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.
If you really want the violence to subside, educate the religious. As horrific as this event was, it pales in comparison what has been done in the past few thousand years in "Gods (or the like)" name. Coming from experience, I know what these families are feeling, it's even worse than you can imagine. They don't need anyone using this tragic event for their political or religious agenda.
@me – whatever tragedy has happened in your life, I really hope that you heal from it. Life is so worth living. You are loved.
That was a very codescending response. Why did you choose belittlement? Were you unable to comment on what he actually said?
Where's God? In the same place where he was when we kill his son.
I didn't kill anyone. Collective guilt is inherently unjust, especially if we were not alive when this supposed crime happened.
God sure has some b=very unjust laws.
We need to stop yelling at one another and begin to listen
Oh, just kidding! You were saying?
We must stop telling others what to do.
Wait a minute . . .
Jesus says in John 12:46: " I have come as a Light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in Me will no longer remain in the darkness."
Some of us put our trust in you, and you totally screwed us.
I dunno, I think coffins are pretty dark inside.
Where is God? This seem to be the question everyone is asking; but in the US, the NRA is more powerful than God. The blood of those 20 babies is on the hands of those NRA lobbyist and their washington cronies that are opposed to gun laws. May the souls of those innocent babies rest in peace.
Change your tone to one of acceptance
We accept that you are a total moron, Childish one.
Motorized vehicles kill more people than guns. Should we ban all of these vehicles when a large accident occurs? Horses would be alot more safer right?
Motor vehicles serve a useful social function. Guns do not
Peace on Earth goodwill toward all!
It's not God who did this, it's the humans that don't believe or see the truth. God is the one who gave Adam and Eve Eden, but they are the ones who ruined it!!!!
Right – and that was, what, about 6,000 years ago? That whole garden of Eden thingie?
Do you really believe that? How did you get so biblewashed?
@Athy – you are so aggressive
I am what I am.
@Child Like Oneness. Athy is basking in his glory of new found "pseudo-intellectualism." It makes him feel special.
Athy is simply responding intelligently to what amounts to delusional blatherings from supposedly educated people.
Athy, you're a second rate I am................."Jhn 8:58 Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am."
It's a belly thang, for ol' Athy.
Very sad for all those parents, community of Conn state.
Mankind's default is having a god. When you can't find one you nominate yourself....."Phl 3:19 Whose end [is] destruction, whose God [is their] belly, ............" Barnes is eating.
Thy will be done on Earth.....
And deliver us from evil.....
I don't deliver people from evil. I let them suffer and die.
His will was to let 6 and 7 year olds get shot to death?
Wow. Looking at these posts, it's clear the whackos are out in force....But the question, "Where's God?"....He left the building a long time ago. Besides, we worship money these day. Just look what's being done in the pursuit of it. Look what we've done with the Paradise he gave us. So maybe we can buy our way out of the mess we've created. Pray all you want, but I think God has made it clear it's in our hands. If this country wants to breed murderous, sociopathic young men and then allow weapons to be sold to them, then, to paraphrase the Bible, we reap what we sow.
Eric – instead of pointing fingers of scorn, you should open hands of comfort.
Eric - EXACTLY : We reap[ what we sow ! ! !
I have acomplaint against God. He does not show and say what he wants. He must be there.
Like now, maybe he is saying" Look what loose guns, [or guns] can do." Or maybe he is saying "Look, what loose moral can do."
It is a message he kept sending.
Eric - EXACTLY : We reap what we sow ! ! !
Yes! Absolutely true! Those children reaped what they sowed!!!!
Just how often has God's finger pointed out his scorn? Are we to be but log bumps or are we going to finally stand up for principalities issues of righteousness sakes in the name of God and dare challenge the naysayers of illegitimacies paroled in luxuries laps? Are all Christians to not have their voices all heard in unifications of nowadays degrading governances to call out the pilferers and looters of inequities for sarcasms sakes? Is it more righteous for a nation to submit to gun legislatures an unwavering demand to erase from our C o n s t i t u t i o n the right for the people to bear arms? Why should people of today be wallowing along in an aged piece of legislation so long ago drafted when they were still playing cowboys and Indians? Are our lands of today more secure with our having guns aplenty as was the case by the perpetrators dead mother so having multiple guns? Why are we still acting as paranoid gun owners needing guns to supposedly protect ourselves from imaginary foes such as Indians or whatever other ethnicity?
Some boy felcher is trying to pass himself off as me. He obviously has a small pinky
lol, humans are so freaking stupid.
WE NEED GOD NOW MORE THAN EVER!!! EVEN THOUGH HE DOESN'T DO ANYTHING!!!
Bob – if you have an open mind and heart, a greater power will be revealed to you.
A truly open mind brings a person to Atheism .. it seems to be working for Bible Bob! Good for him.
No – open minds do not lead to dogmatism.
Darkened hearts leads to Atheism
I am simply restating what Christians have said ad nauseum for 82 pages. We need God, but God won't become involved and help people because of free will.
Of course, that means that he cannot answer prayers or perform miracles or do anything, because that interferes with free will.
Let us hold all the suffering parents in our thoughts and prayers.
How, exactly, will that help them?
How, unless you're face-to-face with the person?
Well, if you think that only face-to-face kindness makes a difference, I guess I can't help you.
Go finger your dead grandmother!
God exist, Just remember he is not allowed to be talked about in school.
So God gets bitter and resentful and sends in a killer.
??? A human law can keep a GOD(s) out of a school?
Yeah...He doesn't go where is not welcome and accepted.
God is still welcomed in any school – its just that the school cannot indoctrinate the children for any one god – thats the parent's choice not the government's.
How do you know that, trap?
How original. What are we up to for this same stupid comment, about 600?
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.
I can blow myself and type here at the same time!
The truth of the matter is is that people have been asking 'where's god' now for what, 3000 years? 2000? 1000? 500? 100? The truth is, plain as day. a god doesn't exist. But yet people will ask 'wheres god' 100 years from now. 500. 1000. 2000. And yes, even 3000 years from now. How sad is of these people to be brought up thinking that there some savior out there that will save them. Someone who will come to the rescue.
Do you think Uncle Joe is laughing about the fact that there are now 26 more dead capitalists?
Uncle Joe? You mean Stalin? Uh, dead guys don't laugh. But thank you for making a complete idiot out of yourself.
And yet the cow jumped over the moon. So there.
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.