedy with their take on what happened. Can others not present their views, why not?
Events like this are exactly why I am becoming less and less spiritual. I stopped being religious a long time ago.
These comments about kicking God out of school are absurd. Just because we reject God doesn't mean He will. He is not on our level, following the led rule (do to others as they do to you). Its foolish to think that this happened because God doesn't care. These children are in a far better place than this world could ever hope to offer. If any of you understood what love was you would understand that there are greater crimes committed against good than this daily around the world. (A man losing his faith in God forever because of an event like this is one of them).
I wonder...all of you who claim to not believe in God... do you celebrate Christmas??? Isn't that celebrating the supposed birth of the son of God on earth. Now who is fooling themselves?
Read the REAL history of Christmas. It is a fake holiday created in an attempt to wipe out the Pagan Winter Solstice holiday.
http://www.GodIsImaginary.com so there is NO Jesus and NO Christmas.
I celebrate yuletide.....all the fun, none of the religion
Christmas means many things to many people.
The main problem with some religious people is that they believe that their own personal interpretaion of things MUST be followed by everyone. You post on xmas is a perfect example fo that.
God loves people, which is why he created them.
He also gave them free will, so they could make their own choices.
God weeps as much as we do (probably more) when mindless tragedies like this happen.
So your god is just a clockmaker who set the wheels in motion, then sat back and watched his creation, allowing innocents to suffer and die at the hands of a nut with a gun? To what end? Is this just his giant pinball game?
I will not be shocked to hear that these kids made fun of a bald man.
Bears don't kill people,people that own bears kill people.
ahhhh...humanism at its best
ATTENTION ALL NYTIMES REPORTERS:
DROP WHAT EVER STORY YOU WERE WORKING ON AND RESEARCH THE FOLLOWING "LEADS". ALL HANDS ON DECK!:
1) Did the shooter in CT vote for Romney?
2) Were any of the victims black?
3) Was he against teachers unions?
4) Was he ever in the military?
5) Was he against gay marriage?
6) Was he a member of the Tea Party?
7) Did he know any of Sarah Palin's children?
8) Was he a victim of the Bush economy?
9) Was he a member of the NRA?
10) Did he listen to conservative talk radio?
If the answer to ANY of those questions is "YES", we have our lead story until New Year's! If the answer to ALL of those questions is "NO," continue to cover our current lead story that Obama cried during a presser.
That is all . . .
meanwhile fox is trying to discover if he was pro-gay, ever a member of OWS, or claimed to be atheist,
Yes, but we all know Fox news is biased. The NYTimes is objective. . . . just like CNN
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God? -Epicurus
Brilliant – you quoted somebody whose name is synonymous with sensual pleasures.....
And? Did you have a point, Dan?
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.