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. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things ,

    July 27, 2012 at 7:51 am |
    • squawker

      Umm...not a shred of evidence supporting any of those contentions. Maybe God will publish a paper in Science to back up your claims. Hope it gets by the difficult review process.

      July 27, 2012 at 7:52 am |
    • Will

      I just prayed to win the lottery, still poor. Anyone else get what they want?

      July 27, 2012 at 7:53 am |
    • Craig

      I disagree. Accepting that there probably isn't a god, that there's no evidence for him, and that the very idea is completely illogical, makes me see how precious this life is and helps me to live it to its fullest.

      July 27, 2012 at 7:55 am |

    The entire question "Where was God in Aurora" is silly. Those who believe in God and those who don’t' will make the same arguments anytime the question of God is raised, so questioning God in Aurora accomplishing nothing and in fact detracts from horror of that night.

    July 27, 2012 at 7:51 am |
  3. squawker

    I think everyone finally ate God at communion.

    July 27, 2012 at 7:51 am |
  4. squawker

    God was buttering his toast at the time. Even He takes time off for that. Seriously folks, just because you were raised with fairy tales doesn't mean you have to believe them for the rest of your lives.

    July 27, 2012 at 7:50 am |
    • jcg

      Where's the like button?

      July 27, 2012 at 7:54 am |
    • joe R

      I too don't believe in the god that you don't believe in.

      July 27, 2012 at 7:58 am |
  5. d.flinn

    The fact that this sophistry is an inevitable discussion speaks to answer #1.

    July 27, 2012 at 7:47 am |
  6. John

    Keep in mind that one of Gods greatest gifts to man is also is the worst “Free Will”

    July 27, 2012 at 7:41 am |
    • BamaDaniel

      Sorry bible says women were gods gift to man,man wasn't given free will he was told what to do.Gods oldest creation corrupted man.

      July 27, 2012 at 7:44 am |
    • Craig

      Free will is a complete illusion. Your psyche is made up of either things you were born with or things you learned through interacting with your environment. It's all either nature or nurture. That being the case, you will not take an action that doesn't fall within those parameters. You are not free to take any action and it cannot be said that you have free will.

      July 27, 2012 at 7:47 am |
    • david esmay

      Keep in mind, god doesn't exist.

      July 27, 2012 at 7:48 am |
    • Jim Yancey

      Isn't it hypocritical to ask "Where was God in all of this?" when we have kicked prayer to Him out of our schools; taken down His Ten Commandments; re-defined God's definition of marriage; and even done away with the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas in our public squares? As a nation we have turned away from Him and yet we continue to want His blessing.

      July 27, 2012 at 7:59 am |
    • Craig

      Jim, The question is clearly rhetorical. There probably is no god. The very idea of god, something that is immaterial yet still exists within time and space, is completely illogical. Furthermore, there is no evidence or any way to quantify his existence in any way. No proof of him whatsoever. That being the case, you're basically suggesting that we build society on fairy tales and bald faced lies. To me that just doesn't sit right.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:04 am |
  7. benji

    God is always here. I don't understand His will nor do I question it. He is God who sends rain upon the just and unjust. In the end everything will work out for the good.

    July 27, 2012 at 7:38 am |
    • BamaDaniel

      Say that when your child is killed

      July 27, 2012 at 7:39 am |
    • John

      Amen Bama Danial

      July 27, 2012 at 7:43 am |
    • What

      He is in Mcdonald near by having dinner

      July 27, 2012 at 7:44 am |
    • Steven_Michael

      I have BarnaDaniel, It was not an easy thing to do either, my flesh did not want to respond with Mercy and Grace; but thank God I am not just flesh and bones. With the loss of a loved one comes a certain amount of questions, anger and hurt toward God, but thankfully He is big enough to handle all that (I suppose if He weren't He wouldn't be God), but if I were to dwell solely on my feelings (fleshly) instead of seeking out His wisdom (spiritual) I would become cold, bitter and toally indifferent to the sovereign One over all creation. I am thankful that I have God in my life to learn from, I am very sorry for all those that do not. God NEVER said that if I accept Him I would never have problems, He did say that I would never face them alone again. To those of you that doubt, I pray that God gives you the Words yu need to come to belief in Him, and to those of yoou already believing, and struggling with this, I leave yo with these words: These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:04 am |
  8. John

    Does anyone else think it is kind of strange that this kid, who has only had one speeding ticket, was in college, and by all appearances just a normal all around kid all of a sudden drops out of med school buys guns and a bunch of ammo? Shoots up a movie theater just weeks before his father Robert Holmes is set to testify before the US senate panel on the largest bank fraud scandal in world history that is currently unfolding and threatens to destabilize and destroy the Western banking system. Mind you I am not saying that there is any sort of conspiracy involved here; however it has to make you stop and wonder, "What are the chances that two of America's most volatile issues - gun control and the ongoing banking and mortgage crisis and scandal - could be countenanced by a single family?"

    July 27, 2012 at 7:38 am |
    • david esmay

      It's called mental illness, dolt.

      July 27, 2012 at 7:49 am |
  9. JimfromBham

    Anytime anyone attempts to say that they "know" God did such-and-such, or that God's purpose is so-and-so, they mislead themselves by attempting to put God into a box understood by us humans. Only God knows His purposes, and for us as humans to box Him in by our limited understanding simply does not do him honor.

    July 27, 2012 at 7:33 am |
    • What

      There is no f ing god, don't people get it. Show me, proof it to me. Damn it

      July 27, 2012 at 7:47 am |
    • JimfromBham

      @ What

      Why bother trying to show you what you won't believe? On the other hand, you might want to read about Pascal's Theorem....the "odds" are with believers.

      July 27, 2012 at 7:56 am |
  10. Pilgrim

    God was in the same place He was when He gave His only Son, Jesus Christ to die for all humanity

    July 27, 2012 at 7:32 am |
    • BamaDaniel

      The bible says in Genesis that the sons(plural) of God came down and took wives(human women).Jesus was not Gods only son according to the bible,you should read better

      July 27, 2012 at 7:39 am |
  11. matzah

    God also created Satan, who, according to Christians, is responsible for all evil, so, God actually created evil, did he not?

    July 27, 2012 at 7:31 am |
    • BamaDaniel

      Satan was Gods first created,made him guardian of the earth

      July 27, 2012 at 7:41 am |
    • Marc

      Everyone wants an easy answer, why not, we are lazy. We all want fast answers. People says they read the bible, that that bull. I am one of the few who has read it TWICE. I remember and highlighted answers that I was looking for, for example, 1st JOHN 5:19, "We know we originate with God, but the WHOLE WORLD is lying in the power of the WICKED one." There is your Colorado answer. For your answer, God gives all his creation freedom of choice. In other words, they are not robots. Satan is such, and desired the worship of God's new creation- humanity. So it was his decision to turn on his creator and enticed the first human pair to disobey, who also happened to have free-will.

      July 27, 2012 at 7:54 am |
  12. MymanDarwin

    I consider myself a true agnostic. We don't know if he was there or not, why he was there or not, we just cannot ever know because we do not have the mental capacity to even understand such a being if he were to exist.

    It is like the ant scenario. They cannot imagine why you would stomp them or give them a piece of banana. They just go about their ant lives and if any ants are or are not religious..they keep it to themselves.

    July 27, 2012 at 7:31 am |
  13. BamaDaniel

    All bible readers know God rests on the sabbath

    July 27, 2012 at 7:30 am |
  14. Art

    Wow how were we made then idiots can't believe how many people think there's no god what did we just pop up out of nowhere? No god?? what a bunch of bull people need to stop blaming god for everything.

    July 27, 2012 at 7:29 am |
    • BamaDaniel

      If you stop blaming him for the bad you have to stop thanking him for the good. Everything is in gods hands.all knowing all powerful

      July 27, 2012 at 7:32 am |
    • Mirosal

      So you think that every life form on this planet just appeared as we know it today because some god snapped his fingers, twitched his nose, or crossed his arms and blinked?

      July 27, 2012 at 7:33 am |
    • ludwigwitt

      Art, where did god come from? Did he just pop out of nowhere?

      July 27, 2012 at 7:35 am |
    • Puppet

      From god's mouth to your lips. He has spoken.

      July 27, 2012 at 7:38 am |
    • Art

      How were made then people somebody explain that to me really ? like I said did we just pop up appear out of nowhere?

      July 27, 2012 at 7:39 am |
    • Brady

      Your mind is so clouded from stupid bible verses you can't comprehend the use of logic and common sense.

      July 27, 2012 at 7:43 am |
    • Art

      I don't read the bible I still believe there's a god brady

      July 27, 2012 at 7:48 am |
    • squawker

      Blind watchmaker argument? Sounds like you have some reading to do....or just keep believing the same crap you were raised with because thinking is hard!

      July 27, 2012 at 8:00 am |
  15. JoeProfet

    I just continue to find the question of whether God exists or not to be moot. Those that believe, believe, and those that don't, don't. What is the point of asking the question over and over again? What purpose does it serve...to anyone? The people that don't believe in God think that those that do are crazy, and the one's that do believe in God think the one's that don't will pay for it in the end. Life goes on...believe what you want, who cares? Really, who cares??? Each and every person walks according to their own beliefs/un-beliefs, etc. Keep walking, but in the mean time, lets all try and improve our world here in some way, shape, or form to make it more tolerable instead of less tolerable.

    July 27, 2012 at 7:29 am |
    • Gene

      Well said.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:58 am |
  16. Jim

    This is ridiculous! who even decided to write this article? I am not saying i dont believe in god or a higher power, but this has nothing to do with god or satan... people are so blind to the point that when they don't know what to make of a situation, they turn to making up any explanation possible! There's more to worry about here than was it God or Satans doing!

    July 27, 2012 at 7:28 am |
  17. SunGod

    All religion revolves around worshiping the sun, So "god" was watching over the other half of the planet at that time.

    July 27, 2012 at 7:27 am |
  18. Rob

    Twisted distortions of reality by the worst "in denial" bunch ever to walk the earth, namely; religious idiots...

    July 27, 2012 at 7:26 am |
  19. Roger

    I am sort of like Switzerland when it comes to the topic of God, I am neutral. Mostly because I am not really sure what to believe...
    This being said, in answer to some "full blown believers" such as Deborah that said: “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.”
    Then the same argument can be used for guns, they aren't at fault for whatever violence happens in the world, (they are omnipotent)
    Mind you I am not a gun enthusiast, and or do not belong to any organization (NRA), etc) or any specific idealism of any sort!
    Thank you

    July 27, 2012 at 7:19 am |
  20. Paulie

    God created everyone even crazy liberals. While he does perform the occassional miracle it does not absolve us from original sin. Remember PEOPLE invented sinning starting with Adam and Eve according to the bible. Also Cain and Abel is the first murder.

    July 27, 2012 at 7:16 am |
    • BamaDaniel

      I'm sin free damn you

      July 27, 2012 at 7:21 am |
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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.