Faith in Aurora: Seeking heavenly answers

No words. Same empty feeling in pit of my stomach as Tucson, Va. Tech, 9/11, OKC, (fill in the blank). #theatershooting #evil #prayers

That quick reaction, which I posted on Twitter this morning, was the best I could muster as I grappled with news of today’s mass shooting at an Aurora, Colo., theater. The latest official toll: 12 dead and 59 wounded.

At this point, the exhaustive media coverage remains in the early, early stages, and I have not had an opportunity to peruse much of it at all. I was pleased to see, however, that CNN’s talented Belief Blog co-editor Eric Marrapodi already has produced a relatively meaty first-day report on the faith community’s response to the tragedy.

The top of the CNN story:

The news came in to Mitch Hamilton by phone just after midnight.

Members of his church had been inside the theater when shots rang out.

Hamilton is pastor of Mississippi Avenue Baptist Church, near the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, where a gunman opened fire early Friday, killing 12 and wounding dozens more.

“We’re close, but you feel like you’re a million miles away,” Hamilton said during a break from tending to the needs of his church and planning a prayer vigil.

“Things are happening so fast,” he said.

He thinks his church members are not among the dead, but with no list of victims, no one is sure. Either way, he knows there is a gaping wound in his community.

Clergy across Aurora, the Denver area and the state are wrestling with how to respond to a senseless act of violence that has rocked their community.

Besides Hamilton, the Godbeat pro interviewed Jewish rabbis preparing for Shabbat services tonight and the leader of an evangelical chaplain response team that diverted from ministering to fire victims in Colorado Springs.

Inevitably, such tragedies raise questions of God’s role. Marrapodi backs out of the way and allows Hamilton — in his own words — to grapple with such questions:

Hamilton knows he’ll have to rip up the Sunday sermon he worked on all week. “The needs of the moment has kind of overwhelmed in so many ways.”

For him, Scripture comes to mind. He knows people will have questions and look for comfort.

“Everyone wants to go to Romans 8:28, which says, ‘God causes all things to work together for good for those who love God according to his purpose.’ But that’s the kind of verse you share in five years when people are looking back.”

“Will God do good things out of this? Yes. But that’s hard to get your arms around on a day like today,” he said.

He was thinking instead on Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the suffering of this present time is not worthy to be compared to the glory that is to be revealed to us,” he quoted without hesitation.

“There is great suffering today, but what I try to do is remind people, ‘Let’s put this into context.’ Yes, there is horrific suffering today, but it could have been worse. There were a lot of people who were injured, and praise God, there has not been more fatalities than there already has,” he said.

“To the family members who have lost, there’s not any words now, except perhaps Matthew 28, where Jesus said, ‘I am with you even to the end of the world.’ ”

“Right now, it’s the end of the world for some people, and they can’t imagine …

In the coming hours and days, more religion stories — and angles — will emerge related to Aurora’s nightmare. As you come across good and bad coverage of the faith angle, I invite you to provide links in the comments section.

In the meantime, kudos to CNN and Marrapodi for a nice piece of deadline work on the Godbeat.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Jerry

    Today’s tragedy was exceptionally horrible, but I’m hoping for some perspective based on the large number of mass shootings that occur all the time http://www.bradycampaign.org/xshare/pdf/major-shootings.pdf

    It’s obvious how the media and politicians as well as many Americans are reacting differently to this one, but I’m interested in reading about the religious perspective.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    I thought that CNN story was a great first day reaction piece.


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