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.
You ask where God was when he is banned from public schools.... Good job
I agree. God's the azzhole who could have stopped this tragedy but was too much of a whiny b!tch because we don't make kids chant his name every morning.
Yes I am asking, where is he?
Sad .... 5 Amish children killed in 2006 in a schoolhouse massacre. So what's your next dumb, ignorant and ill-informed statement ?
So chloe rose, you think God delights in tragedy and horror huh. Interesting.
What is truly confounding is the number of complete idiots here who keep insisting that "we kicked god out of the schools." So you morons think that having every kid recite the Lord's Prayer each morning would have prevented this sh!t? What special kind of stupid ARE you?
Doesn't it ever dawn on you that this isn't 1960? That our nation is far more diverse than it was then? That in many classrooms there are Muslims, Buddhists, and Jews, just to name a few who aren't Christian?
Do you think you can get away with forcing everyone in a public school to worship your Christian god now?
Again, how fvcking stupid ARE you?
Yea. It's no longer the 60s. We are doing soooooo much better now, right???????
I am sure the Lords Prayer was read every morning in that Amish school that had a massacre a couple years ago
Ok, and what would YOU recommend? Please, since you're so willing to beat your chest over this and push your views in wake of this tragedy, what would YOU suggest we do with this apparent crisis we are having in America? Please, enlighten us.
Yes, in fact, we are. There is more racial equality. We have more respect for diversity, or at least people other than you do.
You dimbulb, are you willing to have students recite the Lord's Prayer along with reciting Muslim prayers, engaging in Buddhist rituals, etc.?
That's what will be required, azzwipe, if you want to reinstate prayer. It can't be just YOUR prayer or YOUR god, honey. Or did you have a brain fart that made you forget that?
I don't know whom you're addressing, Jeremy, but if you think I believe there's some simple answer, you're an idiot. There ISN'T one. Prayer ain't it. Got something else?
Why so hateful? Why do you feel it necessary to insult and degrade people right now? Sounds like you should just keep quiet. I think the last thing people need to hear is you cursing other peoples beliefs and calling names. I mean, don;t you accuse christians of the same stuff?
Remember, America WAS a Christian nation..... Meaning everything based on His commandments. If want to pray to Alah, go to muslin school, ets... We can be tolerant to any religion, but the country as whole is based on God's principles. Its that easy....
WRONG, Andry. This was NEVER a Christian nation. It is a secular country and your god isn't the only one that matters here. You don't get to insist that people who don't want to pray to a Christian god go to school elsewhere.
Get a clue. Grow a brain.
I wont argue with you, but hope and pray you will get it before its way too late...
I pray for all of you that God will continue to bless and protect you all.
Oh sure, just like he protected those kids ?
Thanks, but no thanks. I have seen how well God protects people.
If you don;t believe in God then keep quiet about it. Nobody needs your negativity and insults right now. Everyone is hurting and angry, but calling names and making insults isn;t going to help.
Shove it, Jeremy. I'll say what I wish. Don't like it? Don't read it. Simple. Even a lunk-head like you can understand that.
Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son is bitter, make sense he doesn't believe in God.
Same place he always was, nowhere.
Except in the collective minds of the delusional.
You only fool yourself when you refuse not to believe in a God.
Where is God? We took Him out of our classrooms when we said no more prayer in schools. What did everyone expect???
So the First Amendment massacred those children? I thought it was a psycho with a gun.
Would you be OK with god being taught in the classroom, provided it was the Hindu god? Or do you think it HAS to be YOUR god?
Isn't it rather arrogant to think you could have changed god's mind if only you prayed? And doesn't that make your god rather petty?
Where is GOD? Well think again, what did we do with Him.. Hes been pushed out of our schools, our families, our communities, our whole country. His commandments are rejected, instead everything is filled with debauchery, filth.... What happened with America being a Christian Country? He will not have his Mercy till we ask Him back.....
Move to Iran if you want to live in a theocracy.
America is not simply a Judeo-Christian nation—it is a nation of all religions and respectful belief systems. Part of the problem Christians are facing is a backlash from their intolerance of everything non-Christian.
If we're going to have religion in schools, then let ALL religions be represented and a healthy spectrum of spiritual beliefs not tied to a religion. Yes, it is possible for atheists to be good, moral people—they just don't see life the same way you do.
What we're lacking in this country is respect and tolerance for our fellow man, and part of that is coming from people who consider themselves highly religious—yet they strain at gnats and swallow camels . . .
And pray tell who is responsible for what you just raved about, you are, not some evil thing out there is causing you to leave God out, it is your fault and people like you. You expect the school and state to teach your children about everything including God, excuse me, but that is your respponsibility not the government or the school, it is a family church thing.
So do it already !
America is not a Christian nation. Never was, never will be. I say this as a believer.
God was kicked out of schools. Can't say the Pledge of Allegiance ("Under God" is a no no). Christmas celebrations were replaced with Holiday parties. Heck, you're not even allowed to say "Merry Christmas" in a public school. Even holiday parties seem to be on there way out because not everyone celebrates something anymore.
This country was created "Under God". It's a shame those who were blessed with the freedoms of America (that came from God) are now using it against Him.
I don't recall Eisenhower being a Founding Father.
Move to Iran if you want to live in a theocracy, you nutjob.
Another moron who's full of sh!t. The Pledge of Allegiance is recited daily in MANY public schools and it includes "under God," you jacka ss.
"Under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954
I say the Pledge the way it was originally written.
if god existed and he didn't want this to happen, he would have stopped it
fairy tales do not make the world a better place
a horrible person committed a horrible tragedy.
since you cannot help the dead, go out today and help the living.
it works better than prayer.
God has you in his book. He has a plan for each of us. He knows when you will be born and when you will die.
He is therefore responsible for all death, murder and destruction for all of history including every abortion ever performed, every rape, every murder, every miscarriage, every atrocity including todays massacre.
He is perfect. He is omniscient. He is omnipotent. So how could this not be so? It is God’s will.
Not true. John 17:9, Jesus says He ***does NOT*** pray for the world: "I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine." He only prays for God's children. America are children of $MONEY$. MONEY is your god, not Jesus.
Because God made you for a reason, he also decided when you would be born and how long you would live. He planned the days of your life in advance, choosing the exact time of your birth and death. The Bible says, "You saw me before I was born and scheduled each day of my life before I began to breathe. Every day was recorded in your book!" [Psalm 139:16]
Psalm 137:9 Blessed is the one who grabs your little children and smashes them against a rock.
not a good time to quote from your fairy tale book
I'm sure this is what the children would have wanted at the time of their deaths: a debate over whether or not God exists. It really honors their memory and shows how caring we are as a society ...
This is a belief blog and this is a relevent debate What is your problem with it?
The children will never know and with any luck, and good parenting, they were not indoctrinated into any religious cult.
You'll notice, Wow, that it's the christians who are saying that this was all something god could have avoided if he wasn't so pizzed off about people not praying to him in school and such nonsense as that.
Ok Moby, but you're doing the exact same thing by feeding back into it.
God is all around us but we are to blind to see him............we are quick to judge him when we don't get what we want but fail to thank him when we do. I believe in God but when we have to be politically correct to not offend the certain people that do not want God in their lives. We have to listen to the government and not allow God into our schools so that he may protect our children. When will we ever learn that God belongs in schools and the idiots dont?
I assume the god of the three abrahamic desert blood cults who's everywhere yet nowhere at the same time and doesn't do squat.
God gives people a free will... Read the bible
No he doesn't. Read Romans 9 and study Calvinism.
You mean he forces free will on us.
America's god is money, so don't ask where He has gone. You have never embraced Him. You are not a Godly nation, you never were, and never will be.
Sadly, there is much truth in your statement . . .
You remove God from the public, yet you wonder where he is.
The shooter was an atheist I heard...
is your god that easily controlled – by the will of his creation?
heard from who?
How dare you question God and his presence!!! God is omni present! The lord is working, and he has this wholes situation under control he will never put more on us than we can bare! This tragity should have woken you up to realize that no day is garunteed to us so this is the time to get right with our savior! Jesus is coming back very soon guys, so don't get left behind.
Oh, so he has the situation under control NOW – AFTER 25 people are dead. That's so comforting to know.
God always has a quota to fill just like in the Batman theater. Well, I got my two dozen, I guess I'll make his gun jam now.
Never gives you more than you can bear..are you kidding? Believe it or not I am a believer in Christ Jesus and I believe he died on the cross for all of our sins. But I do believe that you do get more than you can bear in this life. And today with the news about the sweet children dying in this massacre that's not more than anybody can bear?? I think that religion does not want to portray God as anything other than loving..it's hard to believe that considering what is going on.
You can't even spell guarantee & you want to talk about some candy land, make believe character in the sky...Get real & wake up & smell some science...God doesn't exist...The idea that there's some holly man floating around in the sky is just ludicrous...Open a science book & free your mind....May the loved one's of this Horrible tragedy somehow find strength & peace....This heinous, cowardly, repugnant act is senseless murder...
stay blessed everyone :)
There is no magical man in the sky that can prevent bad things from happening.
Society has rejected God. This is very evident in the laws being passed lately.
God is crying right now......He cant stand rejection. He's the overly attached God.
In a five mile radius of my house there are 30+ churches. How can you claim god has been rejected?
Just waiting for more armchair theologians to tell us that God is either crying right now is angry with us or that God allowed this to happen because we have refused to establish a theocracy in America.
Why would you expect God to stop an evil person like this? God allows us freewill, to do as we please. If your expectation of God is to stop evil, a sin? At what point should God allow us to sin? We are all sinners. If God stopped all sin then we could not sin.
What a disgusting god to allow the shooter's free will to take precedent over the free will of all those he killed who really wanted to live.
And getting rid of this sin you believe in would be a bad thing how? Its disgusting. Your god is disgusting, good thing he's not real.
Well stated Moby
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.