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.
Well, we systematically get rid of God. And when tragedy strikes then we ask where He is. All you atheists make me sad. You are empty and dull. You have no depth to your person. It's an interesting view you hold, that if one believes he/she cannot be intelligent. So sad you are so wrong and full of yourselves.
And as for the believers this will be the eternal question – why does God allow such actions? Hopefully in the next life all will made clear.
So sad that you are so wrong and full of yourself, Jenny.
Jenny, are you arrogant? Or simply very dense? "We got rid of god". So, are you saying that you know for sure that everyone who was affected by this tragedy today – those killed, those injured, those friends and family members of the victims – each and every one of them has rejected your god, and this is the punishment? Or are you saying that because some rational people are questioning your god fairy tale, your god is pi-ssed off and decided to wipe out a bunch fo innocent children, just to show how ticked he is?
Where is your brain? Seriously.
Another nitwit brays her ignorance. I have nothing against those who believe and adhere to Christ's words and directives. I simply don't believe in an invisible being. I DO believe that religion has NO place in politics, law, government, or public schools as a part of public policy. NOBODY can be prevented from praying if they wish to do so. Stop pretending that anyone has forced your all-powerful, all-knowing god to do anything. If that were possible, then your god isn't a god.
And yeah, what Magical Underwear said. Where is your brain, Jenny?
News Flash – this just in: The Zombie Apocalypse has just started. The first victim – a woman named Jenny – was found by her keyboard with her brain eaten entirely out of her head. Strangely, her fingers were still moving over her keyboard, writing out gibberish. Pictures at 11.
Oh Moby, my atheist friend, go read a Camus book maybe then you can be a bit more original
@ jenny,,, LIKE IT WAS WRITTEN GOD said "I WILL not " CONTROL YOU" OR YOUR SOUL" for you are LIKE MY IMAGE and in You is GREATNESS And LOVE!! remember?
Where's God, why he's working in the gun factory. And he's working overtime!
@ kinezo,,,GOD is watching you,,,and the devil is waiting for your soul in the lake of fire.
God has given us this opportunity. It is up to us to take advantage of the opportunity presented to us.
An opportunity to re-emphasize that there is no god. But, if there is, then god is a complete dou-che bag
Even hard-core atheist psychiatrist now claim that faith helps with recovery.
Yep. Faith is a useful tool at times. Not so with god since he never does anything.
Sure they do, Teddy. As if I'd believe the word of some dolt who can't even figure out how to make a noun plural.
Cite your source, you dumbazz.
Where's God? That's easy: He doesn't exist and never did.
They should clone your brain as the specimen of absolute knowledge and wisdom.
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?
- David Hume, echoing the logical formulation that we have dubbed the "Epicurean Riddle"
God is beyond simple human logic.
^ hey jenny where was your POS god during the massacre?
jenny is that special breed of christian who uses human logic to argue that her god is above human logic.
It was SIMPLE human lodgic that invented God. We have evolved far beyond that ignorant time of our existance. We are alone here, and only we can make or break it. Every moment you put your hands together to pray is an unproductive moment.
Isn't the answer obvious? No god has ever existed except in peoples wishes, imagination, or cynicism.
The killing of 20 beautiful children. What kind of God could ever let something like this happen? The answer is that there is no God. And if you still don't get it, you are poisoned by belief. Wake up and face reality!
God is love- Allow God in your heart and show your love for all of menkind as God has shown his mercy up on us... and weeps for those who have choosen to walk away from his side and mercy...its the emptines of the heart that causes such tragedies around us, fill your hearts with love and show kindness as god has shown for each and every one of us, the sun comes out to light the way of the wicked as it does for all, through God's mercy and love for all...
Do you really think that the shooter would have been dissuaded if he'd believed in a god? Where's your evidence for that?
except when he's flooding the world and drowning babies...
Why ask "Where is God?". Will Satan saves you? Don't blame God, blame the ignorance on part of our brain.
Your life is God, the kiss of your mother is God, every cell replicating in your body is God, evolution is God, everything and nothing is God, your rejection of religious stories is God.
are you stupid... just because it wasnt a christian school does not they didnt beleive in god.,,,,,, You should be ashamed of yourself.. Your probably the most ignorant person around to make such a remark like that .......
For all you 'Godies' glad it makes you feel better but if you do happen to be tapped in tell him the intelligent people have a real f'n problem with his managerial style. Get off your pews and do something to change the 2nd amendment
It's a fair question really. However, mocking the Christians and other theists for their beliefs will not solve the problem of a gunman. Have we considered that?
Here we have the ATHEIST claiming that if God was loving he would have prevented from happening. If he was "intelligent" and "caring" it never should have happened.
The implication is that this sucks. That this event was really bad. That innocent people lost their lives and innocent people have value. How dare this happen! This great, evil event! Come on God.
Don't you see it though? You claim evolution as the 'right' way. Evolutionary thought is VERY CLEAR. There is no meaning, there is no purpose, there is no order in life. We are the results of a chaotic expansion of the universe and we are all evolved animals who are simply trying to survive the world. Within this framework, survival of the fittest reigns supreme.
had some great animal of the beast destroyed and killed 20 other animals for food or because he was bored, we would call it survival of the fittest. A human animal does it to other animals and we call it murder?
You need to make a decision. Either evil does not exist, or it does. When you claim evil are you are actually 'borrowing' from Christian and religious thoughts that murder is wrong because people have value.
Either we are humans with value and worth or we are evolved animals with no meaning and no purpose other than what we have attached to it. But who is to say that the value I PLACE on human life is the right value?
So you need to choose. if you want to claim God is pathetic because he allows evil, then you must admit the presence of evil and morality. But THAT goes against your evolutionary, atheist framework of survival of the fittest, in a world that has no meaning and no value. We live, we die, we go six feet under.
According to the evolutionary framework, this was simply some pathetic over grown animal who could not control his thought and he took out weaker animals who were unable to fend for themselves. This cannot be denied within your framework, IT CANNOT. Once you say that's absurd and people have value and there is morality.......you contradict yourself.
It's actually that simple. I know the typical response here is to flame and make fun of people. That's what happens when atheist are brought to a conclusion that they really cannot deal with. It"s logical, it's obvious and it's clear. You can be the typical atheist and reject clear logic, and flame. Or, you can email me meatcnn @ gmail com
i have yet to have anyone respond. It's a simple request. I'm wrong? Prove it. Yes Mr. Atheist, prove that this line of reasoning is wrong........email me.
Amen to that! Step up and write your congressman! Now is the time for change.
The problem of evil is not something to be laughed off.
and you expect your words to be given any respect with that screen name ?
Ann yes. The tactic of an idiotic ad hom instead of actually responding the assertion...
Ah, what's in a name?
gimme a break! knock it off with your fairy tale stories and please open your eyes. there is no god. and if there was it wouldn't be a fist I'd shake, if you know what I mean.
What kind of god would allow events like this to transpire repeatedly, answer me that people of faith? I'm not being derogatory I just don't see why innocent children are gunned down all over the world, or a child that is barely born dies of random illness. What kind of god allows these things?
It is sad to know that we are being ruled by a bunch of fools. We are living in the age of fools where a handful of liberal nut jobs tell us that if you believe in God then you're "crazy"
easy now sport... let's be clear about this...
if you believe in gods – you are delusional.
Yes, if you believe in imaginary made up stuff then you're delusional. Plain and simple, no exceptions.
Shut up. This has nothing to do with politics, and everything to do with a sick, twisted madman.
This is what Satan wants us to say, "Where is God", Satan pulled the trigger and ran off leaving man asking why? As we sew killing and murder into our childrens lives, with movies, tv and video games why should we be surprised when things like this happen. Where is God? We should be asking where are we, where are we headed. Allow God to work through you, you were created in his image so start acting like him, ask him everyday how you can get to know him better, how to see people through his eyes, and his heart.
Your god is imaginary and it's high time you delusional crazies to finally realize it.
where is god? are you implying that the USA isn't a VERY heavily christian population? go live in the BIBLE BELT. yeah, we're asking the question "where is god" like its implied the last vestiages of religion has been chased from the united states when we have the highest rate of creationist beliefs than any other developed country. we have a damn region of our country called the BIBLE BELT. when i went to high school (graduated in 2011) i wasn't able to go to my homeroom every wednesday because they would hold a devotional (complete with donoughts, drinks, amps for the guitars that the leaders would bring). every friday night before i would play football, i had to hang my head in prayer or else i would look like a demon ridden athiest. my biology teacher explicity said he wouldn't teach evolution because he didn't agree with it and at the same time used bible verses through-out the day to support what he taught. are you christians seriously deluding yourself into thinking youre persecuted? this article is a joke.
Here we go CNN trying to bash religious people. Screw you CNN. I will always hold on to my God, Bible and my Gun and even Obama the thief cant take any of it away from me.
I keep my blankey too. I suck my thumb too.
Totally agree with you Brian...
Because Jesus REALLY wanted you to have guns. Right. Dolt.
I am sure if you call any bank tomorrow in or near Sandy Hook, they will have already set up donation accounts to help the affected families. That would be a great start at doing something real for them, instead of praying
God let his shooting happen because it was not a Christian School. There has never been a shooting at Christian school or church because God protects those that believe.
What a load of tripe you are spewing
It might help if you actually paid attention to the news Green. April 2:
Former student One Goh, 43, allegedly went to small Christian school Oikos University in Oakland, Calif., took a receptionist hostage, and shot people in classrooms, apparently at random, according to students. He allegedly killed seven people, then went to a nearby grocery store, where he was apprehended by police.
"There has never been a shooting at Christian school or church because God protects those that believe."
Fortunately not very many people will read your stupid post. It will soon be buried in the avalanche of posts here. All you are doing with this comment is to encourage some nut to shoot up a Christian school.
thanks for the factual reference.
Green ... what reality are you living in ? I know some some little girls back in the south back in 1963 who believed and were killed right inside their church. Go take your medication my friend
Amish aren't Christian?
Now, shut up.
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — A gunman opened fire Monday at a small Christian university in California, killing at least seven people, wounding three more and setting off an intense, chaotic manhunt that ended with his capture at a nearby shopping center, authorities said.
I'm sure that Green1955 meant to say that nothing bad has ever happened at a christian facility and that no christian has ever done anything bad – in his delusional perfect world of course.
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.