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. Bryan

    It doesn't matter if you are alive or dead, your relationship with God will not change! You are not guaranteed 72 years of life, 98 years or even 3 for that matter! So where is God on any given day? Where is God in Syria? Where is God in the starving nations of Africa? Where was God during the Holocaust? Where was God during the Native American Genocide? God is right next to you every day and has always been there. Faith in God doesn't mean that everything is going to work out for you or go your way. Faith in God means you will be okay no matter the results, even death. "Where O death, is your sting?"

    August 1, 2012 at 3:11 pm |

    it does business with the public

    August 1, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
  3. denzig

    No one knows the answers, period. NO one. All humans seek answers to the questions that are out there but will never be answered. It's in our infinate need for reassurance and in our arrogance that anyone can tell you that "I am right and you are wrong." Growing up I was taught that we were made in Gods image but to me god was made in our image: jealous, spiteful, vindictive, ego driven. These emotions are associated with the darker side of humans and yet the teachings I received would indicate that God possesses these very same traits. There is, to me, a very different meaning to the terms religious and spiritual. A religious person to me is someone who has discovered all the answers through faith which in turn is abstract arrogance. A spiritual person to me is someone who has discovered the power of the human mind to come to terms with and indeed embrace the very fact that not one of us has the answers and is at peace with it. As a child of religious parents I was told not to ask so many questions, as if the very questions themselves were evil. I think I'll continue to ask questions and if I go to hell for that then maybe this hot summer has had its benefits. I may even take a jacket alone in case I catch a chill.

    August 1, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
  4. edmundburkeson

    Answer # 8 – the Prothero answer. If you want to know where God is you will find the answer buy surveying American culture. God equals culture! By this method, in order to find out what God is thinking you must know what man is thinking. This is humanism, pure and simple. This has been an exercise in futility because of Prothero's confusion about where to look for God. This would put him in the camp of naturalism. God equals man, culture, nature! The approach is similar to that of Eastern religion.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
  5. Lorraine

    Red, Adam, and Eve were given that choice to do what is either right, or wrong, for YHWH gives us this out of His unconditional love for us. It is our own will to choose to do right, this is being human. He made us all for His own sake, Isaiah 43:1-10.

    He wants us to obey His voice wholeheartedly, to do right, and it is for our own good to do so. In the new covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-36, this law of righteousness will be put inwardly into the hearts of those who seek YHWH, this prophecy is in process now.

    People are realizing that all we have tried, and done is not working until this day, prophesied in Daniel 12:2. Yes we have all sorts of technology, but this is the time that is more crucial today as prophesied in Daniel 12:4, that it would be, the end times.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      BigPain Lorraine, where do you come up with this stuff? Mother Nature doesn't give a rat's tail what we do. We humans are responsible to ourselves for our behavior. The is no magic dad in the sky dictating books or even watching us. There is more evidence for the Loch Ness Monster than there is for God. Sorry, but there are no unicorns or leprechauns either.

      August 1, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
  6. Lees

    People ask where was God? He is here, its us that choose not to obey Him...He tells us in the bible thou Shalt not, but yet we do it anyway...HE tells us in DEUTERONOMY 28 what will happen if we follow His commandments..Please read the word of GOD the (bible) you will find anwers

    August 1, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • Peteyroo

      Leeks, your God sounds very weak and feeble. What's the point of having him? He's good about sound bites I concede, but other than really old aphorisms, what has your God done for you lately?

      August 1, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
  7. J Eagan

    You ask "Where was God at Aurora? There is a simple answer. "He is everywhere."

    We all believe what we choose to believe, Have you considered that perhaps that's why the gun jammed? He has given us all a free will, to do what we choose with our life, good or bad. We all have that power and none of us are excused from behavior due to environment or other social issues. You see, this explains both the shooter's actions and why Mr. Prothero can write such a self serving, blasphemous article without being struck by lightning.

    God Bless.

    August 1, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • Karen

      A trivial amount of googling will show you why the free will argument fails.

      Have a few more pots of coffee and try again?

      August 1, 2012 at 9:52 am |
    • psalm2233

      It's not necessary to explain God's way of dealing with His creation. IF he cares what happens at a particular event in time, He can do whatever He wants. His righteousness is not as our righteousness. He does things differently. I would not have given my Son for a wicked and perverse people. He did. That doesn't make sense to us. It rains on the just and unjust alike. Nobody is exempt from the evil that lurks in this world. God is not particularly concerned with what happens here. His perspective is eternal. I have a daughter who was born with a condition that eventually took her life. I am not bitter with God. I am looking forward to joining her . Can't wait.

      August 1, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • Peteyroo

      Mother Nature/Evolution gave us free will, not some tired old God wearing speedos and chasing cherubs around the pearly gates.

      August 1, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • Kazzy756

      Free will? Tornadoes, hurricanes and the weather have free will to kill people–hmmm. Is the weather controlled by God, Satan or God's 'creation', the earth and its components? So where was God during Katrina? In DC of course! Where was God on 9/11? In FL with Bush reading books upside down! Former AoG puppet.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
  8. Barn Cat

    God is everywhere but God allows people to exercise their own free will. If God removed all the sin from the world none of us would be here today. God proves that He is good because He sent His Son to die for us so that those of us who believe will have eternal life in heaven with Him. If you repent of your sins, accept what Jesus did on the cross as payment for those sins, and accept Jesus as Lord you can have eternal life too. You'll find that if you follow and obey with all your strength that God will give you peace and joy, a love for Him, and a love for people. Yes, we live in an evil world but God is good.

    August 1, 2012 at 9:45 am |
  9. jdddrr

    It's almost as if athiesm is a religion in itself, with the way all of you have accounts on every newsite, ready to attack every Christian that comments.

    August 1, 2012 at 4:24 am |
    • anthony

      And no matter where we go we have christians, Muslims, and all other organized religions, trying to shut us up. the internet is the only place our voices can be truly heard and uncensored

      August 1, 2012 at 9:36 am |
  10. Red

    If I was down to my last stick of gum and God asked me for it...I would give him the gum.

    August 1, 2012 at 2:03 am |
    • Peteyroo

      I wouldn't. I'd tell him to get his own.

      August 1, 2012 at 3:06 am |
    • Red

      Well the best part is that he could tell you exactly what the Stride mystery flavor is...

      August 1, 2012 at 3:35 am |
  11. lesserknowncharacter

    Why should you people expect to get a satisfying answer when asking such a corrupt question? Where was God? Doing His own thing like always. Why do people think that love means that God must step in and stop all evil? (if he did, the batman movie never would have started anyway) He will not break His own laws. He has given agency to everyone and He will not take that away, that would be unjust and unloving. It's selfish to think that God would stop such an act. Stop playing a judge and open your minds.

    August 1, 2012 at 1:38 am |
    • Peteyroo

      What's the point of having a God if he stands idly by while bad things are happening?

      August 1, 2012 at 3:04 am |
  12. ryan

    whatever created this universe doesnt give a damn about us. Get over yourselves you bible brainwashed crazies.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:40 am |
    • Lees

      I was once in the world unsaved asking alot of questions before I came to know God myself. It is all because of sin thats why the world is the way it is. God is not going to force himself on us to change, we have to make the choice to want to be obedient and seek Him while He may be found. Read the bible, it tells why things are the way it is...God loves us its us that want to do what we want to do and not OBEY HIM.

      August 1, 2012 at 11:42 am |

    How else can 100% accuracy resurrect?

    August 1, 2012 at 12:12 am |
    • Peteyroo

      What? You must have a point.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:59 am |
  14. t3chn0ph0b3

    Flag this.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:09 am |
  15. Bill Fitzgerald

    Read your scriptures and you will know that Agency was what the war in Heaven was about. Lucifer said he would get everyone to obey and he would be the star of the show. The Saviors plan was Agency. Let everyone have their agency and prove themselves worthy or not to return and he would provide the way for us to repent and be forgiven if we strive to do all we can and by grace we receive power to do it. Simple as that. Did I mention all of the scriptures you should read? Bible Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, Doctrine and Covenants and MOST important of all is the words of todays Prophets and Apostles. Got it?

    July 31, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
    • Peteyroo


      August 1, 2012 at 2:58 am |
  16. Tali3

    I think people expect God to prevent tragedies like this from happening. They expect God to wave his hand and prevent wars, muders, accidents from happening period! The fact is, it's not going to happen because, he plainly told us in Genesis after Adam and Eve disobeyed his commands what was going to happen to man because of it. it's happening, so don't expect him to go against his word. He's not going to undo what has been done. If he did, then his word, the bible would be false! Utopia was lost when man fail from grace, but we expect Utopia anyway!a We expect God to just make everything perfect! It's not going to happen people! Man has been murdering ever since Cain killed Abel, and it's going to continue, so forget about God reversing what has already started. It's not going to happen/

    July 31, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      I don't expect God to do anything since he doesn't exist.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:57 am |
    • Red

      Did you ever ask why God didn't prevent Adam from falling from grace in the first place?

      August 1, 2012 at 2:58 am |
    • Tali3

      No, didn't have to ask.and the reason for that is still in genesis! IT's called FREE WILL! God let them decide whether they wanted to fall from grace, or obey his word. They chose to disobey, and now we see the results! He told us from the begining what was going to happen, and it is! They were free to choose, and they did.

      August 1, 2012 at 7:24 am |
    • WASP

      @tali: please explain to me clearly how someone can know every option you will ever have availible to you, know which of those choices you will make, know that a certain choice will find you in a situation that will get you killed.......say like in an automobile accident on your way to church or enjoying a movie with your family on a saturday night and just sit back and say "well i gave them a book to read and it warns about why i allow such pain because i allowed them free will......even though these folks haven't done anything wrong."
      free will is chaos, it's the ability of every living thing to make it's own way in life and suffer the consequences.
      having a plan or future knowledge of every event that will ever happen ever in life is order, regardless of what you do as an all knowing being you impact what happens by being the supreme chooser in the scheme of things.
      i can give an ant colony order by digging them up and placing them inside a glass container, giving them what they need to be able to make food and survive. it's order because i now can control where they go and whether they live or die. the ants can no longer control anything, they can't move from that area or feed themselves without my intervention i have thus become their god.

      August 1, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
  17. PRISM 1234

    Why do these things happen? Where was God when they happened?"
    Here are some glimpses of why are we seeing escalating violence and evil in our world today.
    "But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God" 2 Timothy 1

    But ..... Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes! Matthew 18:7
    People who know know the Bible and understand prophecies thereof, understand that what we're seeing is mark of the days and times we're living in... And we are not living in ordinary times. Anyone who has eyes to see and mind to reason, can see that obviously we live in times that has not been like it since the beginning of time. The corruption of human character and evil escalating to such degree as never before . Th e powers of darkness ar raging, while the righteousness and what is good is being fiercely fought against.
    But there is one more Scripture that comes to mind:
    And he said to him "Go your way, Daniel, for these words are concealed and sealed up until the end time. Many will be purged, purified and refined, but the wicked will do wickedly; AND NONE OF THE WICKED WILL UNDERSTAND , but those who are wise will understand." Daniel 12

    July 31, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
    • Realist


      I really don't know how you can believe that stuff. There is simply no evidence for its veracity. But, I guess if it keeps you (with your obvious mean streak) from killin', rap.in' and pillagin', we'll have to settle for that. Unfortunately, I doesn't seem to stop lots of other Bible-thu.mpers, though.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
    • Lorraine

      Prism,Mel, henrymassenger, Bill, and Tali3, Thanks for all of your post, its apparent that YHWH dose not have to answer to us, we must do the right thing by Him, otherwise these kinds of tragedies will happen, and more often. As it states in Jeremiah 10:23 man cannot walk in his own steps, we need the Creator YHWH and His law of righteousness to live by the 10 commandments to respect, and live humble among each other.

      Realist,and exlonghorn, you guys are obviously blind, this shooting is enough evidence of how this world works, which was warned to us all through the scriptures would be our fate, living without the law of righteousness the 10 commandments.

      We have actually been going through this now for over 2000 years of mayhem, man can't do it himself, he needs the Creator of all life YHWH. Although we have advanced in technology as YHWH knew we would, that's why He said these things would get worse in the times when knowledge is increased in Daniel 12:4.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:51 am |
    • Peteyroo

      Schism, we are ordinary people living in ordinary times. We are not special in any way. We are just like those who preceded us and those who will follow.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:54 am |
    • Peteyroo

      BigPain Lorraine, there is more evidence for the Loch Ness Monster than there is for God.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:56 am |
  18. keyser

    Tell me where was god in Auschwitz? The answer: because there isn't one.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
  19. Mel

    God is everywhere. I thank him for free will and the opportunity to choose for myself to believe or not believe. He did not create robots. We make decisions every day that affect others lives. Some for the better and some affect others in bad ways. Someone that drinks too much has an affect on everyone in their life. Someone that is mentally unstable can affect and harm people that don't even know them. However, our kindness and love also has an affect on others in so many positive ways. I certainly don't like when bad things happen but, it is a product of our own decisions and freedoms we are given. To blame God or ask where was he when this or that happens, is to say we should not be accountable for any of our actions. God should fix it. It just doesn't work that way.

    July 31, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • exlonghorn

      Your comment presumes that God exists. Why do you believe God exists, in spite a mountain of physical, philosophical, and logical evidence to the contrary?

      July 31, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      Smell, God is indeed everywhere, just as Santa Claus is everywhere. You can talk about them all you want. It won't make them real.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:50 am |
  20. henrymassingale

    I find this of interest, Where was God ?
    This is not what is need to be said....I have a riddle for all of you and CNN...this will depend on CNN..will they remove the flag of our boycott, this time...or will CNN stand with CBS News, New York Times, and a great many others in a unity of support...
    I am going to share a true information up date with you all...

    I waited for the information to be posted about James Holmes...he was a Heroin User, more so in Pharmaceutical Pills....why is this important for this Social Network of for Bloggers to know....
    Heroin- back street or Pharmaceutical, changes the human mind, to the point that the human life, is nothing at all...this is a basic fact, that Government Officials knew and covered up the research data.
    from CBS News...
    http://www.cbsnews.com/.../james-holmes-24-identified-as-suspect-in-deadl...1 day ago – James Holmes, 24, identified as suspect in deadly mass shooting at .... Heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, dynamite, cannons, machine guns and .... Note: Your e-mail address is used only to let the recipient know who sent ..
    http://www.glendalenewspress.com/Colorado shooting suspect worked for a summer as counselor at camp above Glendale. James Holmes, the suspect in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting, worked for .... Man pleads not guilty to heroin charge (3 comments) ... Terms of Use | Privacy Policy, Updated: 10/19/2011 | Glendale News-Press, 221 N. Brand ...
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/crime/Aurora Shooting Suspect Purchased 6000 Rounds Of Ammunition Online ... and the faulty wiring inside the head of a man named James Holmes. ... with the murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida, used it this week in an interview with Sean Hannity. ... By most estimates the country has one of the highest rates of heroin and ...

    I am going to take you back in time to when Congress Lady Gabby was shoot, and all the people killed, and the Death Of A Child Has Marked This Country for lack of Moral In-site.
    The man who shoot and killed all them people was a Heroin User.
    Just maybe some will take a stand with Us and not remove our Flag, this time Join us Patriots in one of the largest Boycotts in American History....we only offer a truth, you will have to walk through the door.
    sin., Henry Massingale Founder and Director of the
    International Boycott of The Arabic Drug Empire

    July 31, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
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