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. gostoff

    as long as we keep believing in rainbows and unicorns we will keep asking ourselves questions like, where the hell was god when all this was happening. Well kids guess what these is no god, what kind of god would allow this to happen to anyone, if you think there is a loving god you been brainwashed into thinking it smart up its not so bad to believe in reality then you want ask yourself idiotic questions you will just know that some a@# hole did it and you can do something about it instead of praying

    July 29, 2012 at 9:42 am |
  2. Ed

    Why do these explanations always seem to come down to some nonsensical statement that I’m just supposed to accept at face value?

    Let’s look at the following:

    “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.”

    I’ve read the second sentence at least five times. It makes a large claim with absolutely no logical support whatsoever. It’s simply a “grand” statement that I’m supposed to take a face value because an ordained preacher said I should. Carl Sagan stated that “great claims require great proof”. You’ve got a great claim at that’s it.

    Now reread the first sentence. “God is totally in control”. Ok, now move down to the next paragraph. “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).” So there are apparently three other forces in the universe that God has no control over. This means that God is not omnipotent. If he’s not omnipotent then he’s not a deity.

    Congratulations, your article is one gigantic oxymoron. Do the CNN editors even take a glance at this stuff?

    July 29, 2012 at 9:42 am |
  3. Harrison

    God was just calling the victims home. This was their reward James Holmes a savior as was Charlie Manson and Adolph hitler. Wait thats just stupid as is the notion that godis looking over us trying to prevent this

    July 29, 2012 at 9:41 am |
    • Hello

      there are no gods....

      July 29, 2012 at 9:45 am |
  4. Bob Herman

    no comment

    July 29, 2012 at 9:41 am |
  5. james

    god is pretend...get over it.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:41 am |
    • Ransom

      Atheism is pretend, get over it.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:43 am |
  6. ARL

    Respectfully, if you give God the credit, you have to give God the blame.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:40 am |
  7. Devil in the Details

    It's kind of silly to blame God for the Aurora deaths. But it's just as silly for people to praise him for sparing the lives o others.

    I mean, if this Sky Myth selectively decides who will live and who will die, with no regard for the people, except as pieces in a cosmic chess game with the Devil, he needs to get himself into counseling.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:39 am |
  8. bam

    god was busy telling followers to be intolerant of people man fears like muslims and gays.
    Mr Jesus taught them to be intolerant go forth and spew hate on them.
    since none of this is in any bible it must have been word of mouth.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:38 am |
  9. Keith

    Please look into the comparisons between James Holmes and famous spree killer Charles Whitman. Both of them hoarded lots of guns and weapons and ammunition. Both were considered intelligent white males. Both kept journals. Both opened fire in public and killed and wounded many people. Charles Whitman died during his crime spree and in his suicide note he wrote that he wanted an autopsy. An autopsy was done and it was discovered that Whitman had a brain tumor. The most common and aggressive form of cancer. And it was in the area of the brain that controlled emotions and many people who had a tumor in this part of the brain also had obsessed urges to write. As in keeping a journal. Both of them were seeing a psychiatrist and both showed signs of premeditation. PLEASE look into the comparisons between the two cases. An MRI should be done on James Holmes to see if he too has a brain tumor that could explain the reason behind this senseles tragedy. There is a ton of info at google, wikipedia and youtube regarding Charles Whitman.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • joey

      who cares why he did it?

      July 29, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • Devil in the Details

      That's an interesting fact about Charles Whitman, but not everyone that commits murder, even mass murder, who is under psychiatric care, has a tumor in their amydala. Mental illness, psychosis, does not require a tumor. When you hear hooves, think horses not zebras.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:48 am |
    • JWT

      His psychiatrist should have looked into brain tumors and other causes of MI sysptoms.

      July 29, 2012 at 10:09 am |
  10. Shucks McGee

    Cosign this article. The answer to the premise for the article is in Genesis 3. We fell. For whatever reason, God made us free beings, not slaves, with the ability to make meaningful, life-altering choices. Sometimes we take that freedom and do horrible things with it, and we used that freedom to fall. This world isn't quite what God originally designed. Unfortunately, we will now go through suffering, but God will sustain us even though He doesn't have to do it.

    Asking such a question as "Where was God in [insert tragedy here]" hints at a fundamental misunderstanding on the part of the asker: that somehow we're living in some sort of paradise where bad things aren't supposed to happen. The Bible basically guarantees the opposite, and corrects such an infantile misunderstanding. The Paradise our asker mistakenly believes we're already supposed to be in is waiting for us on the other side of this life, not in it.

    Where was God in Aurora?
    Where was God when Cain killed Abel? Where was God during the flood? Where was God when Egyptians enslaved a whole race of Jewish people? Where was God during all the war & fighting depicted in the Bible after the fall?

    He was in the midst doing the exact same thing He's doing in Aurora. Cleaning up the mess we made with our own free will.

    "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'" – Jeremiah 29:11

    July 29, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      Genesis 6:6 The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. 7 So the LORD said, "I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them."

      Hmmm....this sounds familiar. Your fairy tale "god" seems to have already made this MISTAKE once. Then "he" being all-powerful and all-knowing lets it continue to happen? HA HA HA HA! What a retard!

      July 29, 2012 at 9:39 am |
    • Rabid Goon

      newsflash: your god is make believe. your bible is a collection of fantasy stories.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:40 am |
  11. Craig Sonnenfeld

    This article displays exactly the kind of nonsense that has made me become a secular humanist. What a bunch of ridiculous double-talk.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • JosteinGaarder

      I concur. It's all metaphorical non-sense that appeals to the emotion, but not to reason.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:39 am |
    • Hello

      Read Caesar's Messiah... video debut on Sept 28th.
      Tells who wrote the bible and why.... hint... its a joke book

      July 29, 2012 at 9:49 am |
  12. chri

    Buddha teaches kindness and compassion.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:35 am |
  13. A dose of reality

    A few questions should help shed light on the relationship between religion and rational thought.
    The completely absurd theory that all 7,000,000,000 human beings are simultaneously being supervised 24 hours a day, every day of their lives by an immortal, invisible being for the purposes of reward or punishment in the “afterlife” comes from the field of:
    (a) Astronomy;
    (b) Medicine;
    (c) Economics; or
    (d) Christianity
    You are about 70% likely to believe the entire Universe began less than 10,000 years ago with only one man, one woman and a talking snake if you are a:
    (a) historian;
    (b) geologist;
    (c) NASA astronomer; or
    (d) Christian
    I have convinced myself that gay $ex is a choice and not genetic, but then have no explanation as to why only gay people have ho.mo$exual urges. I am
    (a) A gifted psychologist
    (b) A well respected geneticist
    (c) A highly educated sociologist
    (d) A Christian with the remarkable ability to ignore inconvenient facts.
    I honestly believe that, when I think silent thoughts like, “please god, help me pass my exam tomorrow,” some invisible being is reading my mind and will intervene and alter what would otherwise be the course of history in small ways to help me. I am
    (a) a delusional schizophrenic;
    (b) a naïve child, too young to know that that is silly
    (c) an ignorant farmer from Sudan who never had the benefit of even a fifth grade education; or
    (d) your average Christian
    Millions and millions of Catholics believe that bread and wine turns into the actual flesh and blood of a dead Jew from 2,000 years ago because:
    (a) there are obvious visible changes in the condiments after the Catholic priest does his hocus pocus;
    (b) tests have confirmed a divine presence in the bread and wine;
    (c) now and then their god shows up and confirms this story; or
    (d) their religious convictions tell them to blindly accept this completely fvcking absurd nonsense.
    I believe that an all powerful being, capable of creating the entire cosmos watches me have $ex to make sure I don't do anything "naughty". I am
    (a) A victim of child molestation
    (b) A r.ape victim trying to recover
    (c) A mental patient with paranoid delusions
    (d) A Christian
    The only discipline known to often cause people to kill others they have never met and/or to commit suicide in its furtherance is:
    (a) Architecture;
    (b) Philosophy;
    (c) Archeology; or
    (d) Religion
    What is it that most differentiates science and all other intellectual disciplines from religion:
    (a) Religion tells people not only what they should believe, but what they are morally obliged to believe on pain of divine retribution, whereas science, economics, medicine etc. has no “sacred cows” in terms of doctrine and go where the evidence leads them;
    (b) Religion can make a statement, such as “there is a composite god comprised of God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit”, and be totally immune from experimentation and challenge, whereas science can only make factual assertions when supported by considerable evidence;
    (c) Science and the scientific method is universal and consistent all over the World whereas religion is regional and a person’s religious conviction, no matter how deeply held, is clearly nothing more than an accident of birth; or
    (d) All of the above.
    If I am found wandering the streets flagellating myself, wading into a filth river, mutilating my child’s genitals or kneeling down in a church believing that a being is somehow reading my inner thoughts and prayers, I am likely driven by:
    (a) a deep psychiatric issue;
    (b) an irrational fear or phobia;
    (c) a severe mental degeneration caused by years of drug abuse; or
    (d) my religious belief.
    Who am I? I don’t pay any taxes. I never have. Any money my organization earns is tax free and my own salary is also tax free, at the federal, state and local level. Despite contributing nothing to society, but still enjoying all its benefits, I feel I have the right to tell others what to do. I am
    (a) A sleazy Wall Street banker
    (b) A mafia boss
    (c) A drug pusher; or
    (d) A Catholic Priest, Protestant Minister or Jewish Rabbi.
    What do the following authors all have in common – Jean Paul Sartre, Voltaire, Denis Diderot, Victor Hugo, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, David Hume, René Descartes, Francis Bacon, John Milton, John Locke, and Blaise Pascal:
    (a) They are among the most gifted writers the World has known;
    (b) They concentrated on opposing dogma and opening the human mind and spirit to the wonders of free thought and intellectual freedom;
    (c) They were intimidated by the Catholic Church and put on the Church’s list of prohibited authors; or
    (d) All of the above.
    The AIDS epidemic will kill tens of millions in poor African and South American countries before we defeat it. Condoms are an effective way to curtail its spread. As the Pope still has significant influence over the less educated masses in these parts of the World, he has exercised this power by:
    (a) Using some of the Vatican’s incomprehensible wealth to educate these vulnerable people on health family planning and condom use;
    (b) Supporting government programs that distribute condoms to high risk groups;
    (c) Using its myriad of churches in these regions to distribute condoms; or
    (d) Scaring people into NOT using condoms, based upon his disdainful and aloof view that it is better that a person die than go against the Vatican’s position on contraceptive use.

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

      I stopped reading when I got to the 70% are Young Earth Creationists. Considering most Christians belong to churches that are quite accepting of both evolution and an old universe, you are either full of it, or just ignorant of facts.
      Though, I don't blame you, it was likely a cut and paste job anyway.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • timmy

      HAHAHAH lol'd sooo hard!!!!

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

      Tell us what you really think, dont be shy.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:54 am |
  14. Vik

    Clearly there is NO such thing as a God.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:34 am |
  15. TownC

    God has given each of us the freedom to act as we please. That freedom is so dear that God allows people to do horrible things. However, with faith we know that this life is not all there is. God will make everything right in the next world. God is love. We must choose to follow Him of our own volition. He does not force us. If we follow Him, we can have peace in this world despite our troubles. We can also have eternal life and joy for eternity.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:32 am |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      Right! Always "perfect peace" or some $h|+ in "the next world"! What? Your "perfect" "god" couldn't make this world "perfect"?! Of course not! Instead, "he" chose, knowing beforehand to make Lucifer whom "he" knew would turn against "him" and then made man, whom "he" knew beforehand would turn against "him" and he even allowed "satan" to influence man such that man would be tempted to turn against "him". WHAT A CROCK! Don't you see the conflict in your silly fairy tale?!

      July 29, 2012 at 9:36 am |
    • really

      Wow, G. kinda bitter. Still mad at mommy for the whole Santa thing?

      July 29, 2012 at 9:41 am |
    • Hello

      read Caesar's Messiah. and learn the truth of the Roman myth

      July 29, 2012 at 9:54 am |
    • JWT

      That's one opinion.

      July 29, 2012 at 10:13 am |
  16. Durannie

    "The God of the Bible promises no exemption from suffering. In fact, he all but promises suffering."

    Yep -so WHY is s/he worth your time?

    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? – Epicurus

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

      Would you prefer a God that prevents suffering as caused here? If so, would you prefer then that he prevent the suffering you might feel from and assault, theft or insult? So what you demand a god to be is a Master to all the slaves here on Earth. A great master that prevents anyone from doing anything wrong, and denies us all free will? No thanks.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:44 am |
  17. Nietodarwin

    Seriously, most of us who are "atheists" or agnostics or whatever, had to throw off the shackles of some oppressive organized religion. Try to be patient with these "believers' , they are quite literally brainwashed. There is so much money, power and manipulation at work by these zealots that it is not easy for people to educate themselves. BE KIND TO CHRISTIANS, GENTLY POINT OUT THEIR PROBLEMS, AND DON'T JUST SCREAM THAT THEY ARE STUPID. Evolution (and education) take time.

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

      If they read Caesar's Messiah.. they would stop believing in the Roman created myth

      July 29, 2012 at 9:56 am |
  18. Johnnyme

    By using one brand-named religion or other, EVERYTHING – including mass murder and total world destruction – can be justified, and even incited, to make the fooled/misled masses perpetrate such 'Holy/Godly' acts!!!

    July 29, 2012 at 9:31 am |
  19. Craig Dunnagan

    A delicately and brilliantly written summary on
    one of the biggest questions facing us today.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:31 am |
  20. ArthurP


    OK so why is every one so upset about the murder of these people then. They got to taken up to go early before they could use their free will and get themselves damned for eternity. You Christians should be celebrating not mourning.

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

      Why are you spending so much of your time posting on stories about God?

      July 29, 2012 at 9:47 am |
    • ArthurP

      I have a boring job.......

      July 29, 2012 at 10:07 am |
    • ArthurP

      And I like to point out hypocrisy in religion.

      July 29, 2012 at 10:08 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.