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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. Kami Lian

    Everything is under destiny. If you can look closely, you can see the chain of cause and effect that leads to all events.

    December 15, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
    • Shed no tears

      Indeed. All is determined. Everything that is possible happens. Everything that does not happen is not possible. Events cannot be separated.

      December 15, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
  2. rkats1

    Does God Care?

    ON THE morning of November 1, 1755, the city of Lisbon, Portugal, was rocked by an earthquake. A tsunami and fires followed, destroying much of the city and killing thousands.

    Following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, an editorial in Canada’s National Post newspaper stated: “All great tragedies test humanity’s faith in a higher power. But some, like this modern day reprise of [that great tragedy in] Lisbon, more than others.” The article concluded: “God may have abandoned Haiti.”

    As “the Almighty One,” Jehovah God has unlimited power, including the ability to end suffering. (Psalm 91:1) Furthermore, we can be sure that he cares. Why?
    What Do We Know About God?

    God feels compassion for humans who suffer. When the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt and mistreated by their captors, God told Moses: “Unquestionably I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and I have heard their outcry as a result of those who drive them to work; because I well know the pains they suffer.” (Exodus 3:7) What does this indicate? That God does not look upon human suffering with indifference. On the contrary, centuries later the prophet Isaiah wrote regarding the Israelites: “During all their distress it was distressing to him.”—Isaiah 63:9.

    “All his ways are justice.” (Deuteronomy 32:4) God is fair and impartial in everything he does. “He will guard the very way of his loyal ones,” but he will also “repay tribulation to those who make tribulation” for the righteous. (Proverbs 2:8; 2 Thessalonians 1:6, 7) Impartially, “he does not take the side of rulers nor favor the rich over the poor, for he created everyone.” (Job 34:19, Today’s English Version) God also knows the best way to heal mankind’s suffering. By contrast, human solutions can be compared to putting a bandage on a gunshot wound. While the bandage might mask the problem, it does little to address the underlying issue and even less to end the suffering of the victim.

    Would a doctor use a simple bandage to treat a bleeding gunshot wound?

    God is “merciful and gracious . . . and abundant in loving-kindness.” (Exodus 34:6) The word “mercy,” as used in the Bible, conveys the warm sympathy and pity that move one person to help another. The root of the Hebrew word translated “gracious” is defined as “a heartfelt response by someone who has something to give to one who has a need.” According to the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, the word translated “loving-kindness” includes “intervention on behalf of someone suffering misfortune or distress.” Jehovah God not only feels hurt when a human suffers but is moved by his mercy, graciousness, and loving-kindness to offer help. Thus, we can be confident that he will end suffering.

    The previous article identified three factors that contribute to much of human suffering today, none of which can be attributed to God. Let us now consider what is behind those factors.

    Personal Choice

    Adam was originally ruled by God. However, when offered the choice, he decided to reject divine rulership and test the consequences of independence from God. He disregarded Jehovah’s warning recorded at Genesis 2:17: “You will positively die.” Failure to submit to God’s perfect rule resulted in sin and imperfection. “Through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin,” explains the Bible, “and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned.” (Romans 5:12) But God will remove the effects of sin.

    Random Events

    As noted above, the first man, Adam, rejected divine guidance—the very guidance needed to keep humans safe—even from natural disasters. His decision might be compared to a patient who rejects the care of a skilled and experienced physician. If the patient is unaware of dangers and potential health complications that are known to the doctor, he may suffer for his willful ignorance. Similarly, it is man’s mismanagement of the earth—including unsafe building practices and ignorance concerning the earth’s natural forces—that is often at the root of natural disasters. However, God will not allow this situation to continue indefinitely.

    “The Ruler of This World”

    Why did God allow Satan to rule the world after his rebellion? According to one source, “new regimes of any kind have a brief initial period when they can blame problems on the previous government.” If Jehovah had prematurely overthrown “the ruler of this world,” Satan could have blamed his inadequacies on the previous Ruler, God. (John 12:31) However, allowing time to pass for Satan to fully express his authority over the world has proved his failure as a ruler. Nevertheless, the question remains, How can we be sure that suffering will end?
    How can we be sure that suffering will end? >>>>>
    “[God] will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.”—Revelation 21:4.

    December 15, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
    • Thanks goodness...

      Santa 12:25 – I shall visiteth half a fortnight beforeth the New Year, when I shall shimmieth down your chimney and delivereth presents unto your offspring.

      December 15, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
    • Bet

      Yadda yadda yadda.

      December 15, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Your point? Would you like me to quote from Lord of the Rings? The Hobbit, perhaps?

      December 15, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
    • There is no god

      None of that happened. This is the real world. If you want to argue abstract ideas in fiction, fine, but it's just mental masturbation.

      December 15, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
    • Karine

      Well said brother.

      December 15, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
    • I believe in God

      Wow very nicely put, im really thankful you put it that way and you did it very nicely. On the last part about why satan was allowed rulership of the world, I dont concur that he is the ruler of the world. i dont even think the question is if satan rules at all or if God rules. We know God rules above satan and he has no jurisdiction on anything God says so we know he is not the big man in charge. Satan controlls things but to a point, and like you said God could take out satan in a second. He could have zapped him back in Heaven right when he first showed signs of rebellion but then the universe would worship God out of fear and not of love. He lets satan do all the things he does and He lets sin take its course so the whole universe can see sin for what it really is and believe without a doubt that God was right. Only then can God deal with sin at destroy it once and for all

      December 15, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
    • I believe in God

      @ rkats,

      I couldnt help but notice you use Jehovah a lot instead of God or Jesus or any other of the common names. Nothing wrong with that but just seemed unusual to me... mind if i asked you what denomination you are?

      December 15, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
  3. ione

    Tragic but, "gods will" if you are a believer.

    December 15, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
    • Bet

      Yeah, tragic but no biggie 'cause god's got a big master plan and one day you'll see what a glorious thing it is that your six year old had a bullet put through her brain by a madman, right?

      December 15, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
  4. rkats1

    Because God is not the blame. Satan and man is. Man causes much if his suffering. See Romans 13:9, Ephesians 5:3,18, Romans 5:12, Ecclesiastes 8:9 – states "... Man has dominated man to his own injury". The short answer is to resolve the issue or challenge to God's Universal Sovereignty or his Right to rule. This issue involves you and I. Our actions demonstrate we either support Satan's rebellion and rule or Jehovah God and Christ Jesus. With good reason, a parent will permit a beloved child to undergo a painful operation. God also has good reasons for temporarily permitting humans to suffer.

    December 15, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
    • John

      Man is barbaric because we evolved from animals.

      December 15, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      You are delusional. Seek help.

      December 15, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
    • Thanks goodness...

      The fact that you base your existence on fairy tales tells us everything we need to know about you...

      December 15, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
    • Dippy

      And it's "involves you and me," not I.

      December 15, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
  5. tim

    in a country where you can't say merry Christmas, in a country where billboards can be sprung up with "keep the merry, break the myth", in a country where cross' and memorials are being brought down due to "separation of church and state" laws, in a country where God is being forced out more and more a day at a time; we have all of a sudden turn and want to know where he was.... as if blaming god to let this happen.

    December 15, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
    • Thanks goodness...

      So... You insist that others respect your religious beliefs... But you refuse to respect theirs??

      December 15, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
    • Athy

      tim, that's a good thing. Live with it.

      December 15, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
  6. Childlike Oneness

    And tell that retarded Canadian to pour moose balls up his grizzle ring!

    December 15, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
  7. was blind, but now I see

    Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field:

    But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.

    But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.

    So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?

    He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?

    But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.

    Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.

    —Matthew 13:24-30, Holy Bible: King James Version

    The word translated "tares" in the King James Version is ζιζάνια (zizania), plural of ζιζάνιον (zizanion). This word is thought to mean darnel (Lolium temulentum),[2][3] a ryegrass which looks much like wheat in its early stages of growth.[4] Roman law prohibited sowing darnel among the wheat of an enemy,[4][5] suggesting that the scenario presented here is realistic.[6]

    A similar metaphor is wheat and chaff, replacing (growing) tares by (waste) chaff, and in other places in the Bible "wicked ones" are likened to chaff.

    December 15, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
    • You were blind, but now you . . . are still blind

      Well that was totally senseless. Thanks for sharing.

      December 15, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
    • Bet

      More meaningless blather.

      December 15, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
  8. John

    If there was a god stuff like this wouldn't happen but there is no god and man evolved from animals.

    December 15, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
  9. George

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxkQNP2NkCk

    Richard Dawkins doesn't know what the hell he is talking about. Always a classic!

    December 15, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
    • Anon

      Educated yourself about the Eddington concession.
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=24vWUeMnXBg

      December 15, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
    • George

      @Anon. LMAO. Even after listening to all parts, all Dawkins does is further validate Ben Steins' clip. He goes from believing in no God to entertaining the idea of intelligent design (as long as it's not the dreaded 'Christian God' Oh no!!!). So sad...so sad.

      Got any more videos? Lol.

      December 15, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
  10. palusko996769

    If removing God from schools is the reason for this then I suppose largely atheist countries like i.e. Czech Republic should have mass murderer in schools every day. But for some reason they don't...

    December 15, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
  11. Childlike Oneness

    This is a boring website for boring, pathetic losers. All cranks. All pseudo-whatevers. All without any real meaning in life. I've had enough of this. Worse, and more stupid than Facebook

    December 15, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
    • Thanks goodness...

      And what exactly is the meaning in YOUR life??

      December 15, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
    • Mirror Mirror

      You post for page after page afterr page, then say this blog is for pathetic losers.

      Well, you admit what you are.

      December 15, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
  12. ellen

    Umm...that scripture quoted by President Obama is not in the book of Psalms. It's in Isaiah.

    December 15, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
  13. George

    God gave Christopher Hitchens cancer.

    December 15, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • Childlike Oneness

      No. Poor choices gave CH cancer.

      December 15, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • Please

      Poor choices made oneness stupid.

      December 15, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
  14. Childlike Oneness

    Materialism and scientism have failed humanity miserably. They are worse than fundamentalism. No, make that, they are fundamentalist!

    December 15, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Scientism??? Really? Could you define that, please?

      December 15, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • Childlike Oneness

      look it up yourself. I take it you have a computer, no?

      December 15, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • Thanks goodness...

      What you're saying is that facts have destroyed humanity... It's too bad you're not able to function in the real world, but don't inflict your mental disorder on others... We function just fine in reality.

      December 15, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • God

      I really blew it with this one. Should have done a miscarriage.

      December 15, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      see my comment below re: muddy words.

      December 15, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
  15. max183

    You Americans – the GUN is your God. Look at Canada – we live a good life without a love affair with the gun. You spout off about your rights, the right to have all these bloody weapons – what about the rights of 6-8 year olds – don't they have a right to live? You all make me sick.. YOU should ALL be ashamed – you brought this on yourselves by being blinded by the almighty – GUN.

    December 15, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
    • Childlike Oneness

      So angry? Life is too short to go through it a bitter old Cannuck.

      December 15, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      @ Child – Canuck – one "n". Dumba-ss.

      December 15, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • Childlike Oneness

      Keep fingering your daughter, you sick perv.

      December 15, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
    • Bet

      I just love it that Childish One scolded one person for sounding too angry and told another person to go finger his daughter in the same post!

      December 15, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
    • ....

      @ child... its because life is too short that you have to live carefully, your so self centered and focused on having "fun" that you fail to see the consequences of what your actions do... Driking and doing drugs and all that "fun" stuff may be fun for now but its not fun anymore once you get lung cancer and all sorts of medical problems you wouldnt get from not being retarded and doing just about everything unhealthy a person could do... You only live once, so dont screw it up

      December 15, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
  16. Childlike Oneness

    The world is exploding with love and grace. If you're missing it, then you're really missing IT.

    December 15, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Your pseudo-intellectual babble grows tiresome. Muddy words denotes muddy thinking, any you have been spewing some very muddy words here, to hide the fact that you have nothing coherent to say.

      December 15, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • max183

      Well, life was certainly too short for those poor children and their teachers.

      December 15, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
  17. Tym

    MAN TOOK "GOD" OUT OF SCHOOLS, REMEMBER!!!

    December 15, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
    • Thanks goodness...

      Embracing fantasy and fiction is not good for children...

      December 15, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
    • max183

      God was supposed to be everywhere, perhaps he was at the gun store when all this happened. SICK.

      December 15, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • Akira

      Congrats. You're the 4000th person to bring that absolutely irrelevant point up.

      December 15, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • JWT

      505.

      December 15, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • Bet

      Why wasn't he at Oikos University then? Ten people died there, and it's a christian school. Was he too busy listening to Tim Tebow's prayers?

      December 15, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
    • Akira

      JWT:
      Maybe it just felt like 4000, LOL.

      December 15, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
    • JJ

      Since "man took god out of schools" does that mean man is more powerful...or perhaps man invinted this invisible monster? Grow a brain.

      December 15, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
    • Youcantbeserious

      By that logic your God allows slaughter of innocent children to be murdered – children who didn't 'vote' to kick God out of school (adults do that). Where was God's invisible evil-proof gun resistant barrier of loving protection during the Church shooting only a couple months ago? Your argumentation is morally reprehensible and frankly an embarrassment to any moderate religious believers.

      December 15, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
  18. How can I help?

    How can I help the hurting families? Anyone know of any organization where I can donate over this tragedy?

    December 15, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
    • Welcome to the jungle

      No one is interested in helping here – just mud slinging.Sorry

      December 15, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • Out of curiousity

      How do you expect money to help?

      December 15, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Medical bills for the survivors? No universal health care in the good old U.S. of A.

      December 15, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
  19. getaclue

    "Subtle is the Lord, but malicious He is not." – Albert Einstein

    December 15, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Naw – that was Yoda.

      December 15, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
  20. Childlike Oneness

    Only a dull mind cannot fathom anything beyond itself. Dull and self-absorbed.

    December 15, 2012 at 9:46 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.