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.
Sadly, the answer to this question is probably obvious. Where is god in this horrific tragedy? Nowhere. We need to stop trying to reconcile acts like this with an omnibenevolent, omniscient, omnipotent being.
Nothing fails like prayer. Instead, use you time to work on meaningful action in the real world – like gun control.
Condolences & prayers to all those affected at Sandy Hook Elementary, God Bless You All during this difficult time.
Why wasn't god blessing them before this happened? If he didn't bless them before, why should he bless them now?
idiots...god is in same place as always...fantasyland
I don't know. Why not just ask where the flying fairy unicorns were. Maybe THEY could've prevented this tragedy!
God has been thrown out of the school, the state, and federal government. That is where He is. This nation has a belief they can erase HIM. So why go looking for God in a crisis that we created and blame HIS absence? Wanna bet those that wanted him out of the schools are on their knees calling to HIM? He is a loving God, He was there, but He gives this nation, people free will to deny HIM. Be careful when you call to HIM only at your convenience.
Right God is so impotent he could not get by the wishes of the mere mortals.
get therapy before you hurt yourself or someone else, fool
There is no god; never has been and never will be. It's just man's attempt to make sense of a frightening world. If you want answers to this tragedy, there are none. It's just one of the many terrible things in the life; just like there are many wonderful things in life. That doesn't mean, though, that we shouldn't strive to make things better. Only man can do that. God just isn't reality.
The converse of LIncoln's statement is also true, we are not blessed as a nation and are quickly imploding.
"God rules this world. It is the duty of nations as well as men to owe their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow... and to recognize the sublime truths that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord." – Abraham Lincoln
The same fundamentalist idiots that bring children into the world in record numbers at a record rate with no restriction are the same ones who want to dump those children in public school and assume that their entire education for life takes place there.
It was also fundamentalist idiots that were persecuting each other around the time of the founding of the U.S.
Listen to James Madison, POTUS #4, and the chief architect of the U.S. Constitution:
During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution.
(A Remonstrance . . to the Virginia General Assembly in 1785.)
Listen to John Adams, POTUS #2:
I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved – the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced! With the rational respect that is due to it, knavish priests have added prostitutions of it, that fill or might fill the blackest and bloodiest pages of human history. "
(in a letter to Thomas Jefferson, 09/03/1816)
The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.
Thirteen governments [of the original states] thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind.
(from A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America [1787-1788])
Listen to Ben Franklin:
Some books against Deism fell into my hands; they were said to be the substance of the sermons which had been preached at Boyle’s Lectures. It happened that they wrought an effect on me quite contrary to what was intended by them. For the arguments of the Deists, which were quoted to be refuted, appeared to be much stronger than the refutations; in short, I soon became a thorough Deist.
(from his Autobiography)
Thomas Paine was very Deistic. He witness Quakers being hung in Massachusetts by other Christians:
I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church. All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.
Thomas Jefferson had his own Deistic version of the Bible.
Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.
(from Notes on the State of Virginia)
Of course Deism holds to the belief of God as the creator of the universe. But many Deists also believed that God did not interfere with the lives of his creation. And many Deists disbelieved in all of the "magic" in the Bible – some of them refuting the Bible and Christianity completely.
Jefferson, Washington, Adams, Paine, Mason & Madison all witnessed the violent persecution between Christian sects in their home states around the time the government was being established. So it is of no surprise that they needed a secular government and they knew the only way to enforce freedom of religion was to keep religion out of the government as much as possible.
Listen to James Madison speak about the need for the need to keep religion out of government (Jefferson wasn't the only one to explicitly speak of the separation of church and state):
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.
(from letters to Edward Livingston and Robert Walsh)
Madison as president vetoed two bills that he believed would violate the separation of church and state. He also came to oppose the long-established practice of employing chaplains at public expense in the House of Representatives and Senate on the grounds that it violated the separation of church and state and the principles of religious freedom. (Library of Congress – James Madison Papers – Detached memorandum, ca. 1823.)
President John Adams and the U.S. Senate on behalf of the U.S.
As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion;
(from Article 11 of the U.S. treaty ratified with Tripoli in 1797)
Senator John F Kennedy said on Sept. 12, 1960, just prior to his winning the Presidential election:
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.
So keep your religion out of public schools as per two SCOTUS rulings or go live somewhere else.
Umm... you people do know that God is but a story made by humans eh? He doesn't actually exist... however guns are real, they do exist and although it is true that people kill people and guns don't, people with guns do kill people. So now what, what is the conversation going to be. Guns are necessary and God let this happen? Or do we take responsibility for our actions and realize that guns are unnecessary except in law enforcement and military.
If there is a God I will think her today that I left the USA about 5 years ago and let her know that I have given up as the NRA seems to be more important to American lives than our children.
These guys are going to find a way to kill. If it's not guns, it'll be bombs, poison, etc. Not saying gun control won't help, but you're acting like it's THE answer.
Of course the NRA is more important than children. The NRA is an enormous contributor to political campaigns. Just look at how children are treated: no universal healthcare, an infant mortality rate that is horrendous, crappy education system – the list goes on and on.
God rules this world. It is the duty of nations as well as men to owe their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow... and to recognize the sublime truths that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord." – Abraham Lincoln
Ditto that. We are a godless nation. And Jesus is the Son of God. So those that reject Him, the Father, and the Holy Spirit, they aren't going to come running to your defense. Keep pushing this nation to godless and it's inevitable evil visits more.
Massive Fail Whale to you on that one Moogie. The gun toting supporters overlap with the evangies; they and you are the problem, not the solution. And note the vast excess of Christians in the prison population too.
God gives us free reign of choice. It is with these choices we learn lessons. Many times the signs are given to avert a tragedy before it happens by the choices we make. As a country we have ignored the signs this year of what so many guns in our daily lives can cost us. We have now been given the ultimate sign. Will we change our will we continue the same path of horrors?
Fail Whale for you on that one Tressea. The free will argument is a broken one for an omnipotent creature. Time to get over your sky god fictions.
where is God?
in your heart. it is that comfort of never being alone and having someone to turn to. I pray their souls are with him in judgement day.
McCoy is assuming that inflicting pain for your own pleasure is an evil thing to do.
Ideology of ATHEISM.
Sociologic confrontational mechanisms were made the doers harbinger of; though influentially masked and thusly done by said perpetrator who did the maniacal deed. Guilt runs the gauntlets of socio-maniacal configurations amid all confrontations permeations of the many who do still yet connive others for the main intent to belittle and forsake others to just laugh upon those who are felt weak and small in views of other's suggestive sights. God is not the one to blame for such vileness for it is mankind's sociologic bemusements that push many off the proverbial deep ends of and against and away from sane mindedness!
The Mighty One of Israel was kicked out of American schools a long time ago.
Actually at my school, which is a public school, Mount Juliet High has a bible class.
Where is God? He's definitely not in our public schools...remember we invited Him out...which is one reason we see some of the responses on this blog, written by low intelligence, government-educated people...who claim without a doubt God doesn't exist, as if they can prove such!
They say the world came into existence through an explosion in the universe, which I guess explains why our body systems have to have exactly the right Ph factors and right levels of sodium, potassium, etc...
By the way, if an intelligently designed world can evolve from an explosion in the universe, then a dictionary should be able to evolve from an explosion in a print shop!
Such intelligence!!! We listen to people deny God's existence, we support immorality, we ban Christian teachings that support love and goodness to others, then act surprised when a fool shoots up children!
You're correct. God is not in our schools, nor is he in the sky, or on the ground, or in the earth, or the sun, etc. There's only one place he lives... in your imagination.
Another massacre brought to you by the National Rifle Association. We are the NRA. We don't give a f-ck what you think.
The answer is simple. There is no god. When everyone wakes up and realizes this fact, we'll all be better off.
I think the better question is, "Why do theists and atheists always have to bring God or a lack thereof into these kinds of discussions?" 20+ people died. Leave your damn opinions at home and comfort your neighbor!
because this is the CNN Belief blog..... the two sides are always here.....
@ Alex, this story is about God and where she is... did you not get the subject of the article? 20 people dying has nothing to do with God since she doesn't exist. It has to do with our beloved NRA, guns and mental health. Atheist or not it is time for some fact checking not inspirational mumbojumbo.
@Crocography: I was responding to Bob's comment, not directly to the subject of the article. Which...is why I responded directly underneath Bob's comment.
Technically I'm also responding to one of your fundamentalist opinions as well, considering you had to bring atheism versus religion into a place where it really should not be argued.
@ Alex – what are you talking about???? It's a Belief Blog – where stories are posted and debated about religious belief. Believers debating non-believers – I can't imagine a more appropriate place for such a discussion.
@ Alex: Um, this is a belief blog, where else would you debate it?
@Attack and Croco
I still feel that leaving your personal beliefs or lack thereof out of a national tragedy is the right thing to do. Spouting them just makes you look like a fool, when instead you be trying to comfort those that need it.
Where is God?.He is watching,crying, feeling horrible because he could' t do anything.Evil has power too,power that we give to him ,when we don't pray.God was there of course!!!!
Put down the crack pipe. Really.
You are right. God was there, just like he was there when people killed "His Son." Satan rules the evil on this planet.
Satan rules because he is allowed to rule, not because he is more powerful. You ask someone to take their hands off enough and sometimes you might just get what you ask for.
Which is one step away from admitting he doesn't exist at all
We understand as Christians that bad things happen to good people. Life is a constant struggle between good and evil. Just because you believe in God doesn't mean you get a free pass to a worry free life. It's your choice though, believe in what you want.
If a mass murderer is a Christian as breivik is, does he go to heaven? The Bible says yes, that you get into heaven if you believe.
If a mass murderer later becomes Christian, does he get to go to heaven, like the Son of Sam and some of the Manson Girls have? Bible says yes.
The determination of a true Christian can been seen by his day-to-day activities. If you say you are a Christian and go in and shoot up the place, one has to wonder if you actually are. That is not for us to decide his ending fate, that is between him and God.
Actually this is not true at all. Leaving the debate of the existence of afterlife out of this, according to only the spirituality alone (even the word dictates this to some extent) a Christian can get into Heaven if he repents and is apologetic for his sins.
Tragedy is part of the human condition. There are no answers excpet in ourselves.
The democrats, liberals and progressives fight to keep God out of our lives. Ask them.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The point is not to get god out of your life but rather to keep your version of a god out of our lives where it does not belong.
Again with the exact same talking point. You all have the same absurd comment. Is Rush Limbaugh putting this out today?
Once again, the killer seems to have been raised in a church-going Catholic family, and look how that worked out. And is god now slaughtering children because his ego isn't sucked in schools?
Geez, it sounds really crappy to be liberal, progressive, and democratic, What horrible attributes! Hey – hang on! That describes that Jesus guy. You know – the one who fed the hungry, cured the sick, and threw the money changers out of the temple.
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.