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. Forgiven

    Believing in God and his power is an act of faith. You can't see it. You can only live it and share it with others. I think it's sad that Pastor Brendle tried to explain why Christians believe what they do, and people commenting here took the opportunity to mock him and belittle him. I have seen the incredible healing power of the Lord, and I am truly thankful that there is a loving and caring God in a world filled with pain and tragedy. He gives us free will to act and do as we choose. Most choose to love and be a productive member of society, but there are those who choose to follow another path. One of deceit, violence, corruption and hatred. But heres the kicker, and the part most people don't like. He loves us both equally. We are all his children, and he weeps for those who choose destruction over him. But he is a God of forgiveness, and when one of those sheep stary from the flock, he goes out and looks for them. This is the God that I serve. That I am proud to serve. So, like the pastor wrote, we don't know or have all of the answers on this earth. We won't fully know the answers to lifes questions until we are standing in front of the almighty himself. I know what I have written here will come under much scrutiny from the masses, but that's ok, because God gave me the freedon to write it. I hope that those who are struggling to find the answers they are looking for will one day put their trust in the Lord and experience all of his wonderful blessings.

    July 29, 2012 at 7:59 am |
    • Ladylaureli

      First of all, people here took the opportunity to speak out, just as you did. What is sad is that if you are a Christian, you believe that Christianity is the only path to God. You may believe in God, but your views are from a religion that does not follow Christ's lessons.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:04 am |
    • pntkl

      There's nothing wrong with expressing one's belief, whether it spoken or written. Making an original post is a monologue, which exercises your freedom of speech. Replying acridly is an attempt to form a dialogue, in order to draw out bad behavior, to affirm their lack of faith is also shared with the original poster. Feel free to invoke your right to remain silent, when provoked. Faith in God requires a hopeful leap of faith, sharing that faith requires charity; these three things, Hope, Faith, and Charity are all tenants of Christianity–in unison, with one's words and words, they also form the bonds of a chain that can 'save' the world. Singularly, on the other hand, "This people draws close to me with their mouth, and honors me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. They worship me, in vain, teaching for false doctrines the commandments of men."

      July 29, 2012 at 8:17 am |
    • Roger

      Except the Bible does not teach free will. Go read it again. Heck just read Romans chapter 9.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:46 am |
  2. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things.

    July 29, 2012 at 7:58 am |
    • FinnGoDo

      Atheists can believe in family, humanity and common values. While the faithful may also believe in those, they also justify the invisible through magical thinking or believing. Children can be brought up without religion to be amazing human beings that contribute to society everyday, and vice-versa. It's a personal decision by the parents, and frankly, not within your jurisdiction to judge nor command.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:03 am |
    • Shawn Irwin

      Yes, it does . . . it consumes your time doing something that is pointless.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:18 am |
  3. Tom

    There is no god so get over it and start acting responsibly with critical thinking and social responsibility. Humanity must take responsibility for its own destiny. Once we come to that rational conclusion, it is surprising how rewarding and beautiful life can be.

    July 29, 2012 at 7:57 am |
  4. AGuest9

    It's impossible for something that doesn't exist to "be there".

    July 29, 2012 at 7:56 am |
  5. brian

    get this funk of a "story" off the cover page cnn

    July 29, 2012 at 7:56 am |
  6. Margaret

    Jesus told us there would be tribulation in the world but to be of good cheer because he has overcome the world. If these people and their families were followers of Christ then they will be together for an eternity. The Bible tells us there will be judgements. I don't know much about Colorado but I wonder if God is honoured in their daily lives and in their laws. Others may wish that God had made James Holmes and the rest of us robots but I choose to be free indeed.

    July 29, 2012 at 7:56 am |
    • Ladylaureli

      "I don't know much about Colorado but I wonder if God is honoured in their daily lives and in their laws." Meaning that this happened because the people state of Colorado must not be as godly as a state that has not seen this type of tragedy? You keep rationalizing why you are safe and judging others for their 'sins'. Chirst's lessons did not teach you that, your religion did. You keep following the path your religion sets down for you and, at least, you'll feel content and self righteous while on Earth.

      Free? Free of having to think for yourself is what you mean.

      July 29, 2012 at 10:13 am |
  7. ME

    I don't have an answer, but rather, a question for you. Where was God when you chose to sin? Where was God when you chose to hurt someone? Where was God when you chose to be selfish? You and I are free to make choices and we make them all the time. Our choices can be harmful to us and to others. It's a matter of degree, but the underlying principles are the same. 'Oh, I would never do THAT!" Good for you... But how far WOULD you go?

    July 29, 2012 at 7:55 am |
  8. Shawn Irwin

    "God" was the same place he was when children are kiilled in war, or when they suffer under abuse and disease. "God" was the same place he was when those who commit unjust acts flourish, and the innocent suffer. "God" was nowhere to be found. In fact, if god did exist, we would only feel compelled to hold him accountable of his indolence.
    Reality is not so pretty, but truth is magnificent. It is stark, in that an individual who is brave enough to look it in the eye will suffer the pain of the knowledge that life is ephemeral, but that very ephemerality is what gives life a spark, for one never takes it for granted. Facing the truth takes courage, and for that very reason, many people fail to ever face the truth.

    July 29, 2012 at 7:51 am |
  9. A dose of reality

    Rather than inculcating our children with the primary-color simple Sunday school legends and myths most people do, might I suggest the following ten comandments to enable them to think for themselves.
    1. DO NOT automatically believe something just because a parent, priest, rabbi or minister tells you that you must.
    2. DO NOT think that claims about magic and the supernatural are more likely true because they are written in old books. That makes them less likely true.
    3. DO analyze claims about religion with the same critical eye that you would claims about money, political positions or social issues.
    4. DO NOT accept it when religious leaders tell you it is wrong to question, doubt or think for yourself. It never is. Only those selling junk cars get frightened when you want to "look under the hood".
    5. DO decouple morality from a belief in the supernatural, in any of its formulations (Christianity, Judaism, Islam etc.). One can be moral without believing in gods, ghosts and goblins and believing in any of them does not make one moral.
    6. DO a bit of independent research into whatever book you were brought up to believe in. Who are its authors and why should I believe them in what they say? How many translations has it gone through? Do we have originals, or only edited copies of copies of copies– the latter is certainly true for every single book in the Bible.
    7. DO realize that you are only a Christian (or Hindu or Jew) because of where you were born. Were you lucky enough to be born in the one part of the World that “got it right”?
    8. DO NOT be an apologist or accept the explanation “your mind is too small to understand the greatness of god” or “god moves in mysterious ways” when you come upon logical inconsistencies in your belief. A retreat to mysticism is the first refuge of the cornered wrong.
    9. DO understand where your religion came from and how it evolved from earlier beliefs to the point you were taught it. Are you lucky enough to be living at that one point in history where we “got it right”?
    10. DO educate yourself on the natural Universe, human history and the history of life on Earth, so as to be able to properly evaluate claims that a benevolent, mind-reading god is behind the whole thing.
    I sometimes think that, if we first taught our children these simple guidelines, any religion or other supernatural belief would be quickly dismissed by them as quaint nostalgia from a bygone era. I hope we get there as a species.

    July 29, 2012 at 7:50 am |
  10. This is the best explaination


    July 29, 2012 at 7:50 am |
  11. kozaworld

    The article speaks to those who believe in God. There is 1 issue that goes back to Adam and Eve and when we had free will. If we choose free will then God has no influence on what happens on earth so praying in that case is futile to. I believe in a higher power, but not in religion. Religion has one singular task regardless what religion and that is to try and guide others in some old idea's and how God thinks or acts in our world. In the end it is all our own interpretation, and as long as the guy/gal on the pulpit in whatever religion chooses to guide his flock, it is still her or her interpretation. Not once does God come down and speak to any of us. Being good or bad does not need to be the embodiement of a higher power. Logic will and always had lead humanity to the answers, never has God. We like to give it praise as we have been conditioned to do so. If God is so perfect why does he have to re introduce his story time over time, create so many different religions races etc. If it is already written as many religions claim then why question his actions? Maybe God as is written created us in his image also understands our flaws and screwups our angers our success etc. The only thing is sure we can learn and the quicker we can learn and acknowledge that; that is the only constant we can move ahead and improve. Lets not ask God as he wont asnwer anyway lets not put blame on all other issue's but lets look inward as a whole and fix the obvious issues. Maybe a better gun control is a good start.

    July 29, 2012 at 7:49 am |
  12. Bill

    So based on this article, god is mean when even god allows babies, that have no ability to think in the manner that this article and many other religious people say you must think and since a baby cannot think like this, then babies are allowed to die because they cannot

    July 29, 2012 at 7:49 am |
  13. Roger

    Let us be clear, and stop with the "mystery" speak that just serves to cloud the real issue.. If God is not responsible for the condition of man, then he is no God.

    God created Satan. God created man. God created the tree of "knowledge of good and evil", he put it in the garden knowing full well what would happen. God knows how man will respond, how he will act, and what he will do before he does it. No one but God can be responsible for any of this unless God is not God.

    God is the tyrant of causality. He controls everything. You can't have your cake and eat it too, if he exists as the Bible teaches: HE IS RESPONSIBLE. Christians just don't like the cold hard facts of what their Bible teaches. So they cherry pick instead.

    July 29, 2012 at 7:48 am |
  14. Mandisa


    July 29, 2012 at 7:46 am |
    • Smurfette

      Well said – you have just posted the best evidence for the existence of god.

      July 29, 2012 at 7:47 am |
  15. Mark

    This pastor is using the same approach that others used after the 9/11 attacks. Back then, the apologists claimed that God was to be found in the first responders, in the search and rescue teams, etc. Now, with Aurora, they say God is in the people praying for the survivors, in the doctors and nurses tending to the wounded, etc. These are all AFTER THE FACT considerations. They do not address where God was while the terrorists were boarding the planes, or while the killer was driving to the movie theater.

    The reason for this obvious evasion is clear. The apologists have no adequate answer to this central question. So, just as a magician will use sleight of hand to make the audience focus their attention on one of his hands, while the other hand performs the trick, so the apologists will draw intention to supposed help given by God AFTER the initial tragedy has occurred, but ignore the lack of any divine response DURING the main events. This is a dishonest approach, a desperate attempt to defend the indefensible.

    Praising a God who seems consistently to get involved AFTER tragedies unfold is no more reasonable than praising a man who stands idly by and watches someone drown, but then offers to pay for the guy's coffin.

    July 29, 2012 at 7:45 am |
    • Daniel

      This is excellent.

      July 29, 2012 at 7:55 am |
  16. Alex

    Where was Santa ? Where was Tooth Fairy ? Where was Easter Bunny ?

    July 29, 2012 at 7:44 am |
  17. Craig

    There is no greater argument against Christianity than a 5-minute conversation with the average Christian.

    July 29, 2012 at 7:44 am |
    • Ladylaureli


      July 29, 2012 at 7:45 am |
    • NoTheism


      July 29, 2012 at 7:47 am |
    • Criag

      I need to log off now because my mom's on her way home with her new boyfriend and she'll burn me with a cigarette if she catches me on her computer.

      July 29, 2012 at 7:48 am |
    • Jeff

      It's a shame that atheists have so much hate in their lives and don't realize it. You wish to argue rather than opening your heart to Jesus and reading the Bible with an open heart and mind. Ask God into your life and he will show his presence spiritually and through other people. .I can't explain it, you just FEEL it and know that God is with you. He shines his light through others, but allows us to have choice and not make us into robots that have to free will....that's how much he loves us. My prayers are with you Craig, no matter how much you hate what I say or wish to argue me til you feel that you won. I choose to love and my love wishes you the best and that someday you can get to know God who brings great joy to our lives.

      July 29, 2012 at 7:54 am |
    • NoTheism

      Jeff, I guess your argument is that people who suffer from schizophrenia aren't really sick, because they believe their experience to be real.
      Not only that, but discussing about the validity of belief is not hate at all. In fact, it seems to me that you're the one who doesn't have an open mind, because I am here asking questions and responding to silly posts like yours, appealing to facts and reason. You offer nothing.
      I usually avoid being so blunt but I think you deserve it for calling atheists hateful.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:07 am |
    • mitch

      It is a book full of stories written by a bunch of different authors, there are a bunch of other books with similar stories. Pleases explain why you became obsessed by this book?

      July 29, 2012 at 8:18 am |
    • Nova

      It's a shame that CHRISTIANS have so much hate in their lives and don't realize it. You wish to argue rather than opening your heart to MUHAMED and reading the KORAN with an open heart and mind. Ask ALLAH into your life and he will show his presence spiritually and through other people. I can't explain it; you just FEEL it and know that ALLAH is with you. He shines his light through others, but allows us to have choice and not make us into robots that have to free will....that's how much he loves us. My prayers are with you JEFF, no matter how much you hate what I say or wish to argue me till you feel that you won. I choose to love and my love wishes you the best and that someday you can get to know God who brings great joy to our lives.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:52 am |
  18. achepotlex

    I heard he was busy giving a baby cancer that night.

    July 29, 2012 at 7:43 am |
    • Harley91

      Your an idiot. When your time comes and you die, you will bow before the Lord, and you will realize how ignorant you really are!

      July 29, 2012 at 8:01 am |
  19. El Flaco

    Yahweh ia a special kind of Being. You can't see Him, hear Him, or feel Him. He never does anything; instead, he always has a complicated reason for doing Nothing. It's as if there is No One There.

    July 29, 2012 at 7:43 am |
    • J

      That's pure conjecture.

      July 29, 2012 at 7:51 am |
  20. Your Take

    Your take is a good explanation.

    God's light continues to shine in the hearts of his people

    July 29, 2012 at 7:42 am |
    • NoTheism

      be very afraid of those that are divinely justified

      July 29, 2012 at 7:44 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.