My Take: This is where God was in Aurora
Twelve crosses comprise a makeshift memorial across the street from the movie theater where last week’s mass shooting happened.
July 28th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

My Take: This is where God was in Aurora

Editor’s note: Rob Brendle is the founding pastor of Denver United Church, a former associate pastor at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, and the author of "In the Meantime: The Practice of Proactive Waiting."

By Rob Brendle, Special to CNN

I held her hand as she died.

Her family had come to a church where I was pastoring that morning, a routine Sunday. A thousand things would never have crossed their minds as they drove through Colorado Springs toward New Life Church’s enormous concrete worship center - including the prospect of being assaulted in their minivan by a young man with a high-powered rifle.

Later that day, we were all at a local hospital. The girl whose hand I held, Rachel, had already lost a sister at the scene. Her father was down the hall in critical condition and her mother was coming undone in the waiting room, but she didn’t know any of it. Rachel lay unconscious for a couple of hours more in the ICU.

And then she died. Her family had come to church together that morning, and by nightfall they were shattered.

That was almost five years ago.

The movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado shook me and the rest of the nation. Reading about the young and unsuspecting victims took me back to the dying girl in the ICU who had come to my church that day in 2007, in a an incident that left the two girls dead and injured several others. Back to the Columbine massacre a decade earlier that horrified the world and traumatized Colorado. And back to the aching questions that accompanied those previous incidents: Why did this happen? Where was God in all of it? How could a loving God allow this?

Where was God in Aurora? 7 responses

We pastors face the unenviable task of being asked to answer for God. Most people ask the big questions in times of irresolution, times when satisfying answers are scarce.

Let’s be clear: there are no easy answers to the deepest questions of suffering. Libraries overflow with the volumes that have been written to address these questions. Centuries of philosophers, pundits and preachers have reflected on the existence of evil, the meaning of pain and the role of God in suffering.

I won’t begin to recount all of their ruminations here. But here’s what I think.

God is the author of life and the originator of good. He distinguished humankind from among his creation with faculties like reason, emotion, dexterity and choice. Scripture teaches that God made people in his image. Set apart from all the rest of his creatures, we were endowed with the capacity to know our Creator and ennobled with the ability to choose him. So singularly did God love humans that he gave us this ultimate gift.

Aurora survivor to alleged shooter: ‘I forgive you’

The capacity to choose God and goodness came with the commensurate ability to choose evil. Is it loving to force his creation to follow his order, or to teach it and leave the creature to choose? It would seem that God came to the same conclusion that America’s founders did many millennia later: compulsory virtue is no virtue at all.

But Scripture also teaches that God is totally in control. He is all-powerful and all-knowing and he is willing and able to intervene in human events. So there is a gap between human choice and divine foreknowledge, a gap that transcends understanding and that helps define God in my mind.

The debate over this theological tension has persisted for centuries, and I don’t aim to settle it here. Let me suggest simply that God, in his sovereignty, has chosen to make our decisions meaningful. Consequently, much of what happens on earth neither conforms to nor results from his preference. There are at least four influences on human events: God’s will, to be sure; but also the will of Satan, our adversary; peoples’ choices, for better or for worse; and natural law (gravity, collision, combustion, and the like).

It is difficult to know which force causes the circumstances that devastate us. But it is enough to know that God need not be responsible for them.

The man who made the Aurora crosses

Much of the internal gridlock around tragedy is because suffering is foreign to us. This foreignness is peculiarly Western and modern. Most of the world, for most of the world’s history, has known tragedy and trauma in abundance.

You don’t get nearly the same consternation in Burundi or Burma, because suffering is normal to them. God and hard times coexist intuitively there. For us, though, God has become Anesthetist-in-Chief. To believe in him is to be excused from bad things. He is our panacea for the woes of life.

The God of the Bible promises no exemption from suffering. In fact, he all but promises suffering. He does not suggest that his followers won’t go through fire, but rather that we won’t burn up. Mostly he promises to be there with us, to comfort and encourage us and renew our strength. God grieves with us, and he grows us into good people in the process.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

Where was God in Aurora? He was on the lawn in front of the Civic Building as thousands gathered in solidarity, hope, and love at a packed prayer vigil last Sunday. He was in University Hospital as neurosurgeons groped for synonyms for miraculous.

He was in the outpouring of compassion at a victim’s funeral and in the passionate call for unity from a resolute councilwoman and at the bedside vigil of a wounded victim’s church community. Redemption has only begun in Aurora, and already God is everywhere. Their will be beauty once this story is written that overshadows and transcends the ashes.

Jesus started his ministry by declaring, “I am the light of the world,” and ended it with “you are the light of the world.”

What God our cities will see is what we show them. From the beginning, light has shone in the darkness - he ordered it that way. And the deeper the darkness, the brighter the light will appear. Where is God in Aurora? He is shining brightly from the hearts of his people.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rob Brendle.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Church • God • Opinion

soundoff (4,566 Responses)
  1. brian zeiler

    Wildly delusional assertions without a shred of evidence – you are a typical pastor, Rob. If there is a god or gods (which there isn't), the bottom line is that he's utterly useless and hardly worthy of worship. His followers must suffer from Stockholm Syndrome. At some point, when you keep making excuses for him and apologizing for his absence, you have to realize that it's probably because he doesn't exist.

    Why doesn't this god of yours do some of those magic tricks he used to do in the bible? That'd convince everybody in a second... oh wait, he stopped doing magic tricks when humanity moved beyond small tribes relying on oral folklore.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:12 am |
    • kr

      His role as pastor is to explain the existence of God, goodness, and to find and show meaning in a meaningless event. Your role as an atheist is to deny God, criticized those who try to find meaning in a meaningless event, to see nothing beyond an occurance, and to focus on evilness of this world. I would rather listen to the pastor.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:33 am |
  2. jamest297

    Well, pastor Jim-Bob/Bob-Jim would be wrong.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:12 am |
  3. Rob

    Brainwashed, or the art of saying nothing in many words... Total garbage article. god is a fantasy. An adult version of Santa clause. Only pathetic fools believe this crap.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:11 am |
    • kr

      There are many unknowns...such as the dimension of another life...I believe God suceeds in many forms inspite seemingly evil succeeds once in a while before our eyes. In the end evil always fails and good always triumphs in many forms here on earth and beyond...

      July 29, 2012 at 9:24 am |
    • Bibletruth

      The art of saying many words in answer to a serious question.......they have it down....but it remains so many words and does not answer the question. Is there an answer? There most certainly is and it is the right and true answer. It goes way beyond "where was God in aurora?" Or where was God at 9/11? Or where was God at the nazi death camps? and such like questions....how about at the death of a little child. How about at the 1000s of "event news" happenings resulting in injury, life long pain, emotional pain, heartbreak, not to mention the millions of individual events? How about death from any cause whatsoever. Outside the immediate participants, very few actually care about "Aurora", except for a fleeting " its too bad" and/or "those poor innocent people", or a general interest in news. Or an agenda prop. Every person has skin in this issue. Its called the Great Controversy. And until you aquaint yourselves with it...99% of clergy are ignorant as well... you will never have a satisfactory (to any thinking person) answer to the question.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:33 am |
  4. Reality

    Dear Pastor Brendle, (a response would be appreciated)

    We welcome you to the 21st century with a prayer:

    The Apostles' Creed 2012 (updated by yours truly based on the studies of NT historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven?????

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of

    Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
    many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
    ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    (References used are available upon request.)

    July 29, 2012 at 9:11 am |
    • ....


      July 29, 2012 at 9:13 am |
    • BYRON

      Have you looked outside lately? His works prove He (GOD) is real. The FOOL says that there is no God... If you have a job, could someone prove you did an honest days work once you leave for the day? Do you earn a paycheck for doing something; or does your boss say, "Yes, Reality, we see that there was this and that was done while you were here, but why should you get the credit?" ... Sound kinda stupid, huh? GOD is Eternal, and everything you see and CANNOT see was created by HIM... But, like so many others unwilling to give thanks, you just go your way blinded by your own sins and continue to MOCK your Creator... PLEASE OPEN YOUR EYES!! I sincerely pray that your eyes be opened to the TRUTH. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:24 am |
  5. BYRON

    All I know is that GOD has infinite Wisdom and Knowledge and we, as mere humans, can never know everything about The Only True and Living GOD that created everything by His word. I do know that Jesus Christ is Lord, and no matter what happens, HE never changes. His own blood was shed that other might live; not just here for a few moments, but with HIM for all eternity. It's a fact of life; people die; some quietly, while others violently. WHY?? I do not know, nor do you have the answer to that. We need to humble ourselves before GOD. Look at all of the hate and unbelief in this world; it's sickening. To think that we allow others to LEGALLY suck the brains out of full term babies just because it is not the gender or race we wanted it to be ... MURDER IS ONE OF OUR LAWS, and yet we get upset and blame GOD when something goes wrong. REPENT AMERICA!! We must all face our Creator on day; He has given you His Son, Jesus... What will you do with HIM? AMEN.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:11 am |
    • jamest297

      Is there anyone n this forum who is qualified and experienced in gibberish translation?

      July 29, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • Chris

      Good point. And, I doubt the irony is lost on the LORD.

      Many hand-wringers here are the same folks who actively and intentionally support mass murder of innocent babies on an industrial scale.


      July 29, 2012 at 9:20 am |
    • Chris


      I believe I'm qualified, so please allow me try to translate....
      Jamest297 said he hates God, hates God's love for him, and also hates those who love God.

      I sincerely hope that helps clear up the confusion.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:24 am |
    • to deluded

      He whoever believeth in me, shall be considered dumber than a bag of hammers.
      Oh! Brother Where Art Thou, Coen Brothers

      July 29, 2012 at 9:36 am |
  6. joel

    you will all repent on your death beds...but it will be too late hahahahaha have fun in hell you stupid non believers. i mean is it so hard to obey the 10 commandments for 80 years for a spot in heavan? choose fools

    July 29, 2012 at 9:11 am |
    • Rob

      Mean, vengeful delusions. Speaking like a true believer... But mostly thinking like a 6 year old. What a maroon.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • cdgfla

      There is some of that good old fashioned christian judgment that we all know to expect from the groveling sycophants of your ilk. FYI, your god is a man made creation, an utter fallacy of the imagination.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • Chris


      Other than Jesus, no one has ever obeyed the 10 commandments for a single day, let alone 1 full year. Much less, 80 years.

      They aren't a roadmap to heaven. They're a mirror, to show all sincere folk that they desperately need the Savior.

      Do you really think you obey the commandments? Repent (change your mind), and trust the Savior.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • BYRON

      That is not any way to speak to anyone... Where is your love and compassion. We have ALL sinned and fall short of the Glory of God. God gave His only begotten Son that ANYONE who would believe on Him shall not perish. THAT is love. We are not to judge those that do not believe, but to love them and guide them to the truth. If you know Christ, I suggest you go repent.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • Joel

      I throw tantrums at Walmart when my Ma doesn't buy me toys.
      God wants me to have all the toys.

      July 29, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
  7. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    July 29, 2012 at 9:11 am |
    • Rob

      Then STFU and delude yourself...

      July 29, 2012 at 9:16 am |
  8. G. Zeus Kreiszchte

    For the atheist/agnostic/non-believer demographic being allegedly so insignificant in the US (what? 2%?), we sure dominate this belief blog!

    July 29, 2012 at 9:11 am |
  9. raffa

    Only a person who lives inside of a watermelon could write something so stupid like below..
    "..You don’t get nearly the same consternation in Burundi or Burma, because suffering is normal to them. God and hard times coexist intuitively there. For us, though, God has become Anesthetist-in-Chief. To believe in him is to be excused from bad things. He is our panacea for the woes of life."

    July 29, 2012 at 9:10 am |


    July 29, 2012 at 9:09 am |
  11. vp

    Bad mental health and lax gun laws were present in Aurora.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:09 am |
  12. curt charter

    Well written. Thank you CNN!

    July 29, 2012 at 9:07 am |

    Google Joe Holman's great website called 'Minister turns atheist'.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:07 am |
    • joel


      July 29, 2012 at 9:10 am |
  14. ArthurP

    Why do Christians worship a mass murdering terrorist?

    "And it came to pass, that at midnight the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle. And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead." (Exodus 12:29-30)

    (terrorism – killing those with no political power to force political change by those with political power)

    July 29, 2012 at 9:07 am |
    • joel

      cu they want to

      July 29, 2012 at 9:08 am |
    • LetUsReason

      Excellent question ArthurP, however, it's quickly rendered a moot point when you realize that they will be all resurrected one day and given the opportunity to live forever. In other words, their loss of a few decades of life on Earth to typify the removal of sin from one's character (i.e., the Israelites were instructed to obliterate the heathen nations among them to picture a Christian's need to obliterate sin in their lives today; 1 Cor. 10:11) is negligable compared with them subsequently living for eternity in comparison. No worries ArthurP, yours is a valid question that stumbles millions, so you're in good company. Here's a link explaining this and gives the best answer to why God permits evil:


      Take care.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:20 am |
    • gatecrasher1

      If Christians followed the Old Testament the way Muslims follow the Koran, we would have done this in Afghanistan. But as Americans, and Christians, we have more restraint. We know that God in His many names is the ultimate judge.

      But I bet those flea infested sheep loving creeps screamed when they fell past the 70 virgins into a lake of eternal fire.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:23 am |
    • ArthurP


      Them why is everyone so upset that the little girl was kill. The shooter did her a favor by sending her to back to God before she could use here free will and possibly damn herself to Hell for all eternity. Not only that but she get to live forever sooner. This is what you Christians want so you should be rejoicing not mourning.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:42 am |
  15. raymulford

    Wow, what a convoluted and desperate explanation, just to justify your need to have an imaginary friend. Try looking at this horrible event (and indeed every event every day) through the lens of "There is no god" and you will never have to twist yourself into knots trying to explain anything ever again.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:05 am |

      When I was growing up we didn't have people going into school's with guns or theatre;s.killing people, God has been taken out of school;s and every other place in the untied states.People have no moral's in this country anymore and no respect for life.You may think he is imiginary person but if you believe he is there for you.and he has always been their for me even jn the hard times.God so loveth the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlastlng life. John 3 ; 16

      July 29, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • ArthurP


      So Man's laws are able to prevent God from entering people's souls. Interesting. Guess he is not all powerful after all.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:45 am |
  16. joel

    its always the koons raisin trouble

    July 29, 2012 at 9:05 am |
  17. IhaveID

    I'm not afraid of the concept of god, I'm afraid of your religion's interpretation of god.

    "The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived, and dishonest, but the myth – persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Belief in myths allows the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought. – JFK

    July 29, 2012 at 9:05 am |
  18. Colin

    If children were taught the following ten commandments, garbage articles like this, trying to "understand" the motives of a god would only appear in papers like the "National Enquirer".

    1. DO NOT automatically believe something just because a parent, priest, rabbi or minister tells you that you must. They can’t all be right.

    2. DO NOT think that claims about magic, miracles and the supernatural are more likely true because they are written in old books. That makes them less likely true.

    3. DO analyze claims about religion with the same critical eye that you would claims about money, political positions or social issues.

    4. DO NOT accept it when religious leaders tell you it is wrong to question, doubt or think for yourself. It never is. Only those selling junk cars want to prohibit you from looking under the hood.

    5. DO decouple morality from a belief in the supernatural, in any of its formulations (Christianity, Judaism, Islam etc.). One can be moral without believing in gods, ghosts and ghouls and believing in any of them does not make one moral.

    6. DO a bit of independent research into whatever book you were brought up to believe in. Who are its authors and why should you believe them in what they say? How many translations has it gone through? Do we have originals, or only edited copies of copies of copies– the latter is certainly true for every single book in the Bible.

    7. DO realize that you are only a Christian (or Hindu or Jew) because of where you were born. Were you lucky enough to be born in the one part of the World that “got it right”?

    8. DO NOT be an apologist or accept the explanation “your mind is too small to understand the greatness of God,” “God is outside the Universe” or “God moves in mysterious ways” when you come upon logical inconsistencies in your belief. A retreat to mysticism is the first refuge of the cornered fool.

    9. DO understand where your religion came from and how it evolved from earlier beliefs to the point you were taught it. Are you lucky enough to be living at that one point in history where we “got it right”?

    10. DO educate yourself on the natural Universe, human history and the history of life on Earth, so as to be able to properly evaluate claims that a benevolent, mind-reading god is behind the whole thing.

    I sometimes think that, if we first taught our children these simple guidelines, Christianity and any other supernatural belief would be quickly dismissed by them as quaint nostalgia from a bygone era. I hope we get there as a species.

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


      July 29, 2012 at 9:10 am |
    • Lady Morgahnna

      Excellent rebuttal.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:13 am |
    • JIm

      I could not have said anything better myself.


      July 29, 2012 at 9:15 am |
  19. AverageJoe76

    Until God manifests himself to humankind in a way undisputable to the masses (the masses that can pass sanity tests), then we will NEVER agree on God. And even if a being of immense power sprang before us, there would still be some who want to study it's origin (because we have curious minds). A discovery of a true 'God' would be a blow to the curious mind, because it allows all answers to all the questions to rest at this one final conclusion. It was made by God. Which, even for God, is an understatement.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:04 am |
  20. Mark Yelka

    Religion and morphine both comfort people when they're down. Delusion feels good compared to pain. That's why religion and morphine are popular.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:04 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.