Matt C. Abbott
Where was God in Colorado?
By Matt C. Abbott
July 26, 2012

Every time a senseless tragedy of violence and death occurs, such as what recently took place at an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater, many people ask the following — or a variation of the following — question:

"Why is it when there's a terrible incident and people's lives are taken, the survivors say, 'Thank the Lord for watching over me.' Well, what did he do to the ones who died?"

I sought a response to that question from Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life, Jimmy Akin of Catholic Answers, and Father John Trigilio. Their comments are below.

Father Frank Pavone wrote:

"He watched over them, too. He obviously permitted them to die, but He does not allow death to have the last word. His ways are not our ways, and we are called to praise Him no matter what happens."

Jimmy Akin wrote:

"God's providence covers everyone, without exception. God is thus looking out for all of us. For reasons that we often find difficult to fully understand, God allows us to experience the mystery of suffering — a mystery that he chose to voluntarily share in Himself, as God the Son died for us on the Cross.

"When, in the course of God's providence, we are allowed to avoid a particular form of suffering, we may very well thank Him and be grateful. For those who He does allow to experience the suffering, we know that He is just and merciful and can use suffering to bring about good — as He also did through the death of His Son on the Cross. We can thus entrust those who have died to His care and know that He is able to give them joys that far surpass those of this life.

"Ultimately, suffering and death come to us all, but — unlike those who do not believe in God — we may have confidence that through these ordeals we are nevertheless guided by an infinite and loving Creator who can bring good out of even the worst situations and who can give eternal meaning and purpose to our existence, both in this life and beyond."

Father John Trigilio wrote (slightly edited):

"This is an excellent question and a very common and normal one. Obviously, survivors are grateful and should be. It would be the epitome and quintessence of ingratitude to presume any one of us in the universe is indispensable. We are all contingent beings. Only God is necessary as He is Being itself.

"On the other hand, what about those who do not survive? Did the Supreme Being neglect them? Were they overlooked? Worse yet, were they somehow punished while those who survived were rewarded? No. Being an innocent victim is just that, innocent. The guilty party is the person who deliberately and knowingly committed the evil act. Our problem as human beings is that we presume everyone should be treated exactly the same. Yet, life is not fair. Some are rich, some are poor; some are sick, some are healthy. Each person has different gifts and talents. Each of us is unique. What is equal is that we share the same human nature. God is just and He is merciful. That doesn't mean, however, that we automatically deserve the same favors anyone else gets. Our pride steps in and we resent when others have gifts we do not. The nature of a gift is just that, it is not deserved, it is freely given. No one merits grace. Our holy religion does teach that God gives everyone sufficient grace to be saved, but it is only efficacious for those who accept and cooperate with it.

"When my younger brother Joe was killed by an underage drunk driver, the question that plagued me and my family, especially my parents, was why? Why did my brother die while other people survive car accidents? He was minding his own business and was not drinking and driving; the other motorist was. The other guy was from out of town. My brother died three blocks from home. Had he taken a different route, my brother would have missed the intersection completely and would have avoided the crash. Why did the other guy, who was underage, intoxicated and speeding, survive and Joe did not? Bottom line: I don't know.

"Father Benedict Groeschel, CFR, wrote a book: Arise From Darkness: What to Do When Life Doesn't Make Sense. It helped me and my family. My mom and dad particularly found great consolation in his words of wisdom. Basically, he said that faith does not give us all the answers. Faith does, however, give us the ability and strength to live with unanswered questions. In other words, our faith allows us to surrender our need to know why. Even if we knew why bad things happened to good people, why is there evil and suffering in the world, it would not change anything. The dead would still be dead and the sick would still be sick. On 9/11 ... Over 3,000 innocent victims died in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in a field in my own Pennsylvania. Why did some die and others survive that fateful day?

"Jesus is asked a similar question in the Gospel (Luke 13:1-5):
    At that time some people who were present there told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. He said to them in reply, 'Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did! Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them — do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!'
"Christ never tells why some innocent people die and why some innocent people live. Nor does He tell why some who are guilty of evil continue to live, either. The sun shines on the bad and the good; the rain falls on the just and the unjust (Mark 5:45) We as Americans find that unnerving. We expect and want equality across the board. Hence, if God spares anyone, He should spare everyone — well, at least all the good ones, that is. Let those guilty of evil perish but protect and save the innocent. That is what we presume should happen.

"Unfortunately, sin disrupted the harmony of creation. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, it was more than just a breaking of a law. Sin is turning away from God. Disobedience is disrespect. It has consequences and there are often innocent victims (as when Cain killed Abel). Saint Thomas Aquinas taught that peace is the tranquility of order. Order is proper relation of things. Sin causes disorder and that destroys peace. The ripple effect means that my selfish act will have repercussions. There is suffering because there is sin.

"What about the six million Jews horribly murdered in the Holocaust? What about the millions Stalin exterminated? What about the millions of babies butchered by abortion, day after day, year after year? Innocent lives unfairly and unjustly taken. As a philosopher and theologian, I can say that God's permissive will is different from His ordained will. He prefers everyone get to heaven, but He allows us to freely choose. Choice means we can opt for what is good and reap the benefit or we can opt for what is bad and evil and suffer the consequences. If life were only that simple. We see all too often good and innocent people suffering as if being punished, but they did no wrong. So why does God allow that to happen?

"Evil is the bad choice against what is good. Only free acts are moral acts. Unless there is a choice, there is no morality. We do not choose what is good or evil, but we do choose whether or not we ourselves are going to do good or do evil. My free will allows me to make a moral act. Mercy is the limit God places on human suffering. Sickness allows us to appreciate good health. Darkness enables us to long for the light. Death helps us cherish the value of life. Suffering is a consequence of sin, but it is not necessarily a personal punishment in each individual case.

"My brother Michael suffered from Muscular Dystrophy as a child and died at the age of 26. My parents buried three of their five children. None of them deserved this. At the same time, I was spared the disease. While one brother was plagued with MD, my other brother and my dad were infected with leukemia. My other brother was killed in a horrible auto accident while I survived two major crashes. Yes, I am very grateful my recent accident did not end in my demise. Three days in ICU was not a picnic, but seeing the long-term pain and suffering my mother has endured with spinal stenosis, diabetes, aortic stenosis and congestive heart failure makes my cross seem like toothpicks in comparison to her cross.

"I can live with never knowing why bad things happen as long as I know when they do, they are often not punishment from God so much as purgation from God. Like gold tested in fire, the Lord purifies us through suffering to make us holy. Holiness makes us eligible for heaven. Whatever physical, mental, emotional pain and misery we endure, if it is not of our own doing and we are innocent victims, we have an opportunity to imitate the Victim, the Suffering Servant, the Lamb of Sacrifice. When Jesus said to take up your cross, He did not mean take up your punishment for what you deserve; rather, He asked us to join Him on the Cross and offer our innocent suffering with His.

"There is no doubt in my mind that my brother Michael went straight to heaven. He suffered so much and for so long and yet did no wrong. He never hurt anyone. He was as innocent as a newborn babe. His cross was not one of retribution or chastisement; it was a poignant symbol of Divine Love. Only in heaven is there no more pain, no more suffering, no more death and no more disease. No tears in heaven. Here on earth, there are tears, there are sorrows and there are woes which do not have to make us bitter and angry. They can make us desire and yearn all the more for that joy which has no end.

"When Our Lord was dying on the Cross at Calvary, He suffered immense and excruciating pain. Worse than that, however, was the emotional pain of rejection and betrayal, and the absolute worst pain was the anguish Christ felt seeing His own mother suffer as she helplessly watched her only Son suffer and die. I never fully appreciated that until I saw my mom throw herself on my brother's casket. This was her second son and third child who died. Being her eldest, I was there next to her, but I was just as helpless as was Mary. There were no words which could make the pain go away. I could not bear seeing my mom cry, and it was distressing seeing her in such agony and not being able to alleviate it.

"Then I thought of how Jesus must have felt as He looked down and saw His Blessed Mother at the foot of the Cross. She was in horror and immense emotional stress and pain. Her only Son is brutally tortured, mocked, ridiculed and viciously murdered before her eyes. She can do nothing, she can say nothing. She is just there. But her presence and her silence speak volumes. I realized that when innocent people suffer, it gives an opportunity for others to be there for them. Helpless to act, and dumbfounded for words, just being there is what counts. There is solidarity in suffering, as evidenced by the poor souls in purgatory.

"Faith is not meant to give us all the answers; otherwise, it would not be faith. Faith does give us the ability and strength to live with unanswered questions. It empowers us to persevere and keep going. Evil is never conquered by more evil, Blessed Pope John Paul II said. Evil is overcome only by doing good. Innocent suffering is not the insensitivity of a heartless deity; it is a way in which we enter into the mystery of God's love for us, that we endure all things for something greater than this world can ever give."

Related links:

Priests for Life

Catholic Answers

Father John Trigilio's website

© Matt C. Abbott


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)

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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He also has an Associate in Applied Science degree in business management from Triton College. Abbott has been interviewed on HLN, MSNBC, Bill Martinez Live, WOSU Radio in Ohio, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's 2019 ‘Unsolved’ podcast about the unsolved murder of Father Alfred Kunz, Alex Shuman's 'Smoke Screen: Fake Priest' podcast, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) and WISC-TV (CBS) in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been quoted in The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and other media outlets. He’s mentioned in the 2020 Report on the Holy See's Institutional Knowledge and Decision-Making Related to Former Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick (1930 to 2017), which can be found on the Vatican's website. He can be reached at

(Note: I welcome and appreciate thoughtful feedback. Insults will be ignored. Only in very select cases will I honor a request to have a telephone conversation about a topic in my column. Email is much preferred. God bless you and please keep me in your prayers!)


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