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. Send Barnes

    NRA out of schools!

    NOW in!

    December 15, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
  2. Zutorube

    There is no god as we think there is.

    December 15, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
  3. Eden

    I have read many posts for the last hour. .My first observation is why if you are an atheist are you even reading the article? If you dont believe then why do you care? Do you think that by ranting and raving about what you call an "imagainery" God that you are going to change someones beliefs?

    December 15, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • Send Barnes

      Eden g o t o H e l l

      December 15, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
    • Eden

      It was a simple question. .Thats the best answer you have???

      December 15, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Because it's a place to debate and exchange ideas about religious belief, that's why?

      Are you afraid that your beliefs won't be able to stand up to a little bit of logic and common sense? Afraid that your magical book will be exposed as a collection of hateful, and hate-filled, babblings by Bronze age goat humpers?

      December 15, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      I answered your question with a thoughtful reply when you asked it on the last page, but you ignored it. Why?

      December 15, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
    • Eden

      First of all I didnt know it posted twice. .so i will look for the other post. .Second of all I wasnt attacking anyone just asking a simple question. Alittle defensive no? You have no religious beliefs so what is there to debate?

      December 15, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • Eden

      I did read your reply thank you. .just wondering why it bothers non believers so much? If you dont believe in God then why do you care (not just you)what is being said? I know there is alot going back and forth between non believers and believers so I dont want you to think that I an asking in a sarcastic manner because I am not. Actually let me ask this because I am curious to know the answer. .a friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer years back was scheduled for surgery. .Went in for surgery . .Prior to this she opened her Bible and opened up to scripture saying I will never leave you nor forsake you. Morning of the surgery they did another sonogram and the cancer was gone. .Nowhereto be found. .They told her to get dressed and go home. .How would you explain that?

      December 15, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
  4. Correctlycenter

    Where are the atheists? Shouldn't they exhaust all their energy helping family members of those affected? Posting finger-pointing comments at God or denying His existence is where they will be. Making vulgar and arrogant comments in response to believers. There's the difference...

    December 15, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Isn't that what you claim all the good christians do...and yet here your are

      December 15, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      And yet here you are, posting on this board instead of helping. What's that word? Oh, yeah – hypocrite.

      December 15, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
  5. Santa

    Where was God?

    God was too busy helping Republicans fight against sensible gun laws to stop the murder of children yesterday.

    God bless America!

    December 15, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
    • Send Barnes

      Amen Santa!

      December 15, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
    • Correctlycenter

      Let's ban all motor vehicles too. They kill more people each year then guns. Horse and buggies baby...

      December 15, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • Santa


      No one is talking about banning guns altogether.

      But there is no reason for any civilian to possess an assault rifle or high capacity ammo clips other than killing large amounts of people very efficiently.

      December 15, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
    • Send Barnes

      I had a horse kick me in the face once! They should all be made into glue.

      December 15, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
  6. dmch

    Where is God??? America took God out of schools and more.... God is always present. 2 chronicles 7:14

    December 15, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Which god?

      December 15, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
  7. Send Barnes

    Of course the real victory would be to get the 1st Amendment nullified. That's what we should be aiming for – no pun intended.

    December 15, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
  8. Send Barnes

    If Obama is successful in abolishing the 2nd Amendment, Nobel Prize for life, I say.

    December 15, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
  9. Vic

    Don't blame GOD for this one, He was busy in Africa giving AIDS to babies

    December 15, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
  10. getaclue

    Don't get that, there is no hope for this country

    December 15, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
  11. Send Barnes

    Any future boy lovers killed?

    December 15, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
    • Priest

      I assume you are referring to people in my line of work.

      December 15, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
  12. getaclue

    We are to blame

    December 15, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Religious nutbars? Yeah, you probably Are to blame – and if not this tragedy, there is a long and bloody history of death at the hands of religious zealots. Hey – let's burn us some witches, like the good Christians that we are!

      December 15, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
  13. getaclue

    We were warned, the kids suffered because of our national sin:

    "God rules this world. It is the duty of nations as well as men to owe their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow... and to recognize the sublime truths that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord." – Abraham Lincoln

    "It is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favors. – George Washington
    "It must be felt that there is no national security but in the nation's humble acknowledged dependence upon God and His overruling providence." – John Adams
    "God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the Gift of God? That they are not to be violated by with His wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever." – Thomas Jefferson

    "As nations cannot be rewarded or punished in the next world, so they must be in this. By an inevitable chain of causes and effects, Providence punishes national sins by national calamities." – George Mason, Father of the Bill of Rights

    December 15, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
    • The Easter Bunny

      Yes, we know.....

      We're all supposed to believe in the "God" of YOUR choice or else "God" will kill innocent children.

      You are every bit as insane as the shooter.

      December 15, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Hey, getaclue – do you take as gospel everything every politician says? Or could your teeny little mind actually consider that politicians say things to pander to those who elect them.

      December 15, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
    • right4life

      50' person, for a tall moniker you sure sound petty and small.

      December 15, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      @ right – why, thank you – that was my intent. If you prefer, I can shift verbals gears and engage you in civil discourse with regards to the existence of god. Care to take the 50 foot challenge?

      December 15, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
  14. Thinker67

    So, to solve the problem have all schools, public and private hire security guards and metal detectors at an initial cost of $3000 per metal detector (3 per school) and a trained police officer ($50K anually). Public schools get $9000 per student from government funds. Cancel the trip to the aquarium and basket weaving field day and dump a few useless bureaucrats. Why not? Because, just like $20 carbon monoxide detectors it's a damn good idea. But a mentally deficient school board, that couldn't come up with a good idea to save its life, cries "We don't have enough money..." Hey wait...don't those idiots get paid 6 figure salaries to whine.....?

    December 15, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
  15. Send Barnes

    I'm most concerned about how many blacks, girls, and illegal aliens were killed in this senseless Tea Party rampage

    December 15, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
  16. mta 722

    The mantra of the miltant atheist: "There is no God and I hate him."
    OR "I will blame all the problems of the world on a God I don't believe in."

    December 15, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      No atheists are saying that you fvcktard.

      December 15, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      What Moby said. Double on the fvcktard.

      December 15, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
    • Anon

      Yep he's gone full christard.

      December 15, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
    • mta 722

      So the shooter was a Christian then?

      December 15, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      dang, you're even more stupid than I thought

      December 15, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
    • mta 722

      I must say that I am impressed with your intelligence. Who says that Atheists have reason on their side? I'll just let them continue to speak for themselves.

      December 15, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
    • str1249

      Let's get back on the subject. The mental giant that entered the school was the guilty party of this massacre. I feel absolutely devastated for the families who lost their pride and joy. Having said that, I want to make sure I get my point across. Mental problems caused this to happen, the weapons were just the dispatch. If we first get the mentally dranged, handicapped, disabled, etc. off the streets, a vast majority of these crimes would be prevented. The states have allowed these people to walk free because "they have rights" for way too long. If you read who has committed these massacres lately, you'll see that they are all crazies of some form or another. Get them out of the gene pool, get them away from society and then all we will have to worry about are radical islamists.

      December 15, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
  17. getaclue

    Easier to blame others then turn the light on yourself

    December 15, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
  18. The Easter Bunny

    If you believe in a "God" that could have stopped this but decided not to, you have to come to terms with the fact that you're "God" is not all-good.

    If you believe in a "God" who couldn't stop this, then clearly you're "God" is not all powerful and therefore not a "God" at all.

    December 15, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
  19. getaclue

    If don't we don't see that, our forefathers words will come true

    December 15, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
  20. getaclue

    You and I are to blame for those kids as much as the shooter.

    December 15, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      You can take that sort of blame if you want, but don't you dare put it on me. I spend over twelve hours a day "laying down my life" for children in my care, and I care about what I do for them more than any other person I know. So no, I'm not to blame for "those kids."

      December 15, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
    • str1249

      The only reason I'm to blame for this is because it's against the law to shoot a retard!

      December 15, 2012 at 8:29 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.