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

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    August 26, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
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    August 26, 2012 at 9:28 am |
  3. brennan

    Brendle's take is spot on and we're lucky to have a free press who gives a voice to such logical theories.
    On the same note, I just read that the South African miners were killed because one of them had killed a rabbit who lived in the area. More lives would have been lost if not for a medicine given by a local healer that made the survivors invincible to bullets.

    August 25, 2012 at 10:22 am |
  4. michigan

    Fool says in his heart there is not God.

    Without faith it is impossible to please God. Doubt and fear are brought by evil and Satan (done to Eve)and that is the tool that Satan uses to blind the mind of people. Please think for a sec. how brain that is in your body works zillion times better than a super computer, u can never deny of a genius God who created that brain. So only a fool who cannot think only says there is no God.

    If you have faith in Jesus and accept his sacrifice on the cross where he died for my and your sins, you will be saved and you can enjoy God's presence eternally. If you dont, get ready to face hell ( separation from God – where there is no blood or water – you would be suffereing forever in hell fire thirsting for God and for a bit of water). Where will your eternity be ? Read John 3:16.

    August 15, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      There was no sacrifice.

      August 15, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
    • AGuest9

      "Your eternity"? The same place it was before you were born, remember?

      August 18, 2012 at 5:55 am |
  5. John

    Where there was God?

    You cannot blame God 4 this. God has nothing 2 do with it. What should had He done in your opinion? This is all government’s fault that enables such as this crank to be on the loose and armed. Lots of people cite statistics according 2 which many more people die of doctors’ actions than of firearms by chance. But if there were no arms then these victims “by accident” would not had been there either.

    August 14, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
  6. witness


    August 14, 2012 at 5:18 am |
  7. gigi

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQmLVU_nvo8 is ok

    August 13, 2012 at 9:07 am |
  8. flayingmarsyas

    >>"So there is a gap between human choice and divine foreknowledge, a gap that transcends understanding and that helps define God in my mind."<<

    I think you seriously misunderstand the meaning of the words "define" and "gap". That which can not be understood can not be said to "define" anything. And a gap is an absence, not evidence of anything, and certainly not an invitation to insert unreasonable claims as if they were equivalent to truth. This underlying error in the misuse of language to avoid, obscure and obfuscate meaning is the primary fallacy behind all credulous claims which lack evidence, defy logical plausibility, and fail to achieve even basic coherence or comprehensibility.

    If "the divine" is equivalent to "I don't understand it, therefore I feel better imagining it's magical and good," then it would clearly be less comforting, yet exceedingly more honest, just to say "I don't know."

    What we do know about all claims for God's existence, and supposedly inherent qualities, is that they are all indelibly stamped by the fears, wants, prejudices, errors, and limitations of their obviously human authorship.

    August 10, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
  9. Sterilizer

    "But Scripture also teaches that God is totally in control"

    Either the scripture is wrong, because he didn't prevent Columbine, Aurora or Darfu or Rwanda or the drought in Africa, tsunamis (fill in the blank for the other 1,000 examples) or (just imagine it for a moment) or he can't / won't do anything for his people, not even the ones with the 'right faith'... and that makes him useless, cruel, and worthless.

    August 7, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • justme

      Jesus taught that satan is in control of this earth and this is his system for a limited time.

      August 7, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • justme

      if anyone wants to learn what the bible really teaches go to jw.org or watchtower.org or have a serious discussion with one of Jehovah's Witnesses the next time they visit. or go to a local Kingdom Hall. oh and all of these are free of charge.

      August 7, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • AGuest9

      No thanks.

      August 18, 2012 at 5:56 am |
  10. De Odorizer

    "Scripture teaches that God made people in his image". Question: What does he / she / it look like then? like Whitney Houston, Churchill, Brad Pitt, Michelle Kwan, Usain Bolt, colored skin, yellow skin?
    Or is god a mixture of all the human creatures he made: like androgyneous, part male, part female, part gay, part dark, part light?? Just wondering.

    August 7, 2012 at 10:36 am |
    • Christopher Michael Ludwick

      Try thinking of image as God'd attributes. i.e. Love, Forgive those you may be close to or even enemies(of which I'm still working on) forgive yourself. Be charitable...not necessarily $$$ but teach, mentor, or help someone out you may not know. Many attributes that explain God's image w/out bringing physicallity into it. Happy searching and God bless you.

      -Christopher Michael Ludwick

      August 18, 2012 at 4:55 am |
  11. AGoodChristian

    I think it's somewhat plausible to say that god gives us the choice to do evil, which accounts for human-made wrongdoing. But it's really hard to swallow that our sins are responsible for natural disasters. When the tectonic plates slipped in the Indian Ocean in 2004 and the resulting tsunami killed a quarter million people, was that caused by man's innate fallen nature? Kinda hard to make that link.

    Some apologists will say that god allows these natural disasters to bring the "maximal" number of people to know him, and therefore into heaven. If that's the case, they must rejoice whenever humans die randomly. Those apologists must wonder why god is not MORE violent, if killing people is such a great tool for converting others.

    All I have to say is if contemporary Christian dogma is true, it sucks for some of those people in Aurora. Surely some of them were nonbelievers, who went through their life peacefully, were killed at random by a madman, and now get to be tortured for eternity thanks to the will of an insane god.

    August 7, 2012 at 2:49 am |
  12. mespo727272

    It's very reassuring to read the comments on this thread. Pastor Brendle's claptrap isn't being swallowed whole hog and there is legitimate questioning about why an all merciful and all powerful being that Brendle is apologizing for would either be unwilling or unable to protect the lives of innocents from the monsters He created. God guarantees suffering? As Christopher Hitchens so aptly said "creating us sick and commanding us to be well."

    August 7, 2012 at 12:12 am |
  13. Chris

    "God was in Aurora" ROFL!

    August 6, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
  14. Salero21

    God was busy helping the scientists put a robot on Mars. God wrote "All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made" in the bible so robots are bad. That's why he let the shooting happen because of Robots and gay marriage.

    August 6, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
    • NewYorkGal12

      God was in Korea watching Anime.

      August 6, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
  15. Naruhodo

    What a crap!!

    August 6, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
  16. kTS

    Nothing more than a rationalisation for your God doing nothing. I have heard some of the survivors say Jesus saved them, therefore Jesus/God DECIDED to NOT SAVE the 6 year old who died. I could accept this if the same people /pastors said that life is what it is and God does not directly interviene in the lives of people. BUT thats what Christian (particularly Saved Christian) do pastors say and do pray for. Therefore God/Jesus whoever must by definition allow lunatics to murder children – while at the same time of course he gives finalcial 'blessings' to those who sow seed at a mega church. Its nauseating.

    August 6, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
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  18. Why are more religious populations more violent?

    Murder rates are lower in more secular nations and higher in more religious nations where belief in God is deep and widespread (Jensen 2006; Paul 2005; Fajnzylber et al. 2002; Fox and Levin 2000).

    And within America, the states with the highest murder rates tend to be highly religious, such as Louisiana and Alabama, but the states with the lowest murder rates tend to be among the least religious in the country, such as Vermont and Oregon (Ellison et al. 2003; Death Penalty Information Center, 2008). Furthermore, although there are some notable exceptions, rates of most violent crimes tend to be lower in the less religious states and higher in the most religious states (United States Census Bureau, 2006).

    Finally, of the top 50 safest cities in the world, nearly all are in relatively non-religious countries, and of the eight cities within the United States that make the safest-city list, nearly all are located in the least religious regions of the country (Mercer Survey, 2008).

    From: http://www.pitzer.edu/academics/faculty/zuckerman/Zuckerman_on_Atheism.pdf

    Coorelation is not causation, but if religion were true wouldn't you expect the opposite?

    August 6, 2012 at 10:13 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      Not if I understood how my religion describes the heart of man

      August 6, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • Mohammed_Islam

      They are all may be fake... it actually be other way around... more religious you are more peacefull you are to others and to yourself....

      August 6, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • eric hicks

      Mohammed Islam chooses to believe a lie, and thus it is the truth! Classic!

      August 6, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • John

      James Holmes is Christian and therefore believes he has been forgiven by God for these murders and will go to heaven.

      It is possible religion directly contributes to violence.

      August 6, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
    • AGuest9

      "Possible?" It DOES! Remember the Crusades? (Including the latest, started by Bush?)

      August 18, 2012 at 6:01 am |



    August 6, 2012 at 3:36 am |
  20. gracelandjenn

    I recently wrote about this same thing – http://livingingraceland.com/2012/07/25/where-is-god-in-the-midst-of-tragedy/

    August 5, 2012 at 9:39 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.