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.
Need to go, thanks for all your thoughts... Bill
Have a good one, Bill. Hope Jesus doesn't slaughter you.
It is understandable that no words can comfort the hearts of parents that lost their children right now. They were children and the knowledge that they are free of evil and back home to be angels themselves gives me some comfort. But the pain can't be erased or measured for the ones that expected to raise them, teach them, love them, see them learn to love and have their own children, and then die before them knowing their lives are full. Nothing can comfort that at the moment. Nothing but perhaps a measure of faith in God.
For those that want to maybe blame God. Please remember that evil is real and this is not new. Sadly, evil has shown its stronghold on the minds of many in severe forms in just this decade alone. This is just the most cutting of late because it involved the absolute innocent as they went about their normal day, unsuspecting and where they should have been safe. It disturbs even the coldest hearts. You can't have a killing like this and not have demonic forces involved. Just as many go to church to learn the Lord and have good spiritual lives, the opposite holds true. Some people attract evil to themselves. They enjoy it and they open to it and empowers them to do what most find unimaginable. Until people can face this, facing up to and overcoming evil in mankind will be impossible. If this were not true, then how and why is the need for God–to be angry at Him or to seek His comfort so important in such times. It's more then looking to higher power. It's looking to contend with evil with the power we have to defeat it and that power is God. For His protection and comfort. The love He put in each of us actually can overcome great evil, even evil such as this. We can't get those children back but how you treat others everyday can do a lot to take good back. I know some only believe in what is called science nowadays which is just belief in physical things, but it doesn't work because in every human being is the knowledge, like it or not that there is a such thing as good and a such thing as evil. It is not a perspective but a reality that times like this sadly bring home. Without God, without Jesus, there is no covering against these things. Don't wait for anyone else to seek and find God for you. No one can give you that. Seek Him in your heart for yourself.
Your god doesn't exist. Or, he is evil himself. Pick one or the other. There are no other choices.
A loving god would not sit back and allow innocent children to be slaughtered. Science has already proven many religious doctrines to be false. Now it's time to use your heads, grow up, stop believing in santa claus, and take responsibility for yourselves.
It's amazing to me that people like you would make such rediculous and irresponsible assertions without offering a shred of reasoning for your position. And the reason you don't is because you can't. You don't know what you are talking about.
He didn't. He didn't allow anything. He created man and man chose his path. We invite God in and we invite Him out. He doesn't treat man as robots but allows man to choose Him. It's a lot to understand spiritual things. A babe would say to his parent, a good parent wouldn't let that bully hit me at school. But a good parent would let you learn to fight for yourself, and a good parent would also show you how because he/she knows that in life you will meet a lot of bullies and the only way to overcome them is to stand up to them. Do you know how to fight evil? God did give man that knowledge, but you have to take the time to learn. Do you read the Bible to know God? With a heart to want to know Him? Anger rests in the bosom of fools. You will get no comfort, no answer, and no resolution from or through it.
What reasoning or evidence (the more important thing) do christians give for their beliefs? Please do not say the bible that is just silly.
So everyone is more powerful than your god if we can decide where to put him and remove him. So there is no need for your useless invisible can't do anything god.
You ask where God is? You are the one that took him out the schools you idiots. When God was in shcools you didn't have problems like this did you?
I didn't realize your god was so weak that people could kick him out of places
None of those kids in that school prayed at home? Why in order to receive protection in a certain place, must prayer be done in that place?
Also would you say God was in schools in 1999?
Children are abused in churches and by clergy all the time, what is your excuse for that?
I agree 100%. When I was in school we didn't have to worry about locking the doors or having police stationed at the schools. God was in there. When God was taken out of the schools, it let the Devil in.
I guess god's "omnipresence" does not cross the barrier of school doors. Give me a break, this has nothing to do with prayer not being allowed in schools.
Your imaginary friend seems like a huge wuss. Wow......an invisible can't go to specific places and do anything god.
Gee – if only those children hadn't been wearing those short skirts, god wouldn't have killed them.
What a christian message. Your insensitivity, shallowness and meanness make me wretch.
So again we ask, "Where is God?" I don't believe that was covered anywhere in the article. Religious leaders are like politicians, you ask them the hard questions they can't answer, and they avoid it by talking around it, finding some loosely related babble to fill the silence.
politicians/preachers are down stream from our culture;and we are shocked,as they state/parrot to us in many speeches.
evil obviously fills the voids that we create.
can we fill the the voids,and with what?
Dear People, In the midst of this Advent season (when we are asked to make ourselves ready for celebrating the birth of
Jesus Christ (who was and is God's Son being sent into the world to help people realize that God loves us all so much that he sent his Son to understand how much God loves us that he came to us as a new born baby who would grow up to care for, heal, and preach to us the Good News of how much God loves us and is most profoundly with us everyday but also and especially when tragedy strikes – the massacre of 20 innocent children at Sandy Hook Elementary School. God is especially with the parents, family, friends of those massacred children. God is truly with them and each of us telling us and showing us thru Jesus (who died for us- a victim of Roman and Jewish "Justice" as it was perceived then). God lost his own Son to death (on the horrible instrument of exeuction then a wooden croos. God feels our pain and will profoundly help us thru this time other times that are so painful to deal with. The way thru times such as this is to believe God is love;it is O.k. to be very angry
with God that in "God's world tragic events lie Fridays in Newtown happen. God's love and our love for each other can and will lead us through this o so difficult and painful time-especially for the parents and family members of those killed in Newtown, Conn
There is no god. Incidents like this are proof positive of non-existence.
Wheres GOD? Why ask this foolish question! Or don't you remember that the USA kicked GOD out! No more prayer in school, not permitted to pray on Capital Hill Etc, plus Mr. Hussein Obama said the USA is NOT a christian nation, or did you forget. Wolf guarding the hen house.So since we kicked him out, why do we ask were he is? How can we expect him to bless us, protect us when WE have turned our backs on him. If the Bible is true, than the USA best prepare for more judgements from GOD.
Ben.. it is mental illness and the other sacred cow that have caused this issue. To claim that an all loving deity allows 20 children to be murdered by a loony, just because your god has a hiissy fit is ridiculous.
Wait, wait. You are saying that a god killed those twenty children because the United States is not based on Christianity or has turned away from Christianity? Does this make you think that this god is good, and that he should be supported? He's some sort of extortionist who will keep killing people unless we worship him, so you want to worship him? I think you may be on the wrong side, here.
people that dont believe in GOD are always the ones like this that shoot up schools. people that dont believe in GOD are the delusional ones. you will see when you die. then you will believe GOD exists.
** DON'T FEED THE TROLLS**
there is no gods. believing in things that are non-existent is delusional.
there's no zeus, no apollo, no ganesh, no shiva, no elohim...
absolutely no gods...
and fyi – there are far more instances of people killing others because gods told them to do it.
you should literally be ashamed to be so ignorant.
i think when people realize that there might not be a god then all this horricfic acts should cease.
Why? you might ask...well because since there is no over seeing super power that condemns evil and praises good, people will trully understand that we are just a tiny spec of dust in this vast universe and are actions dont mean a damn thing. The world can fall apart from global warms and god will not come down an stop it. These kids will get murdered in school and god will not come down and stop it. Just look at the violence throughout our short human history and ask yourself did god come down an stop any of it? no ! so show a little humanity and lets help make the world a better place.
We need to quit expecting god to come and save the day and fix this mess of a world ourselves. If there is a higher power we will never ever know they exist, ever. Praying may bring peace of mind to some but it is not a solution to ANY problem.
This mess of a world is ours to fix not god's.
God is with in us.. Those who act evil have not seen the goodness in himself which is the god himself..
Before acting bad, uttering bad , seeing bad please look into yourself – you will find your conciousness guiding you.. That is god.
So god was in the killer too then.
God is In every living being.. But he does not act for them.. We do actions.. and face consequences- he merely watches.. If we realize the godliness with in us and in everyone – then that god acts and gives us a place with him- that's my belief.
Su, you are hopeless! nice response Yu
Like the Force?
gods exist only between the ears of the delusional people who believe in them.
were you raised in india – you might very well be hindu. you would then believe in completely different gods.
were you raised in iraq – you might very well be muslim...
i realize this will come as a shock to you – but it's the truth of reality.
evolve, please. you're retarding humanity.
So god put bullets into the bodies of 20 young, blameless children.
F uck your god.
Su..to continue to think that any god or deity capable of preventing innocent lives from being taken stands by and watches as these murders happen is appalling. Yet you continue to be a sycophant to this god. God is just a myth, and the philosophies you use to justify your god and keep it valid is sad.
We were handed a compass in this country to see where we collectively have gone wrong, take a look...
"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
"It is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almight God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favors. – George Washington
"It must be felt that there is no national security but in the nation's humble acknowledged dependence upon God and His overruling providence." – John Adams
"God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the Gift of God? That they are not to be violated by with His wrath? Indeed, I TREMBLE FOR MY COUNTRY when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever." – Thomas Jefferson
So then the founding fathers are just as inspired as the Bible. hmmm
Some of you are such damaged souls: angry with your lives and supposed failures you cannot see any light at all. I'll pray for you as well. We can tell by your screen names how damaged you are.
I am just so much better than everyone else. I will say my magic words because I look down my superior nose at you.
Interesting that we're all such "damaged" souls and yet atheists are responsible for less than 1% of crime in the United States, even though they represent at least 15% of the population.
I'd say it is the other way around. Hopefully all of you violent religious offenders can get your act together.
This is what happens when you take Zeus out of schools. I mean, in the centuries since Zeus was taken out of schools, there has been nothing but war and oppression and slaughter and ugliness.
The lesson is obvious: Get Zeus back in school, and let those children perform sacrifices to him now!
Apparently some of my fellow Americans are very upset at what foreigners are saying about God and our country. When viewing our country from the outside, it is very obvious that we have told God to leave U.S.. We have taken all the crosses down, we have persecuted Christmas, we no longer swear on a bible in the court room. We have kicked God out of the Schools and Classrooms. We have elected an Antichrist Islamic leader. Now we reap what we sew. We are an Ungodly Nation, and it shows. You Atheists who somehow think the universe bore itself, need not be concerned with where God is, Your concern should be with the length, quality and success of your short human life. What else could you live for?
I live for tacos!
You're exactly right. When a nation kicks God out, there is no longer a shepherd gard it from the wolves. This is our fault, not God's
The underlying principle of this problem is society's choice of good or evil.
When society, in general, (especially its leaders) rejects God and the Good that He is, all that is left is evil.
Continue to reject God, and God will allow more of this will come upon society.
Persecuted Christmas? Did we torture Valentine's Day?
Hello??? There is no such thing as god. PERIOD. All you observers who show up to church on Sunday to donate money should be second guessing all the brainwashing you have been victims of since childhood. To believe in GOD is to believe in the Easter Bunny or Santa Clause. STOP!!! How many lives have to be lost in the name of scripture before common sense kicks in?? Frustrating.. Look to something meaningful in your lives in time of need instead of fairy tales.
robert (with the lower cased "r," you are very ignorant on this particular subject. It doesn't require the Bible to prove that there is a god. Philosophy 101, the law of causality says that everything must have a cause, which means that the universe must have a cause. It could never have existed by itself from eternity according to science. And it requires either ignorance or a rejection of sound reasoning to believe the way you believe. The fact that the universe exists, and the fact that you and I exist, proves that there must be something that is self-existent, and the universe is not self-existent because it's only made up of inanimate matter. The only thing that can be self-existent is, by definition God.
But there is something that proves the existence of God even more than philosophy. It’s changed lives. In the Psalms it says, “you will find me (i.e., God) when you seek for me with all your heart.” And people who have sought for God with all their hearts have changed lives, some dramatically. There are countless people who could have done something as wicked as this gunman did yesterday, but didn’t because the found the Lord and their sadness and mourning was turned to joy knowing when they found peace and fellowship in the love of a perfect, holy and all forgiving God. There also have been countless people like you, who have gone to their graves with no hope because they were stubborn in their unbelief. And that is very sad. That is why it says in Isaiah 1, “Come let us reason, together (that’s what God says) come let us reason, together says the Lord. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow, though they be red as crimson, they shall be as wool.”
God has nothing to do with this slaughter, we alone are responsible. Time to think of what kind of "arms" do we have the "right to bear".
It was a preemptive strike. Never question. Only obey.
Let christians agree on their belief in their God and then I will listen to what they have to say. Watching these comments and they all believe something different.
That's always how religion is. God is whatever make-believe thing someone wants him to be at any moment. Things going well? Oh praise Jebus!!! Things going bad?? Don't blame Jebus!!! God's judgemental, except when he's not, and he's loving, except when he's vengeful. This is one of the most proof positives that the religious are full of s***.
That and the whole evolution thing bahaha
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.