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. Jerome

    God was created by man to help the less unfortunate have something to hope for in a next life. In this manner they are able to be at equal with those who have everything because they can claim they will we get there reward later.

    God and the here after was also created by man to help smooth the transition from life to death. I would imagine it is a lot easier lying on your deathbed to think that you are going to paradise then simply evaporating into space.

    Humans created God to make life easier and to smooth the transition to death.

    Have a happy life because it's the only one you will ever have.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • timothyclee

      True Jerome – I think that's why Atheists actually value this life so much more than religious people: we know that it is the only, precious life that we have. If everyone thought that way, I think the world would be a much better place. For one thing, people would likely not go to war and kill so indiscriminantly.

      July 29, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • georgex

      The poor were taught that their reward would come after they were dead so that they would be content with their suffering here on Earth and not revolt a few centuries ago.

      July 29, 2012 at 11:04 am |
  2. Charles Darwin

    People that continue to believe in a fictional god that allows killing of others in the name of religion are just plain BARKING MAD!!

    There has to be some primitive mental condition based on an unknown fear or self preservation that drives some brains to conjure up stories to try to explain an unknown such as who made us and where did we come from?
    Brainwashing with made up stories in church at an early age certainly doesn't help this mental flaw.

    If we are "devine intervention", something was terribly wrong with the recipe.

    We are part of the cosmic dust in the universe and nothing more. Accept it and get on with your lives.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:52 am |
  3. timothyclee

    Obviously we have been worshiping the wrong gods and they are NOT HAPPY with us. Lets turn back to Zeus and Hera before its too late!

    July 29, 2012 at 10:52 am |
  4. Peepo Pleez

    People are not ready to let go of this craziness we call god. Mostly because they are told "all you have to do is believe, and you will be granted eternal life". So it's easier for them to "believe" than not to "believe". You know... Just incase there's a chance to live forever. Thats why so many people still play the lottery, as unlikely that it is they will ever win, they feel there is still that small chance.
    What's bad about the whole thing is when we use these man written bible's to falsely claim we know what god wants or expects from us.
    then from there we use verses from these man made bibles to, enslave, oppress, and kill our fellow human beings.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:52 am |
  5. matokuwapi

    God is a fairytale. Religions were / are designed to fill in the spaces of the scary unknown ("What happens when we die?"), control the masses and to make war.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:48 am |
  6. Adam C

    "...but there were a few commenters who admitted to something less than the absolute certainty exhibited by atheists..."

    Very poor language choice. You're insinuating that atheists claim to know everything about the origins of life. That is not the case of course, atheists are always looking for more answers. Rather than just relying on "God did it", they continue to study and research and explore to find the truth.

    Your attempt to place atheists and fanatical religious people on the same level is misguided and should be rejected. Coupled with your statement that atheists only make up 2% of the population but are very vocal online, plus the additional disparaging remarks you have made against atheists in the past, should show everyone that you are simply pushing forth your agenda.

    Then again, I suppose atheists don't buy many of your books, do they?

    July 29, 2012 at 10:47 am |
  7. eyes wide open

    God had no hand in that gun jamming. It was pure and simple product defect. Nothing more and nothing less! Believe what you will, but please stop denying proven facts and reality for a change. We all can't live in the clouds. Some people have to face reality or the 21st century population will end like those before us. Buried in the ground like the multple ruins of millions of others misguided to be found by scientists all around us. People just waiting for their ultimate divine interventon that reality knows wlll ever comes. Time to wake from that self imposed "protected slumber" to face the facts of life and be accountable.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:46 am |
  8. subilover

    I am so tired of everyone complaining about Gun Laws. Really? You think because there is laws, people won't be able to get a hold of them? Whatever! As far as where was God? I'm not buying it. The "God" you speak of and where was he in Aurora? Where is he anywhere at anytime? People say find Jesus....is he lost? Is this "loving" God you speak of anywhere, any tragedy happens? Is he in Iraq protecting our men and women? Is he feeding the hungry? Does he stop any violence? Does he stop people from dying with cancer? The list is endless. Oh and then if you don't profess your faith to him he will send you to a burning death....right. Things happen and its horrible and there are twisted individuals everywhere. The orange headed twisted idiot should get no media coverage. I only hope that he will never get to see any of it. I would only feed his twisted ego. Only the victims and their families should.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:46 am |
  9. kbwizard

    Well here is the thing. For the ones who survived, it was god’s will. For those who did not, it was a miracle from god. It must be nice to be god; always the credit, never the blame. While an atheist myself over the years I have become less critical of those who are believers. When I lost a close relative to gun violence I was able to see how a belief in a higher power gave comfort to those around me.
    I if course had no such comfort. I seem to detect from time to time over the years as my family would remember our fallen family member a little doubt about the benevolence of god. Never outright but still a hint. It reminded me of a episode of the Twilight Zone. The one in which you had to think happy thought or be wished into the corn field, by the omnipotent little boy. So it is today. No one dare criticize god as she can do no wrong. In the world we live in there is no god. Having said that, even as an atheist, I wish there were. Someone to cause a tree to fall on the gunman’s car on his way to the theater; and at the same time stop a tree from falling on a school bus killing 6 kids in NY a few years back. That would be nice. Ok maybe he can’t do that, but at least step forward from time to time to say
    “ Whoops, my bad”

    July 29, 2012 at 10:45 am |
  10. LYNN of God and Jesus is Savior!

    God is the Alpha and the Omega. God is good, God is great He is in control! God was there! It was satan who sent this mad man. It is God who jamed the gun or more would of been killed. And it is God who these beautiful peoples souls are with now. And it will be God who will judge this mad man.
    I would rather believe, worship and pray daily to God and to Jesus and when I pass find out they are not there than to be an athiest and never know the Lords love and when judgement day comes find out He is there!
    Every knee will bow come judgement day. Awaken yourselves now learn His love before the judgment day comes for it is near.
    God Bless these people who lost their lives for satans reason, God Bless their familys and friends in their time of hurt and pain. For the Lord brings peace and calm to all who ask of Him. May those who seek the Lord Jesus Christ find Him. When a shep from His flock strays He will go to find them and bring them back home to His safety and love. May He also find you...
    GOD BLESS AMERICA AND THE WHOLE WORLD! AMEN, AMEN. I know the Love of Jesus I pray you do and will too.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  11. timothyclee

    god is a delusion – I understand the desire to believe in a supernatural parent to take care of us – but all evidence is to the contrary. Innocent people suffer, wicked people prosper. Natural disasters and disease cause more pain, suffering and death than people do. Dogmatic religious leaders will bend all events to show a gods presence (if something bad happens, its because we are sinning, if something good happens its because of a benevolent god). I think these antiquated beliefs stand in the way of focus on finding real solutions to society's problems.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  12. BigCain

    God is everywhere. And he's no genie waiting on your wish. He lets us make choices in our life.
    We either make good choices or bad choices. And also don't look for GOD when you've turned your back on him USA.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • Sardukar

      Santa Claus too...and give us gifts once a year under the tree. He can also stop time or move with the speed bigger than the speed of light so he can deliver gifts around the globe during one night.

      July 29, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • rufus

      So, for those who made the CHOICE to go see Batman that night and got killed...how does that fit with a benevolent god? It was like god saying AHAH – I gave you the ability to make choices and you made the wrong one. Gotcha.

      July 29, 2012 at 10:47 am |
    • LYNN of God and Jesus is Savior!

      I am reading these posts and find it so very sad that these people are lost and the enemy is winning in their lonely lives.
      God Bless you friend of Jesus for you know His love. Isn't God an awesome God?! Yes He is!

      July 29, 2012 at 10:47 am |
    • kbwizard

      Choices? Like going to the movies?

      July 29, 2012 at 10:47 am |
  13. Sardukar

    Atheist are at 15% now...about 35 million people..

    July 29, 2012 at 10:40 am |
  14. Sebastian2

    I'm in category 1 and a bit of 3; there is no god, and this horrific tragedy was a single man's fault. Nothing more than that....

    July 29, 2012 at 10:38 am |
  15. DennyRicky

    God doesn't go to movie theatres. He has a Netflix account and preferred to wait until the movie came out on blu-ray. I had a vision, you see, and therefore it's the truth!

    July 29, 2012 at 10:37 am |
  16. TruthSayer

    Most of these people are right, There is no "Big Sky Daddy", Ignorant people invented beings to explain things they couldn't understand (lightning, rain, etc...)..Thousands of years later, you imbeciles are STILL believing in that hogwash. No matter how science puts it in your face that theres a reason why the Earth was formed and life EVOLVED...you still think it was "magic". You might as well go back to believing in Zeus.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  17. chad

    If I believe in God and live a good life, trying to do good as often as I can and in the end ultimately find out I'm wrong, then what have I really lost? I will die and lay in the ground just like the atheist. But if the atheist lives their life and finds out that THEY are wrong in the end, well buddy, you are in trouble!

    July 29, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • Andrew

      So if I live the same exact "good" life as you do, but die not believing in "God", then this all merciful, all loving being will have his nose so out of joint that I'm "in trouble?" Then he's not a god, he's just a vengeful punisher. If he can't handle the fact that I don't "believe" in him, why SHOULD I believe in him? He can't even seem to take care of his own business on earth. It's hard to believe he can do so in heaven.

      July 29, 2012 at 10:47 am |
    • chad

      Yes. It's one of the perks of being in the club.

      July 29, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • kbwizard

      Chad, never assume that an atheist lives a bad life. My Christian cousin told me one time " You are an atheist and I will pray for you, but I have to admit you are a better Christian then many of the Christians i know". Some of the worst heartless people I know are Christians. In general I can quote the bible better than they can. No Chad, some of the most loving and “Christian hearted hearted people I know are atheist. File it under “ Strange but true”

      July 29, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • chad

      I am by no means saying atheists are bad people. Unfortunately for them, even the great ones, having a relationship with God is one of the requirements for getting into heaven. It would be akin to letting a stranger in your house.

      July 29, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • Andrew

      And if I live a good life and think god is a three-headed blind pig does that fulfill my entrance requirement to heaven?

      July 29, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  18. Peteyroo

    Better a stone-cold atheist than a hot, sweaty Christian!

    July 29, 2012 at 10:32 am |
  19. james

    God is not real...you people are mentally ill.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • Nathan A Stewart

      The majority of mankind who believe in God are the ones who are mentally ill ,but,the 2% of Atheist are not? You call us people of faith delusional. I can't think of anything more delusional than someone who thinks 2% are the the only sane people.Please! Instead of knocking faith why don't you and the rest of you Atheist stop and and try to understand why so many of your fellow man have faith. Do you ever ask yourself that maybe there is something more powerful,that has the majority of the world believing? I ask you this heart to heart,i'm not attacking you. Atheist or not I love you just the same and hope your life is filled with happiness. All I ask you to do is stop and really look around with your mind and heart open,you might be amazed as to what you find and the answers to the questions you seek. Me and billions of others would not put so much time and loyalty into our faith if we didn't feel something deeply powerful. I Love You and God Bless!!!

      July 29, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • Arj

      Because you are making a statement Can you prove that God does not exist? You could only say " I am not sure. Or I dont have solid evidence that you could accept ". But to make such a statement you need to prove that.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  20. Michael

    God is a myth and religion is a mental disorder.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • TruthSayer

      Amen brother...

      July 29, 2012 at 10:38 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.