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. Pilgrim

    When God gave up His only begotten son, Jesus Christ, to save the world from eternal damnation, and give the world a chance to repent of their sins and turn to Him for eternal life Where were you>? Only good things come from God, but alas, people chose the god of this world ,satan, who came to Kill and Destroy. The U.S. government took prayer out of schools, and replaced them with metal-detectors Where were you? I could go on and on , but this country and the whole world try to eliminate God from their lives so these Things happen. God did not cause all these things to happen without a reason. These things are the result of world controlled by the god of this world, the devil.

    July 29, 2012 at 7:02 am |
    • Yodude

      well, god can destroy the devil any second he wants to. but god is like "hey devil, you can chill out with my peoples. kill some babies after one day of life, then take them to hell with you, since, you know, they weren't baptized." i feel sorry for those babies and kind men and women who have never came into contact with christianity so they are in hell now. man, i wish jesus performed a miracle where he would show up simultaneously in front of every human on earth, then we could believe in him even if we weren't in europe or the middle east. unfortunately, jesus was not a show off so he only performed miracles where people in his vicinity could witness it.

      July 29, 2012 at 7:06 am |
  2. Snowdog

    I love it people wonder where God was with this masacre. Well, lets see. This country has become so Liberal and trying to take God out of everything it is no wondewr that this country is going to hell. You want God to be there when there is evil, but you do not want God to be there any other day. You blame him for evil even though SATAN is the evil one and God is love. We did the same thing on 9/11. Where was God and why did he not stop it. People God gives us free will to choose evil or good. Some choose evil which is of Satan. Maybe if you start praying and believeing in God he may intervene. Keep taking God out of society and telling him you do not want him around what is he supposed to do. This gunmand in Colorado was evil run by Satan. Bad things happen in this wolrd evryday. It is the result of a fallen man who has turned away from their creator. It is not God's fault, It is ours. WAKE UP!!! I weep for the ATheists in this world who beleive they just die and that is it. Won't you be surprised when you take your last breath on this short life and find yourself face to face with the one you do not believe in. You will be tremblig before the mighty God and then he will give you what you chose. Complete seperation from him for eternity. Forever and ever with no end to your punishment. Have fun. I pray for you and feel sorry for you.

    July 29, 2012 at 6:57 am |
  3. The O N E

    Man was given free will. GOD did not save his own son Jesus from being murdered by men who thought they knew GOD. We who are less than the son of GOD should not expect special treatment regarding how or when we die. Everyone should realize that every day brings the possibility of death.

    July 29, 2012 at 6:57 am |
    • Yodude

      jesus was god, so nobody could really murder him. they were just testing him. just as god tested job, we have tested jesus.

      July 29, 2012 at 6:58 am |
  4. Yodude

    it's entirely possible that we have a creator. except he just sucks. like i build legos and my creations suck, then i destroy them. we could be created by a bad designer. or what if god sucks but god's god, or even god's god's god is the true creator. it's not necessary for our god to be perfect. after all, this world is so weird, that it makes sense that our god might be some lazy fool that makes crappy products.

    July 29, 2012 at 6:56 am |
    • Snowdog

      Are you going to tell God he sucks when you meet him face to face. Good luck with that. Satan sucks, not God. Satan authored this masacre, not God. Wake up.

      July 29, 2012 at 6:59 am |
    • Yodude

      how do you know god doesn't suck? i mean, if i were a one day old baby that died, i would probably be like, "god, you kinda suck for killing me after one day of life." i know god can choose to give more life to the baby, but god made a decision and said: "hmmm.. i think this baby shall live only one day!" and then the baby goes to hell because it was not baptized.

      July 29, 2012 at 7:03 am |
    • Snowdog

      Babtism does not save people. Jesus saves people. Babies that die go to be with God. They do not go to hell. That is an old false teaching of the Catholic church. You really think God would send a baby to hell???

      July 29, 2012 at 7:06 am |
    • Yodude

      i personally believe babies go to hell. babies haven't accepted christ into their hearts.

      July 29, 2012 at 7:08 am |
    • Snowdog

      Yodude, babies cannot make that choice to accept Jesus into there hearts. Come on man. They cannot even talk and make decisions. There is a point of accountability when we can make choices for ourselves, but not a baby. Where in the Bible does it say that babies go to hell?

      July 29, 2012 at 7:10 am |
    • Yodude

      babies are born with sin. if you do not know this, you can't be a real student of the bible.

      July 29, 2012 at 7:13 am |
  5. tre

    God is always there.Each time we see things like this we must remember the Book of Job. Yes Job was a good man and that is why he was chosen to be tested.Read your bible Satan wants us all to turn away from God by taking things or people from us that we love.Read to know the truth.

    July 29, 2012 at 6:55 am |
    • Yodude

      what about babies that die 1 day after birth? is god testing the baby?

      July 29, 2012 at 6:57 am |
    • Snowdog

      OMG, really. Death is a part of life. Maybe he saved those babies from having to live in a world like this.Babies go right to heaven to be with God because they did not have a chance to sin like the rest of us.

      July 29, 2012 at 7:03 am |
    • Yodude

      what if you are 8 years old an you've sinned, then died? or what if you are 8 and refuse to believe a man named jesus rose from the dead. will god say: "Whoa, you 8 year old boy, you don't believe that a human being died and came back alive thousands of years ago? Too bad. Hell for you."

      July 29, 2012 at 7:10 am |
  6. Mark

    Amazing how CNN claims in this article that atheists only make up 2 percent of the population of the United States, yet the scale is tipped completely the other way when reading comments on here, it's like the percentage of non-believers is up around 75 – 80% or maybe there's just no support from those who believe in God???

    July 29, 2012 at 6:53 am |
    • matkins4268

      SIR: TO explain that which must be believed is FRUITLESS
      TO believe that which can not be explain is DIVINE

      July 29, 2012 at 7:06 am |
    • Snowdog

      Mark you are a minority because it takes more faith to be an Atheist than a believer. You have to be completely blind not to believe in a creator.

      July 29, 2012 at 7:08 am |
  7. George Lyda

    Heaven I reckon. Wish he'd come clean the world up and the human condition.

    July 29, 2012 at 6:52 am |
  8. matkins4268

    the ones that survived survived from god the ones that past past from god and the shooter was god
    for god is LOVE ....................... for all those who choose not to believe the day of reckon will be upon
    you for it is appointed for man to live and die ...................to live you think you have you yet to die
    WHO YOU GONNA CALL ............................... i have yet to hear a non-believer die in FAITH and
    a believer die in despair it is written I LIVE I LIVE UNTO THE LORD I DIE I DIE UNTO THE LORD
    today you choose for no man knows the day or the hour

    July 29, 2012 at 6:52 am |
  9. albert lentz

    Respectfully, to comment on just one of the many points that were made by Stephen Prothero herein; namely, the point about NOT blaming GOD but blaming Satan-I must say the following!!! With Resepects-this point is only a "half-truth" [Which most theologigcal and denominational Bible teachings are "half-truths'; a complex mixture of Truth and Error, Light and Dark, Hot and Cold, GOD and Satan, ETC... [Which the BIBLE terms "Mystery Babylon" [Revelation 17]!!! Since people are being fed this hybrid/mixed Gospel, by preachers who are well-meaning perhaps [yet for the most part are NOT GOD-SENT]; they have a very hard time discerning good and evil; as well as the Actions, Reactions, and Non-Actions of the TRUE GOD OF HEAVEN!!! They fail to understand that Satan's intent from the beginning was to BE LIKE GOD-as we read in such Scriptures as [Isaiah 14] [Ezekiel 28] [II Thessaloniand 2:4] [II Corinthisnas 11:1-3,13-15]; and that the end time prophetic scenario will include a religious/christian world that will look "so close" LIKE THE REAL GOD of Heaven and earth-but will actually be deceiving and false impersonated christaianity by Satanic inspiration-whereas the people will be deceived and deluded into actually worshipping Satan as GOD [II Thessalonians 2:4] [Matthew 24:24]!!! How can this be, and where can the honest-hearted person find the answers answer to these vital Questions ["IF" they have an honest heart and a real deep desire to know HIM]!!! But first-to answer the point more clearly that i wish to comment on herein:, let me first say that "most of the time"-it is our unbelief that allows Satan to act, because it restricts the True GOD of the Universe to act on our behalf [For HE can only act on our faith-which is a revelation of the will of GOD by the WORD of GOD]!!! In other words-when we say "the Devil made me do it"-that is a mere half-truth; in that it is true that Satan is the author of all sin, but we as individuals are free moral agents [having a will to choose right and wrong]-and we ourselves are as much to blame because our correct choices in life- can nullify Satan' fiery darts of sin and temptation- [And our incorrect choices does give Satan free access to rule ot lives and pervert our actions]!!! Where can you find the true BIBLE answers to this and many of life's questions by True Christianity??? Just LOGON to http://www.branham.org!!!!!!!

    July 29, 2012 at 6:50 am |
    • matkins4268

      have you not read SATAN HAS NO POWER for it is written that christ said ALL POWERS HAVE BEEN GIVEN UNTO ME.
      GOD uses satan as god uses ALL learn to look deep into the ashes of tragedy this nation is UNDER GOD

      July 29, 2012 at 6:59 am |
  10. uncle tommy

    God is alive but does not step in to prevent fate. God does not the police the world but by Scripture when people start worshiping other Gods, and sinning to a point he comes back to destroy the filth that man has started. i've seen more miracles of God than anyone i think. Also athesist are not educated or believe in physics. For every force you have an opposing force. So you will believe in Voo Doo but not God....I think that's stupid.

    July 29, 2012 at 6:47 am |
    • sywardus

      Yes, God is very much alive, but as a whole he has bled under our knives of philosophy and chemistry to the point where, to many, he is dead! Thus the problem.

      July 29, 2012 at 6:54 am |
  11. sywardus

    God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? Nietzsche

    July 29, 2012 at 6:36 am |
  12. co_daybyday

    The Bible was written over a long span of time, by many different people from all walks of life, and each of those people from different parts of Earth. And after examining the stories in the Bible, they all intertwine and come out to mean the same thing. Which is believe in God and his Son. So how can it be that over a thousand years of writing and by many different people, that the stories all end up with that meaning? We have all played that game where you sit in a circle and one person whispers in the ear of the next person saying a sentence. But by the time it gets back around the sentence is completely different. It is interesting that the Bible does somehow manage to maintain it's message over a long time period. Im pretty sure no other historical book has shown that. But I could be wrong. I need to research some more things. Just throwing that out here....

    July 29, 2012 at 4:45 am |
    • Mirosal

      That book was not written by people from all over the world. No one from North or South America wrote a book in it, nor did anyone from eastern Asia, Austrailia, Europe or Africa (with the exception of the Nile valley). The authors were from a cenrtalized area of what we now call the Middle East, and the Nile valley. Not a lot of geographic difference there. The story did not spread very far. The Old Testament did have several authors, that's true. But those "scriptures" stood unchanged for 1000 years, before the supposed birth of some baby born out of wedlock. The New Testament was complied from many different authors some 300 years AFTER that guy died. Some of those letters were kept, others thrown aside. And NOT ONE of those NT authors ever knew, met, walked with, or spoke to your jesus guy. They simply wrote letters to their friends and to cities, not knowing that their works would ever be used as a new scripture. They didn't write a bible to write a bible, they wrote letters. 300 years later, a Roman Emperor decided to have a council to put it all together. Written by man, put together by man, used by man to control man.

      July 29, 2012 at 5:27 am |
    • Bill

      so on CNN this morning, a CO shooting victim thanks god for his survival, and wants to meet and pray with the shooter. five minutes later a story about some Baptist church that won't marry a black couple. PLEASEEEEEEEEEE, what god , what hypocrisy.

      July 29, 2012 at 6:23 am |
  13. mark

    The God is not in theaters he is in heaven.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:30 am |
  14. mark

    The God is not in theaters he is in heaven and with people who fear him

    July 29, 2012 at 4:28 am |
    • Mirosal

      Why do we need to fear such a "loving" god, as people claim "he" is?

      July 29, 2012 at 5:29 am |
  15. C Smythe

    God? What God. I don't see any god. I scoff at your gods. Mental illness was the cause. And perhaps the shooter's friends and family who ignored his illness. I don't think he should ever walk free again but nobody in their right mind would do such a thing.

    July 29, 2012 at 3:41 am |
  16. Randy Johnson

    Yup – pretty much nailed it. Go ahead and pray for the dead theater people – get the president out and blubber and talk about praying, even get the self appointed next president Romney to do the same – but don't you dare touch the NRA dudes – they are the Mafia – they own you and most other Americans. In fact most Americans are so dumb they probably don't know that most countries have GUN CONTROL laws. But thats ok – I woudnt even want to venture a guess as to how much the USA would save on health care spending if they didn't get in to useless wars and have the world record of 9,000 violent gun deaths per year. Only the gifted few of the republican/NRA could answer this one. And by the way don't ask Romney – last night when Piers Morgan inteviewed him he didn't even show a sign of emotion when he robotically answered "america already has enough gun controls – any more wouldn't help" – man this dude is so far out of touch he must be from another planet. – or live in some kind of temple! lol

    July 29, 2012 at 1:21 am |
    • Mirosal

      He is fom another planet, after all his "god" is from Kolob lol, and when Mittens dies, he'll get his own planet and be the "god" of that world. How's THAT for mental illness?

      July 29, 2012 at 3:53 am |
    • mary43

      So guns kill people? Cars kill people should we put stricter rules on buying one of them? How about outlaw them entirely and everyone ride bikes...that's safer right? God will NOT be where He is NOT wanted and we in America have removed from just about everywhere. People no longer have any shame for what they do and THAT is what's wrong and causing all this pain. Man's/woman's hearts must turn back to God or this nation is doomed.

      July 29, 2012 at 6:47 am |
  17. Jenny

    Cute. Don't we have more pressing issues at hand, like starving children in Africa and the global economy? We need to love and let love. If you are secular, be free to voice that belief, if you are faithful, then be free to love your God(s) on your own time. I love how we crazy 'ol humans think we can settle a theological debate on a CNN blog post. Love you all!

    July 29, 2012 at 1:07 am |
  18. EQ8Rhomes

    Sorry, late to the party! If God/Allah/Parameshwar created ALL, then he/she created Satan, and the mays of man. Therefore, God i.e., Dr. Frankenstein created what he/she did not understand.
    On the other hand, if we are the product of Nature, then we know that all living things fight for survival and unleash pain and death on others randomly, insidiously, or abruptly. Even the great people whose statues people visit, hurt others.
    What exactly is new about a man/woman hurting within hurting others?

    July 29, 2012 at 12:47 am |
    • mary43

      Sorry to burst your bubble, but only God created all. And to all the people who disagree check out the history rather than just trying to use your intellect. Every prophecy in the Bible has been fulfilled except for those that come in the last days. Read for yourself. And I pray that God opens your eyes before it's too late.

      July 29, 2012 at 6:51 am |
  19. Peepo Pleez

    Mental health is a very important and required element for a productive, progressive and happy life. The false claims made by the various "revealed" religions, especially when introduced at an early age, cause much mental anguish and pain to individuals which then has a great potential to have a negative effect on society in general. For example, the case of Andrea Yates who murdered her five little children because she thought Satan had possessed her and was soon going to possess her children. In her twisted Bible based mind, if she murdered her children before "the age of accountability" they would all go to heaven. She thought she'd be executed for the murders and Satan would die with her.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:27 am |
  20. Reality

    As we again scroll to that famous 21st century prayer:

    The Apostles' Creed 2012 (updated by yours truly based on the studies of NT historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven?????

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of

    Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
    many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
    ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    (References used are available upon request.)

    July 28, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
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