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.
Follow the CNN Belief Blog on Twitter
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.
CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories
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.
He does not exist. Simple as that.
I agree with you 100% there is no imaginary friend in the sky.
THere is NO morality, no ethics, no right, no wrong. The sun never says to the moon, "you owe me." Everything just is.
Toothbrush, anyone? Bit of corn stuck in my tooth.
Nope – everything's ok – I just ate my underwear
"Act 4:25 Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things?" Well, ummm, err, arrogance that they were taught?
Crap – I just soiled myself!
New Rule: Any child killed before the age of reason is a freebie. No harm, no foul.
There is no soul, no god, no human rights, no good, no evil. All is happenstance. Let these kids feed the flowers so I can enjoy a nice spring day. their parents tears will water them
Hey Send Barnes... do you expect us to believe you are right when you say there is no universal right or wrong?
no right, no wrong. All of it is merely human contract. All religion, all ethics, all humanists codes. All made up bull hockey
Then I must logically deduce that everything you say is meaningless.
Mommy and daddy sent me up to my room with no TV. I don't know why they would get angry about me sodomizing the cat on the dinner table.
stop pretending to be me you felcher
I'm not a felcher – you're the felcher
What the fvck are you babbling about, you sick twit?
With no thanks the political correctness effort going on today in our society, God has been taken out of our schools, our government offices and to some extent even many of our churches, which they find it to their advantage to teach "social religion" and not the Gospel. When an individual or a country turns its back on God then He will turn His back on them...hoping they will realize who's really in control of this universe and return to Him. He'll still love those who turn from Him, but will not answer prayer that is not given. For those who do not believe in Him, then continue to curse Him for the evil in this world. After all, He's an easy target. The problem is, you want it YOUR way and not His. It gets down to the choices we make!
no god has anything to do with any f it.
Dusty, unlike most religies, you write pretty well. With your obvious intelligence, it's perplexing to me that you still believe there's some big sky boss we need to kowtow to. I actually have some hope for you.
If that is how he operates... I'm no fan of your god.
All these atheists crack me up. It angered me at first, but now their struggle to disprove god and their logical fallacies is a source of amusement. You can not PROVE nor DISPROVE the existence of God. That's kind of the point...it's based on faith. You ask why he let evil happen....well it's earth. The place where no evil happens is heaven...the place you strive to reach to never see something like this happen. There are so many holes in atheist logic it cracks me up they pretend to be the "smart ones".
Well, then – care to enter into a debate – nice and civil of course? Do you believe in a god? If so, why?
You are the 500th person to say that exact same thing, despite the obvious stupidity of it. For rebuttal, see any of the last 81 pages, where the "god out of schools" lie has been thoroughly humiliated.
Christians are not only stuipid, they are incredibly sheep-like, baa-baa-baa-ing out the same ridiculous cliches.
Yes. I believe in god and would happily debate it civilly. What was so stupid about the above comment? Please elaborate on how you can find something so dumb when you can do no proof to show there is no existence of god?
I agree that it is logically impossible to prove a negative – in this case, that god does NOT exist. it is of course possible that there is a god – or gods. However, it is logically possible to prove that god does exist. Anyone claiming that god does exist bears the burden and onus of proving that god exists. Do you believe that god exists? If so, why do you believe that?
There is no evidence that something doesn't exist. You can only prove that things exist (which you fail to do).
Aside from personal experinces which atheists will just give no credit too....go back as far in time as you'd like. Tell me now the first particle of any sort appeared? A particle that arose from complete and utter nothingness? I don't believe in Adam and eve, but a god that set it all in motion with the creation of particles to set the big bang in motion.
@ illogical – I see that a couple of others have responded. Do you believe in god? If so, what's your proof? If I said, i believe that there is a 400 foot tall elephant in my backyard, and it's riding a bicycle, would you take me at my word, or would you say – wait for it – what is your proof?
Easy one – where did we come from? Where did it all start? i don't know. That is the answer not, I don't know; therefore it must be god, therefore god exists. that is the argument from ignorance fallacy. we have learned a great deal in the past 100 years about our universe, and I anticipate that we will continue to learn. A thousand years ago people thought lightning was being thrown down by the gods – now we know that it is a discharge of static electricity
@attack ..I offered one of my reasons above. However, as I stated initially, you can't prove nor disprove. The very essence of the teaching is beliief in the absence of proof. If there was some sort of concrete proof, a path to heaven wouldn't be so hard and earned would it? I personally don't care if one chooses not to be believe because I respect everyone. Plus, if I am right and the atheist is wrong, I won't be the one hurting. If I'm wrong, well I guess we both end up the same.
Attack- i don't find that easy. Something out of complete nothing? There has to be a creator for the "something".
That is simply intellectual dishonesty. Simply say, I don't know. Try it – it won't kill you. Then consider this – does it make any sense, from a rational, logical point of view, to go from the position of – I don't know how the universe came to be, so I 'm going to attribute it to a creator – god – to then imbuing that creator with a bunch of characteristics, such as – this is a god that takes a personal interest in you, that this god wrote a book called the bible as his rules, and that if you don;t accept this god, then you will burn forever in hell after you die.
Do you see my point? Maybe there is a "something" that got everything started – who knows? But the rest? No – that is completely illogical and unsupported.
It is not intellectual dishonesty. If you admit that there is a creator of the whole thing, be it any construct you like, you are by far closer to an explanation. The atheist theory holds no real world example- not one example of any thing or particle that arose from complete nothing. So using our own real world science, there had to be a creator. If you say something to contradict this, you are arguing for the very thing you are accusing others of doing. Its a bit of a paradox for you- you either say there is no creator and defy everything we know of science, or you admit there is a creator and well....
That is where my beliefs start. I don't think everything in the bible is true...there are stories told by man. Some as lessons I suppose. My belief then comes from personal experience driven through prayer. Believe me, I've questioned my faith a few times and through that questioning I always came out even more firm in my belief. My belief isn't because I read a bible and took it word by word but real life personal experience.
Life is not sacred. There is no soul. There is no God. There is no after life. There is no universal right or wrong. This is a meaningless news story.
"Psa 92:9 For, lo, thine enemies, O LORD, for, lo, thine enemies shall perish; all the workers of iniquity shall be scattered." Loud mouth atheists, your demobocrat votes don't count.
Let me guess: Grade 9, and part way through grade 10, before you dropped out.
I bet the pro choice crowd is really conflicted by this news! I mean, ordinarily the killing of innocent children is celebrated!
The society that no longer fears God will inevitably live in fear and mistrust of one another.
Yeah, nobody feared each other in the middle ages, or when the inquisition was on, or the religious wars in Europe, or anything like that.
You do know that American society is actually getting safer than it was 50 years ago, despite the growing secularism.
And you do know that the murder rate in the Bible Belt is about 4 times higher than in New York or California, don't you?
Try the Middle East, where everyone believes in and fears a god – just not the same one. I wouldn't call that the most trusting part of the neighbourhood. Northern Ireland? Same thing. In fact, religion is the prime motivator of violence. Look at the Scandinavian countries – very high rates of atheism – very low rates of violence. Look at the prison population in the US – Christians are over-represented, and Atheists are under-represented in prison populations in relation to their relative percentages of the overall population.
I assume you will enlighten us with proof of this ridiculous statement, aaron. When can we expect it?
its funny that when people of the usa let god stay in the schools, shooting like this didn't happen,, so you all took god out of schools and this kind of things happen,,,, now this news site ask were is god,,,, you people should know,,,, you ran him out
ken, you can't really be that stupid, can you? Sadly, you probably can.
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.
No offense if you're black and rich – Obviously I don't mean you!
Lanza – go into black schools and finish off what the white, Jewish doctors didn't at the clinics!
My heart is breaking for those who are personally suffering after this another masacre. But, I am weary to the core of headlines and people asking, "Where is God?"
"Where's God?" God is right where God has always been – waiting for us to recognize we need God. We take prayer out of school, we complain because school children want to participate in prayer and Bible study groups, on campus. We get angry when someone at work says a simple, "God bless you" when some sneezes or when someone asks, "Would you like me to have my church pray for you?" We can't even say, "Merry Christmas" at work to one another because "someone may have an issue with the term, Christmas."
Yet, we want God to be around to stop the violence, stop the chaos, end the famines around the world, stop husbands and wives from beating each other up or get rid of all the child molestors. But don't dare ask us to involve ourselves in any way, shape or form to the ways of God.
We want God to be there for us but we refuse to be there for God. We want God to make everything hunky-dory but we don't wan to do our part by surrendering ourselves to God. We, like the rebellious children we are, want food on the table, clean homes, plenty of allowance money, etc but we do not want to follow the guidelines of the household. We told God to mind His own business and to get out of our lives. And we now have the nerve to question if God is there at all?
Only those who don't give God the time of day, after God has given us time, ask the selfish question, "Where is God?" And to those who don't believe in God...you have no right to even mutter such a condescending question! After all, how can a question be framed around a subject that does not exist? J'es sayin'.
You want to know where God is? Then seek for God. you will find God. God is not hiding. God is waiting patiently in line behind all of our other priorities to which God does not seem to be among the numbered. No, life may not always be roses, lollipops and balloons but we will know just how sweeten the lemonade.
God is asking, "Adam, where are you?"
God isn't anywhere, because god doesn't exist
There is no god. Asking "where is god" is like asking "where is Santa Claus?" Christians expend vast amounts of energy trying to rationalize why there is no evidence whatsoever that anything one could reasonably call God exists. There is certainly no evidence that any higher power influences events in this world, and that frustrates Christians.
81 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?
We need God more than ever. Let's start to love one another and stop this madness.
GBAZ...you're so correct. But, the anti-God liberals aren't going to hear any of it. I feel just like you do. Every time something like this happens, we start in on the "Where's God" questions. God is right we put Him....on the outside of the school looking in. We said, "You're not welcome here" and now we're paying for it. We're paying for it all over this country. We've kicked Him out of every public forum, and man are we paying for it.
We can debate "gun control" and "mental illness" all day long but until we decide that we're serious about addressing the issues and return to our Judeo Christian roots, we're going to experience this stuff over, and over, and over, and over again.
If we would only get honest with ourselves, we MUST admit (the statistic are PROOF) that these kinds of horrible occurences have come about recently, corresponding to about the time we kicked God out of school. Nothing else has changed. Poverty? Education? Unemployment? Mental illness? Are people honestly going to say that those things have dramatically increased in the last 40 years and can account for these kinds of crimes. NO WAY!! So, the question becomes....WHAT has changed? The answer is we've turned our backs on God. Plain and simple.
OK athiests and God haters, go ahead and carve me up now.
No need to Mark you carved all by yourself. School killings have been going on for over 200 years in the USA.
God was never removed from schools either. What was removed was the state indoctrinating children in one particular version of religion.
It's time to criminalize the 2nd Amendment and celebrate gansta style and music like they do on NPR. They're trendy like that.
We atheists are so powerful that we can keep god out of classrooms, and he obeys! He even gets so resentful about it, he occasionally makes someone insane and he send them in. But he can't go there himself, because we threw him out.
To be Christian is to be totally incapable of critical thinking.
So why are you nonbelievers so bent on getting God out of our lives? If you were truly non believers it wouldn't bother you so much.
I just don't understand why so many take offense to our God.
You misrepresent us. We are denying you the right of forcing your religion onto our lives, in schools, in science, in laws, anywhere that we have to put up with your insanity. We don't care at all about what you believe, as long as you don't force it on others. But for 2,000 years, it's been forced on us, and nothing good has come of it.
And when we hear for 81 freaking pages that this psycho's actions is somehow our fault? Yeah, you are going to get blowback for that slanderous psychosis.
Keep your insane religion to yourself. Don't make my children listen to your psychotic hatred in school.
Syour god not our god.
@ susan – because your god condones murder, r-ape, genocide, human sacrifice and slavery. How's that for a start?
Christians see only that they only want to see.
It's nearly impossible to convince them with contrary evidence.
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.