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.
The christian god and others are imaginary and it's high time you delusional crazies to finally realize it.
So, are you afraid that God is going to find out your real name? Because He knows.
Your god and go screw itself.
The Universe is far beyond our comprehension. You can either choose to believe that we are alone and purposeless or choose to believe that we are special and loved.
Some care not that they be known.. even anonymous! As it is written everything IS seen, everything IS heard. I know your true name and you will know mine!
SO YOU ARE ASKING WHERE IS GOD ?? WHY YOU DONT ANSWER YOURSELF WHY YOU BAN PRAYERS FROM SCHOOL ?? WHY YOU BAN PREACHERS GOING TO TEACH THE PRECIOUS WORD OF GOD ON SCHOOLS !! SO EASY TO BLAME GOD WHEN YOU ARE THE FIRST WHO HAVE TO BE BLAME...
Ram a bible up your ass.
So did you study at the Pat Robertson school of how to respond to tragedies?
Personally I don’t care if Atheists don’t believe in God. If there is no God then this is all meaningless so what are they upset about? I do believe in God and this is very hard to understand but I know we have a free will and I’m sure the Atheists wouldn’t want to be forced to believe or die because they don’t believe. My heart goes out to the victims and their families and I pray that somehow they will be comforted.
Only the weak minded such as yourself need an imaginary god.
So if there is an all powerful God then there's a 98% chance that he wont intervene. If he does so once in a while.
I really don't get how people can tie their shoes and still think that there is a God that might prevent things like this if we're nice enough to "him". What exactly would God have done instead? Make lightning strike the shooter? When has that ever happened?
Probably once every 112,345,438 times or so that someone is on the verge of committing murder. Astonishingly about the same as it happening randomly.
First,i must extend my condolences to the victims and their family's including the gunman. The truth is we are born to die, we as people take life for granted, tomorrow is not promised to anyone, not even the next second. We all have a birth date and a death date. Life is full of the unknown. I myself have experienced some very questionable traumatic deaths in my family, starting w/my nephew, mother and than my aunt. I use to question GOD and not believe in him, but that right there is the problem, too many peolpe dont have anything to believe in, but themselves. As i matured i realized that I needed something to guide me something to believe in, we all need hope because without you have nothing. Too many people are living the way they want to, dont want to follow rules, laws being passed to condone inappropriate behavior, this world is just a mess. Even if the Bible is fictional I'd rather live by it than by the mess that society has conjured up. I pray for peace, strength and comfort to the parents and all of the others that are affected by today's unfortunate event. May GOD BLESS THEM.
the question "where is God?' is a blastfemy- in itself, yets here i am among he sinners, being part of it all...
a "bastfemy" ? Your English is a blasphemy.
“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." – Not true. Many of us know there is no sky fairy watching us or intervening in our lives so the question doesn't occur to us. I was actually thinking, "When are we going to get smart and arm teachers so they can shoot someone before they can get more than a few rounds off."
And while at it, lets arm the little kids too.
See, that's just stupid. Little kids can't be trusted to know how to safely use or store a firearm any more than they would know how to safely operate a motor vehicle. If you're saying we should arm children, I suppose you think it would be okay to let them drive a car. No, we should leave stuff like that to adults who have shown that they understand the necessary precautions. It would have been great, though. One teacher with a hand gun who knew how to use it could have saved so many lives.
People – you worked so hard to convince Gen Y there is no God, and now wonder about the results?
Yes, that's exactly why this guy did this. Because he didn't believe in a sky fairy. I don't believe in any sky fairy and I've been considering murdering a bunch of kids because there;'s no God. Seriously, though, you're right. Places where they take their God seriously – Syria and Pakistan, for example – are much less violence prone as a result.
Yeah, no one ever killed over religion or anything.
Right, it is all because of atheists. Gotcha there, sparky
In a nation which has consistently refused to deal with the availability of guns, every public place must be equipped with metal detection and search everyone for weapons. If it does not, one must avoid that place. No other answer. Schools, churches, malls. Everywhere. Americans need their penile extensions. Fine. Deal with the consequences.
I find it interesting that USA law allows for gun ownership by almost anyone but private businesses often ban them from their property. I guess this is one area where business does not know better than the government.
If you believe in God, then you know there's a Devil... and we know the Devil was the cause of this. Maybe God was there fighting & stopping another 20, 30, 40+ kids from dieing.
Pretty weak god ya got there. Why can't she just get rid of your Satan ? Fool.
the possibility of a god does not necessarily imply a devil
Forgive them Father for they know not what they do, thank you Father for showing them mercy and allow them to see your love & grace, as this is not a time for hate to spread like a grass fire but for your love to prevail in their hearts, to not see this as an opportunity to spread lies but to know truth.
Yes. Thank you Jeebus for all the evil you do. Hang on tight to your delusions.
wow......that was moving. perhaps you should take up preaching as i am sure you would bring lots of people to jeebus
They are forgiven, John...For now! And it is a test. But as it is written you are welcome in MY house, but you do not welcome me in yours....until you need me or want to blame ME!!
It's simple there is no god and the religious are suffering a mass delusion involving an ancient game of telephone.
We are born into a world that needs help. Hmmm.... Just a thought, but maybe we're here to ummm.... HELP! We are here to make a difference. That is the test. It is a pass or fail test.
I bet the guy who murdered his mom and 20 kids did not care for "Thou shall not kill" either.
...not to mention his grave concern over bringing an assault rifle into a Gun-Free-Zone.
Where is God? He is embracing those beautiful souls in his loving arms and giving comfort to their loved ones.
"Where is God? He is embracing those beautiful souls in his loving arms and giving comfort to their loved ones."
Wow the excuses people will come up with for the monster of a God that they worship.
God gave us free will. That means we are free to act with compassion or hate.
(sigh) It's always the free will card. Will you delusional folk ever realize that freewill doesn't apply with the attributes of your specific god?
My specific God? I don't know who's God are referring to, but my specific God endowed us with free will.
God is exactly where we asked Him to be... not in our schools, not in our government, and in many cases not even in our homes.
Your screwed up imaginary god in the collective imagination of the delusional aka christians.
I clicked on here, and your comment was the one that popped in front of my face. This is exactly what I just said to my husband. People let Him be taken out of the schools. We need to bring Him back in. All I am saying... other than I am still praying... and America... if we do believe IN GOD WE TRUST... we need to quit letting satan rule us.
So you believe that God is getting his revenge on us, yet this is your god? why?
By "we", I mean... 'you'... America! God have mercy!!!
Anon, you type of thinking is the same kind of jargon all these serial killers believed in. I just hope you aren't the next godless individual to do something like this.
No Marty, God isn't getting revenge. Evil is only the absence of godliness.
It's ironic the more secular a country is the less crimes there are. But like always you ignore evidence.
(Your) God does not belong in the schools or the government. If he is missing in some people's homes, that is unavoidable.
evie: god does not belong in public schools. try to contain your persecution complex
This isn't for you, Ben, but for the person who said God doesn't belong in public school... seriously and I do not want to argue, but do you not believe there is a God? Evidently you do, because you said He doesn't belong in public school. But if not where do you think we came from? Because, I have lived many years on this earth, and no one can take my faith away in my God, my Jesus. AND if you do believe that God created all of this, then, why does He not belong in school? He belongs everywhere. If I was killed tonight, I know where I am going. I pray that He will touch your heart and you will know that He does reign. I would much rather belief in Heaven than what???
Anon, your ignorance precedes you. Without the belief in God or religion you would be stuck in 3200 B.C. Need I remind you, religion invented the alphabet, mathematics, astronomy, archeology, sanitation, civilization, water distribution. You have the right not to believe in God because of religious people that fought for a free country. I resent that atheists call us fools, uneducated, or ignorant just because we have a belief system. Sir, evil is finite just like darkness and coldness. You cannot get infinitely cold or any darker than pitch dark. These elements are simple the absence of heat and light. In the same way, God is the essence of good, and holiness. The evil we see is only the absence of his presence... as per America's request!
Evie, why does your religion belong in public schools but no one else's? And why would laws be based around your religion?
Tweeting with pedophile-protector pope-a-dope?
If God doesn't exist, then why should anyone cares what happens at all? Must you propagate your pattern? Is DNA and your genetic code so special that it should evoke a feeling of purpose? Aren't humans easy to reproduce? I feel that God does exist, despite our imperfections. I believe that death is not the end, nor is it nearly as final as many people believe. I hope this is true, though I can't know it. I believe those children will be judged fairly for the life to come. I don't think it is over for them.
You see, that's why people believe in God. They want to believe that things matter, that they're not alone, and that they don't really die. The problem is, it doesn't make it true.
Believing does not make it true no, but can you fault me if I believe what is true? No. You do not know if God exists or not. You can choose to believe your quest to prove people wrong about the existence of God means anything, but if you are right you are meaningless and without hope. I am meaningless and with hope. But if I am right, you are doing yourself wrong. Where was God? I don't know. Why did this person do what he did? Why allow it? All I can surmise is that physical death, while horrible, is only a temporary separation. God has greater plans for souls such as ours. I do not know if a choice to not believe in God after such tragic events is fruitful, but I do believe that if God does exist, then what happens to us all is only meaningful inasmuch that it means something to God. If death itself is not nearly as final as it seems to us, then perhaps the motive and choices we all make while we are still alive is what God cares about most. This does not seem illogical. And for the suspect... all I can think about is how on a joyous day in 1992, a baby was born and the people who loved that baby had no idea that in 20 years he would do this. So if anything, we might ask "where was God every day for 20 years in that man's life"? I can't answer that.
Josh, I can honestly say that I was wish I still believed in God. I was much happier as a Christian. In my mind, I was never alone, always had someone to talk to. If something bad happened to me, it's okay, God saw it. I would get to see my deceased loved ones again someday, so nobody was ever truly gone. And of course, I would never cease to exist. Ignorance was bliss!
So many posts stating that this is divine retribution for the separation of church and state. ...
So much delusion.
I suppose you fundiots interpret this to mean that Jesus likes killing the innocent:
13 Then some children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them.
14 But Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
15After laying His hands on them, He departed from there.
If Second Coming of Jesus exists. it would look like this in Connecticut elementary school
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.