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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.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

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. Frederick1337

    A lot of questions right? Where was GOD shouldn't be one of them. In which atrocity was GOD culpable? Does he not always arm the vulnerable and help them gain freedom from oppression. Though HE is not guilty of the crimes committed by any person, HE does always come to the aid of the people afterward.

    December 30, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  2. The King of the Jews

    God was having lunch with the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus while surrounded by unicorns.

    December 30, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • louis

      I wouldn't include Santa Claus. At least he is based on a real person.

      December 30, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
  3. polarbear1942

    what a news column. "Where was God at Sandy Brook?" what responses – some affirning and some denying God at this place and time. It jolts the human conciousness to hear about an event like this and we each retreat back into our basic beliefs yet forget what man is truly capable of. Woman also, look at the news on the firefighter ambush... To this I wite wake up and smell the spent cartridges. Gun control, says our Government, with 200 million guns on the streets in the U.S. what is the point? the British put us in this position back in the 1700. Ban the British... When the southern churches were bombed and set fiire to back in the 1950s, Why did we not ban bombs, and more inportantly, fire? When our leaders were killed by sniper fire in the 1960s, why did we not ban snipers? When Columbine went toilet why did we not ban black clothing in schools? And ban the excessive use of major drugs on the Columbine campus prior to the massacre? Wake up society, the problem isd not in the methiod, but in the reason. Neither Congress nor the President will admit that our capability to take care of our citizens, especially those responsible for these heinous crimes, has been failing and will fail further until we address the real problem. There are a lot of very dissatisfied people out there in our country who see the only way out of their personal dillemma as removing other citizens..Where is God in all of this? He is right there with the perpetrator and the victim. If we lose that concept, we might consider going into isolation. If you want a real time answer, I suggest each of you start paying attention to those around you and try using the Golden Rule. Possibly then you will not move toward the direction of pointing fingers. Sandy Hook is one of 250,000 other schools in this country who so far have been taking care of business. Isolate the shooter of Sandy Hook and look deeply into his background. You will find why he went off. Then look around for similarities. They are there. Those posts here of the ones who, like a stinging scorpion, slide out from under the mat should be the first ones you look at real closely.

    December 30, 2012 at 11:14 am |
  4. Gary

    When the dust settles no human being no matter how intelligent can ultimately prove or disprove the existence of God. NO ONE!
    So lets focus and what we can prove:
    1. Free will exists
    2. Good and Evil exists
    3. Truth and Lies exist
    4. Light and Darkness exists
    5. Love and Hate exists
    6. Life and Death exists

    The universe consists of time, space and matter. Everything in the known universe has a beginning and an end including the universe itself. The ultimate question is what existed before time, space and matter? Man will never definitively be capable of answering this question because he will never be able to measure through science and step into this realm. The greatest minds that ever existed hit a brick wall at the moment of creation (Big Bang). Our finite minds cannot enter the realm of eternity. We can't conceive eternity because we exist in time. Science can take us back to one trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the start of the universe. But that’s where science, the laws of physics and mans knowledge STOP! So unless anyone on this forum has first hand knowledge and experience to go beyond one trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the start of the universe then NO ONE on this forum can prove or disprove the existence of God. But through reason and logic our minds can understand that what ever existed before the Big Bang must be eternal. Meaning it had no beginning. This source is the first and only mover of the universe. Once you say that this source had a beginning you then bring this source into time. The universe is moving (expanding), therefore there was a FIRST mover. Couple this with the absolute mathematical perfection of creation and intelligent design, and once again reason and logic speaks of intelligent creation. It is therefore highly probable that this source outside of time, with no beginning, had intelligence as part of its makeup. In my humble opinion we can debate who God is, what God is or why He does or does not do certain actions. But it’s very difficult to argue against intelligent design. After all is it not through intelligence we are communicating via this forum? Even the very process of evolution has intelligence programmed into it. The mathematical probabilities just for life to exist in a single cell never mind the design of human beings, is virtually impossible. Think of it this way, if you took a scrabble board filled with words covering most of the board to the top of the empire state building and threw it off enough times eventually it would land in the same sequence of words as when you tossed it over. This is mathematically possible as there is no end to the number system, but virtually impossible. So I leave you with this though: There is enough evidence in creation and the universe for those of us who seek God to find Him. On the flip side of this coin there is every so slightly the lack of evidence for those who do not seek that they will not find. It all boils down to free will. Seek and ye shall find.

    December 30, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • Dog Doc

      Gary,
      Was very interested in how you described creation. Well thought out response. I agree that life is pretty amazing and complicated as I see it every day. Have to think that this can't have been from chance alone. I am a scientist by trade but a believer by faith. I just wanted to say I liked your response about free will. We will never know all the answers until we are gone. We can only hope that common good and sense of mind will win in the end. That is the prayer I have for my children.
      Happy New Year all.

      December 30, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • crixus79

      Thought provoking – I'm right onboard.

      December 30, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
  5. crixus79

    May the souls of those beautiful innocent children rest in peace in eternal bliss with their creator.

    December 30, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • steve klingensmith

      the one that chose to let them die terrified and painfully? no thank you

      December 30, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  6. crixus79

    All things that happen good or bad we meant to happen without intervention by the creator. We choose to incarnate in these lives for this reason in order for soul development but in this ordinary realm we are not aware and our physical minds we do not fully understand the meaning of our existance. Sadly bad things will happen to good people 'til the end of time – that's just how things will always be.

    December 30, 2012 at 10:52 am |
  7. guest

    It should say where was your messiah obama

    December 30, 2012 at 10:29 am |
  8. pjr

    RickyBobby – you are so lost. It is not that you can't believe, you won't. Mr. Webb you are included in this as well. Leif you are there also. Ricky, I like your comments, but I can prove God does exist. He was seen by over 500 hundred people after His coming forth from the tomb. God formed you in your mother's womb – Psalm 139. Each one of us is "fearfully and wonderfully made." If you go to the tombs of all the other "gods" people worship and believe in these days, you will find dried up old bones. You guys/girls who say there is no God, will one day bow at His feet. So, you can believe in Him now, or you WILL believe in Him later. But later, will be too late. Those that reject Jesus, which is the greatest sin, will be eternally separated from their Creator for all eternity. And the Bible calls that Hell.

    December 30, 2012 at 9:58 am |
    • Bob

      pjr, that's not proof. It's just historical fiction. There is no verifiable proof that those people saw what they thought they saw, , nor said what they are claimed to have said. Furthermore, why is it that your all-powerful sky daddy can't produce modern evidence for his existence? 2000 year old tales are grounds for reasonable doubt, to say the least.

      Please, do the world a favor in 2013 and get over your sky fairy tales and Santa Claus too.

      December 30, 2012 at 10:02 am |
    • Bob

      And good thing your god doesn't exist, because his "hell" concept defines him as a vindictive, human rights abusing ASS HOLE.

      December 30, 2012 at 10:03 am |
    • George

      Referencing the bible as "proof" of its own claims is circular reasoning.

      December 30, 2012 at 10:05 am |
    • Garry Francis

      Bob, you are correct. The false teaching that man is eternally punished in a fiery hell would not be loving on Gods part which is one of His traits. But Hell is not a fiery place of torment. It is simply a state that man is in while waiting for judgement. To understand the bible you have to read it and use it as a whole. It takes a lot of research. You can not just take bits and pieces of it to try to prove something. The bible speaks about things in a literal sense and in a figurative sense. The fiery place of torment spoken about in the bible is not literal but symbolic. When “the living are conscious that they will die; but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all, neither do they anymore have wages, because the remembrance of them has been forgotten." This is from Ecclesiastes 9:5. Ask yourself this if the dead are not conscious of anything how can they suffer in pain? It's because they are simply in a state of sleeping just like Jesus described Lazarus' condition. Not in a fiery place of torment like many of the churches claim today.

      December 30, 2012 at 11:06 am |
  9. Emelia

    Why did WE DO THIS to OURSELVES?...

    December 30, 2012 at 9:37 am |
  10. Emelia

    Why do humans exist?

    December 30, 2012 at 9:36 am |
  11. ACooke108

    God is a creator and an observer. He is not an interferer. See the Holocaust.

    December 30, 2012 at 8:59 am |
    • RickyBobby

      "God is a creator and an observer. He is not an interferer."

      Funny how you fairy-tale lovers always arrange religion to your advantage. You people always seem to have the right answer. How can this "creator" create a complexe universe with a gazillion planets and solar systems and a planet with living things (most likely there are a lot of planets with life) BUT once he created everything, that's it, lays back and watches us kill eachother? Religion is for weak-minded people.

      December 30, 2012 at 9:25 am |
  12. A. Gabriel

    It is never a lost cause to try to assist nonbelievers with their difficulty in comprehending that there is God. So lost are they that the only answer is prayer and seeking God. . .have deep pity for these souls who feign to be smarter than the rest of us but who know absolutely nothing, nothing that matters. God matters; everything else is secondary.

    December 30, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • louis

      We non-believers are not lost, nor do we claim intellectual superiority over believers. What we do seek are rational, logical explanations to questions that have yet to be answered. Please save your pity for those who need it.

      December 30, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
  13. I M Probulos

    God was were He has always been - solely in the mind of man.
    God answers prayers, or not.
    God prevents natural disasters, or not.
    God has a plan for every one of us, or not.
    God gave us Free Will, or not (he intervenes when He feels like it)

    The quote is that, "the invisible and the non-existent look a lot alike."
    Think about it.
    There is no empirical evidence for prayer or the existence of any god or any supernatural intervention in our world. We would like there to be, but we have learned many years ago how the tides go and the tides go out and that the earth revolves around the sun.

    Jesus exorcised demons and sent them into a herd of pigs, who subsequently drowned. Perhaps we need more Christian mental health facilities based on Jesus' teachings.
    All world religions are a result of the very nature of man's evolving brain and over 40,000 years of denying the 12 Unthinkable Horrors of Human Existence:

    1) There is No Afterlife
    2) God does not answer prayers
    3) Life is chance
    4) Life is not fair
    5) There is no eternal justice
    6 God is the invention of man.
    7 A single mistake can ruin your life
    8 Man is not special
    9 There is no absolute Truth
    10 Free Will is a Myth
    11 Experts can be Wrong
    12 Romantic Love is a Myth

    Gun control, better mental health and a sober, rational assessment of the the problem of violence will help the situation. 27,000 children die, worldwide, every day. God does nothing. Prayer will do nothing.

    I. M. Probulos

    December 30, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • A. Gabriel

      Poor I M Probulis. Poor, poor soul. . .what a sorrowful soul, lost in nonbelief. Such pity I shower upon you.

      December 30, 2012 at 8:49 am |
    • Bill

      Gabriel, you should see a doctor. It is amazing how close minded you are. I suppose when you get a bad infection you think prayer will suffice, and God will heal you. But if you don't take antibiotics you can die. It's hypocrisy to pray and secretly take medicine than man produced with his rational brain using the methods of science.

      December 30, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • Gary

      I. M. Probulos – Are you 100% sure there is no God? You can't prove God does not exist no more than I can prove God does exist. If I am wrong I have lost nothing. If you are wrong you will have lost everything. It's 50/50 odds at best. Those are terrible odds when gambling with eternity. Just like God did not interfere with the free will of the Sandy Hook shooter, He will not interfere with your free will. He will give you what you want, alone with yourself for all eternity. Imagine a state of mind where you are alone with yourself with no end in sight (Eternal Solitary Confinement). No light, no music, no beauty, no love, no joy and no conversation with anyone except in your own mind. But don't worry you won't experience physical pain, the pain you will suffer will be mental. The odds of this happening are 50/50. I don't know about you but 50/50 odds would scare the Hell out of me if this just happened to be true. For your sake I hope you are right that there is no God. Because if you are wrong? Well that would be pure Hell!

      December 30, 2012 at 9:42 am |
    • Garry Francis

      Religion can be hard for many to understand. I do agree that a lot of the worlds problems today stem from religion. But that is not Gods fault. Man is imperfect, Gods word is not. The problem with many people today is they search for a religion that fits them or their life style. Not for a religion that follows Gods word closely. I have had countless conversations with people about how and why they chose the religion they follow. More often than not I hear things like "my old religion was too strict" or "I go to this church now because my friends to there." These are not vald reasons to chose a religion. But this type of faulty reasoning by is man is what got us into the mess of world we live in today. The whole theme of the bible is formed from the question Satan raised in the Garden of Eden when he lied to Eve. Does God have the right to rule Man. While that was going on the angels were watching. Because of that God has allowed man to to try to rule itself. So to answer the question about why God allows things to happen, or where was God when all this was going on. It's because to help man every time something happened would give man a false hope that we could rule ourselves. Thus proving Satan's lie true. Again Man has brought this upon himself. God did not. But God has provided a way out. He gave his son as a ransom sacrifice so we all would have a chance to live again.

      December 30, 2012 at 10:13 am |
    • Garry Francis

      Religion can be hard for many to understand. I do agree that a lot of the worlds problems today stem from religion. But that is not Gods fault. Man is imperfect, Gods word is not. The problem with many people today is they search for a religion that fits them or their life style. Not for a religion that follows Gods word closely. I have had countless conversations with people about how and why they chose the religion they follow. More often than not I hear things like "my old religion was too strict" or "I go to this church now because my friends to there." These are not vald reasons to chose a religion. But this type of faulty reasoning by is man is what got us into the mess of world we live in today. The whole theme of the bible is formed from the question Satan raised in the Garden of Eden when he lied to Eve. Does God have the right to rule Man. While that was going on the angels were watching. Because of that God has allowed man to to try to rule itself. So to answer the question about why God allows things to happen, or where was God when all this was going on. It's because to help man every time something happened would give man a false hope that we could rule ourselves. Thus proving Satan's lie true. Again Man has brought this upon himself. God did not. But God has provided a way out. He gave his son as a ransom sacrifice so we all would have a chance to live again just as God intended life to be in the 1st place.

      December 30, 2012 at 10:13 am |
  14. Bernard Webb

    I suppose "Where was God?" is a little less silly than the "God is weeping" line. But only a little. The tortured explanations given for God's cruelty suggest that Occam's Razor apples here. The simplest answer that explains the entire situation is that "God" is a man-made concept with no referent in the Real World.

    December 30, 2012 at 8:25 am |
    • A. Gabriel

      Bernard is so wrong. God simply is. Upon our deaths, the greatest surprise awaits us and pain will be no more. Nothing here on earth will matter any more. A whole new life awaits us. My pity runs so deep for those who do not believe, for those who think life on earth is it; it is not. And, no matter what happens here, God is present. Fact, not fiction. My heart goes out to non-believers and all who are not Christian. Thus do they carry such grudges as Bernard.

      December 30, 2012 at 8:45 am |
  15. Russ

    "Pray for the families of the vicitms" – that's always been one of my favorites.

    December 30, 2012 at 8:06 am |
  16. R J Vincent

    Nowhere, since he doesn't exist. "God" is merely a construct that we came up with long ago to explain things we didn't understand. Now we do and "god", or the lack thereof, is merely used as an excuse for bad behavior and horrible deeds. The person who shot up the Sandy Hook school was a sick, twisted individual who had a demented need for attention. Unfortunately, he got that attention at the expense of innocent children.

    December 30, 2012 at 7:57 am |
  17. Emelia

    Why don't you evolve, boys? Why don't you change tires anymore

    December 30, 2012 at 4:07 am |
    • Leif

      God is driving a used Buick, and he is looking to trade it in for a Mercedes.

      December 30, 2012 at 7:35 am |
  18. Emelia

    EVOLUTION DOES NOT EXIST

    December 30, 2012 at 4:03 am |
    • rick

      where did you get your tailbone?

      December 30, 2012 at 7:22 am |
    • Leif

      YOU ARE LIVING PROOF.

      December 30, 2012 at 7:32 am |
  19. Emelia

    Evolution doesn't matter... doesn't matter at all... tell your kids they can evolve into whatever they want to be... evolution totally matters ( except it DOESN'T) ever... at all......

    December 30, 2012 at 4:00 am |
  20. Emelia

    Why did humans do this to us?

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

      Because we are animals.

      December 30, 2012 at 7:33 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.