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. Stephen Colbert

    God was in London trying to help with the Olympic Games... He relied on Batman to be able to oversee the safety at the theater.It was a Batman movie after all...

    July 29, 2012 at 7:37 am |
  2. Smako

    Nobody complains when bad things happen to bad people. Crack mommies lose custody of their children and nobody bats an eye. On mothers day, every mother is treated like a saint, monday morning they are segregated again. Scriptures, something Epicurus never studied in a group, teach us that it rains on everyone. If only good things happened to good people than faith would be mechanical instead of something you believe. Bad things happen because we have the ability to choose our own actions. God isn't messing with your head when your socks don't match or you get a traffic ticket. Just like gunmen aren't pre ordained of God to kill people.

    July 29, 2012 at 7:36 am |
  3. latricia

    God is omnipresent meaning-He is every where at the same time.Do not play the blame game onGod.It is obvious He was not dwelling on the inside of the people at the movies.They would not attended such evil showing.TheLord directs His people.Most times evil happens to bring humanity toJesus.The whole entire world needs Jesus amen!the real question is where are we?in relation to TheLord JesusChrist.HeisourLordandSavior or He is not.

    July 29, 2012 at 7:34 am |
    • Jmac

      Reply to Moonpye....I do not want or need your words of unending faith and bliss in Jesus Christ. there are millions of people on this planet that are not "born again" and never will be Christians. The utter gall to believe that only you and your ilk will go to "heaven" and are the chosen people is offensive to say the least. You have the right to exist in delusion in your own mind, just don,t try to push it on others.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:13 am |
  4. Goodie

    God was shopping for underwear at Walmart.

    July 29, 2012 at 7:32 am |
  5. Is

    God is where he has always been. Telling us to get off our lazy butts and use the brains he gave us to take guns out of the hands of people who are not responsible enough to own one. We can't expect God to solve all our problems. "Leave it in God's hands" is one of the laziest do nothing responses for solving problems. God needs our help.

    July 29, 2012 at 7:31 am |
    • Yodude

      God only wants guns in select hands. God loves guns. that's why he invented them. if he wanted to, he could eliminate all guns right now, make them all disappear. but god truly loves little metal pieces flying out of a cylindrical container to penetrate the flesh of another man.

      July 29, 2012 at 7:33 am |
  6. VVVV

    🙂 🙂 🙂 I'm an atheist, but I don't think the cruelty of nature is evidence of God not being there. By their theory there is life after death that is more wonderful than here. Sometimes I wonder if people really believe in life after death at all. It's just stories we talk about to make us feel more comfortable.

    July 29, 2012 at 7:31 am |
  7. rgbowe

    God exsits only in the mind of the believer, as does does the gods of every religion. We are not born believers in anything except survival, everything else we are taught by our parents, etc.

    July 29, 2012 at 7:30 am |
  8. Jmac

    This is the 21st century and we are still talking about gods and ancient mythology as if it was a fact. I can only hope that one day in the near future we can all come together as the human race and work towards a better world, instead of fighting over this nonsense.

    July 29, 2012 at 7:30 am |
  9. 4thdimnsnal

    We exist as lifeforms from a combination of elements found in the universe. Since this can't be disputed, neither can the statement that lifeforms exist elsewhere from other combinations of elements found in the universe!
    Furthering that notion, it makes absolute sense that what MAN believes to be GOD is the life giving force of the Universe. GOD=INTERSTELLAR SPATIAL FORCE.
    Why do babies die, families perish, people suffer, because this force has no conscience it is in its purest sense living power with the ultimate goal being creation and destruction.
    There is NO HEAVEN, but we are all part of an everlasting force, meaning, we are in fact eternal. When our earthly forms turn to dust, the everlasting force within us all returns to its original position within the vehicle of creation and destruction.

    July 29, 2012 at 7:23 am |
    • sywardus


      July 29, 2012 at 7:42 am |
    • sywardus

      Has anyone ever noticed what Jesus said on the Cross? Did he say "Father, into your hands I commend my soul"....no, he said "Father into your hands I commend my spirit".....sounds right to me!

      July 29, 2012 at 7:58 am |
  10. Yodude

    an 8 year old says "i don't believe in god" then he dies. a 50 year old kills 80 women and children. then he becomes a christian. they both meet god. god says to the 8 year old "Hey kid, you don't believe that thousands of years ago, a man died for you on the cross and then he rose from the dead? How could you not believe that? Hell for you for all eternity for not believing in your savior in your short 8 years on earth." God tells the 50 year old: "you have accepted jesus as your savior. heaven for you for all eternity. you may spend time in heaven with your victims and have parties and such."

    July 29, 2012 at 7:21 am |
    • Yodude

      one of the victims had a child. that child became the 8 year old that died. the victim and the killer are now relaxing in heaven, while the 8 year old that grew up motherless is in pain for all eternity. will God let him out after a trillion years? a trillion years in hell, that's cutting the sentence short an infinite amount of years. God couldn't do that. Cut your sentence down an infinite number of years? That's too lenient.

      July 29, 2012 at 7:36 am |
  11. Katie V

    The comments that refer to God not being around because he is not wanted, i.e., schools, government buildings etc. It seems strange that God would group everyone together as a whole...so, if 80% of the people in the theater had somehow "pushed" God out of their lives, and the other 20% still actively accepted God into their lives, the 20% will suffer because the majority does not want God around??? This makes no sense to me, especially if God is supposed to love us as his children. I love my children, but I would never turn my backs on them, EVER, no matter how much they tried to "push" me out of their lives. Also, if 3 out of 4 of my children disliked me, and only 1 out of 4 loved me, it would not make me dislike ALL of them or abandon my duties as a parent. The twisted minds of most Christians just baffle me...

    July 29, 2012 at 7:18 am |
    • moonpye

      not everyone is a 'child of God' we are ALL Gods creation, but we are not all children of God, unless you are born again, which is simply asking Jesus to forgive you of your sin, asking him to be Lord of your life, turning from your sin, learning to trust in God, pursuing a relationship with him thru reading your Bible if you have one, spending time in prayer, etc..repentance of sin and asking Christ into your heart, gives you eternal life, andlet me tell you, its a beautiful thing to know if something were to happen to you tonite, you have eternal life, because no man is promised tomorrow! please think on this, hope this doesnt anger you in anyway, just trying to minister to you. Be Blessed

      July 29, 2012 at 7:37 am |
  12. Yodude

    God is with Tim Tebow. Helping him throw a strangely-shaped ball into the rectangular area so that someone wearing the same color shirt as him can catch it. then they can kick the ball between two metal poles.

    July 29, 2012 at 7:11 am |
    • Peter

      There is no God, why we anyone, anything allow such a thing to happen, sick man or not

      July 29, 2012 at 7:18 am |
    • Goodie

      Your out of your mind if you think God would ever live in New York.

      July 29, 2012 at 7:36 am |
  13. Blake

    God made man in his image. He also gave us freewill and allows suffering. All humans have a chance to accept Jesus as their Lord and saviour. We have no idea when we will die and today will be the last day for some. We can debate back and forth if God exists or not but only a fool can look around him, look at humans in general ,our intelligence, we all have morals and know right from wrong, the unique physical differences in each person, etc. For us to say there is no God is foolish. Today is the day to as Acts 2 :38 commands "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost".

    July 29, 2012 at 7:11 am |
    • moot

      one day you will "see the light"...god is for those that fear death...kkthx

      July 29, 2012 at 7:14 am |
    • mindfail

      I can quote things also: ""Shake off all the fears of servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear. " Thomas Jefferson

      "It is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring." – Carl Sagan

      July 29, 2012 at 7:19 am |
    • moot

      who exactly was thomas jefferson?

      July 29, 2012 at 7:25 am |
  14. moot

    god has been everywhere that he shouldnt have been....wait, there is a god?....

    July 29, 2012 at 7:11 am |
  15. mindfail

    If you believe in a god then you need to thank him that it was not you or someone you know. The fact that people bring god into this and its 2012 is ridiculous to say the least. Belief in a deity denies mankind of its remarkable accomplishments and shows us how much further we need to evolve. There is a scientific reason for the actions of the shooter, he was to be famous, he might loose his life over this but he will go down in the record books, maybe that's important to him. Luckily most of us love our fellow man enough to never act in this way. Maybe he has mental issue, does not think about the impact of his actions on other people or lost a sense of regard for human life. No matter what the issue god should not be part of this conversation. If he allowed it he is evil, if he intervened to stopped it we don't have free will, and if he is just then he would have killed this man before he took these actions or let him be nothing more than wasted sperm. I really wish we could educate people enough not to tolerate people like this. There will always be good and bad people, but if the good people had guns how may would he have killed? Good people carry a gun, no law is going to stop a criminal but your right as an American is to own a gun. Lets have more control over access to a guns with evaluations in mental capacity. Lets as a people enforce stronger laws against crime like this, quick action, kill him. The families of the victims should not have to deal with this trial for years, they already have hard reality to live with, the loss of the most important thing in life, the people we care about.

    July 29, 2012 at 7:09 am |
  16. Michael Loux

    If there IS a God, and if he DOES care what happens to us, the he must be a sadistic bully..............

    July 29, 2012 at 7:08 am |
  17. Eduardo Lapetina

    Nowhere to be found and will never be found.

    July 29, 2012 at 7:07 am |
  18. John

    God is the worst joke ever told by man............

    July 29, 2012 at 7:07 am |
  19. Eduardo Lapetina

    Nowhere to be found and will never be found

    July 29, 2012 at 7:06 am |
  20. mym

    God was where he was when millions of innocent Iraqis and Afghans were killed and maimed by American tax payers bombs. God was where he was when thousands of innocent American children were orphaned and their mothers widowed by war based on the pretex of WMD. And of course God was still there when this crazy man bought all the lethal weapons legally and killed all the innocent victims illegally. My sincerest condolence to the loved ones & the great people of Aurora.

    July 29, 2012 at 7:02 am |
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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.