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. mydogsays

    Questions for the crack investigative journalists at CNN. Please investigate these things and get back to us.

    One gas mask was found in the car with James Holmes and another one was discarded at the far end outside of the theater.

    Police audio recordings from that night mention a second person getting away.

    Police audio describes two mwn dressed in blacl. One carry a black backpack and another with a red backpack.

    Eyewitnesses on the scene mention that that two people were involved.

    Blood trails leading from the theater back door run far past Holmes car. Why?

    Holmes' "alleged" car has Tennessee license plates although he was from San Diego, CA and was going to school in Colorado.

    All court records and university records have been sealed.

    In jail Holmes in saying he doesn't remember anything and in the courtroom he appeared to be heavy drugged up.

    Nothing to see here, folks! Just turn on the TV and watch The 2012 Olympics!

    (eyeroll and facepalm)

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

      You are right. Government false flag operation to give the public a reason to accept the government taking all guns away.. Why oh why is not this being properly investigated.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:34 am |
  2. c.g


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

      Very Good !!! Now, can you also quote and explain Mother Goose?

      July 29, 2012 at 9:38 am |
  3. Chuck

    If God is all knowing and all seeing, then why didn't he stop the shooter in the first place? Why would he allow this to happen just so he could make his presence felt 'during' the shooting. Does that make sense to anyone?

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

      It is a little thing called free will. If God stopped us from sinning, we would be nothing but slaves or automatons.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • Mark12_31

      Very difficult question to answer, as the Pastor writes in his article. Free will is one reason, we all have it, including the shooter. And God has determined we are better off learning from the process of executing our own free will as well as dealing with others who do too, even if they make the wrong choice, rather than forcing us to only do what's right. If God took that approach, we'd be complaining that He doesn't let us make our own decisions. Even though God leaves us in this world that has hate and evil in it, He promises to be with us throughout and ultimately our time here is a nanosecond compared to the eternity He promises without evil.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:38 am |
    • joe

      This is for "really." Here is not about free wills, here is about why God allowed this innocent fine people to die miserably.
      Noone is debating Holme's free will.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:47 am |
  4. mydogsays

    My sincerest condolences got out to those killed and injured in the recent Aurora Colorado Theater shootongs.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:29 am |


    July 29, 2012 at 9:28 am |
    • SciGuy

      And the price of eggs in China?

      July 29, 2012 at 9:35 am |
  6. ArthurP

    Will God help with the medical and rehabilitation bills for those with no or exhaust their insurance caps.? Or is it part of his plan that they go bankrupt and lose everything.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:28 am |
  7. tomg

    Did a search on this page for the word 'repent'. Nothing came up. John the Baptist/Elijah preaches repentance before the coming of the Lord. And The Lord preached it when he came after John. Yet this 'mainstream' Christianity joke is more into trying sweep sin under the rug and focusing on junk like Chick-fil-a rather than the Gospel and the ONLY way.

    Repent! The kingdom is near!

    July 29, 2012 at 9:27 am |
    • JWT

      Only way ? Please do not be so simple.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:37 am |
  8. Nietodarwin

    Feel sorry for these xstians. Feel sorrier for all of us if their deluded beliefs INFECT our government anymore. What is crazier, a mormon or a born again nut formerly of New Life in Colo Spgs. (I'm an atheist living in Colo. Spgs, how's THAT for suffering?)

    July 29, 2012 at 9:27 am |
    • jjaz

      Me too! How about that crazy "war on Christians" poll in the Gazette this morning?

      July 29, 2012 at 9:29 am |
    • really

      Myself, I feel sorry for most of the atheists posting here. So full of bitterness. Strange that they spend so much time posting angry comments about a being they don't believe in, rather than going out to enjoy life. The whole notion is just very strange and sad to me.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:32 am |
    • joe

      I've been a Christian my whole life, but this moron writer does not answer the question straight up but bits about the bushes. The question is "WHERE WAS GOD AT THE PARTICULAR MOMENT IN THE THEATER WHEN KILLING WAS HAPPENING. DID HE HIDE TOO?"

      July 29, 2012 at 9:43 am |
  9. Branden

    Most people do not seem to know what religion is! Religion is mans attempt to make peace with God or make themselves god. Christianity is NOT a religion because man can Not make peace with God and man can NOT become god.
    Only God can make peace between mankind and Himself. And God has done just that Jesus Christ was ".. delivered for OUR offences, and was raised again for OUR justification." (Romans 4:25).
    If you want more answers read the Bible or if you want quick answers or don't own a Bible go to answersingenesis.org

    July 29, 2012 at 9:27 am |
  10. tbreeden

    Mr. Brendle, it doesn't really matter what you think or what the Bible says. There is still the problem of evil. Clearly, no gods are in control. That means it's up to us. It's up to us to do what we can for everyone affected by this tragedy – and to do the hard work of preventing this kind of thing from happening yet again. God certainly wasn't inside the theatre. I doubt he was anywhere else, either. -Andy

    July 29, 2012 at 9:26 am |
    • chefdugan

      You are absolutley right but don't expect idiots like this guy to even begin to understand. He makes a VERY nice living feeding off the ignorance of others.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:28 am |
    • Branden

      In the beginning God created a perfect world there was No death Nor suffering. God only gave man one command to obey man decided to disobey and brought death and surrering into the world. Death and Suffering is Mans DOING NOT God's. Therefore God provided a way that we can have peace with Him and promises at the end of time to create a New heaven and a New earth WITHOUT death and suffering for those who follow and obey Him.
      Anyone who does not follow and obey God chooses eternal pain and suffering on themselves.
      If you don't want God in your live keep living the way you are and God will grant you request.
      If your living without Jesus Christ and think live on earth is a living hell this is only a taste of your eternal punishment.
      It has been said that earth is the closest a believer will ever get to hell and earth is the closest an unbeliver will ever get to heaven.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • tbreeden

      Brandon, you sure know a lot of things you can't possibly know.

      July 29, 2012 at 10:11 am |
  11. Randy Lea

    Once again, an empty article with absolutely no answers that leaves me no more informed than I was before reading it. This epitomizes why I am no longer a Christian. There are no answers – only denial. God is NOT merciful, as the incident in Aurora proves beyond any doubt. It's a sham, and religion is nothing but the world's largest cop out when there are no answers. The more people in this world that reject religion, the better off the world will be.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:25 am |
    • really

      I am sorry you feel this way. Would you prefer a world where you had no free will? Without free will, things like this would never happen. It is like the choice between living in America or a totalitarian state (There is a difference for now).

      July 29, 2012 at 9:28 am |
  12. Theonetruth

    Christians will always tap dance around such difficult questions as Bible is only preliminary scripture towards the Ultimate Truth. Bible doesnt answer questions like this. Christ Himself said that He had much more to say, much more than the world could bear.... So, all we get from pastors is their hypothesis based on their human understanding of what Jesus might have said in the event He was ready to reveal the entire Truth. All such difficult questions are perfectly answered in the ancient scriptures that emanated directly from God- the Vedas. The whole creation, reasons behind it, source of sin, science of soul, reasons for calamities, etc. Etc. All are perfectly answered. Compare Jesus's statement to what His father Krishna said in Bhagavad Gita- BG 7.2: I shall now declare unto you in full this knowledge, both phenomenal and numinous. This being known, nothing further shall remain for you to know.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:24 am |
  13. JJStuart1

    It's just like they say; What G-d wants, G-d gets, G-d help us all!

    July 29, 2012 at 9:24 am |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      Isn't that what Roger Waters said?

      July 29, 2012 at 9:24 am |
  14. God Mon

    He was in Syria!

    July 29, 2012 at 9:23 am |


    July 29, 2012 at 9:22 am |
  16. saggyroy

    And in the meantime xtians being xtians: http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/07/27/black-wedding-rejected-at-white-church/

    July 29, 2012 at 9:22 am |
  17. John Zurek

    It always amuses me to see how grownup people can suspend their intellect by believing this kind of nonsense. Believers like these feel superior over a child that believes "childish" stuff like believing in Santa Claus, an man who can perform a miracle every time he squeezes his heavyset body through a chimney opening so small a cat would not even get through there, not to talk about his magical sledge that defies gravity time and time again. But while looking down on this child, they believe stuff themselves that is about a 100 times sillier. And the scary part is – Their numbers seem to be growing here in the US. There will come a time where these pious believers will do nothing else than go to church and pray to their god for new product developments to magically appear on trees, instead of going to college and practice science and engineering so that they can develop those new products themselves. And the rest of the world is laughing at us, zipping us by left and right. Am I exaggerating? I don't think so. Look at our standing in the world and the rise of the ultra-right bible thumpers (Romney being one of them), this process having started with George Bush, a man who claimed god told him what policies to execute. And reading the kind of nonsense like Brendle is writing down here, a CNN contributor no less, I think it is too late already. The US – A country clearly in decay. And not only Fox News is to blame any more. Thanks, CNN.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:22 am |
    • dscot

      Isn't the modern Christian/Muslim God a Santa Claus for adults? The rules are the same - faithfully do what the surrogate says and you will get a reward, toys for kids and Heaven for adults.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:43 am |
  18. relegion rescue

    Why are people so stupid to debate something as insane as " Where was god"? It's pathetic, and ridiculous, and doesn't say much favorable about mankind (atheists excluded).

    July 29, 2012 at 9:21 am |
  19. ArthurP

    God's 11th Commandment:

    Do as I say not as I do.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:21 am |

    I had a VERY 'religious' experience last night during my new date. I was in the '69' position with my hot 21 year old lady date, and I swear I WAS IN HEAVEN!!!

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

      Liabach; ahh yes, seemed like Heaven last night, now very soon you'll see what that deed will cost you! Now U R in HELL !!!! ( Sardonick laughter begins ) uh- haHahaHa !!!!

      July 29, 2012 at 9:29 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.