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.
Are you talking about the God that CNN and friends forced out of public conversation?
No, we are talking about the god that does not exist.
Religion forced out of public conversation? Bo you live on a desert isle, Gilligan?
Salmon. What organization or religion are you proposing to take the place of that imaginary God that has done so much good in making people's like bearable when dealing with the likes of you?
Time for the Skipper to give Gilligan a good thrashing with his hat
Maybe your silly god can teach you how to talk?
Too many Christians, not enough lions.
And you don't promote harmony or peace? Just more hate and vulturism.
It's people like you that motivates people to hope that there is a God. What you offer is misery.
MikeB: The bigoted hatred in your response show all the good your god does – none.
Fester in your hatreds, buddy.
It people like you that make life a living hell.
Perhaps Hell is your paradise/reality.
And what benevolence do you offer?
I don't call the over 4800 comments (and rising) on this blog, not to mention the numerous other ongoing ones here "forcing 'God' out of public conversation."
(stop in to one of your Christian blog sites and see how many opposing views are allowed)
Account for your own hypocrisy first.
Oh, I do a lot of charity work, as well as donating a significant portion of my income, and have adopted. Enough benevolecnce for you? I doubt it.
The talk the walk.
Then talk the walk.
You neither talk nor walk, hypocrite.
Wow, MideB...Atheists make life a living hell?
Combined with edmundburkeson's comment, you guys should get another god....your's is not all that omnipresent, omipotent, all-loving or just if atheists and CNN and friends can do this....
Where was God in yesterday's travesties? God was inside those who died waiting to catch their souls and take them to their families' hearts where they will live carefree forever more inside the one's still left living upon a world that wants so hard to forget God!
Lionly Lamb, wow. Really? I am sure that brings a lot of comfort to mom and dad.
...and leaving their poor, grieving parents to stare at their now-gone child's presents under the tree and live without their beautiful child for the rest of their lives? Nice...
This soft mushy theology makes me want to spew.
You know what Mr. Lamb, when I read this kind of drivel I have to think you are just a total dick head.
Of course, he took quite a number of them straight to his eternal torture camp because they did not believe what he wanted.
If there is a hell, then god is sicker and more cruel than anyone he is torturing.
Where was god? Has anyone said with Santa and the Easter bunny yet? Probably Santa, being this time of the year and all. Ho Ho Ho!
Perhaps what you want for Christmas is ethnic cleansing. Shame on you.
I'd be happy with a dental cleansing. I think I'm overdue.
My God is an asshole God! He shits on heaven on Earth!
And he created you in his image!
How ignorant. "Where's God". It is not God's duty to protect man, but it IS man's duty to protect himself. God did not create man to be equal to one another. Col. Colt did that.
Where was god? The same place Santa was.
Get a clue Christards.
But I do agree with the fact we allowed prayer to be taken out schools and should be revisited
People still have the right to pray wherever they want. Esp in private so that cant be showy to everyone and show how righteous they are.
There is evil all over the world. Snipers in #Syria, regimes killing their own children, madmen shooting in schools & churches all of which begs the question, "Why?" We are at a time where humanity must choose peace or the fall of civilization. Our children are the promise of our future. The Enemy targets them in order to separate us from the Light and Eternal Love to thwart our choice of peace. Choose not to be separated at this time. Choose to embrace the Light, the Love, of God. Choose peace and healing.
Timothy McVeigh used ammonia nitrate and diesel to create a bomb to kill all the people in the Federal building in OKC. You can get those items at a feed store and gas station. More people were killed using those every day items then the guns, this screwed up kid used. It is the violence coming out on movies and games that motivates these types of acts. My heart hurts for all the families that are having to deal with this tragedy, and woke up last night thinking about it. Let's do something that really helps to prevent this, and not blame it on things that need a person to operate to kill another person.
You are at least pointed in the right direction. But it's much, much more than any violence in the media causing these things, so please do not jump to the wrong conclusions but rather keep digging. You'll get there eventually.
Actually, you cannot get weaponizable ammonium nitrate any more. Laws were passed to stop it after Oklahoma City.
actually tim – the number one thing that motivates these psychos – is the news.
cnn... fox... cbs... nbc....
they seek the notoriety that their heinous acts bring... the deep impact felt – from the news sources...
it's not tv and movies and video games.
Sorry AnVil I accidentially clicked on the wrong link, and meant to reply. You may be getting an email about reporting abuse, and it was an accident. I agree with you on the news part, and think it is also linked to the same group that is responsible for all the violence we see in movies and in games that are screwing up our kids and people of this country. News is difinitely biased, and not telling the full truth, and only the parts that servers their political views.
According to your arguments, your god let your god's evil counterpart do this. Was it asleep at the wheel or just trying to keep balance?
The belief from an early age in eternal damnation worked for generations. Unfortunately, loss of liberty or death alone doesn’t work for some people.
Or parents could raise children to be honorable, charitable, humble yet strong citizens of the world without fear of some eternal damnation wrought by some vengeful god.
This article is a waste of time completely! I mean really why ask about God's plan now, where was that question when the US had 200 years of slavery, during the holocaust, 9/11 or the genocide going on in the Congo or other places. Give me a break to pray only when there is a problem, live your life best and holy as YOU can and the battle between evil and good will continue till the end of days.
Remember, God can't go to school; separation of church and state. I am not here to debate if there is a God or not but if there is then we as Americans are a bunch of hypocrites. God is persecuted every single day, no God in school, no nativities on the court lawn, you can't even watch a Charlie Brown Christmas in public because of the reference to God, yet if he exists you expect him to intervene when things are bad. Let's take God out of the picture for a second, imagine you live in a nice neighborhood yet nobody wants you there. Your neighbors treat you like crap, they take you to court to drive you out of the neighborhood, they say mean and horrible things about you, how would that make you feel? More importantly after years of torment by your neighbors, you find that their house is on fire and the family is trapped inside are you going to help these evil people who have caused you pain and torment or are you going to turn your back and walk away? I don't really know if there is a God, I don't read the bible and I don't go to chruch on Sunday but I read all of the news stories attacking Christianity everyday. If he does exist what right would we have to expect him to help us and why would he want too.
You can't persecute an imaginary omnipotent being, so please cut the crap.
I always find it ironic that the ONLY people who see God in black and white are in fact atheists. They are the only ones who say "bad things happen because 'obviously' God doesn't exist" or "God didn't come down from heaven to stop something bad so God must not exist." If people actually read religious texts, ANY religious texts, nowhere would they find a God who says "I will intervene in every little thing that everyone everywhere needs fixed, to do, etc." I often find that people who consider themselves atheists (including close friends) only ever came to the "realization" that God "doesn't exist" for some of the most selfish and self-centered reasons – not because they're "educated," "enlightened," or how ever they chose to claim through their pseudo-intellectual styling. Easily 90% of the "atheists" I've ever talked to and you can even see on comment boards on the internet can have their justification for their lack of a belief in religion/God/spirituality, etc can be summed up as this: "Something bad happened to ME, I asked/hoped/prayed for God to fix it. God did not personally attend to my every beck and call. God doesn't exist." Prove me wrong. Once they make that first step THEN they'll claim they studied, (or in fact never have but just go on their own misunderstandings of religion, religious texts, religious teaching, etc) and use any catastrophe to buttress their own self-centered world that they must be right. And that is the tragedy in that even though they have lost faith and choose to only see the bad in the Universe they decide to try and pull everyone down with them to their level – give up faith and only see the dark rather than the light in the world. What a sad existence to not see that one does not have believe EVERY little thing written in regards to religion to see that there is much more to our existence and the Universe than humanity will EVER comprehend. Just because people identify themselves as Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, etc does not mean they believe every little thing that has ever been written. The only people who actually DO believe the literal value of every religious text are, ironically, the atheists themselves as only a means to refute the thing that they fear most – that they are wrong.
So which god is right? Which bible? Which mythos? Please...enlighten us!
Total massive FAIL.
I LOVE IT WHEN AMERICANS RUN TO GOD ONLY WHEN SOMETHING AWFUL HAPPENS. God left america a long time ago.
Apparently, some are looking to the Grinch for their Christmas.
Nobody is running to god. Things like this make even more people realize that god just cannot exist, because if he did exist, he is guilty of gross negligence, and his hell makes him a psychotic guilty of cruel and unusual punishment.
Notice how your god's justice is far inferior to human forms of justice?
I think it's important during times of national shock and grieving that people take to the internet and blame each other for the problems we face. Let's all join in and castigate the other.
The American People voted anti-Christ in this last election, what did we expect?
Clueless racist extremist.
I'm afraid what everyone else was thinking is true, "John P. Tarver". You are, in fact, an idiot.
John, yeah, because school shootings didn't happen under your messiah George Bush? wow.
If you think Obama is the anti-Christ, then you are probably a racist and you're giving Obama way too much credit.
OH NO! Nothing happens that is not part of god's plan. Obama is god's own chosen leader and any one who disagrees is obviously not a true christian
Just a little more than half of the electorate voted for Obama.
The electorate that didn't vote for Obama hasn't just disappeared.
GOD is NOT allowed in school!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! maybe that's the problem!!!!!!!
That isn't the problem and you know it
God's not real. Use your brain.
Yeah, because NO ONE has EVER killed in the name of God before!
Which god do you want allowed in schools? Yahweh? Gaea? Odin? Ra? Zeus?
its funny we live in a country that slowly pushing god out of schools, where an increasingly hostile secular media has no problems bashing christianity mainly, but when tragedy strikes america now you ask questions where is god? and why does he allow such things to happen? lol its laugable at best, we live in a america where alot of people dont know the difference between right and wrong banning guns won do much simply when you ban guns people will find other ways to kill each other, and guns won go away simply you think gang bangers are going to give up there guns lol, just look at mexico where it has very strict gun laws and look where mexico is one of the most violent places on earth. but as far as god is concern we live in a country where we are taught god doesnt exist and its ok to believe that, since the 1960s when the bible was well basicaly banned from schools and schools stopped teaching morality basicaly the difference between right and wrong you have seen crime rates go up and people committing more and more attrocity in america that you didnt see from the 1700s to the early 1950s you dont have to teach the bible as a religous txt but the bible is specific about not killing someone or committing a crime againts your brother in america we are taught to seprate ourselfs from race, religion, and gender. just look at american politics and or on this network cnn and see they are always talking about race, regligion mainly christian bashing, and gender and you know why america is declining moraly, economicaly and in faith if that continues to happend bad and awfull things will continue to happend in america. god bless amen.
See below repsonse to Dilbo – same response to you.
This gets me very upset. When something like this happens and then someone makes the statement, "Where was God when this happened?"
Well here is your answer.
God has been taken out of schools
God has been removed from the pledge of allegiance
Prayer has been taken out of schools
Bibles have been removed from schools.
God is being removed from all aspects of American life.
You take God out of the equation because it fits what society wants.
Until someone is hurt, then you look for him again.
God is there for those who want him there. He was there for those who lived.
You want God more involved in our schools? Then stop asking him to leave.
Stop making excuses for poor parenting. Fundies want to bring children into the world at record pace with no restraints, and then want public education to pick up the slack for their failing.
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.
So your imaginary friend is an egotistical d-bag who is only around if you grovel.
So the grandest, most powerful, most loving, omniscient, omnipotent being in the universe purposely chose to let 20 children get snuffed because he is miffed at school regulations. What part of that is not monstrous?
Wow. Such profound words. If Americans can open up their eyes and mind and realize that you can't serve to masters, you either love one and hate the other, and that Satan is busy. He wants God out of the picture so he has a better opportunity to misguide and destroy mankind. And sadly, America has allowed that to happen for years. So where is God? Exactly where you wanted him... out of the picture.
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.