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. Send Barnes

    It's no more meaningful than the tsunami killing 200,000 or a meteor crashing into the earth. It's all just random coincidence.

    December 15, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
  2. Free2Choose

    We each have our agency, God respects this, that he will not interfer with it. It's up to us to control our will to line up with God's will. He is a loving person. It is not God's will that this event happen. It was a horrific act, and I'm sure there were angels attending to those young children in their time of suffering. Satan with his followers try to convince people in many ways:one way that is even evident on this board, is that there is no God, how can there be, if he allows for this suffering to happen, he isn't a loving person. How will this experience change you?

    December 15, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • No

      Insane people do not have free will. Victims do not have free will.

      December 15, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • apostate

      If god knows everything and has a "plan" then this shooting was in his plan and your god is a sick monster. "I create evil" Isaiah 45:7. Luckily this d-bag doesn't exist.

      December 15, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • ProudAthiest

      This experience won't change me one bit except that I may be more assertive in my opposition to guns possession by civilians. I pity those of who go to religion for comfort after these tragedies. Religion is the ultimate form of denial. No real closure could possibly be obtained until you realize that god doesn't exist and that these events occur for reasons that have nothing to do with the divine. Tragedy is an inherent part of life and the best way to cope is to put 100% effort into preventing similar tragedies from occurring. Candlelight vigils and flowers seem helpful but they are symbolic and only fools believe that symbolism actually has real consequences. God and Satan have nothing to do with events like these. They are part of humanity and all we can do is try to protect ourselves the best we can. At least we are not one of the millions who have no home or food or water. Tragedy is all around us all the time.

      December 15, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  3. Send Barnes

    Everyone is getting all agitated about this stupid shooting. It's all meaningless folks!

    December 15, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • Elizabeth

      No, I am angry because this woman had a disturbed son and she exposed him to guns and had guns in the house and available to him to kill innocents. Also, when he went in to buy a gun and did not want to wait 3 days, the authorities should have been notified.

      December 15, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • Send Barnes

      so what? none of that means anything now

      December 15, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • ProudAthiest

      I know especially since this was the work of a madman. There will always be some lunatic that will cause a burst of violence (if you call 26 deaths a "burst" when there are millions dying of disease and poverty). I obviously don't like what happened but I don't think it really is all that important in the grand scheme of things.

      December 15, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  4. pootano

    the bible says God is not in control down here we are. so what does this have to do with Him? but i am sure He would and will love to help anyone affected by the tragedy.

    December 15, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • SixDegrees

      He sure as h ell didn't love any of those children enough to save them. Here's a much simpler explanation that gets to exactly the same place you're standing: there is no god. Plain and simple.

      December 15, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • God

      I'm all-powerful, but I'm not in control. Unless it is something good. Then I did it.

      December 15, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
  5. Wren

    Everyone always asks where was God during tragedies. You think God maybe asking where were we when there wasn't a tragedy? So many people treat God like they do family and friends they only call him and ask about him when they are drowning in a pond full of dung.

    December 15, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • SnYGuY

      Look at earths history, when have tragedies not been occurring?

      December 15, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • SixDegrees

      A typical christian – using their religion as a shield to spew bile and venom and indulge in their own petty cruelty to scorn others.

      F uck you and your miserable existence.

      December 15, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • apostate

      So your god is simply an egotistical d-bag that needs everyone to think of him every moment? Funny you should talk about drowning considering your god drowning the whole world and all.

      December 15, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
  6. John McAndrew

    I love both halves of this paragraph:

    "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 are lots of ways we humans try to make sense of the world. Pain and horror like this illumines them all to be the cheap parlor tricks they are. There is no explaining or making sense of things like this. But pain and suffering are what all of us have in common. It has great potential to bind us together, because at those times we have a visceral, preverbal, ineffable need for each other's presence and contact.

    The problem of evil is unresolvable for theists. But their job, like ours, is not to explain everything to everyone's satisfaction: it's to show up for those in pain. Simple.

    December 15, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  7. YouMayDisagree

    Can't you see? God is in the Middle East. And apparently he is very busy.

    December 15, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
  8. Professor Ophenwong

    Roberto, What do you mean by 'Your God' He's your God to, even if you don't acknowledge him. Why in all of the universe, did God create man on the same planet he cast the devil and his angels to. He did it so that us, the fallen ones, would have a chance of redemption by learning to know God, which is something we did not know before. The word of God says we are all inherently evil, which is why religion has these rules of believing in a Savior, forgiveness, repentance, ect. instead of just simply being good or bad. Its Why we kill each other and God only watches. We need to have free will without interference, to see who is redeemable. That's my shred of reasoning, and I do know what I'm talking about. Also comparing God to Santa, the Easter bunny or Zeus, doesn't work. Anyone who believes in Christ dose not believe in them. Science is mostly theory, and has not disproved God in any way. Einstein believed in God. Sorry for your lack of knowledge and faith.

    December 15, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • SnYGuY

      Religion is there to control people... The most important and truthful thing you stated.

      December 15, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • Atheist

      I'm not religious and I'm not inherently evil either, rather the opposite. The only people asking where is god are those that are religious, the rest of us know that this has nothing to do with god but rather the issues this kid had and depending on who you ask, his access to guns.

      December 15, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • Truly

      Jesus and Zeus have the same amount of evidence and scripture supporting them. They have the same legitimacy. Neither can be disproven, but no evidence at all proves either.

      Why are you atheist about Zeus? If he is the real god, you burn, burn, burn.

      You only presume that your god is correct. You have absolutely no reason to believe that.

      December 15, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • JWT

      Your god is yours prof, it's not my god by any definition.

      December 15, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
  9. YouMayDisagree

    Lets make sure that our own laws are correct and then let's ask where is god.

    December 15, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
  10. lionlylamb

    Sociologic confrontational mechanisms were made the doers harbinger of deathly results; though influentially masked and thusly done ills by said perpetrator who did the maniacal deeds. Guilt runs the gauntlets of socio-maniacal configurations amid all confrontations wrongly held permeations of the many who do still yet connive others for the main intent to belittle and forsake others to just laugh upon those who are felt weak and small in views of other's suggestive sights.

    God is not the one to blame for such vileness of ill deeds so done for it is mankind's sociologic bemusements that push many off the proverbial deep ends of and against and away from, sane mindedness!

    God and God’s godly beings live deeply seeded inside all mannerisms of sentient life, much like a matrix affixed and transformed. We all are ascended beings of the matrix within our bodies. We are affixed in semi translucent opulence in material matters ascendancies giving our conscientious welfares the illusions of life in a realm so suited for our own degradations austerities.

    Unable to break the bonds of material complacencies will all live out our life until we die and our deadened bodies become made ready for the pillars of cremations contentment. Live life therefore and do good and well one’s deeds for socialized conscience sakes!

    As life imparts to death, the dead who are internally and irrevocably deeded will carry their heavily leavened burdens onto the abysmal abyss that dare masticates with much tastefulness the tribunal rationed meals of the gods! We are all served up as wanting pleasures toward beneficiary wantonness of the lucid realities uncommon dire straits for life’s onward marching being never the wiser. Eat your fill of candors meaty abundances for in death one might just be eaten by the sons and daughters of God in the afterlife!

    December 15, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
  11. Louis Cyphier

    God is in hell, dining on the children he just slaughtered.

    December 15, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • JavaPlain

      Wow! But then again you do have the freedom of expression regardless how ignorant it may be.

      December 15, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  12. FAH550

    God is in the peoples minds. We believe there is a God, so there is a God. The imagination begins where knowledge ends, and I believe people should look more into Rene Descartes' Cave Method. The Universe is as we see it to be.

    December 15, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
  13. Calvin

    "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."

    I'm not asking that.

    December 15, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • Elizabeth

      God is watching over us. It was not God who turned this earth over to satan, it was man (Adam). We know God's laws and when we follow those laws, we have peace, and togetherness. When we follow satan, we have chaos. So, no it is not God who is to blame, it is man (all of us humans) who commit unholy and ungodly acts.

      December 15, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
  14. Sy

    Stop butchering millions of innocents! What do you expect? God to protect our kids when millions get murdered in the womb and no one protects them, not our president, not the governments, not the police or judges. You FOOLS and MURDERERS!!

    December 15, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • SnYGuY


      December 15, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • SixDegrees

      Wow. How christian. God got all ticked off and kill 20 young, blameless children.

      Of course, he also lets fools and tyrants like you put words in his mouth. What more proof do we need that there is no god?

      December 15, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
  15. FAH550

    God is in the peoples minds. We believe there to be a God, so there is a God. The imagination begins where knowledge ends, and I believe people should look more into Rene Descartes' Cave Method. The Universe is as we see it to be.

    December 15, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • Larry

      I though Socrates came up with the cave thing.

      December 15, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
  16. David

    The simple truth is that there is no God. Why anyone in this day and age would choose to relinquish their power of reason to any religion is beyond me. Why the existence of any God is still a question that needs to be debated baffles me. We've relegated most of the older religions to the category of mythology. Can't wait until the rest of them are classified as fairy tales as well.

    December 15, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • Wallabee Dan

      Religious people statistically have lower IQs. We need the human race to evolve a bit more intelligence before we will be rid of religion.

      December 15, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • JavaPlain

      Religious people have lower IQ? Really? When was the last time you had your IQ checked? That is the most ignorant comment I've read in a long time. Congratulations Mr Dan. You just redefined "ignorance" in the most basic way.

      December 15, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • Wallabee Dan

      Google it. It's true.

      December 15, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • Athy

      JavaPlan, Google it, and be prepared for a shock.

      December 15, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • Martha Smith


      December 15, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • Max

      Athy and Mr Dan. There's your problem, you believe whatever is written on the internet. GET A LIFE.

      December 15, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
    • Athy

      Enlighten us then, Max.

      December 15, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
  17. lionlylamb

    Pure conscience is the lacking of material essences. The grand seas of external nothingness is a spatial conservancy where galaxies and spatial nebulas singularities parlor toward a spatial consciousness of an infantile behaviorism.

    December 15, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  18. A question for Christians

    You are all saying the exact same thing, that this happened because God was taken out of schools. Thousands of you have already said the exact same thing here.

    Where are you hearing this? You are all getting it from somewhere, because it's too goofy a conclusion for that many people to jump to on their own.

    Where are you hearing this?

    December 15, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • kme

      Funny how the lack of God in classrooms in the rest of the developed world doesn't have this effect.

      December 15, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  19. Sy

    Where is God, you ask?? Maybe when you start butchering unborn children by the millions, then maybe he will be back! You fools!!

    December 15, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Psalms 137:9 137:9 Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.

      December 15, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • SixDegrees

      So your god kills 20 blameless young children to drive home the point that abortion is wrong?

      Your god is an irrational, petty, psychotic tyrant if that's its idea of reasoning.

      December 15, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • kme

      Funny how the lack of God in classrooms in the rest of the developed world doesn't have this effect.

      December 15, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
  20. Robert

    robert (with the lower cased "r," you are very ignorant on this particular subject. It doesn't require the Bible to prove that there is a god. Philosophy 101, the law of causality says that everything must have a cause, which means that the universe must have a cause. It could never have existed by itself from eternity according to science. And it requires either ignorance or a rejection of sound reasoning to believe the way you believe. The fact that the universe exists, and the fact that you and I exist, proves that there must be something that is self-existent, and the universe is not self-existent because it's only made up of inanimate matter. The only thing that can be self-existent is, by definition God. And that is why the Apostle Paul (incidentally, one of the most learned men who ever lived) wrote in the book of Romans (ch 1) that God’s glory has been revealed in the heavens… such that men are without excuse (i.e., when they claim that they didn’t know there was a god).
    But there is something that proves the existence of God even more than philosophy. It’s changed lives. In the Psalms it says, “you will find me (i.e., God) when you seek for me with all your heart.” And people who have sought for God with all their hearts have changed lives, some dramatically. There are countless people who could have done something as wicked as this gunman did yesterday, but didn’t because the found the Lord and their sadness and mourning was turned to joy knowing when they found peace and fellowship in the love of a perfect, holy and all forgiving God. There also have been countless people like you, who have gone to their graves with no hope because they were stubborn in their unbelief. And that is very sad. That is why it says in Isaiah 1, “Come let us reason, together (that’s what God says) come let us reason, together says the Lord. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow, though they be red as crimson, they shall be as wool.”

    December 15, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • Robert

      Everything MUST have a cause . . . except God. He gets a pass. He doesn't have to follow the logic that I demand everyone else follow.

      December 15, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • the AnViL

      i love it when uneducated, delusional, retarded theists toss out words like causality with virtually no understanding of the subject.

      what's even funnier is their ignorant jump from "how" to "god" in one single stupid bounding leap of idiocy.

      science never ever bends to religion – it is always always always the other way around.

      educate yourself and evolve, fool.

      December 15, 2012 at 5:27 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.