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.
Not everyone who quotes the forefathers is "tea-party" (not me, are you kidding). But for the self-reflective sort that want to know how we got to this national epidemic, measure yourself against what America's creators told us. Could it be we're off track??
"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 Almighty 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
"As nations cannot be rewarded or punished in the next world, so they must be in this. By an inevitable chain of causes and effects, Providence punishes national sins by national calamities." – George Mason, Father of the Bill of Rights
America's creators? The ones who stole the land from the Natives, and killed a lot of them? The ones who supported the slave trade? Because, in reality, THAT is what America is built on – theft, murder, and slavery. Fine, fine Christian values – just look in the "good" book.
You need to read more Jefferson, because you cherry-picked a highly unrepresentative one. Jefferson was the father of the separation of church and state, as was Madison. Read their quote, instead of just your few. The real picture is very different.
why make it GOD debate, when it was a riffle that killed the kids? Why not debate tougher gun laws, atheists or religious?
Let's all stop shooting at white kids' schools are re-aim at Sikh temples, where those crafty dime store merchants and gas pumpers deserve it
Where is God? God is everywhere! Poor you. You were stupid enough to think that it's the creators job to manage your life. There are far more horrible things happening right this moment to alot more children all over the world.
God is EVERYWHERE? So God is with you when you are polishing the bishop, as it were? And you're okay with that?
Ah, god is just to busy to help poor little defenseless children. Doesn't want to do that "personal relationship and miracles" thing for kindergarteners.
Weird guy, god.
God's give everyone free will. He also provides a way to overcome temptation.
300,000 people die every day. 28 just happened to be in a school in Connecticut. There is no evidence that a god exists. The universe is ambivalent to our existence. You are not special. You are not unique. You are a mass of organic compounds sustaining life for a fixed time and then your atoms will become part of other things one day.
you sound smart!
It may hurt some weaker people, but that's the cold hard truth, Bose. Thanks for stating it so at least some of the religious wackos just might understand it.
Lanza was a cork smoker – if you get my wiff
God's not allowed in school anymore. As a society, we've told Him to go away and leave us alone. Then, when something happens, we ask, how could He have allowed it?...maybe we shouldn't have told Him to go away....we're letting atheist groups tell us we can't have God anymore...not even a Charlie Brown Christmas. Scripture says if we turn to Him, He will hear us and heal our land. Maybe we should tell the atheist to go away, and tell God to come on in.......
Why are children abused in churches then?
You are at least the 500th person to say that. It's bullish!t.
God hasn't been banned from churches, shopping malls, beauty salons and theaters. Of seven shootings in the USA in 2012 where more than four people were killed, only one, this one, was in a public school, where your god has been "banned". One was in a christian school. ten people were killed.
Richard, you are absolutely 100% correct!
We need Allah back in our schools – then stuff like this won't ever happen again.
Oh bullshit, Richard Jones. That crap is getting old. You can't really believe that. Actually, sadly, you probably do.
80 pages of "It's the atheists' fault! They don't let us brainwash their children in school!"
Dreary. Just dreary. How can so many people be so stupid?
why don't you pound fetuses up your grizzle ring?
@ Barnes – now THAT was a creative response!
Those poor kids shouldn't have been in school anyway – they should have been in Wisconsin beating up reporters at a union rally!
Where is Cod?
So Jesus isn't here because he was overfished?
He went to Vegas for the halibut.
Well, it started when he turned all of that water into wine – cod can't live in wine. Then, one day when Jesus was out for a stroll on the water, a Russian trawler scooped him up. At least, I think that is what happened.
In Russia, fish fish for YOU!
Sounds as believable as the story the religies believe.
Italians smell like rotting spaghetti!
Besides – all those kids were part of the 1%. I thought we were supposed to kill them anyway!
Send Barnes you are a disgusting human being
Round up every smelly ginzo
I believe god is asking us...where are we....
Atheists spend alot of time and energy finger-pointing at someone who supposedly doesn't exist...
You're lying and you know it. Do you get a special pass from Jesus when you lie, or what?
No, we spend a lot of time finger pointing @ people like YOU, who continue to expound that god does exist even though you have NO emperical evidence to support your OPINION....
No, we spend "alot" of time pointing fingers at religion pushers trying to force their stupid beliefs on others.
If you believe in a "God" who could have stopped this but decided not to, you're every bit as crazy as the shooter.
We shouldn't feed the trolls but. . .
How christian. . .
God is where he has always been.
In your mind.
No, he,s in my heart.
Doesn't matter which body part you think your god lives in, the probability of said god existing is just about zero – so low that saying there are no gods is not much of an exaggeration. Believes are nearly as mentally ill as the shooter – they just haven't acted out yet.
So-what you are saying is you would shield me?
Part of our evolutionary mammalian makeup is to protect the really young from harm.
And please don't bring out the good comes from your god card since that thing advocates mass killings in the bible without second thought.
Okay what if I was an adult praying to my God, would you still protect me? By the way, I said a pray for you tonight.
If that gives you peace of mind so be it.
It's not my brain anyway.
God is in the same place he was before most of the country turned its back on him.
Yep, in the imaginations of small-minded folk.
Which god? The gods of the first nations peoples who were massacred by all of the good Christian settlers? The gods fo the fine Africans who were kidnapped into slavery by the good Christian slavers?
If God is everywhere, was also shot yesterday?
Moby you are the one who is small minded. I like how you 'enlightened' people think you know the answers to the Universe. You want people the be respectful of your views but are every bit of disrespectful to others.
God is a female.
Kids should be learning about choice, not guns
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.