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. Ms

    This author is dodging the real question: Where was Zeus in Aurora? Where was Amun? These are questions the lamestream media won't ask!

    July 30, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  2. Turtleguy

    The sooner people stop blindly following ancient fairy tales and start concentrating more on reality, the better off we'll all be.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
  3. Zarathustra

    God is dead. And we have killed him.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  4. Bishop Hairy Palms

    If there is a God, he/she either wanted these innocent men women and children to be slaughtered or he/she could care less about humanity.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  5. Beatriz

    These comments are sad to see...no wonder this world is spinning out of control. Whoever said there would be no suffering in this world, but we also gotta have faith. Bible itself says that, but too many ignorant people to read the bible. Unfortunately, many of us humans don't have faith, many of the things that are causing all this despair in this world is because we are acting like animals, we are doing this to ourselves. We are not teaching others kindness, love, and good morals. We are what we preach. Instead we treat each other like animals, we are rude to one another, we don't respect others, or other peoples belongs, we cheat, we steal, we hate, we become ignorant...and the list goes on and on. So what do you expect??? Not a perfect world, that's for sure. All we do is insult God, spit on him, and that's sad to see. I can't say I'm perfect, I've also had times when I didn't believe in him. Especially when my brother passed, but then realized there is a reason for all of it, maybe he needed him more than him suffering in this cruel world. My faith and hope grew stronger for him. My life has been so much better, and I'm not ashamed to say I believe in him, and have faith in him. Maybe we all need something good to believe in, even when things are falling apart in this cruel world. If there is a God, there is no doubt that there is a devil too.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  6. Madtown

    But Scripture also teaches that God is totally in control.
    My only problem with this article, is that it's from one point of view. The author references, "scriptures", and later biblical scripture, as if christianity is the only way of seeing God. No single man-made religion has all the answers. No single man-made religion is "right", and the "only way".

    July 30, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
  7. Cgordon

    Please stop covering God in stories like these. Subjective belief has absolutely nothing to do with news. Please stick to news instead of opining on unverifiable opinion regarding "otherworldly" beings and how "they" could or could not have prevented, assisted or justified such a heinous act of a living creature.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
  8. Bob

    There is obviously no god otherwise there would be no Republicans. hey hey

    July 30, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
  9. MSL58

    There is no God.

    Are there any other questions I could answer for you?

    July 30, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  10. Joseph

    So God was with the mourning crowd and a prayer vigil and a hospital providing comfort. You were there providing comfort. You must be God, or at least God must be human since everything that has happened has involved humans.

    Superhuman things might be like being faster than a speeding bullet, and even bullet proof. Clearly, God is not Superman.

    July 30, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  11. Bishop Hairy Palms

    If there is a God, he/she is either not all good or not all powerful.

    July 30, 2012 at 11:56 am |
  12. imran

    This world is not perfect and if GOD did allow it to be completely perfect, what is the purpose of our existence. This would be heaven on earth then, however everything in GOD's eyes works out for good. Those victim, RIP, may have suffered but will spend eternity in peace and comfort in heaven. The victims famiiles, going thru this horrible, horrible times....will come out with new perspective only to be guided and comforted by GOD and the Holy Spirit. There is a outcome to this tragic event that will bring testimony, but is in GOD's hands as he has a plan, and that plan is for the good.

    July 30, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • Bishop Hairy Palms

      The God of the Bible calls for the extermination of innocent children to carry out his will.

      Stop making excuses for your absentee sky daddy.

      July 30, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • T-Max73

      So you're saying that your deity of choice made us imperfect so that we could find perfection through believing in his existence (which he has kept hidden)? Your deity allows innocent children to suffer and die so that this "mysterious plan" can be carried out? What color is the sky in your world?

      July 30, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      "what is the purpose of our existence"

      then you can tell us the purpose of our existence now then? go right ahead, I would love to hear why god bothered creating man and this system we have.

      July 30, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
  13. Priest

    Mark 8:38 "For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.

    July 30, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  14. chunk a chunk

    Ah, so now we are just spoiled Americans and that most other parts of the world sees a lot more tragedy. So if we were like the, we would think this was normal.

    That is *ucked up. I can't believe anyone falls for such explinations.

    July 30, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • plaster city

      Your right. That's the "there is always someone else that's worse off than you" (which is true) addage. But how does that strengthen someone's belief system?

      July 30, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  15. plaster city

    One conclusion that none of these pastors ever seem to mention, much less contemplate, is that there is no god. And this seems like the most reasonableconclusion, by far, one would have to come to.

    July 30, 2012 at 11:54 am |
  16. frank Johnson...

    Like George Carlin used to say... " there's some guy floating around in space, looking down on everyone, watching everything we do..... And he always needs money.... SHAM!!!!!

    July 30, 2012 at 11:53 am |
  17. heavenSnot

    Prayer changes things. If you do it a really long time, you'll have a stool of a different color!

    July 30, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Get lost perverted Scott. I won't post again. You guys can fry on your own.

      July 30, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      The thorazine must be wearing off. HS's delusions are getting worse.

      July 30, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
  18. Oy vey

    In my opinion, GOD is the worst father in the world. He loves his children so much that he allows them to be murdered when he could supposedly spare them? Come on, what father does that? Would you ever treat your kids that way? GOD seems like a really bad example of compassion and unconditional love, IMO. People say, "It's GOD's will." Yeah, that might be true, but it certainly isn't positive and loving will he is emposing.

    In my eyes, GOD appears to be a violent (that an't be argued if you follow the "good book" as it's filled with more violence than a NC17 action movie), egotistical, controlling, and jealous "father". If your real father treated you this way, you would have probably disowned him years ago.

    I'm not saying GOD doesn't exist, but if he does, and he is in fact the GOD of Christianity, Islam, etc., how much of a compassionate being is he really?

    July 30, 2012 at 11:52 am |
  19. Evenstar13

    So many blame God when a person acts wickedly. Is it Gods fault that people bow to the evil one rather than to him? It is mankind that permits evil to exist. If all were truly to obey Gods law, then evil can not exsit, yet "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity: there is none that doeth good." Psalm 53:1
    So many busy themselves with what they can gain for themselves and if something should go amiss, why they are quick to sue you over a trivial matter, "For what is a profited if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" Matthew 16:26 Obey God and evil will have no power over you.

    July 30, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • plaster city

      It's not gods fault because........... there is no god! When you realize that, it all starts to make much better sense.

      July 30, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • Jon

      Really? The fool hath said there is no god? I'm not going to beat a dead horse and go into the OVERWHELMING evidence that there is no god, but I will leave you with this thought: 99% of all incarcerated Americans believe in god. 99% of the total prison population. What does that tell you? It tells you that people turn to god when times get rough, specifically people of lower intelligence. That low-level, ignorant criminals are the ones who believe in god. So don't blame lack of faith in god for this. If anything, god is easily the biggest problem facing the progression of humanity today. STOP BEING A BLIND FOOL. STOP!!! The fool hath said in his heart that there IS a god.

      July 30, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  20. Sal

    I am not much of a believer in religion or mankind at this point, but it does serve a purpose. If it comforts those that have lost loved ones whether in accidents or murders, then it is a good thing. In other words whatever makes you feel good or better than believing in religion is a good thing. 

    July 30, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • OOO

      When you say you are not a believer in mankind, what does that mean? Mankind does exist. But you don't believe that?

      July 30, 2012 at 11:56 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.