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. King Wise Don Fuzzy

    You always rely on science to prove the existence of this or that n unfortunately,you want the existence of God to be proven also with science. Oh that's the very ignorance that you should take out of your life. Can science prove why the planets are aranged in the order they are now?
    For many years now,there has been researches but no scientist can prove how miracle of prayers take place in the life of some patients after doctors give up on them

    July 29, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • Smurfette

      Re; the planets – yes.

      Re: prayers – they don't work. Even if someone gets better after the doctors have given up on them, the answer is not – the explanation must be god. The answer is, we don't know how or why they got better, but they did. Not knowing the answer to a question does not lead to "it must be god"

      July 29, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Bring on the proof of what you say, you cannot, you're just a bag of wind.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • exlonghorn

      Fuzzy, the difference is that atheists recognize that science explains everything we know about the universe, and those things we don't know are simply "unknown" and are avenues for future exploration. They don't take the logical leap to attribute unexplained phenomenon to an all-knowing, omnipotent being that created the world and universe in a week, and then stopped doing anything after that.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • No Truth, Just Claims

      Truth does not ask to be believed. It asks to be tested. Scientists do not join hands every Saturday and Sunday and sing, “Yes gravity is real! I know gravity is real! I will have faith! I will be strong! I believe in my heart what goes up, up, up, must come down, down, down! Amen!” If they did, we would think they were pretty insecure about the concept.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Voice of unreason, the proof is, you atheists never grew spiritually. Hence, not understanding Jesus' truth.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • Voice of Reason


      You don't know a dam*n thing about me and I still have three words for you GO F*UCK YOURSELF!

      July 29, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
    • No Truth, Just Claims


      Spirituality has some many meanings it is meaningless.

      July 29, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  2. Voice of Reason

    I actually get dizzy when I read articles like this. Is it my intellect that is telling my brain to start spinning-out because what I am reading is so unbelievably delusional it creates a turbulence within my neurons? Or is it the dizziness is brought on by the mere stupidity and blatant lack of sensibility for someone to believe such nonsense? I think my dizziness comes on for the true hopelessness I feel for these believers. I've got to go, my head is killing me!

    July 29, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      No, it's typical arrogance doing this to you. You should get this checked.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • Voice of Reason


      HeavenSent, I have three words for you GO F*UCK YOURSELF!

      July 29, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  3. Jean Barish

    So let me get this straight. If something wonderful happens, then it's because God wanted it to. But if something awful occurs, it's because human beings wanted it to. How comforting that must be for people who must believe in God in order to explain the randomness of the universe. Personally, I believe the world is orderly and can be described in accordance with natural laws humans will probably never fully understand, and that there are seemingly random perturbations, such as the shooting in Aurora, that still obey natural law.

    I guess we all have our unique belief systems. Amen.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  4. exlonghorn

    Faith that could stand up to any form of reason is long gone. Our knowledge of the world from 2000 years ago to what we now know about the world has irrevocably changed the need for religion. We do not need God to explain things; and religion becomes obsolete as an explanation when it becomes optional or one among many different beliefs. We now see that the leap of faith is not just one leap; it is a leap repeatedly made, and a leap that becomes more difficult to take the more it is taken, reaching its pinnacle in blind allegiance and active denial and rejection of any other possibilities. At that point, the credibility of the faithful is entirely lost.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
  5. Tim

    Clearly, more of us believe that Superman can fly (except for the purists and scholars who know that he just jumps), that Batman can't, that krotonite is dangerous and that Lex Luthor is evil than agree on the nature of God, if He exists at all. Why do we agree on these things? Not because of reason. It's what the mythology and the literature tells us. We have FAITH that it's true and NOBODY (except maybe Stan Lee) could convince us otherwise. Indeed, who would even try?

    July 29, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • exlonghorn

      The same logic that believers use to justify their God as the one true God, can be used by every other religion to invalidate theirs. This simply circle of logic seems to constantly escape the fundies.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  6. Casual Man

    Each human being is responsible for his or her actions. It's called free will. The thought that "god" or "satan" influences our actions is archaic and insane.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
  7. Will

    I lost my son when an avalanche swept him over a cliff. I've wrestled with the grief of losing a person who had so much promise and who honored and loved me as his dad. Nothing can fill the void that remains but I've also seen how God uses suffering to deepen us and humble us by all the indecipherable questions and these things draw us to a transformational place we could never have found without our pain. For more, visit http://www.snugharborfoundation.org

    July 29, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Smurfette

      My sincere condolences on the loss of your son. It is a terrible thing that no parent should ever have to experience. If your belief system provides you with comfort and support, then use it and rely on it. I hope that you find some degree of peace in your life.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  8. ScottCA

    There is no evidence to support the claim that any god exists.
    And there is no need to envoke the existance of any god to explain anything.

    There is no God.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      The End.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • LisaGA

      Scott CA,

      Just curious, but do you really believe there is no God? If so, why did you even bother to read the article? Why waste your time reading something that addresses a question you aren't even asking?

      It's your right to believe there is no God, just as it's my right to believe there is a benevolent, lovng God. My God gave me free will to accept or reject him. I've chosen to accept Him and to strive to live by the principles that are taught in the Bible. But I also honor your choice to reject the God I believe in and I believe he gave you that choice too. I honor your choice.

      I hope you didn't ignore the article and just scroll down to the comment section to leave a comment in an attempt to "flame" people who believe in God. If you did do that, I hope you will stop such intolerant behavior and extend to me and my fellow believers the same respect I've extended to you.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • Voice of Reason


      While I can appreciate your frustration you should try and understand our frustration. It goes both ways. This is an open forum blog, thus, anyone can come here and voice their opinion.
      It is the believer that claims there is a god and it is with good intent that the nonbelievers reach-out to those that make this claim to offer proof of the claim. When they cannot they usually start stating that we are attacking them when simply we are asking for the believer to face their claim.
      Now on top of this we have believers in our government and our educational systems that want to "filter-in" religious morals and ideals into laws for the common man and we're not going to stand for it.
      Just prove their is a god and we would be happy to hold hands with you, maybe if your god was reasonable.

      July 29, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  9. Ed

    Had the shooter truly known God he would have abided by the commandment thou shalt not kill. Prayers for the families.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • No Truth, Just Claims

      And if the shooter truly knew Thor he would have used a taser...

      July 29, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • sybaris

      Ed, by your logic medications for behavioral problems wouldn't work.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • ArthurP

      He was just helping them get to Haven before they could use their free will and commit a soul condemning sin. Just be thankful he was there to do that.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • ScottCA

      Actually the bible says thou shalt not kill except when god tells you to kill everyone including the women and children, but save the youngest girls who are to young to have slept with a man yet to be your new child brides.

      ,"kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known a man by lying with him; but all the women-children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves."

      If you are going to quote the bible you don't get to only cite the good parts and ignore all the bad parts.
      Morality does not come from ancient books of lies.
      Morality comes from logic called moral calculus. The golden rule predates the bible and was writen by the greek Philosopher Pittacus (640–568 BCE)

      July 29, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • exlonghorn

      I guess Jerry Falwell, Jim Baker, and half the catholic priests in the news didn't know God either. What does that say about their millions of followers?

      July 29, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • Ed

      It says to Beware the false prophets

      July 29, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
  10. Alexander II

    What are you saying is that God was there for you and not for the others...?

    July 29, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
  11. Sherri

    Quote from article: 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 this pastor admits that god IS in control, could have stopped this killing and IS willing to intervene. Yet he did not.Now what kind of god is that, I ask. Tell me what would happen to any human father who KNEW what was going to happen, yet CHOSE to not stop it. A father who WAS all knowing, and in control, yet did not stop this horrible thing. We'd have that father locked up in a minute. Yet because this one is a sky fairy, we not only do not hold him accountable, many of you idiots worship him. You revere a father (loving father we are told) that LET this happen, could have stopped it but did not. You are all a total group of idiots. THAT is not a loving father. That is a mean, hateful, spiteful, evil, murderous father. Just try to reconcile how you'd feel if a human father did this. Why is it different for this heavenly father then?

    July 29, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • Nietodarwin

      That's xstian obedience. You know, Abraham was going to murder his kid until god said, "Wait, stop, I was kidding"
      They call this faith. I call it DELUSION. Give it time. Most atheist like me had to throw off shackles of "faith" (as they love to call it , "lack of reason" for me)

      July 29, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
  12. aleisterhermit

    Shorter Rob Brendle..."My religion has no answers."

    July 29, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
  13. Calvin

    Mr Brendle, you wrote about what the scripture says, have you ever considered that the scriptures could be wrong?... (...it's been wrong about a lot of things.)

    July 29, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  14. Mauser

    Times like these makes people naturally question any deity.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  15. Sad

    Sometimes it makes me wish that Christians were intolerant towards non-Christians in the US just like Muslims !

    July 29, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • Rob

      Spoken like a true Christian...

      July 29, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • Sherri

      Yeah, and it's people like you who others have most to fear. People who will not be tolerant of someone who does not believe the way you do. You believe in sky fairies, who are supposedly all knowing, but allow innocents to be gunned down in a theater. You believe in 'heavenly fathers' who kill their children on a whim. A 'loving father' who could have stopped this, but CHOSE not to. I CHOOSE to not believe in a murdering god who would be all powerful and allow this to happen. Whether it is this, Columbine, 9/11, Beslan school massacre, etc. If a 'father' knows it is going to happen, and chooses to not stop it, then he should be brought up on charges, not worshiped.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • BoBzRoD

      Well my wish is less tolerance for delusional religious garbage.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • sybaris

      So you wish that christians were intolerant towards children.

      We are all born ignorant of any god and it is through indoctrination/brain washing that children "adopt" whatever dogma.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • No Truth, Just Claims

      So you want to christians to reject 'love your enemies'. How very christian.

      And I am not even being sarcastic.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • Karen

      Oh, but they are!!

      July 29, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  16. David

    Or perhaps, just perhaps, the absence of God while innocent men, women and children were being gunned down is explained by the fact that there is no God. God is all powerful yet sits idly by? What parent would watch his or her children get killed? Does God love each and every human being less than a parent loves a child?

    July 29, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  17. martin

    "We pastors face the unenviable task of being asked to answer for God" -Brendie ...but the clergy scammers, of all kinds, continue feeding lies and myths to humans who refuse to grow up. Theism is the art of selling myths. Theology the study of nonsense. Get your dogma of my lawnma.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  18. Liz

    In death there is rebirth.....God knew what he was doing, he is omnipresent. It is difficult in our humanness to relate to God not stopping an evil act. However if you look back in His word you will see many times that He did not stop a human act because the suffering had a purpose. On earth we believe that the worst thing that can happen however those that "die" here may have been reborn in a place that no longer has any suffering. And really it doesn't matter what opinion you have. Once you know the light all darkness is revealed. The stories about who the victims were reveal an immense amount of light and if I were God I would want to bring them into my kingdom and use their lives to show my glory to others.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • martin

      a brutal bronze age "God" that killed his own son as a blood sacrifice, would have no problem killing innocents in a Batman movie having a good time. That's the HUGE moral disconect of you and your insane mythical "god".

      July 29, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • rational minnesota

      "The stories about who the victims were reveal an immense amount of light and if I were God I would want to bring them into my kingdom and use their lives to show my glory to others."
      So, he's all-powerful, all-knowing, omnipotent, etc. but needs to have people killed violently so he can collect them and show them off? Weird.
      And if they have free will, wouldn't their lives be theirs, not his? Shouldn't those people get the credit for good choices? Why does god get to claim glory with them but not have to claim failure with others?
      Standard religious thinking. Anything good = god. Anything bad = satan, or people, or whatever.
      Must be nice to be god. All the credit and glory, no blame (even though you have control over all of it).

      July 29, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
  19. Rainer Braendlein

    Get a life which is stronger than the physical death, and then you can die peacfully, even if a madman like Holmes exterminates you. You will peacefully pass away, even with a bullet in your head (no sarcasm). Jesus can keep you soul, even when your body perishes. Hence, commend your soul to the Lord, and he will be your keeper.

    When will you die? Tomorrow? This evening? Now?

    It is beyond your influence when you will die (excepted you sadly commit suicide).

    Let us accept death as a thing which will once hit us, sooner or later.

    Before that background the massacre of Aurora gets somewhat relativized.

    Of course, Holmes did a great harm to his victims, but if he had not killed them, they had died another time (this is no excuse for Holmes).

    More important would it be to answer the question how we can live a meaningful life which will end in a peaceful death.

    Don't let us waste our money for too much food, cloths, big houses and cars and travels, but help the disadvanteged people.

    With the dollars which we waste for our egoism we could fund schools for poor children or hospitals for the poor or we could fund mission here and abroad.

    It is clear that we become righteous by faith alone, but why should we hide our righteousness. I guess our righteousness will rot within us and become poison, if we don't live it.

    Hence, become righteous through faith in Jesus Christ, and at the same time start a life of charity. This means health and deep peace for your soul, and finally your body will become healthy. Get the real thing.

    By the way, this has to do something with the credit crisis. Money which you use for travels is thrown down the drain, but if you use it for investment (building schools) you strengthen the economy of your home country. Think a little about that.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • Rob


      July 29, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • Is that you

      I think someone stole your handle, a fake Rainer, I have never seen a post from you that has not taken a shot at the catholic church, perhaps an oversight?

      July 29, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
      • Rainer Braendlein

        Here we go again: The pope is the successor of Judas Iscariot, but not of Peter.

        Utmost the pope would be Peter's successor, if you relate the popes essence only to the carnal desires of Peter which he overcame after Pentecost.

        Judas never experienced Pentecost and so the pope did not.

        July 29, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • No Truth, Just Claims

      "It is clear that we become righteous by faith alone,"


      You spelled "delusional" wrong...

      July 29, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • Is that you

      What the hell is Pentacost?

      July 29, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
  20. Tim

    This is such a silly debate, as usual. The Christians (and some of the members of other faiths) argue the existence of God because of FAITH. Faith isn't reason. The atheists, or most of them, argue the non-existence of God because of reason. Reason isn't faith. Let it go, people, you're using up all the bytes!

    Isaac Asimov (the science fiction writer who did not invent Scientology ) said it best:

    "Emotionally, I am an atheist. I don't have the evidence to prove that God doesn't exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn't that I don't want to waste my time."

    July 29, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • KJJC

      If us Christians didn't have a reason to believe in the existence to God, we wouldn't. Just as you have reasons to not believe, we have reasons to believe. I've experienced God, and I pray that you will too.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      It is foolish to deny God's existence, period. You are only too coward to endure the disadvantages of a Christian life here.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • ScottCA

      I will defer to Harvard Psychologist Steven Pinkers excellent summation of the fallacy of relgious belief.

      "The problem with the religious solution [for mysteries such as consciousness and moral judgments] was stated by Mencken when he wrote, 'Theology is the effort to explain the unknowable in terms of the not worth knowing.' For anyone with a persistent intellectual curiosity, religious explanations are not worth knowing because they pile equally baffling enigmas on top of the original ones. What gave God a mind, free will, knowledge, certainty about right and wrong? How does he infuse them into a universe that seems to run just fine according to physical laws? How does he get ghostly souls to interact with hard matter? And most perplexing of all, if the world unfolds according to a wise and merciful plan, why does it contain so much suffering? As the Yiddish expression says, If God lived on earth, people would break his window."

      July 29, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • Rainer Braendlein


      Faith is beyound reason, but doesn't contradict reason.

      If you have the real faith, you present your body as a living sacrifice through the Holy Spirit.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • mitch

      Many of the atheist/agnostics that I know do not believe in any of the many stories that have a god figure as part of the tale. We are waiting for one of the many religions to justify their claims of a god, untill then we will rely on science and knowledge to explain our exsistance.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • rational minnesota

      Except, KJJC, that your "reasons" aren't reasoned. You believe because:
      1) you were indoctrinated at a young age
      2) it makes you feel good/better/safe/etc
      3) the thought of being alone/not believing is scary
      4) you can't explain everything and being able to say "god did it" is an easy way out
      5) believing in god also generally comes with believing in an evil force or being. Easy place to lay blame.
      6) "It's god's plan" means you don't have to explain or understand anything. Proceed blindly.
      That about cover it?

      July 29, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • No Truth, Just Claims


      Faith is pretending to know something you don't know. Prove is is by definition "beyond reason" and not simply unreasonable.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.