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. Boston Guy

    According to Christians when Katrina hit NO it was God's punishment for the sins of NO. You can find many TV preachers saying this. So, apparently, there was sin in Aurora, CO the family and conservative town and it was God's punishment to allow this to happen.

    My view is that bad things happen to good people all the time. Most do not know when their time is up. It's not God's doing or the devils. Your time is up no matter how you go out.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • K Kim

      Some Christians may have said that about Katrina but how do you know who is Christian? The best way (but not necessarily 100% accurate) is to see the fruits of the person who claims to be Christian. In other words, not what they say but what they do and the impact (spiritual or tangible) that they have on other people.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • Ed

      Whether floods, storms, or earthquakes, the Bible is filled with disasters caused by God. This is because in antiquity, there was no other explanation. What power could shake the very earth or inundate an entire region? God was the only available answer, and from that they would naturally conclude that God was angry – there was evil in the hearts of men or there must have been debauchery in those cities. Now science has explained that natural disasters are, well, natural, but many continue to cling to these ancient notions and for them, no amount of proof or reasoning will ever change thier minds.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
  2. TOMG


    July 26, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
  3. Doug M

    Another empty and meaningless and lazily written article.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • mapsguy1955

      Right... Religion is the scourge of progress.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • Athiest

      I agree, but I'll take any chance I can to shove logic and reason in the face of fairy tale believers.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • R Stull

      I was thinking the same thing. This is the worst written opinion piece on here. If I were a high school teacher, and I would have given this a D. Wow, this is bad... WHich is the opinion piece and which is the commentator's? And the content? Really? I miss the old CNN.... WHen they did news. Good Times... Where is Ted Koppel?

      July 26, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
  4. TOMG


    July 26, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
  5. D McCoy

    Once again CNN has given up news reporting in lieu of repeating tweets and blogs. We don't go to CNN to read what other people think, I go there for the news or an opinion column of a writer – not the writer's repeating others' blather.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
    • Sara

      If they just had a rating system in the comments they wouldn't have to do these articles to see the most thought provoking responses.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • JB

      Sound likes you need to start reading peer reviewed Journals and not CNN. Nothing in the news is fact checked first, they recant after the fact. And Journalist having been writing about their own ides for hundreds of years!!

      July 26, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  6. TOMG


    July 26, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Father Jimmy

      What does that even mean, you SCREAMING IDIOT?

      July 26, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
  7. virginia

    you would think the scientist woul by now be convince of the existence of god...but since they get the info form the true believers they can't yet testified to it for themselve...

    July 26, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Zing

      your post makes absolutley no sense.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • Suckit


      July 26, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
  8. BonesIIX

    I just don't get why people chose to focus on God and it's role in a massacre. If you choose to believe in something like that, great for you. If you don't, great for you too. It's very depressing for me that people turn such a sad event into something like this. The only people we should care about right now are the victims friends and families and trying to help them cope with such an awful experience. Personal beliefs are personal for a reason.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Andrew

      Well if religious people would just shut up about god and keep it to themselves (like the bible tells you to by the way) then we could get on to having a debate about what lead to this. This has nothing to do with god, just like when a car barely misses you and you say thank god, god had nothing to do with it. You just didn't get hit by a car that day. I believe in a great many things, but am I right about any of them, I certainly can't tell you. We all know nothing and should act like it, humble and open; compassionate and understanding. These are not gods values, they are human values that help us build a society that is better. We don't need god to do it, we need to accept all to do it. Including the mad man, who we created.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
  9. TOMG


    July 26, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • Atheist = Thinker

      Yikes... You're a scary one.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Zing

      fyi – people don't read posts with all caps. Makes you look crazy, unaware and unkind.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
    • Suckit

      Ohhhhh, damn now I get it!!! Thank you!!!

      July 26, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
  10. Will

    You're kidding me, right? God, whoever or whatever he might or might not be, wasn't there in that theatre. Nor was Satan who let's be honest is a wholly fictional creation of men ( and pretty stupid men at that). Everyone there was on his or her own. Life is not fair by any means. I was born to rich Park Avenue Jews. My life is awesome. Poor African kids, through no fault of their own, are born poor African kids and subsequently die horribly as such by the million every year. Is that fair? No, it's not even remotely fair. Should we conclude that God loves rich Park Avenue Jews or that Satan hates black African kids? No, of course not (though lots of simple-minded people will do so). What we have to do is embrace the incredibly scary idea that, by and large, our lives are what we make of them. Do not sit around and wait for God to fix things. Go out and do it yourselves or it will never get done. God helps those who help themselves. Don't blame Satan for evil. That's a total cop out.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
  11. Tim

    Too bad we can't bring Lincoln back to life and have him serve as the president for a few hundred years.

    Also, kudos to the username "Fluffy the Gerbil of Doom". Fun stuff.

    Anyway, I doubt only 2% of the US population are Atheist. It's got to be more. I think it's just that some people don't realize they are or won't admit it in person (obviously, online or being anonymous is another matter).

    For me, I don't just blindly believe and reason and consider a variety of aspects. I've been on the fence most of my life. I can see both sides being valid, but it's always a clouded debate when you have extremists from either side. A LOT of kooky so-called Christians with made up reasons making the whole of that faith seem like a bunch of loons. I don't view God or religion in the same way a lot of these confused or ignorant people (or even churches) do, but I don't understand a lot of it either. But, I can reason enough to understand. Still, I think there are more crazy, wrong so-called Christians than Atheists, and I'm saying this as a Christian. It's important to note that I said "so-called Christians". Finding a real one that's not completely insane, extremist or just completely ignorant is a rarity.

    Anyway, trying to explain why I or anyone else has faith (or should) is impossible, as it's a personal thing, and only an understanding that's personal to you, and makes sense as a result of consideration (not just blind faith) is what makes someone true to their faith, and nothing else... and few people do, no matter how much or how loudly they say it. For example, I see many people heavily involved in church and actually think if you're not Republican, you're on the side of evil, that Obama is a "secret Muslim Hell bent on destroying America as we know it" and so on. Completely irrational, stupid things, but I've seen many quiet people, humble that just consider life and what the bible says that don't even attend churches because of that sort of nonsense. Personally, I'd say any politician catering to votes by pretending they are somehow more "Godly" should be a reason not to vote for them, but the sheep are easily duped, and without considering the candidates and thinking they "have" to vote GOP to be on "God's side", says it all, really, about the vast majority of so-called Christians... not to mention their every day acts and thoughts (often classism, racism and general fear-based paranoia). This is the demographic of people that apparently are the voice of the faith-based? This is why articles like this and the debate is endless and pointless.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • Will

      There are a whole lot of Southerners who would rather die than live under a Lincoln administration. Remember, sic semper tyrannis. Not everyone loves LIncoln. One man's hero is another man's goat...

      July 26, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
    • Tim

      Yes, you definitely can't please everyone, but it'd sure be nice if the more educated and reasonable people, that have the best reasons, could have more power in their choices (I know that seems bad to people, especially if that doesn't agree with their own choice), but clearly allowing just anyone the ability to add to the overall choice is a bad idea unless you like lotteries.

      Interesting tidbit for those that don't know; When Lincoln was assassinated, even most Southerners were out for the killer, saying that, regardless of their view, Lincoln was still their president, too.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV


      according to the surveys I am aware of the 2% number is accurate.
      Look here: http://religions.pewforum.org/reports

      Few people are willing to declare themselves as atheists.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • Sean

      Good plan, GOPer. Link a religious forum to quote statistics on atheists.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
  12. Rei


    July 26, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
  13. Mose

    Only God knows why he allowed such thing in Aurora, or even worse in Iraq, or even worse is Africa, if you believe in God, you need to remember that He is God the creator, and He can do what ever He pleases with His creatures. all we can do is pray for the lost ones for that God grants them heaven, and another mistake we make is when we say that someone is in heaven or hell...that's wrong as the only one who will decide that is God himself and no one will enter heaven without God's permission... sorry don't have time to elaborate more, but all what i wanted to say is that we should remember who God is, He is the creator, the just, the fair, the powerful....no matter what we might think, or think we know, at the end all is up to Him

    July 26, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • mapsguy1955

      What a cop out your diatribe is. That's the thing about these zealots. They are simple minded. it is why science is excoriated by fundamentalists. It is difficult to learn and they don't understand it. The truth is, they don't WANT to understand it because it makes them question their commitment to what they can't see and to what some people tell them is the way it is. If the fundamentalists win, humanity loses. PERIOD.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • Suckit

      Wow, what mindless, brainwashed crap. What matters in the end is a random roll of the dice or spin of the wheel of how you go. Everyone returns to the most basic state of elements. What is wrong with absolute silence, darkness and nothingness, especially if you're not even conscious of it?

      July 26, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
  14. consumer007

    I have some important questions for the NRA, who seem to LOVE it when people shoot each other to death, and in the greater numbers the better for them.

    Who would Jesus blow up? Who would Jesus Smart Bomb? Who would Jesus assassinate? Who would Jesus Shoot?

    Those of you who are NRA members, if you don't agree with my first sentence, then ask yourself WHY you want to keep firearms which purpose is CLEARLY only to kill the largest number of people possible in the shortest amount of time legal. WHY? Citizens DO NOT NEED THOSE WEAPONS. If they hadn't been legal, this white city boy wouldn't have had them. He would have used a pistol, and someone probably would have tackled him before reloading. But no, the NRA has its way, and we have a massive mega killing. DO NOT say we don't have a right to have this debate. All the bloody bodies in MY HOME of Aurora Colorado say otherwise. I believe in the second Amendment, I own a pistol to protect my home, but the NRA DOES NOT HAVE A RIGHT TO MAKE THIS COUNTRY A BLOODY BATTLEFIELD.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
  15. virginia

    there will alway be those who deny and those who have found and those who are yet to dicover the presence and existence of our creator what we cal God to deny, praise, or yet to discover...and for all times it will be this way...in youth we are born aware of God we forget him and deny him in our youth for the most part, and in our old age we reflect in our existence there for ours and discover and adknowledege if only those who've found wisdom over the years, and begging to preach the awarness and existence of our lord and creator our god in heave's the ruler of our laws of the universe...

    July 26, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • mapsguy1955

      Virginia, pick up your books now and read them. No, NOT the Bible, your science books and history books. Open your mind. GOD is a state of mind, not a physical being. HE/SHE/IT could care less what you do or anyone else does because HE/SHE/IT is not sentient.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
  16. Kareful-Kay

    I just got a message that said hell has frozen over. I got a phone call from the Lord saying hey boy get a sweater.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • Grey Ice Water

      RIGHT NOW!!

      July 26, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Kareful-Kay

      would you happen to know a way that a body could get away?

      July 26, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  17. d edwards

    Ps. 14:1 The fool hath said in his heart, “There is no God.” You will stand before your creator after you die!

    July 26, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • Athiest

      PS. You believe in fairy tales. Which means developmentally, all religious folk are about 5 years old.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      The moron has said in his heart I am too lazy and gullible to try to comprehend true evidence and therefore I base all I claim to know off faith, not caring if what I believe is true.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
  18. TOMG


    July 26, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • Suckit

      TOMG, you have enlightened me today!

      July 26, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  19. Zing

    Best sentence in this article by Prothero – 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.

    You come where you are not wanted, appreciated or respected becasue of your behavior and bigotry. Real smart and brave you all are behind the computer but cowards in real life.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • Athiest

      I love the fact that people who believe in the truth get under your skin.

      Run scared more, fairy tale believer.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      2% self pro-claimed does not mean anything compared to the fact that non-believers in your particular imaginary friend actually make up about 19%.
      "Only between 1.5 and 4 percent of Americans admit to so-called "hard atheism," the conviction that no higher power exists. But a much larger share of the American public (19 percent) spurns organized religion in favor of a nondefined skepticism about faith. This group, sometimes collectively labeled the "Nones," is growing faster than any religious faith in the U.S. About two thirds of Nones say they are former believers; 24 percent are lapsed Catholics and 29 percent once identified with other Christian denominations." (http://theweek.com/article/index/226625/the-rise-of-atheism-in-america)

      July 26, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
  20. TOMG


    July 26, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • Toonces


      July 26, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
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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.