My Take: CNN readers' 7 answers to 'Where was God in Aurora?'
A man pauses at a memorial of crosses near the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, the scene of last week's mass shooting.
July 26th, 2012
02:49 PM ET

My Take: CNN readers' 7 answers to 'Where was God in Aurora?'

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

Over the last few days, CNN’s Belief Blog has received more than 10,000 responses to its question, “Where was God in Aurora?”

The underlying concern here has vexed theologians for centuries: How can evil happen in a world that is lorded over by a good and all-powerful God? As CNN's readers struggled to make sense of God's presence (or absence) in the Aurora, Colorado, massacre, I counted seven different answers to this question:

1. There is no God.

Self-professed atheists may make up only 2% of the U.S. population, but they are extraordinarily active online, and on CNN's Belief Blog. A commenter who identified as Jason spoke for them when he wrote, “Where was God? He was where he has always been. Nowhere because God does not exist.” Bob Dobbs agreed: “God is imaginary. The question is moot.”

Many in this camp also quoted the ancient Greek philosopher (and skeptic) Epicurus:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?

2. Don’t blame God, blame Satan.

Many theists on the site described the world as a battleground between God, who is working for good, and Satan, who is working for evil. “As long as Satan is loose to promote evil, bad things will happen to good people,” wrote kat.

3. Don’t blame God, blame us.

Probably the most common response from Christian commenters was that evil is a result of free will. Do we really want to be “puppets” or “robots"? Of course not. So God has given us the will to choose either evil or good.

Watch: Survivor of massacre says he forgives gunman

Believer summed up this position well:

"It's been said that the only thing we can truly give God is our will because its the only thing we possess that is uniquely ours. Everything else was given to us by him, and is, in effect, not ours to give in the first place. As such, and despite his omnipotence, he cannot intervene. . . .  He only possesses power where power can be possessed - and controlling our actions is not within that realm."

Here Deborah also chimed in: “This act of violence was not God's will. I get so tried of people blaming God for evil acts. Humans of their own free will do evil things.”

4. God was behind the massacre, and it was just.

Some believers saw God’s righteous hand in the Aurora massacre, inflicting a just punishment on a wayward nation now run by secular liberals rather than conservative Christians.

Lenny wrote:

"We as a country have been telling God to go away. We told him to get off our currency, get out of our schools, get out of our Pledge of Allegiance, take your Ten Commandments out of our courthouses, get those Bibles out of hotels and no graduation ceremonies in our churches. How can we expect God to give us his blessing and his protection if we demand that he leave us alone?"

Read: The man who made Aurora’s iconic crosses

Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, took a similar tack in an appearance on the Heritage Foundation's "Istook Live" radio show, laying the blame at the feet of a nation that has turned away from its God:

"You know, when people say, where was God in all of this? Well, you know, . . . we’ve threatened high school graduation participants that if they use God’s name that they’re going to be jailed, we had a principal of a school, and a superintendent or a coach down in Florida that were threatened with jail because they said the blessing at a voluntary off campus dinner. I mean, that kind of stuff… where is God? Where, where? What have we done with God? We told him that we don’t want him around. I kind of like his protective hand being present."

5. God was present at the massacre but with the victims, not the perpetrator

One classic claim in the Abrahamic tradition of Jews, Christians and Muslims is that God is with those who suffer - the poor and the oppressed. Some commenters saw God’s miraculous hand in the midst of this suffering, not causing it to happen but bringing it to an end.  “This may sound crazy,” wrote Diana, “but I believe God had a hand in that the gun jammed so that more people weren’t killed.”

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

The most common claim in this category came from peacemaker, who wrote, “God is and was with the victims and s/he is weeping.” In a more explicitly Christian vein, Lauren wrote: “He was there in the theater, pierced by bullets with the victims. He was scarred by the shrapnel. His eyes were scorched with gas and then burned with tears as He mourned alongside the broken.”

6. Which God?

Some commenters interrogated the question itself, arguing that the knots it twists us into are rooted in what commenter Ego_Death called “a false idea of what God is.” After all, the problem of evil in a world ruled by a sovereign and good God only presents itself if you posit one personal God who is both good and all-powerful.

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Referring to "our idea of a human-like personal God" as "an ancient myth," Northstar56 wrote:

"But just because this kind of God does not appear to exist, does not mean that God, in fact, does not exist. I think many have developed a more mature and realistic perspective . . . in which God exists as a pure fundamental consciousness or state from which all of existence arises. This God does not control anything, but rather continues to perpetually emanate as reality . . . God was present in all of the victims, and everyone else. God was present in the killer as well. The tragedy is that the killer's awareness was so distorted and twisted that he could not see or be aware of the intrinsic priceless value of every person he gunned down."

Evoking something more akin to the “watchmaker” God of the deists, who makes the world and its laws and then refuses to intervene in its operation, Norm wrote: “God is not involved in our everyday mundane activities. How arrogant of man to think he’s the center of the universe and has God’s constant attention and every action is ‘God’s will.’”

Taking a different tack, "varun" invoked the teachings of the beloved Hindu scripture the Bhagavad Gita:

"Only the followers of Semitic religions have problem with understanding this - because they do not believe in rebirth and karma. As soon as you introduce these two concepts into (the) picture along with the eternal indestructible soul (something Semitic religions do believe in), everything makes sense. Read Bhagavad-Gita and everything would be as clear as daylight."

7. Who knows? It’s a mystery

Agnosticism is a rare virtue in the United States nowadays, but there were a few commenters who admitted to something less than the absolute certainty exhibited by atheists and evangelicals alike. "The answer," wrote Terry, "is we don't know where he was." Fluffy the Gerbil of Doom saw this "God works in mysterious ways" move as “ultimate cop-out/rationalization,” but I am not so sure.

In September 1862, in the midst of a much greater American tragedy, Abraham Lincoln wrote a private “Meditation on the Divine Will” in which he struggled to make sense of what God was doing in the Civil War. He later reworked those reflections into his second inaugural address, one of the greatest speeches in American history.

Surveying the corpse-ridden landscape of North and South, Lincoln observed, “Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.” Clearly there was little good in slavery, he reasoned, yet equally clearly God was not giving a swift and sure victory to the Union. So what was God up to? In the end, Lincoln had to admit he did not know. Or, as he put it, “The Almighty has His own purposes.”

I suppose this is in a sense a “cop-out,” but it is a humble one, uninfected by the absolute certainties (either pro- or anti-God) that have shed more blood on earth than agnosticism ever will. It is also a classic example of answering a question with a question: What is God doing with this war? Who knows?

“Josephpusateri” also answered our question with a question. His comment was in my view the best of the hundreds I read, so I will end with it here:

"Oh, the blindness of such a question... as if only theodicy was a relevant question in white, American suburbs. Where is God in Afghanistan? Where is God in Gaza? Where is God in Syria? . . . Where is God, indeed."

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Atheism • Belief • Christianity • Culture wars • Devil • Ethics • God • Violence

soundoff (4,074 Responses)
  1. Believer

    " Which God? "

    Every single atheist know that we refer to the Christian God. So why pretend to be arrogant?

    July 26, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
    • exlonghorn

      But the question "Which God" is still a valid one. Do you believe in all the deities of all the religions? If not, then you must have a non-evidence-based reason for not believing in some of them. Well, the same reason you use to invalidate other deities can be used to invalidate YOUR particular deity as well. Get it?

      July 26, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      How about the married atheists?

      July 26, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
  2. R Burns

    God's role isn't always to provide miraculous rescue from disaster, but to guide those who pray to remain free of the bonds of evil. The Lord's Prayer specifically mentions "deliver us from evil" and that can mean both from the terror of disasters or acts of others, or from doing evil ourselves. If you choose to ignore God you're not protecting yourself or those you love from anything but ignorance – and as one recently converted atheist commented, there can be only gains and no risk from accepting God in your life. But the goal is eternal, not just for this life. Imagine the surprise of getting to the other side and finding out it's not only real, but that you might have led a more peaceful life and that the life beyond may be shortened because you didn't pay attention. Something to think about!

    July 26, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • R Burns

      I should have said you're not protecting yourself from anything but perceived ignorance, since the ignorant are those who don't understand the plan God so generously has for us!

      July 26, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
    • exlonghorn

      So how does that explain countless misdeeds by priests, bishops, evangelists, etc.? These people pray more than nearly anyone else on earth, and yet they engage in abhorrent behaviors including stealing, coveting wives, committing adultery, and abusing children. Give me a logical reason why this happens? I'll give you one...THERE IS NO GOD.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      R Buns, how about the childhood cancer God so generously hands out?

      July 26, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
    • Rick

      R Burns – you can live a peaceful life full of good deeds and yet not believe in fairy tales. If you are wrong, what is this all-good God going to say, "you were nicer than a lot of people who claim to know me, but I don't want you in my world because you did not believe in one of many stories people said about me, stories for which I provided no proof?" If he/she/it says that, then he/she/it is up to no good and should no be called God.

      July 26, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
  3. fallen_love

    he was probably in Afghanistan ..kinda a busy area ...

    July 26, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
  4. Rick

    Funny how people rush to say that "it was God" when good things happen, but then they argue that bad things happen because of free will, or because of Satan.

    – If we have free will, then good things don't happen because God intervenes, that would interfere with our free will
    – Isn't God all powerful, why does he not get rid of Satan then?
    – Isn't he all-good, then why he let's bad things happen. What kind of all-good God can do evil to punish evil.

    Whether there is a superior being I don't know, but if there is, then that being is not what people say it is.

    July 26, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
  5. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    July 26, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      Still praying for wealth and a naked man I see.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
    • Phoebe

      That's a rather judgmental statement for a Christian, I believe.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • just sayin

      That would be two wonderful Truths. God bless

      July 26, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
    • exlonghorn

      Prayer indeed changes things. It usurps individual control and responsibility, and hands it off to an invisible deity with no evidence of its own existence. I cannot see what is healthy about doing that.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
    • just sayin

      Seek God find God and then reply. God bless

      July 26, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
    • naturalist1

      Atheism is THE ONLY healthy thing to teach children. It will ground their lives in reality, make this life for them, the one and only one they get really mean something.....motivation to get it right.
      Nothing fails so miserably as prayer.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • ArthurP

      More is accomplished by two hands working than thousands clasp in prayer.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
  6. Dot8

    The question should be: Where was Satan in Aurora? Inside a movie theater creating what he does best ... evil acts.

    July 26, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      Satan does not exist anymore than God, Jesus, unicorns, leprechauns, the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, and the Easter Bunny exist.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
    • Rationalintn

      Satan – the go to guy for a convenient excuse, created by men who believed that personal responsibility is too great a burden. The devil made me do it is neat and tidy, and allows me to continue doing bad things without remorse!

      July 26, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
  7. Epicurius

    If a personal god is all powerful and all knowing then he created Satan and allowed all evil in this world to happen. Thus, it is this god that killed people and not satan, because Satan would not exist without the consent of an all powerful god. This goes to show that the idea of all powerful and all knowing personal god is very problematic.

    July 26, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
    • Jeff

      You assume that death is a bad thing. If death means they end up in a better place then its a fantastic thing.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
  8. Jeff

    People that make such a big deal about this don't really get the point that if you believe in God then you probably believe in an afterlife. That said, the deaths of these people is only the start of something else. Assume for a moment that everyone killed is now in heaven, the result of thinking about it that way is that God blessed them.

    July 26, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
    • Rick

      People believe in that idea of God and afterlife because they are scared to recognize that we are mortals and that this life is the only one we have.

      If you die, you die, that is it. Those people are not in a better place, they are in no place. They are dead. But for most people it is hard to accept that we are mortals.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
    • nottolate

      "Assume for a moment that everyone killed is now in heaven, the result of thinking about it that way is that God blessed them."

      Society basically does that now. I think that is very dangerous because nothing could be farther from the truth. Notice when somebody dies they say things like "she's an angel now" or He's smiling down on us now." That is wishful thinking.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      Rick, you got it right, my friend.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
  9. TOMG


    July 26, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      Tums, do the attendants know where you are?

      July 26, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
  10. Atheist = Thinker

    "I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires."

    - Susan B. Anthony 1896

    July 26, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
  11. TOMG


    July 26, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      Tums, return to your room. They're searching the grounds for you.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
  12. lou

    Maybe James was on the same God plan as Zimmerman was?

    July 26, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
  13. Dragon Slayer Lights Your Fire

    Religious people are like cops....always present AFTER the fact and totally useless. Stop trying to have someone answer the questions and start thinking for yourselves.

    July 26, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
  14. Paul G.

    God is where he has always been, in peoples imagination; or better yet mass delusion.

    July 26, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
  15. Jim

    If God isn't real, how did he create man in his own image? Checkmate, atheists!

    July 26, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • yeahalright

      This is sarcasm, right? Has to be. Please tell me it's sarcasm.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
    • Paul G.

      Interesting that you believers will make up any nonsense to try to prove your point !

      July 26, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
    • Atheist = Thinker

      Godwin's Law...

      July 26, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
    • Dragon Slayer Lights Your Fire

      Did someone get into his father's liqueur cabinet today???

      July 26, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
    • Smurfette

      @ Jim: well, if my chocolate bar isn't telephone, then the lemon stole my skateboard! HA!

      July 26, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • lou

      If there was no men god could not exists ( no one to say god's name) but If there is no god would the universe cease to exists? I think not.....There is no god and we are here none the less.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV


      no this one is Poe's Law.

      Godwin's Law of Nazi Analogies is the one about Hitler.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      Stalemate perhaps.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
  16. TOMG


    July 26, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      Tums, take your medicine!

      July 26, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
  17. TOMG


    July 26, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      Tums, your mom is looking for you.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
  18. voxx

    Billy said it best and it is right before your eyes .....Our society strives to avoid any possibility of offending anyone – except God. Yet the farther we get from God, the more the world spirals out of control..

    July 26, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • lou

      Christianity has been at the controls of western civilization for the past 2000 years and still hold the "moral authority". Everything is circling the drain on your watch and you are passing the buck...typical

      July 26, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • yeahalright

      You really believe that don't you. In a country where you christians have shoved your god into the pledge of allegiance and onto money...where no one could be elected president if they said they didn't believe in your god...where every political leader has to end a speech with "god bless america."...where nightly athletes thank your god for home runs and touch downs...where you are the majority...

      you still really believe your god is persecuted don't you? What is it with you people and your love of playing the victim?

      July 26, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • Dragon Slayer Lights Your Fire

      I beg to differ...the MORE you're rapped up in Religion, the crazier the MF get

      July 26, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
    • exlonghorn

      This is funny. You know, U.S. coins have only displayed the words "In God We Trust" since the mid-1863, and paper money since 1957. The original Pledge of Allegiance never had the words "under God" in it. It only became a part of the pledge in 1954.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
    • sugarmomma1

      Once I announced I was an atheist, I have never felt more peace. I have accepted who I am, am not ashamed although some try to make me feel that way, and realized that I am rational and sane. The clouds aligned and life is good. The more and more I read up on religion and listen to religious people the more I feel sorry for them. They can't accept me, but I have no problem letting others believe what they want to believe. Our beliefs are personal. I don't know about society, but I am so very peaceful fully understanding that there is no God. I feel better actually. He's one scary dude!

      July 26, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
  19. Gathering Of Dumb

    Watching the movie somewhere else...

    July 26, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
  20. TOMG


    July 26, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
    • Dragon Slayer Lights Your Fire

      You smoking the good stuff today aren't ya?

      July 26, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
    • TOMG

      YES I TRY ! , AMEN

      July 26, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
    • TOMG


      July 26, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
    • Dragon Slayer Lights Your Fire

      If you're referring to my cigs and coffee, then YES I am

      July 26, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      Tums, leave the computer alone. It just confuses you.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
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About this blog

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.