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. No Monsters

    Beautiful response, Colin.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:01 am |
  2. trentreviso

    What a bunch of stupid crap.

    I guess your job is to make excuses for the failures of your god.

    If I had had it within my power to protect innocent people – and yet had failed to do so – I would be in jail right now. And rightly so.

    July 31, 2012 at 5:59 am |
  3. Me

    God was with Santa Claus and the Easter bunny and some leprechauns, as he is a fairy tale.

    July 31, 2012 at 3:13 am |
  4. K

    Being a religious leader is apparently the enviable position of being able to spend twenty paragraphs to dodge the question being asked. No one asks where God was AFTER the shooting. They ask where he was DURING the shooting. And Rev. Brendle skirts that question to answer a different one entirely - because that's one that he can make sound good.

    It's no wonder that politicians increasingly involve religious leaders in their campaigns - ministers and priests are the consummate masters of positive spin!

    July 31, 2012 at 3:02 am |
  5. Manny

    No Truth, Just Claims

    It's rare to find atheists acting as a group to do much of anything, much less displace religion in society. Atheists who do argue against religion, religious beliefs, and theism often do so as individuals acting on their own. There are atheist groups involved with arguing against religion, but most atheists don't belong to them, and it's an open question how much real influence they have over atheists generally.

    This sounds like a criticism, but it's not. The fact that atheists don't act in concert and don't all join atheist organizations is simply one of the many signs of how atheism isn't really any sort of belief system, much less a religion. It's a demonstration of the degree to which individual atheists move in their own ways and don't merely take direction from atheist leaders. It's a sign of just how different irreligious atheists are from most religious theists, and thus of just how incredibly wrong myths like this really are.

    July 31, 2012 at 1:57 am |
    • biff

      The difference is that theists must come together because in christianity the are literally hundreds of denominations..... everyweek for hundreds of years it been drilled into the christian psyche that they must sit in that pew on sunday.

      Atheism is the default setting on humans....unless you are taught your region's brand of lunacy, you will be an atheist....
      hense ..with no overriding authority making demands onn their time these no reason to gather.

      July 31, 2012 at 2:08 am |
    • cavediver

      Atheists dont need the constant prodding that believers do. Churches have to guard against their members being drawn away by other denominations or other faiths entirely. Members = money.and lackeys to do any dirty work.- armies in past centuries... votes in the the here and now.

      July 31, 2012 at 2:24 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      I think your statement illustrates why atheism will never bee the force for social change that religion has been. Simply too many individuals who are unwilling or unable to cooperate cohesively for the common good.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:56 am |
    • cavediver

      Actually Bill – Religion has been digging in its heals big time....... the mormons were forced to alter their stance on blacks, Christians used the bible for centuries to justify their harsh treatment of cultures of all kinds - anything that held a view differing from christianity. Religions Always must have an enemy.... always something to scare their members and keep them in the fold.....positive social change happens more often than not, in spite of religion...not because of..

      July 31, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • cavediver

      ...or it might even dig in its heels if the healks dont work.... sorry

      July 31, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      Manny, most people aren't very sharp and are greedy and evil. Having them convinced that an actual god will pounce on them and destroy them is the only thing that prevents them from killing and eating other people IMHO. By all means keep them convinced that god loves them and wants them to work 40 hours a week. When they have free time, they come up with stuff like the KKK or Tea Bag Party, so fill their hours with religion.

      July 31, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
  6. theMan

    Wait so your saying there isnt a god. I think someone has been telling tales

    July 31, 2012 at 1:35 am |
  7. Enlightened

    I saved 10% by switching to Atheism

    July 31, 2012 at 1:20 am |
  8. neil

    Help us save the jobs of 5 people
    Please help

    July 31, 2012 at 12:36 am |
  9. Reality

    Dear Pastor Brendle, (a response would really be appreciated but please only from the pastor)-

    We welcome you to the 21st century with a prayer: (prayer = a reiterated peti-tion such as the Our Father)

    The Apostles' Creed 2012 (updated by yours truly based on the studies of NT historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven?????

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of

    Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
    many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
    ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    (References used are available upon request.)

    July 31, 2012 at 12:25 am |
    • meh

      ...too much to read – I lost interest by the 3rd line – but if you were slamming religion, I liked it

      July 31, 2012 at 8:23 am |
    • Reality

      For those who are reading challenged, a PowerPoint slide:




      Added details upon request.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • biff

      Reality ... You just earned your self an all expenses paid trip to the balmey Lake o Fire! dont ask me how a pit o fire supposed to inflict torment on a disembodied ghost ( no brain or nervous system) -maybe the fire's disembodied too...i dont know... alll i know is our Loving Creator saw fit to give you said ETERNAL vacation in the Lake.... enjoy!

      July 31, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  10. KC

    For me, I believe we are each born with a purpose. We each are given free will and we all have good and evil inside of us. It is a constant choice all people struggle with.

    But I also believe that God was with each of his wonderful children to guide them into a place where no pain or hurt exist, and continual happiness and light flows. He held each of these wonderful people into his arms as he welcomed them back home, to God's wonderful kingdom.

    July 30, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
  11. Lilyrosalie

    Here's what I think. The universe and life itself is a craps shoot, a roll of the dice. Some get to live in squallor, in poverty, other's live in palaces, some die before the age of two and othere live to be 100, some experience the horrors of war and loss, others live in peace their entire lives. I struggle thinking that an all knowing all powerful all loving god could want things to be this way. It is easier to think that I drew the short or the long straw and play with the hand I was dealt, whether a royal straight flush or random cards with a 9 high. I don't live my life in bitterness toward a god who didn't care to save my little sister or my mother or my country or my baby, because I don't believe that it was done to me, it just was what happened and I go forward from there. The one saving grace in the mad chaos of the universe is the humanity we show toward each other in times of tragedy and need. It is like the oasis in the burning sands..... that is a spark of god if you need one.

    July 30, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
    • biff

      Or it could be a Test? .... a good scientist actually physically conducts the experiment to back his hypothisis.. and God's doing that ( nevermind that omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent would render said experiment moot) - never know till it plays out right???

      July 30, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
    • TruthSeeker

      I could not have put it any better. Life in the universe is a dance with probability; sometimes you win and other times you lose. There is no intelligence or sentience driving the numbers. Just pure chance. The world makes a lot more sense when you look at it this way.

      July 30, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
    • cobe

      if there is only pure chance and NO intelligence driving the numbers, how can you even think about any sense?
      sense can't exist without logic, intelligence.

      July 31, 2012 at 12:13 am |
    • TruthSeeker

      Unfortunately your comment does not make that much sense either. Just because the universe is inherently random or chaotic does not mean sense or logic cannot exist within it. Logic and randomness are not mutually exclusive. In fact, chaos, through the random mutation of genes that drives evolution, is the reason why we have logic and intelligence in the first place. So yes, logic can exist within a chaotic universe.

      July 31, 2012 at 12:42 am |
  12. A Frayed Knot


    1. Earth is a sphere suspended in space. Isaiah 40:22, Job 26:7
    - Nope, it says the Earth is a circle - they had a word for "ball" or "sphere" and they did not use it.

    2. The water cycle keeps the land watered. Job 36:27, 28, Ecclesiastes 1:7, Amos 5.8
    - Duh, easily discerned by observation.

    3. The universe is running down. Isaiah 51:6, Psalm 102:26
    - Duh, time passes, things get old - that's all it says.

    4. Ocean Currents flow thru the sea. Psalm 8:8
    - Known long before the Bible was written by ancient seafarers.

    5. Blood sustains life. Leviticus 17:11
    - Duh.

    6. The stars are incredibly distant from the earth and cannot be numbered. Job 22:12, Genesis 15:5, Jeremiah 33:22
    - Duh.

    7. The winds form a circulating system. Ecclesiastes 1:6
    - Nope. It says the winds blow from different directions.

    8. Earth rotates on its axis. Job 38:12, 14
    - Huh? Contradicted in other stories.

    9. Man’s body is composed of the same materials as the earth. Genesis 2:7, 3:19, Psalm 103:14
    - They saw bodies decompose.

    That's a brief rebuttal. More here (and elsewhere): http://home.nctv.com/jackjan/item65.htm

    July 30, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
    • A Frayed Knot

      wrong spot... dammit

      July 30, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      A piece of string walks into a bar. The bartender says "We don't serve string here." The string says "I'm not string." The bartender says "No?" And the string says "I'm . . . "

      August 1, 2012 at 9:53 am |
  13. henryhorker

    Oh snap! That dude just shot a bunch of people down in Colorado. Oooh, North Korean famine! LOL – God

    July 30, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
    • biff

      yup – Does the Big Guy know entertainment or what???!!!

      July 30, 2012 at 11:09 pm |
  14. biff

    Nah God's just conducting an experiment... has to be....

    I mean, a ultra intelligent – meaning well beyond the best and brightest today, omniscient, omnipotent being gives an ignorant bronze age tribe , not basic educational concepts like chemistry, math, biology, basic medicine (not talking advanced now- genetics ect..) but 10 commandments – 3 of which have to do with his vanity- you know , the kinds of stuff that could really get humans off the ground.

    He created us, who are we to question? we are his...he says believe – we better believe....he stirred up the ant hill 2000 years ago...and stepped back again for a reason!! Dont mess up his experiment!!!

    July 30, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
  15. Manny

    No Truth, Just Claims

    First of all you don't have a million dollars. The problem is with you and God. I can only tell you about the realms and if your heart and mind is closed to not accepting the truth, there's nothing I could do or say to convince you.

    July 30, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
    • No Truth, Just Claims

      You are right I don't. But he James Randi Foundation does and they will give you a million dollars to prove what you are spouting is true. But you won't because you can't.

      July 30, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
    • biff

      Hey Truth and Claims.... 3 words for you, buddy- Lake Of Fire!!!! he is gonna put you back togerther, you unbelieving swine and then, with that brand new body/w fresh new nerves – you are going to learn to swim....in a lake o fire!

      July 30, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
    • Mister completely

      you have quite a wait no truth- because as you know, there is no proof out there as of this moment. Oh religious zealots will have a conniption fit trying to convince you that there is proof out there, but they can never seem to find any when it comes time to put up or shut up. come to think of it, they can't seem to shut up either. in the same token, athiests can't seem to produce evidence that there isn't a god. i don't know if there is or isn't, but i'll tell you this if there is, i'm not sure i want anything to do with him. if it were a human beig we were discussing, i wonder if the hard-core christians would be so anxious to deify with him. i know i wouldn't follow anyone who: tests someone's faith by ordering them to kill their own child, then at the last second says the equivalent to "just kidding!!!". nor would i associate with anyone who lets his own son die in one of the most horrific ways ever concieved. or anyone who tries – with the exception of a family to tend to all the animals- to commit genocide of the entire human race. or allow other people to commit murder and torture others in some of the cruelest and most brual ways imaginable (the spanish inquisition, for example). and on a personal level, allows his children (us) to destroy ourselves- which i believe is our destiny, with all of the nuclear and biological weapons we have created. the supreme being that i choose to worship will have a much better track record. Also, my god would not let his counterpart have that much, if any, negative influence over his "children". why does the christian's god allow satan to have so much power? after all He IS God and the creator of humans AND angels- and satan is merely a fallen angel to boot. i mean, it sems to me that christians are immoral by their own admission. i mean, if you were to kill someone, and the police arrested someone else- then covicted and sentanced them to death, -by letting an innocent person take the fall for your crime – that would be immoral in my book. yet that's exactly what they do by accepting Jesus Christ as their savior. they even admit it openly: "Jesus died for MANKIND'S sins". of course they dont see it like that...

      July 31, 2012 at 12:30 am |
    • No Truth, Just Claims


      If you have no argument you have to use threats. It betrays a weak position.

      July 31, 2012 at 12:38 am |
    • b4bigbang

      Hi No Truth, sorry i didnt reply to your latest comment from last night. It got late and I lost my computer spot for the night.
      I do have an answer to your comment, and I will say that you do raise good questions.

      I hope you are satisfied with my answers....

      Would you like to start a new thread or go back to last night's?

      July 31, 2012 at 12:43 am |
    • biff

      @ Truth You were the the first of many I gave a serving of Lake o Fire to ....needed to see what the allure was ...is kinda fun I guess... i mean really – it was the final punishment an omniscient being could come up with...it must be fun eh?

      July 31, 2012 at 12:50 am |
  16. jawnay

    god was obviously busy helping the millions of starving africans during the aurora shooting.

    lol just kidding

    July 30, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
  17. mike

    i want to get on my knees and start pleasing jesus. I want to feel his salvation all over my face

    July 30, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
    • cobe

      and you will be on your knees wheather you like it or not 🙂
      don't wait too long, eventually even satan will get tired of keeping you bent over

      July 30, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
    • meh

      you may be confused – is it jesus or sandusky?

      July 31, 2012 at 9:52 am |
  18. Manny

    God doesn't force or tell someone to do a horrible act. He's giving us all a free will to do good or to do evil. There are two realms that exist on Earth, the natural and the spiritual realm. We are not to wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickness in high places. Satan is very real, and he wants for everyone to view him as a fable or fiction guy with a pitchfork. You have to understand when Adam failed in the Garden of Eden, so did every human being on this earth. Jesus Christ is the second Adam, to be crucify for our sins. God have giving us a free will to choice to follow him or not. You have to understand that if God had intervene, he would have gone against what he's always done in history. Read the Old Testaments and understand God's nature. Stop placing blame on God and realize there is a war in both realms. Satan is the prince of this world and the prince of the air. Satan operates just like God. He have demons doing the opposite of what God's angels do around the world. Jesus is coming and the blinders of all of the non believers, will see these demons for real. Just like the days of Noah, every non believer will see the spiritual realm and that will be too late. There will be terror like nothing else in history. Man will tremble in fear.

    July 30, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • No Truth, Just Claims

      If you can prove there is a spitball realm The James Randi Foundatin will give you a million dollars.

      In other words I don't believe you.

      July 30, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
    • No Truth, Just Claims


      July 30, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
    • Damocles

      Ok see this is where it all starts falling apart.... god makes A&E, gives em free will and then swiftly proceeds to punish ALL of mankind unto the Nth generation for the choice!!?? How does that even begin to make sense to you? If I told you that I'm going to give you free will to make whatever choices you want, but I am going to harm you and your family for every wrong choice that you make according to my rules that I choose not to share with you....well... I don't think it would take you very long to stop making choices Manny.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • Bible Clown©

      "God doesn't force or tell someone to do a horrible act. He's giving us all a free will to do good or to do evil."

      That's exactly the same as Him not existing, right?

      August 1, 2012 at 11:42 am |
  19. Jackster

    Belief Blog?? Really CNN? It's the year 2012. It's time to put this hocus pocus behind us.

    July 30, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • Manny

      Hocus pocus? Jackster, Satan have you around his finger. Do me a favor and call out to Satan and watch him appear to you. Don't do this during the day light, but at night by yourself. Once he appears, you'll noticed that God is very real and he's waiting to talk to you. He sent his son, Jesus, to be crucify for our sins. I don't want for you to do that, because Satan will come to you, Jackster. Choice life with Jesus, Jackster.

      July 30, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
    • No Truth, Just Claims

      Million dollars Manny, c'mon prove it.

      July 30, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
    • Kane

      I try and try, but Satan just doesn't want to stop by.. Does he not like me?

      July 30, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
    • cobe

      you just can't do it lol 🙂
      “Again and again it has thought Christianity was dying…But every time the world has been disappointed. Its first disappointment was over the crucifixion. The Man came to life again. In a sense – and I quite realize how frightfully unfair it must seem to them – that has been happening ever since. They keep on killing the thing that He started: and each time, just as they are patting down the earth on its grave, they suddenly hear that it is still alive and has even broken out in some new place. No wonder they hate us.”
      from c.s lewis

      July 30, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      Poor Manny. He hears the voices. Get Prozac© and they will stop. Look! It's a 900-foot Jesus!

      August 1, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
  20. georgex

    This is a question which is difficult to answer for Christians who always want to find some grace in tragedy. But I think it is wonderful that the Internet allows many doubters to express their views here as we become a more open society. In the past they didn't have the chance to meet or discuss their views and felt a bit isolated. Today there are organizations for non-believers such as http://www.secular.org that have meetings and interesting projects and just good conversation..
    Personally, I don't think we can blame God for these killings anymore than we should give him credit for the survivors. He seems to stay out of almost every human event. He doesn't do much that I am aware of.

    July 30, 2012 at 8:38 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.