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. pauleky

    Imagine no religion...

    July 29, 2012 at 9:12 am |
  2. Sandy Moore

    I don't believe in God or Jesus or any religion. People who believe in this mythical being are too afraid to know the truth about life (that it sucks). The brave ones are the ones who know that you live and you die. It's so sad that good people have to die by evil people – I know this firsthand. I am so sorry for the loss of all these people.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:09 am |
  3. k-man

    The problem with atheists is that they confuse reason with consciousness.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:09 am |
  4. Randy O'Donnell

    God was there for every victim. He is there now for each family that is suffering their loss. My God is there all the time, he has promised me that he will never leave me or forsake me. When bad and violent things happen we can trust that God will be there, though we may not understand it at the time. I serve a win-win God. If I were a victim I would have been taken out of this wicked world and been welcomed into his kingdom for ever,that's a promise I believe based upon his own words spoken in the bible. As a Christian, I morn for the loss of any soul. Pray for the families and communities that have suffered loss through this tragedy. also please remember those men and women who are serving our country in hostile environments day and night so we can enjoy the freedoms God has allowed us to have.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:09 am |
  5. notnaapplicable

    Where was god? Taking a dump.

    Now, let's get down to business and fry this murderer.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:09 am |
  6. John

    I find it interesting why this question is asked everytime there is a horrific thing that happens in America. Clueless people ask, "Why would God let something like this happen", when each day he is taken out of the schools, the government and anything else we need him to be a part of. I believe he is there but more and more people want him out of their day to day lives. Until we reverse course, satin is more than happy to fill his shoes. WAKE UP AMERICA!

    July 29, 2012 at 9:07 am |
  7. Ifuonlyknew

    Many are really confused, hurt, mad, etc and its easy to point to God when all the while before hand you were never pointed in his direction. I've been there, done that and in all honesty....he is there, he does listen and he does speak to us. You can't hear him if you refuse to listen. Yes, there are "religions"....but to have a relationship with God is all you need. Its in the bible, there is no interpretation. In order to be a Christian, you need to know what it really is. Nonbelievers pretending to know and speaking out of their "feelings" along has no weight on me. You can't just google it, or hear some one who threw out a few passages or hear your neighbor ramble and expect to know this. You can't say you prayed once during difficult times and he didn't help you, therefore he isn't there....well, you can, but in all honesty you have no case. So until you read it, you'll never know. For those that don't know but are willing to listen....here's your answer your looking for and if you don't believe it, find it in the bible. Its not left up to interpetation, get the Life Application Study Bible so you can understand it in today's language. Okay so here goes (remember, I had to find this for myself when I was in a dark and mad period and had thrown in the towel on God)...he did create Satan and all of us as someone above had mentioned. Satan was one of the most beautiful angels who decided to take his beauty and power and turn on God. In that, a war started with some angels staying with God and some leaving with Satan. God created a hell and banished Satan there. In the Old Testament you'll see that there was a period where God spoke directly to us (bet many of you didn't know that...). Guess what?!-We didn't listen. He got upset and 500 yrs later his silence broke, but only now in the New Testament he speaks to us through others and things around us. Don't believe it-read it, its there. So he gave us free will and yes he probably new after creating Eve, everything would fall apart, but he had to do that! Satan was banished and was telling God that his precious human (Adam) isn't perfect and will choose him over God. Eve came in, the rest is history. The war started and it will end. In the end, you better be ready because our society has created a nonexistent God because things don't always go our way. Last I checked, mys on didn't always get his way and crap has happened to him as well. So, guess what kids....nothing goes your way 100 percent whether you believe or don't. Its free will!! Why is there cancer, and deaths so young, shootings, war, etc?! SIN–hello! Because of sin...what aren't you getting? We can CHOOSE to sin or not! Someone in the above asked why the bible is repetative for generation after generation. Well, because he knew we would need it as more and more would fail to listen, fall to sin/satan and well look around. How many of you are Christians? Some say they are because their parents baptized them as one at an early age. That's not a Christian, that's your parents wish. You need to swallow your human pride and start following the word. You won't be perfect and you aren't expected to be, you are expected to try your best and to most importantly believe that Jesus died for our sins and that he is the son of God. I mean do you even know that story? Do you even know WHY he placed Jesus here? BECAUSE WE WERENT LISTENING! And look...again....here so many of us are NOT LISTENING and spreading the non-existent rumor. Even as a Christian you will sin without trying....but our God is a forgiving God. Therefore, you try again and ask for forgiveness (I know thats a tough one to swallow, its hard to admit when we are wrong)..So where was he during this shooting? Helping all those who escaped while allowing sin to happen because of freewill. Doesn't sound right does it? One day it will be right, one day this is going to come to an end and if you want that perfect world without pain and suffering, then you need to get it together. Start pointing in *His* direction so that when things are falling apart, you can ask him for strength and so that you can give thanks along the way and help others while your at it. I don't hear anyone giving thanks for all those who lived. I just hear complaining about those who didn't. If you think I wasn't affected by this, think again. What's holding me up? MY FAITH! I'm going to keep praying for all those affected, I'm going to keep praying for the shooter pray for conviction towards this man because he needs to "see" what he's done. I'm going to pray for this mans parents and family as they are ashamed....I'm going to pray for all the nonbelievers as this is starting to become Satan's place because of lack of faith. I do not believe Satan will win, but I believe he's collecting a lot of souls and that's scarier to me then anything else in this world. God Bless and God Speed!

    July 29, 2012 at 9:07 am |
  8. Clara

    God gave humans a will of their own. If evil shows itself and you are aware of it, it is you, and not God, has allowed the tragedy. God is grieved when humans choose to break his rules, rules He established for our safety and protection. Someone knows when such as the Colorado killer is unstable and has evil intent. Parents, friends, teachers, doctors, neighbors, see the warning signs, but fail to act, fear reprisal, do not care enough, do not want to be involved. Make no mistake, this tragedy is not of God's doing; it was within His permissive will because He gave humans the freedom to choose. This tragedy lies squarely at the feet of the perpetator, a human with a will of his own, and humans who knew, saw, sensed, and did nothing

    July 29, 2012 at 9:05 am |
  9. TruthTeller

    "If underground history is correct, aliens have manipulated and/or ruled the human race through various secret societies, religions, magic, witchcreaft, and the occult. ... ...the aliens are building an army of implanted humans who can be activated and turned upon us at will."

    July 29, 2012 at 9:03 am |
  10. Charlene

    I am a devotee of Jesus the Christ. God is my Father. He has sovereign authority over all his creation.with all due humility to the horror that man inflicts on all Gods creation through the influence of the evil spirit of pride and rebellion. The real question is Where was man? Where was man who drugged this kid? Where was man who made the gun? Where was man who creates violent images shown at midnight? Where was man who has pushed God out of his schools by denying prayer? And the list goes on ad nauseum. Then everyone is surprised? Really this question can only be asked by Sovereignty not mortal man.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:03 am |
  11. martyy

    i know where God was, and I even know where He is right now! For $100,000 I will tell you.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:01 am |
    • ufadoof


      July 29, 2012 at 9:07 am |
  12. Scott Wilson

    This is VERY simple and the pastor who wrote this article articulated it but did not emphasize it.....It is free agency. If God takes away our ability to choose good from evil, the very purpose of this life would cease. Don't make this complicated because it is NOT complicated and this horrible event was NOT God's fault, rather it was one of God's children (albeit a very disobedient one) who chose evil over good. Ultimately God WILL have the last word, but we are here on earth to see if we will choose good over evil !!!!

    July 29, 2012 at 9:00 am |
  13. danieljpappas

    Religion can\'t explain away God...

    People are predispositioned to be Spiritual. Subsequently people create religion to explain God's purpose for each of us. Point in fact, many of us do not nurture our spirituality and therefore God may or may not exists in many of it\'s manifestations within us. Our spirit is our God and a direct reflection of the image from which we were procreated. God dwells within and not as an abstract attraction on the outside. He does not reside on the hillside. People however, manifest God by coming together and sharing their (his/her) good works together. God can only move through us. This is why we find an absence of God at times because some people are without their God factor.


    July 29, 2012 at 8:59 am |
    • martyy

      There is a place in Oregon where UFO's are sighted regularly, but if one skeptic is in the crowd they won't appear. It only took one child to say "the king has no clothes" for everyone to see the king was naked.. The presence of a single skeptic in the crowd ruins the charlatan's con game every time.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:05 am |
    • danieljpappas

      Very cryptic Martyy...whoooo~

      July 29, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
  14. Lewis Shepherd

    A lot more than 2% of people are Atheist. 2 recent polls have the number at closer to 10%. I'm sure there are a lot more that just say they are religions because of tradition or peer pressure, so that number could be even higher than that.

    "UK among most secular nations". BBC News. 2004-02-26. Retrieved 2005-03-05. and "Belief in God Far Lower in Western U.S". Gallup.com. Retrieved 2012-02-05.

    July 29, 2012 at 8:56 am |
    • topperG

      I would agee, and it's probably higher than 10% because as you state, people are afraid of ridicule and won't publicly stand up for what THEY believe in.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:11 am |
  15. Alex

    Funny how desperate religious people are to keep the blinders on. Seeing the truth means takng away a comforting blanket that people turn to for many reasons. But the fact there is no God in Aurora, or any place else, is the cold hard truth.

    July 29, 2012 at 8:56 am |
    • ifyouonlyknewwho

      No Alex, we don't have the blinders my friend. There is no "comfort blanket"...there never will be. Some of us have actually seen "what he can do" and due to this, we know he is there. Pray and ask him to show you something...don't ask for the winning lotto ticket. I am sure there is something you need in life right now....ask him for it. I believe you will hear your answer....look and listen closely. The answer you are looking for comes in threes and comes from those that you least expect. Many Blessings to you Alex.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:15 am |
  16. topperG

    Most religious types live in hyprocracy to begin with. Believing in God is nothing more than being part of a political party. All the thiings they preach against they partake in. It so hilarious. If they could only see themselves. Albeit the shooting was a sad event, God wasn't there just like all the other disasterous events he has missed. Most figments of the imagiation are just that. But hey there must be a good explanation, I mean after all "it's part the master plan". Rolls his eyes......

    July 29, 2012 at 8:55 am |
    • ifyouonlyknewwho

      They are known as "false prophets" and those are the many reasons why there are people like you who do not carry the faith. It's hard to deal with, I know. I dealt with many false prophets, but I found someone true.....and then I read to find the answers instead of carrying on empty worldly words that are so easy to come by because we are left hurting.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:17 am |
  17. money vaj

    It was God's plan all along!

    July 29, 2012 at 8:54 am |
  18. Wry Horchid

    God wasn't paying attention.

    July 29, 2012 at 8:51 am |
    • FParans

      He was busy torturing Job.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:55 am |
  19. Timecop67

    We are all on borrowed time......whether we die in a theater tomorrow or live to 90. God allows sin but will soon stamp it out with the Second coming of Jesus. Revelation 21: "God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, and the former things have passed away."

    July 29, 2012 at 8:50 am |
    • topperG

      Just when is that second coming going to happen, you have missed the mark twice now.......

      July 29, 2012 at 8:57 am |
  20. Jmac

    I thank "god" for letting me escape the catholic religion when I did and start thinking for myself. Religion is a man made myth created by man to explain the natural world and also to bolster hope in times of strife and suffering,fear of death,etc. Some folks need this in their lives to cope with this life, which is very tough at times. The fact is that we are all just stardust, bought to existence by natural forces that we can not yet fully explain,and then we die to return to our beginnings...that is all.
    There is n need to fear death, it is as natural as life and all part of this great universe.

    July 29, 2012 at 8:47 am |
    • Real Robert Payne

      Yep. People just fear death and suffering. That is why religion exists and why it is so powerful.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:49 am |
    • alien

      Could not have put it any better Jmac. If you need religion to get by so be it. I myself have a rational brain to think for myself, I do not have to follow sheep herders

      July 29, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • topperG

      spot on JMAC, spot on.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:59 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.