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. Cookie

    Great article Pastor Brendle! Too bad so many people still won't understand. For some, it makes sense and that helps.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • J Pedlosky

      these difficult, really impossible, theological problems all disappear if we can just have the courage to admit that there is no god, no plan and no cosmically desired outcome. We are alone, on our own, and what little virtue we have is all we can work with. Discussions like this pastor's are incredibly weak because they ignore the evidence that the god stuff is just made up out of our imaginations.

      July 30, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  2. Religious people are so stupid

    Clearly god sent this guy to kill all those people. Why so srs?

    July 30, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • KingdomGirl

      Contray ...we realize that we accept not to go to hell. So where will you be? I do not appreciate your screen name. Because I have a relationship with God means that i have come to my senses. I know God is real ...but that takes relationship not religion. Jesus never taught religion... He taught about His Kingdom.

      July 30, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Which senses have been so stimulated as to convince you that God is real?
      Can't be sight, sound, taste, smell or touch.....

      July 30, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
  3. Point.blank

    Why should a fool have money in his hand to buy wisdom when he has no sense? (Prov. 17:16)

    "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain. (Exodus 20:7)

    Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. (Galatians 6:7)

    July 30, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
  4. KingdomGirl

    Rob how deceived ....God is everywhere.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
  5. Ragon

    God is God, he is an ALIEN, way way more advance. Reason, I do know yet but it says that we were created by the image of God. Another belive is this life may be a real super advanced virtual video game for them. And you or me may are the characters. Way to find out, when we die. I have fear to die yet, so I will keep playing, lol

    Whatever, I am with God and believe in God.

    When I say that God is an Alien

    July 30, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • heavenSnot

      However the alien gods made each of us a god, with untapped potential. It is written.

      July 30, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
  6. Tmack

    You cannot justify sensless deaths in any way......god takes credit for the good but not the bad?? really??? Makes no sense...

    July 30, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • KingdomGirl

      The word says that He is not tempted of evil that when men are tempted we are tempted of our own entices...

      July 30, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  7. rybl101

    I know Zeus and Poseidon were playing tennis with Thor and Odin.

    I think God was golfing with Allah, Buddha, and Vishnu, but I am not sure what time they teed off…

    July 30, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
  8. Mass Debater

    "He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore."Isaiah 2:4

    I find it funny how the supposed "religious" right seem to have the same mantra as the NRA of "I'll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands!" I wonder if they will have the same reply when Jesus asks them to hand it over...

    July 30, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
  9. ObamaJoe

    Boring story,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

    you guys have fun,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

    July 30, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
  10. Nato

    Suppose you are right...Alien created all...how does it comport with the notion that they control our daily lives, and is omnipotent, omnipresent and all wise once they return to their planet. Which one of them was god. So if it possible that alein gods gave us god qualities....remember according to your bible "Man was made in the image of god"...that is we are made to reflect god qualities just as a mirror reflect your qualities. Those of us who have a "god complex" control thing. Those who do not are left in poverty, ridicule and slothfulness. Are you then saying there is no imaginary existence in the sky. If aliens are God, they are not just creators or are they also controllers. But for those who beleive that we have free will..you are implying that we are gods.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Sounds like Mormonism to me!
      If only we could hie to Kolob....

      July 30, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
  11. Angela

    you expect pastor to know a bit better about the BIBLE! THE ANSWERS ARE THERE FOR THOSE WHO BELIEVE IN IT.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
    • plaster city

      The answers are true only if you believe them?

      July 30, 2012 at 2:09 pm |


    Time for the twilight of the gods........

    July 30, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
  13. Chip Fields

    150,000 people die daily......150,012 die and suddently you ask, "Where is God?" Really?

    July 30, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
  14. Bishop Hairy Palms

    God was busy helping the NRA fight against sensible gun regulation to stop the killing of innocents that day.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
  15. Thomas

    Our Heavenly Father loves all of his children, even the person who killed all these innocent people. God gives us "Free Agency" to choose between good and evil. He will not stop the choices we make as mortals. This is the reason Justice will have it's claim, and Mercy will claim all her's as well. God "allows" this behavior of HIs children, so the above will be judged accordingly. The other thing working here is God's time is not our time. We tend, as mortals, to define life into segments of time and existence, where God see's this as just one day. Time is only measured unto man. God is infinite and eternal. Perhaps those that so valiantly gave their lives, were to have some type of "mission" to perform on the other side. Only they will know. We were blessed to have them for a while; to share their passion for life.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • Bishop Hairy Palms

      Stop making excuses for your imaginary, absentee, sky daddy.

      July 30, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      Yeah, I'm sure your god needed that six years old girl for an important assignment in heaven. Pray tell, what is it your god needs a human sould to do that he cannot do?

      July 30, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • plaster city

      This is one of the more arrogant posts. You seem to know more of what god thinks than any other theist on this blog.

      July 30, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • badbellyblues

      So let me get this straight, god gives us free agency/will- to make choices, then punishes and judges us for making those choices! So in essence, he gives us the ability to think, but condemns us when we do . That's one f'ed up god!!

      July 30, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      "God gives us "Free Agency" to choose between good and evil. He will not stop the choices we make as mortals."

      what about the victims? they werent given a choice.

      July 30, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
  16. deesplay

    This is utter nonsense. Either the biblical God exists, in which case he knew of the upcoming murders and deliberately allowed them and all the pain and suffering to occur, making him no better than the murderer, or he exists only in the imaginations of the believers.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • MustangGuy

      Wow Bishop Hairy Palms/OldWhiteman/deesplay! Interesting statements. In other words, you don't believe in God but if you did He must adhere to your interpretation of Him as if those are the only two options. Is it possible that the world is far more complex than you give it credit for?

      July 30, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      sorry mustang but if god is a god then those are the only 2 choices.

      July 30, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • MustangGuy

      Cedar Rapids, on what do you base your case (the FACT that those are the only two options)? It's certainly not out of the Bible so you must have some other source to which you are referring. Opinion maybe?

      July 30, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
  17. Oldwhiteman

    If a person was standing there and had the power to stop the guy and didn't bother, he would be committing a sin of omission, but because it is your god doing it...well a few 'shining hearts' justifies DOING NOTHING. Makes zero sense.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • Jami

      But God is not comparable to a person. If God willed we would all be sinless. But as He would have it, there is no compulsion in our behavior, beliefs, or lifestyles. Instead we'll all be held accountable for this things on a Day of Judgment.

      July 30, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      And if Ma'at judges that your heart weighs more than a Shu feather, your afterlife will not be pleasant.

      July 30, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      "But as He would have it, there is no compulsion in our behavior, beliefs, or lifestyles"

      why? why have this system of life to determine where you go when you die? for what possible reason?

      July 30, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
  18. Bishop Hairy Palms

    No one reading this now would have let this happen if they had the power to stop it.

    Don't you think it's interesting that we have a better sense of right and wrong than our imaginary, absentee, sky daddy?

    July 30, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • fsjunkie

      I think it's more interesting that you allow yourself to be shackled by religion when you profess to not believe in God. Who are you trying to convince me...or yourself? Go somewhere and be free and happy in Godlessness, then maybe people will see the grass as greener on your side.

      July 30, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
  19. Roto

    There is no damn God!

    July 30, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      But there is a Dam God.
      His name is Castor and we Canadians honour Him by putting His likeness on our nickels.

      July 30, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
    • ObamaJoe

      There is God,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,not dam God 🙂

      July 30, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • fsjunkie

      Gee...thanks for clearing that up, God.

      July 30, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
  20. Battsman

    The logic circles of the average believer can make your head spin.
    "It is all part of God's plan."
    "God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent"
    "God gave man free will."
    etc. etc. etc.

    If everything is part of God's plan including free will and man's free will is the cause of Aurora, then what is the point of praying again? Basically, if you believe that God will answer prayers, but also believe that God remains uninvolved in events like Aurora because of granting man free will then praying for any influence (other than maybe comfort) by God seems illogical?

    Personally, I think pastors struggle to explain situations like Aurora not because it is hard to understand, but because they belief structure they are trying to support is inherrently flawed and illogical.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
    • Ed

      Your making an excellent poit. It's going to be good as well when we leave classical greek though behind and move to Process theology

      July 30, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • MustangGuy

      Battsman, you hit it on the head. Obviously a lot of stuff that happens is NOT part of God's plan. That's the only way to justify these events. This guy (Holmes) worked AGAINST God's plan, not with it. Once this is understood stuff starts to make a lot more sense, right? We are called to pray that 'God's will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven' which means that some stuff that happens on Earth is inconsistent with His plan, right?

      July 30, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • Jami

      As you indicated, calling on God in prayer provides comfort for the Believer and strengthens the relationship between God and servant. God answers prayers according to His will and the Believer is grateful for the many prayers that are answered.

      July 30, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • Battsman

      MustangGuy – So basically you are saying that either there is no free will in heaven or that the only people in heaven are those who would think exactly like God <– That would seem like an exceptionally small subset with a limit approaching zero.

      Jami – I suspect that a number of people in the Aurora theater were praying extremely fervently and "God's will" was not to intervene? Because? I know because regular, good examples of violent human behavior serve as good reminders of God's benevolence (well except for all that Old Testamanet fire and brimstone). I'm always curious why God wouldn't "shine down a golden light that stopped the bullets" – that would seem to be within his purported power and would certainly demonstrate divinity. Yet, it doesn't happen. Or to put it another way, to an agnostic those "many answered prayers" that "Believers" are so "grateful" for could just as easily have been random chance. I find it very hard to get excited about pure dumb luck.

      July 30, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • MustangGuy

      Battsman, I'm missing your point. I made the statement that this may not have been God's will (plan). In the same way, I have two kids. My WILL is for them to be upstanding citizens. If they turn out not to be, is my WILL at fault or their choices?

      July 30, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
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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.