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 know we refer to the Christian God (Jesus Christ), now stop playing dum.b@ss
Why that specific god? He's only one of thousands of gods
Are you so arrogant to believe your god should be imposed on all others in public schools and the entire country?
"Christian god"? I thought there was just one? Hmmm
and which version of that god – there are so many to not choose from.
Where is God?
We asked Him to leave our schools. He did. We asked Him to leave our public places – like malls and movie theaters. He did. We asked Him to leave our lives. He did. We asked Him to leave our businesses and workplaces. He did. We asked Him to leave our govenment; local, state, and federal. He has.
Any more questions?
Please, god, leave every part our lives as quickly as possible! Thanks, big guy.
Just one: who ties your shoes for you every morning?
So that's it.a paucity go god in our society. Brilliant.
So your god is a little whiny b!tch who won't save school children unless we make them chant his name every morning? How long do we have to make them do it? Any ideas? My kids are atheist, but I'll go for 4 minutes........or maybe 60 times? What the price to have your god stop being a dovche and protect little kids??
give me a break Rod! It's time for humans to deal with humans and stop expecting the fairy god mother to come down and fix everything.
Where was God ? The bible said God saved his people from Egypt,if he does exist and is omnipotent,why didn't he save these innocent people ?
IMHO, I believe God was created by men to controle people with fear.
Your opinion should be a little more humble
Well God was kicked out of schools a long time ago and a small amount of non believing people have continued their effort to ban him from public places and the military while we the public have just sat by and allowed this to happen. No doubt in my mind Christians need to take back the ground we have allowed these few to take away. We never saw this type of sensless killing back when their was prayer in schools but to answer the question GOD DID NOT DO THIS CRIME> a very sick sinful hatefilled man did this horrible crime. It can not be blamed on God, guns, or even a lack of gun laws. This nation needs to repent of all the evil it has allowed and done in the name of personal fredoms. Mayby then GOD will heal our land as he promiced in the Bible.
You realize lying is a Top 10 Sin, right?
So your god is a little whiny b!tch who won't save school children unless we make them chant his name every morning? How long do we have to make them do it? Any ideas? My kids are atheist, but I'll go for 4 minutes........or maybe 60 times? What the price to have your god stop being a dovche and protect little kids?
Now, your god apparently hangs out in churches enjoying the show as priests and pastors molest the children in their care.
God was busy forcibly impregnating women.
ATTENTION ALL NYTIMES REPORTERS:
DROP WHAT EVER STORY YOU WERE WORKING ON AND RESEARCH THE FOLLOWING "LEADS". ALL HANDS ON DECK!:
1) Did the shooter in CT vote for Romney?
2) Were any of the victims black?
3) Was he against teachers unions?
4) Was he ever in the military?
5) Was he against gay marriage?
6) Was he a member of the Tea Baggers?
7) Did he know any of Sarah Palin's children?
8) Was he a victim of the Bush economy?
9) Was he a member of the NRA?
10) Did he listen to conservative talk radio?
If the answer to ANY of those questions is "YES", we have our lead story until New Year's! If the answer to ALL of those questions is "NO," continue to cover our current lead story that Obama cried during a presser.
You're a total d&ck!
I am sure these pastors will be able to twist themselves like a pretzel in order to keep their god myth alive in the brainwashed minions
GOD HATES THE UNITED STATES. FACE IT.
@Faisal .... Allah never punishes the innocent. children are the most innocent irrespective which religion their parents follow ........ the prophet used to say this and 2 billion Muslims testify that. So please tone down. Today was a big tragedy.
Jesus hates the USA. I DO NOT BLAME HIM.
Let's put the blame with where it really belongs. It's the gays that caused this.
I believe you made a typo. It is spelled "guy" not "gays."
No, it's called sarcasm.
No sh!t. So was my comment.
Jesus suffered during his persecution by the Jews and Romans... God bless the children's family and adults that died.
Atheists are evil who won't comfort and pray for the victims. Makes me hate atheists even more now
Yes, the evil atheists. You sound like such a loving person.
What is it about not believing in a god that automatically makes people heartless and not willing to comfort those who have lost so much? Think before you speak.
Because Jesus suffered, we must suffer through unexplainable consequences? Atheist weren't the cause of this, and hating them serves no purpose except to make you out as a hypocrite. Love thy neighbor, right? Atheist won't pray to your "god" who sat on the sidelines while this happened. Are you praying to this "god" now to provide strength to those affected? Do you realize how silly that sounds? It would be like the Jews praying to Hitler after the Holocaust.
Three sentences and not one of them had anything to do with the other. Were these just random thoughts, or did you have a point? Will you be comforting the victims with your prayers?
Jesus was never in America, Mormonism is FALSE. Christianity in America is NON-EXISTENT. $$$MONEY$$$ has ALWAYS been the prime interest of the Americas. NEVER was God first on this land.
That's good, since god doesn't exist. Why make imaginary beings a top priority?
this is another instance of a mentally ill person who slipped through the cracks.
until we learn to identify these diseased minds earlier – this is what happens.
mentally delusional people (like xians, for instance) should never be allowed to roam freely among us.
like this article, no truthful answer to the question, where is their god in all of this, that god who let this happen to innocent babes.
why are they so dumb to ask for strength and peace now? why would that god pay attention now and grant that crapola?
Where is God? He's hanging at NRA headquarters, laughing it up with his Replublican conservative cronies and Pat Robertson.
God is not allowed in school........never should have been expelled.....needs to get back into schools and everywhere else in this country
Um... OK, but which god, or gods, do you suggest we employ?
you idiots are starting to sound like a broken record.
Isn't it interesting how all the believers say that god could have stopped this tragedy and would have if he had felt like it because he was appeased with certain prayers and whatnot, but the nonbelievers blame the guy with the gun. hmmm...
Job 33:12 Behold, this thou art not just: I will answer thee, that God is greater than man.
Job 33:13 Why dost thou strive against him? for he giveth not account of any of his matters.
Job 33:14 For God speaketh once, yea twice, [yet man] perceiveth it not.
Job 33:15 In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed;
Job 33:16 Then he openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction,
Job 33:17 That he may withdraw man [from his] purpose, and hide pride from man.
wow, bible verses. what's your point?
God is simply a character in a book similar Harry Potter, People who need to believe in god simply don't have the will to live a solid,good life. Some of the worst people this world haa ever seen prayed to god every day for solice.
And, what about the rest of them???
For those who turn to a god for solace, I sincerely hope they find some comfort. However, the issue isn't about a god or guns. It is a mental health issue and, for that, we need to turn to scientific research for answers.
Where are the laws to prevent this from happening again, and again, and again, is what they should asking. God is where he always is. Where are man's laws.
Apparently it is God's intent that we all have the free will to arm ourselves with semiautomatic handguns and shoot little children.
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.