December 14th, 2012
06:17 PM ET

Massacre of children leaves many asking, 'Where’s God?'

By Dan Gilgoff and Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editors

(CNN) – As he waited with parents who feared that their kids were among the 20 children killed at a Connecticut elementary school on Friday, Rabbi Shaul Praver said the main thing he could do for parents was to merely be present.

“It’s a terrible thing, families waiting to find out if their children made it out alive,” said Praver, who leads a synagogue in Newtown, Connecticut, and was among nine clergy gathered with parents at a firehouse near Sandy Hook Elementary School, where the shooting occurred.

“They’re going to need a lot of help,” Praver said of those who are close to the dead.

From the first moments after Friday’s massacre, which also left six adults and the shooter dead, religious leaders were among the first people to whom worried and grieving families turned for help.

Over the weekend, countless more Americans will look to clergy as they struggle to process a tragedy in which so many of the victims were children.

“Every single person who is watching the news today is asking ‘Where is God when this happens?’” says Max Lucado, a prominent Christian pastor and author based in San Antonio.

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Lucado says that pastors everywhere will be scrapping their scheduled Sunday sermons to address the massacre.

“You have to address it - you have to turn everything you had planned upside down on Friday because that’s where people’s hearts are,” Lucado says.

“The challenge here is to avoid the extremes – those who say there are easy answers and those who say there are no answers.”

Indeed, many religious leaders on Friday stressed that the important thing is for clergy to support those who are suffering, not to rush into theological questions. A University of Connecticut professor on Friday hung up the phone when asked to discuss religious responses to suffering, saying, “This is an immense tragedy, and you want an academic speculating on the problem of evil?”

“There is no good answer at that time that anyone can hear and comprehend and take in,” said Ian T. Douglas, the bishop for the Episcopal diocese of Connecticut, referring to counseling family and friends of the dead. “They’re crying out from a place of deep pain.”

Praver, the rabbi, will join a memorial service Friday night at Newtown’s St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church.

“We’re going to have a moment of prayer for the victims,” Praver said of the service. “We cannot let it crush our spirit and we march on.”

Some national religious groups are also sending staff to Newtown, with 10 chaplains dispatched from the North Carolina-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association on Friday.

Public officials including President Obama, meanwhile, turned to the Bible in responding to the shooting. “In the words of Scripture, 'heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds,' ” Obama said from the White House, citing the book of Psalms.

On Twitter, #PrayForNewton became a trending topic.

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Some religious leaders argue that modern American life insulates much of the nation from the kind of senseless death and suffering that plagues much of the world every day.

“Most of the world, for most of the world’s history, has known tragedy and trauma in abundance,” wrote Rob Brendle, a Colorado pastor, in a commentary for CNN’s Belief Blog after this summer’s deadly shooting in Aurora, Colorado, which left 12 dead.

“You don’t get nearly the same consternation in Burundi or Burma, because suffering is normal to there,” wrote Brendle, who pastored congregants after a deadly shooting at his church five years ago. “For us, though, God has become anesthetist-in-chief. To believe in him is to be excused from bad things.”

My Take: This is where God was in Aurora

Lucado said there was an eerie irony for the Connecticut tragedy coming just before Christmas, noting the Bible says that Jesus Christ’s birth was followed by an order from King Herod to slay boys under 2 in the Roman city of Bethlehem.

“The Christmas story is that Jesus was born into a dark and impoverished world,” Lucado says. “His survival was surrounded by violence. The real Christmas story was pretty rough.”

Many religious leaders framed Friday’s shooting as evidence for evil in the world and for human free will in the face of a sovereign God.

“The Bible tells us the human heart is ‘wicked’ and ‘who can know it?’” the Rev. Franklin Graham said in a statement about the massacre. “My heart aches for the victims, their families and the entire community.”

Many religious leaders also said that such tragedies are a good time for lay people to express doubts about God – or anger.

“This is a time to go deep and pray,” says Lucado. “If you have a problem with God, shake a fist or two at him. If he’s God, he’s going to answer. And if he’s in control, he’ll find a way to let you know.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Christianity • God • Uncategorized

soundoff (9,195 Responses)
  1. Emelia

    Wow, imagine if we got rid of religion, we'd never ever ever have any problems ever again! Because it's not like man hasn't been able to evolve anytime ever during the past 50 thousand or anything! It's all religion's fault! It's all the fault of this God that SENSIBLE people don't believe in anyway. Yeah, that's what's holding us back! It's not man's fault at all! Let's just get rid of religion! And then we'll be happy forever and ever and ever...

    December 30, 2012 at 1:44 am |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      No, all the problems of the world would not go away with the demise of religion but a major source of conflict would be.

      December 30, 2012 at 1:48 am |
    • J.W

      Conflicts would still exist without religion. The same issues would still be there. There would still be the same variety of opinions over major issues as there are with religion.

      December 30, 2012 at 1:55 am |
  2. 2357

    ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’
    – God

    December 29, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
    • rick

      i see that numbers is still purporting to speak for god. delusional fvck

      December 30, 2012 at 7:31 am |
  3. Daniel

    "Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God". ....Jesus/Yeshua Jn. 3:3 We cannot begin to understand who God really is until we have received Jesus Christ/Yeshua HaMashiach as our Lord and Savior. Do that, then read in your Bible how God's people often suffered in this life, for indeed there hope was in the life to come. This is not heaven. On earth there is is both good and evil. Evil will not be completely removed until this present era or dispensation has been completed. God bless.

    December 29, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
    • Gadflie

      Interesting myth you have there.

      December 29, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
    • fairytales


      December 30, 2012 at 12:51 am |
  4. moi

    simple answer... he's simply not THERE

    December 29, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
  5. Just a guy

    For 400 years the Hebrews asked the same question – they got in that dilemma because they turned their back on God – just like to good ole USA is doing

    December 29, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • rick

      perhaps it is just turning away from your version of god

      December 29, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
    • rick

      is your god that petty and vindictive?

      December 29, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • 2357

      When someone turns from God, there is only one thing there waiting for you and that's the devil himself.

      December 30, 2012 at 1:54 am |
    • Athy

      Well, I've never believed in god and I've yet to see the devil. When can I expect to?

      December 30, 2012 at 2:12 am |
  6. Charles Roesch, Ph.D., M.D.

    Isn't it pathetic that humans are still talking about a magic fairy floating around the sky as if it's reasonable, accountable, and real. The data is in. It's overwhelming. Scientific data clearly shows the universe follows natural, not supernatural, laws. There is no god. Time for the human species to act like adults.
    C. Roesch

    December 29, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      You can have your M.D's and Ph.dD's, but you canstill be blind as a bat and dead in your soul

      December 29, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
    • Wolfe Bossinger, Ph.D.

      Prism 1234 is typical of religious zealots: they so hate education that they are, at best, semi-literate, which means they can't read their own Bibles, that they have to have alcoholic hillbilly evangelists shout and preach at them the Biblical hatred. The Book of Leviticus is my favorite, just absolutely precious!

      What the zealots have in common is their love of America's Red Party, aka, the Republicans that support Red China and want the U.S. to adopt a one-party system with an oppressive government control and not freedom. For the zealots, they have religious fervor for their Bibles, guns, whiskey, and hatred. They take great pride in how little education they have, such that they want to share that trait with the whole country. In fact, they are the American Taliban!

      But, the big big difference between American and Red China is that Red China is pouring trillions of U.S. dollars and Europe's Euros into science education and research. Many of their high-government officials hold advanced degrees in science and engineering. For them, the U.S. will in the near future be a source of cheap labor!

      December 29, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Ahahhah! Oh, you really nailed it when describing Prissy. Were you aware that he/she was overcome with emotion upon hearing Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings" until it was pointed out to her/him that Barber was gay and had a long-term relationship with another composer?

      Thanks for pinning this donkey's ass to the wall.

      December 29, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
    • OTOH

      Dr. Roesch,

      In all fairness, PRISM usually does pretty well at writing, especially considering that English is not his native language. He is, however, very dark-minded and delusional.

      December 29, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
  7. John Black Hills/SD

    God doesn't answer prayers, God is the shepherd of consciousness, that's all. God doesn't let these things happen, we do. We invite these crimes to occur, so there's no one else to blame but ourselves, and the creepy NRA bozo's who claim it's their right to arm a growing number of hate groups who feel it's their duty to establish a diseased ideology with an Amen at the end so they feel legitimate.

    December 29, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • Dippy

      Bozos, not bozo's.

      December 30, 2012 at 2:16 am |
  8. mike

    In a fantasy I wish an Angel of God entered those classrooms, told the EMTs to stand back as the children were raised back up. That's where I wanted God to be and to do.

    December 29, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • rick

      good for you, mike. how did that work out?

      December 29, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • fairytales

      And that exactly did? What is your point??

      December 30, 2012 at 12:50 am |
  9. J.W

    Sometimes when things like this I believe that it is okay to be angry with God. When Christians see injustices and tragedies happening they should be angry with God. You should pray to God and tell him you are angry. You should pray that no injustices happen, and you should pray that God never actually forces anyone to spend eternity in hell.

    December 29, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
    • fairytales

      or you could just have a beer

      December 30, 2012 at 12:51 am |
  10. Just call me Lucifer

    Where was god when the children were being slaughtered? He was hiding in a closet.

    December 29, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
  11. Emelia

    Where was evolution at Sandy Hook? Why has it taken 56,000 years for us to stop killing each other? Oh wait, we've never stopped killing each other. Why can't we evolve out of this little phase we're in? Probably because we can't or don't want to?...

    December 29, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
  12. 21k

    i am thankful that i don't have to spend eternity with a god that is powerful enough to have stopped the killing, but chose not to.

    December 29, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • marat75

      The end is nearer than you think. Would you reconsider?

      December 29, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
  13. th

    By the way how was field service this morning? Did you get any bibles studies, or good return visits? Or just meet people that read the bible, love Jesus, and are trying to be his follower but just don't want to be part of the watchtower organization so you classify them as being part of false religion. Now tell me that's not "what the watchtower really teaches"... Hahahaha

    December 29, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • th

      Sorry this was meant for James..

      December 29, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • Eric

      God was too busy busting Jesus's chops for masturbating.

      December 29, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • james

      I see you made the same mistake many have but I told you I would check back and I have been on the other page trying to keep up with you so if you come back later leave a note and maybe we can continue a civil discussion. I will check back tomorrow to see if you are still just having fun or if you would like to learn what the bible really teaches. later, j

      December 29, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • james

      eric, do you have any idea what you are saying? I hope not, but you may want to retract that comment and ask someone for forgiveness. just a thought.

      December 29, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  14. ameevid

    It is a SAD thing that happened to those children, if it had been one of my family, I don't know if I could have recovered, but it iis not God's fault, it is the fault of the one that did the terrible deed. I would want him punished severely but he punished himself and now in the hands of a living God who will punish him worse than anything on earth. The children on the other hand are also in the hands of the living God and are in Heaven.

    December 29, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • Eric

      Why would God punish someone who is mentally handicapped, even though he's the one who imposed such a great limitation on him?

      December 29, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      the living God? does this distinguish him from another God who is dead?

      December 29, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  15. watching4jesus

    The Lord has done everything possible to bring people into a relationship with Him which is the ONLY way they can escape their own sinful self. He gave His only Son. So people who reject Christ want to blame the Lord for bad things that happen. The Lord chastens His own children, not Satan's children. There is a judgment coming for those who reject Jesus Christ, but right now we are in the age of grace with the Lord drawing sinners to Himself. So stop blaming Him for the work of Satan's children.

    December 29, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • Hypocrisy

      Dinosaurs. What about the poor dinosaurs? I pray to understand why God killed all of them and not mentioned it in the bible. Were they "satan's children"?.

      December 29, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • rick

      watching: your empty proxy threats are laughable

      December 29, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • EnjaySea

      You did a fine job of expressing what you've learned all your life about the dogma of Christianity. I think you have it down pretty well.

      However, I don't believe any of the things you said. I only believe that you have those platitudes well memorized, and I congratulate you on your robust indoctrination.

      December 29, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • Damocles


      Yes, he killed his son, or a part of itself, or however you rectify the conundrum of the father is the son is the father. He killed the world. Kill, kill, kill.... it's all your deity seems capable of doing.

      December 30, 2012 at 2:02 am |
  16. 111ken111

    There consoling His children. Stephen who was killed at the hands of Paul the Apostle saw His glory and there was no fear. God interveened for the children as He done for Stephen.

    December 29, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • SixDegrees

      There wasn't any intervention; they're dead.

      December 29, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  17. marat75

    There was a massacre of children after the birth of Jesus.

    December 29, 2012 at 10:02 am |
    • Seyedibar

      No there wasn't. Papius borrowed that story from India, like so much of the new testament. it was mentioned once in the gospel of Matthew which was written by a Greek who had never met the man he was writing about. The tale of him being a tax collector was added in the 3rd century. Well-kept hisorical records from the time show no mention of Herod's massacre of infants or any similar act.

      December 29, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
  18. Mark

    God is the same place he was during the Children's Crusade, the Black Death, the Holocaust, Stalin's starvation of the Ukraine, Pol Pot's rampage, Idi Amin's slaughter, the Hutu-Tutsi massacres, the destruction of Native American societies by the Spanish,Wounded Knee, the genocide of the Canaanites. Oh, I forgot, those were the Good Old Days, not the present Evil Last Days.

    December 29, 2012 at 9:55 am |
  19. Emelia

    Where was evolution? Why can't we grow out of this little kill-things phase we seem to be stuck in? Hmm, probably because, we DON'T WANT TO?

    December 29, 2012 at 9:48 am |
  20. marat75

    It is the sign of the apocalypse, just like the scoffers and mockers are. Read the bible.


    December 29, 2012 at 9:39 am |
    • rick

      ah, the apocalypse.....like the coming of jesus.....any time now...

      December 29, 2012 at 7:46 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.