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. NYC

    Atheism is a religion. They want members... that's why they post billboards on highways to get members to their cult

    July 26, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
    • Etalan

      If lack of faith and worship is consider a religion.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
    • sybaris

      So what if you consider atheism a religion, then what?

      Is there some pseudo-clever christard rational you're going to own us with?

      Go home, study, invent something useful.

      July 26, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
    • lou

      Religion is deity worship , Atheism has no deities ...Atheism is reason trying to make a comeback after thousands of years of mysticism

      July 26, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
    • yeahalright

      So having a billboard makes you a religion now? That makes everything from Macy's to Hospitals to Dog adoption agencies all religions. Who knew! And that's just heading westbound.

      July 26, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
  2. Cheese is the answer

    maybe he was on a break?

    July 26, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
  3. OK


    July 26, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • Etalan

      I call him Thor.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
  4. Jack

    Screw God – WHERE WAS BATMAN?!

    July 26, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
  5. Barbara

    What a stupid question!!! Why should God be in Aurora, or anywhere in America? America has been attempting to cast out God for a long time. Good thing I'm not God – I would have left this f*ed-up country a long time ago.

    July 26, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
  6. Eli

    Why are you trying to play G-D? You think you know why G-D allowed this man to shoot the bullets that ended the lives of these people? you don't, nor do I. But I do know that G-D is just and that those people would have died either way. The murder doesn't have the power to end their lives. Only G-D does. G-D used this evil man as a tool to carry out this judgement. He chose to do so and will be punished, but G-D has many other means to carry out G-D's purposes.
    You wan't to know where G-D was? look how well controlled it was. A bullet went up a girl's nose and traveled through a mutant tube of fluid, not damaging any of her brain. who made that tube years before anybody knew there would be a shooting? who directed the bullet to go so far and no more?
    Yes, G-D caused the bullet to enter her head as well as those who died, but G-D also directed it to go EXACTLY where G-D wanted it.
    The problem with people who ask where is G-D isn't that G-D's hand isn't clear and obvious, it's that those people want G-D to act on their terms and don't wish to see a G-D who might execute a judgement that they cannot understand.

    July 26, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
    • Smurfette

      pssst: Eli – I don't the the "O" on your keyboard is working.

      July 26, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
  7. ken

    Once I saw Jesus and HE told me the world was made through him. Call me crazy but this is a true story.

    July 26, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
    • Etalan

      I saw Jesus too, he ask me if he can cut my lawn for $5.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
    • bnoble18

      Okay, you're crazy.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
  8. Herman Huebenthal

    It's always the same old question? "Where was God " Well I know I can answer that question. He was right there, as he was there for the 911, the flood in China, the on going wars in the middle east. Where is God you ask? Nothing escapes his vision. But we seem to forget that God gave us something that stop him from acting to protect or prevent, " FREE WILL ". If he was to stop or prevent people from doing bad or good for that matter, he might's as well just put strings on all of us. We have only us to blame for the act's of others. Until we learn to care for each other, to give notices to the poor, the homeless, the sick, that's when we can help those who cry out for help. We are so busy with are own problems we don't have time to worries about someone Else's problems. I have always believe that God helps those who help others. It's like you scratch my back I your scratch back. I know that for a fact, that's how he helps me this is true testimony. So the next time you feel you need to blame someone just look into a mirror and ask yourself what have I done for my fellow man lately?

    July 26, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
    • TR6

      “God gave us something that stop him from acting to protect or prevent, " FREE WILL ". If he was to stop or prevent people from doing bad or good for that matter,”

      So that means god is imp0tent by choice and prayer is useless because god cannot interfere

      July 26, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
    • Herman Huebenthal

      Reply to TR6: You can pray, but there is no grantee that it will be answered. We pray for all kinds of things. " Free Will " means that you make your own choice's therefore you alone bear the responsibilities of your actions. God is not a taker of lives but he is the source of that life and he alone can give you back that life which was taken from you.

      July 28, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
  9. Dan

    Everyone on earth dies. It is never convenient.

    July 26, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
  10. fryuujin

    gotta die sometime, so going out in a blaze of gunfire is as good as it gets. a quote from the good book

    July 26, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
  11. solowd

    2% of Americans might identify strictly as atheist, but around 20% are non-religious. These are agnostics, skeptics, non-believers who dislike the term, and other assorted groups who have discovered reason.

    Religion is for people who can't handle reality.

    July 26, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      That 20% number also includes people who claim to be "spiritual, but not religious" many of whom still believe in a supreme being, but do not belong to a specific demomination.

      This number is increasing. It is evidence of an erosion of 'orthodoxy' but claiming these people as non-believers is not substantiated.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
    • Reason = Truth

      No, stop making the number bigger than actual. You're lucky you even get the 2%... I bet there are maybe 0.1% atheists.

      Atheism will die slowly...

      July 26, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
  12. Reason = Truth

    Religion = Science

    Next topic....

    July 26, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
    • bnoble18

      Immaculate conception = intercourse?

      July 26, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
    • Smurfette

      Baked = Beans?

      July 26, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
  13. Reason = Truth

    Jesus and God exists. There are enough scientific and historical facts.

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

      But no source, just a 4 words statement

      July 26, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • ArthurP

      name one, include citations.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
  14. Johnny

    "That is because you will not find then in church or at church functions."

    Huh? How come David Silverman (President of American Atheist) says that churches are filled with atheists?? LOL

    July 26, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
    • Etalan

      People who don't really believe in god, but is force into the religion because of their family, friend or people around them. Many people today still do tradition that they don't even understand why they doing it, but more because they are force to do it for the sake of family or other.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
  15. Ransom

    I think we can all agree,bad things happen to everyone.People sometimes make stupid choices,and some choices lead to bad things.God didn't make us like robots,he allows us to make our own choices.Most of the time,the bad is from humans who either destroy or kill.We can make a better future for mankind but its nearly impossible to make a perfect world without any evil.I can't speak like I know God's mind but I personally think he knew what he was doing. At the very start of creation,he must've knew what would happen.He knew humans would rebel against him,and he knew one of the angels would also rebel against him.Sometimes it may not make any logical sense,and nobody may know but if God created us perfect without sin,Eve decided to go against God's wishes.He didn't say "Hey go over there and eat it",he allowed the very first humans to decide.

    Despite all the evil in this world,good will still rise.


    July 26, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
    • Smurfette

      Um, Ransom? When you state (honestly, I might add) "I can't speak like I know God's mind" and then the rest of your post is filled with your statements of what God knew – for instance "At the very start of creation,he must've knew what would happen.He knew humans would rebel against him,and he knew one of the angels would also rebel against him.", um, perhaps you lose just a touch of credibility. Just sayin'

      July 26, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
  16. ken

    We humans do not owe the universe. We are just care takers and apparently, we are doing a bad job. The owner of the universe is somewhere far above. We didn't just pop up. Someone made us and He owe us.
    You can chose to call that someone GOD or whatever name you want but it doesn't change the fact that we are someone's product.

    July 26, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV


      I think not.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
  17. Johnny

    Atheists cannot explain to us how we got here, so God exists.

    July 26, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Theists cannot explain why a 'loving' God wreaks so much suffering on the innocent so he cannot exist.

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

      Excellent reasoning good sir. How did the Bible get here? Only you answer, I am sure the rest of you know this, let him figure it out on his own using wikipedia like a good little boy.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
    • solowd

      I'm not entire sure how you got here, but I'm pretty sure non-disjunction had something to do with it.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
    • ArthurP

      We have a very good idea and we back it up with proofs. The parts we don't know we say we don't know 'Yet'. You just refuse to accept the science.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
    • @GOP

      Actually, I can give you various reasons. You won't listen though and reason through it. It's easier to bash and belittle.

      While no one can grasp the depths of God, there are a variety of biblical and philosophical answers to the question.

      It's just too bad atheist are too proud to listen.

      Feel free to discuss: meatcnn at gmail com

      July 26, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
    • Peace2All


      Hi -Johnny...

      You Said: " Atheists cannot explain to us how we got here, so God exists. "

      Several logical fallacies in your statement, including... 'argument from ignorance.'

      No explanation = or *means* God exists ?

      No... sorry my friend... your argument is a terrible one.


      July 26, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV


      I'll discuss it here if you're willing. You don't need to give me several reasons – one will suffice.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • lou

      Which god did all this?

      July 26, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
  18. John

    "Which God?"

    All atheists know it's the Christian God people refer to. Why play naive and stupid????

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

      That the whole concept, their are around 2000 gods, all older than the christian's god. The "which god?" is a statement to try to provoke the critical thinking of religion people, that their religion might be wrong or bad attempt to copy other religion, research history, etc. Critical Thinking, greatest weakness of all religion.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
    • warpedspeedmonkeyfeet

      mostly because it gives us something to do so that we don't think about this horrible crime....

      July 26, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
    • Reason = Truth

      No, there's only ONE and truly God.

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

      By your logic there are no atheists in India

      July 26, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      How are you so sure we know that? Plenty of other gods have existed in peoples minds throughout history and I'm reasonably certain you're not reading our minds.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
  19. Morgan

    I'm with #3. God gave us a perfect world and the first humans mucked up the works.

    He wants willing participants, not mindless robots.

    Planet earth is like a ship sinking in the ocean.
    God is offering life savers. Those who take hold will be saved.
    Those who don't will perish.

    Keep it simple.

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

      "I'm with #3. God gave us a perfect world and the first humans mucked up the works."

      Funny how your omniscient god didn't see that one coming

      July 26, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • TR6

      “God gave us something that stop him from acting to protect or prevent, " FREE WILL ". If he was to stop or prevent people from doing bad or good for that matter,”

      If man has that kind of free will then god is impotent, there is no “PLAN” and prayer is useless.

      July 26, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
  20. Rick

    I don't believe there are any atheists more than very very few people..... never met any in real life after living for 79 years.

    July 26, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
    • Dragon Slayer Lights Your Fire

      Don't get out much huh?

      July 26, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
    • ArthurP

      That is because you will not find then in church or at church functions.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
    • sybaris

      What is with all the fallacies?

      You never met Jesus so by your logic??????????

      July 26, 2012 at 8:58 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.