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 Where is God in Japan?
March 20th, 2011
01:00 AM ET

Finding faith amid disaster

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN

Around the world, people are still struggling to come to terms with the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, which have left more than 8,000 dead, thousands more missing and hundreds of thousand others homeless. The threat of a nuclear crisis only adds to the uncertainty.

In times like these, many people find comfort in their faith. But disasters can also challenge long-held beliefs. The CNN Belief Blog asked some prominent voices with different views on religion how they make sense of such suffering, where they see inspiration amid destruction and how they respond to people who wonder, “How could God let this happen?”

Rabbi Harold Kushner, author whose books include “When Bad Things Happen to Good People”

Whenever a disaster like this occurs, I go back to the Bible, to the First Book of Kings. Elijah, in despair over the situation in Israel, runs to the desert, back to Mt. Sinai to find the God of the Revelation to Moses.

"And lo, the Lord God passed by. There was a mighty wind, splitting mountains and shattering rocks, but the Lord was not in the wind. There was an earthquake but the Lord was not in the earthquake."

To me, that is the key: the Lord was not in the earthquake.

Natural disasters are acts of nature, not acts of God. God cares about the well-being of good people; Nature is blind, an equal-opportunity destroyer.

Where is God in Japan today? In the courage of people to carry on their lives after the tragedy. In the resilience of those whose lives have been destroyed, families swept away, homes lost, but they resolve to rebuild their lives. In the goodness and generosity of people all over the world to reach out and help strangers who live far from them, to contribute aid, to pray for them.

How can people do such things if God were not at work in them to lend a counterweight to a natural disaster?

The Rev. Tesshu Shaku, chief priest of Nyoraiji Temple, a Jodo Shinshu (True Pure Land sect of Buddhism) temple in Ikeda City, Japan

Buddhism is called a religion with no god. So we don’t think God caused this, according to the Buddhist way of thinking. We think of the law of cause and effect, searching for a cause. It is the same approach as science. The cause of this earthquake is the friction between the North American plate and the Pacific plate.

The Japanese are more focused on relationships as opposed to faith, feeling the pain of others. I have witnessed this at the time of the Hanshin Awaji earthquake. [In 1995, the Great Hanshin earthquake on the island of Awaji killed about 6,500 people.] There were many people who came to the affected area to help and volunteer.

There is a word, “earthquake children,” for people whose perspectives were affected by the disaster. They became very active in community service or became Buddhist monks. So people will be more spiritual, feeling the pains and joys of others.

The Rev. James Martin, Jesuit priest, culture editor of America magazine and author of “The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything”

For the believer, there is no satisfactory answer for why we suffer. Each person has to come to grips with that. It’s not as if some magic answer can be found. But the idea of God suffering along with us can be very helpful.

The Christian believes that God became human and that God underwent all the things we do. Jesus on the cross cried, “My God, my God, why did you abandon me?” Christians do not have an impersonal God, but a God who understands what it means to suffer. People can relate more easily to a God who understands them.

Where is God? God is right there with the people who are grieving and sorrowful. In my own life, when I have felt great sorrow I have trusted that God is with me in this and that I’m not facing my struggles alone.

Oftentimes people become more religious in times of sorrow. They find that they are able to meet God in new ways. Why? Because when our defenses are down and we’re more vulnerable, God can break into our lives more easily. It’s not that God is closer, it’s that we’re more open.

Dr. Sayyid Syeed, national director of the Islamic Society of North America’s Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances

These sort of natural disasters become the collective responsibility of all mankind to mobilize our compassion and resources to ease the pain of the people who have suffered.

This disaster is not the result of any sins of these people; we need to be clear that there is no belief that these victims “deserved” it for any of their actions. Rather, Muslims see these kinds of tragedies as a test from God. Muslims believe that God tests those he loves, and these tragedies also serve as a reminder to the rest of us to remain grateful to God for all our blessings and cognizant that we must support those in need.

These kinds of calamities should push us in positive ways. They should strengthen our faith in God and in his goodness. We attribute the things we don’t understand to his limitless wisdom and comfort ourselves that he is with us and he loves us, so there must be some meaning in what has happened, even if it is beyond our comprehension here at this time.

We are trained by our faith that every suffering, whether big or small, brings us closer to God’s mercy and forgiveness, to the extent that the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) said, if you are walking and feel a thorn pierce your foot, you should know that even this little bit of pain brings you divine blessing and God’s forgiveness. These times of suffering give us an opportunity to demonstrate patience and faith, and therefore, become closer to God.

Every natural phenomenon challenges us as God’s trustees on this Earth, showing us that we should continue to study and explore ways of safeguarding humankind and all creatures from being subjected to this kind of devastation. It is the collective duty of all humankind to put resources in this and advance our understanding of how to respond to these disasters in a scientific way.

Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk, writer and activist who founded the Unified Buddhist Church in France, and Plum Village, a Buddhist community in exile

As we contemplate the great number of people who have died in this tragedy, we may feel very strongly that we ourselves, in some part or manner, also have died.

The pain of one part of humankind is the pain of the whole of humankind. And the human species and the planet Earth are one body. What happens to one part of the body happens to the whole body.

An event such as this reminds us of the impermanent nature of our lives. It helps us remember that what’s most important is to love each other, to be there for each other, and to treasure each moment we have that we are alive. This is the best that we can do for those who have died: We can live in such a way that they can feel they are continuing to live in us, more mindfully, more profoundly, more beautifully, tasting every minute of life available to us, for them.

Sam Harris, author of books including “The End of Faith,” and co-founder and CEO of Project Reason, dedicated to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values

Either God can do nothing to stop catastrophes like this, or he doesn’t care to, or he doesn’t exist. God is either impotent, evil, or imaginary. Take your pick, and choose wisely.

The only sense to make of tragedies like this is that terrible things can happen to perfectly innocent people. This understanding inspires compassion.

Religious faith, on the other hand, erodes compassion. Thoughts like, “this might be all part of God’s plan,” or “there are no accidents in life,” or “everyone on some level gets what he or she deserves” - these ideas are not only stupid, they are extraordinarily callous. They are nothing more than a childish refusal to connect with the suffering of other human beings. It is time to grow up and let our hearts break at moments like this.

The Rev. Franklin Graham,  president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan's Purse, an international Christian relief organization

I don’t believe God does want this to happen. I don’t think it was ever God’s intention.

We know that there are going to be storms in life. No matter what happens we need to keep our faith and trust in almighty God.  And I want the people of Japan to know that God hasn’t forgotten them,  that God does care for them and that he loves them.

We care and God cares, and we’re standing by them.

CNN's Carol Costello contributed to this report

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Belief • God • Japan

soundoff (1,886 Responses)
  1. don't clik here

    Normally I do not read article on blogs, but I wish to say that this write-up very pressured me to take a look at and do so! Your writing style has been amazed me. Thank you, very nice post.

    September 19, 2012 at 11:26 am |
  2. alexmaster

    why do people still search th bible or quran for answer? it doesn't matter if it was or not gods doing. if you have a problem solve it your self. if something trajic hapens to you pick yourself up and move on. no use in pondering about god.

    April 2, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
    • someguy

      math proof of god

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PLp236oAZa8&w=640&h=390]

      August 9, 2012 at 7:01 am |
  3. pazyfe

    God is everywhere He has always been period. God was there when we placed other gods such as money, lust, greed, pride and jealousy before Him. God was there when you refused to help your brother or sister because you were just too lazy or it took you our of your comfort zone. God is there to assist you no matter what jam you have gotten yourself into. But remember there is this thing called consequence, we are not robots, God is not a genie, there is a level of accountability. But God in His infinite grace and mercy will show you and guide you and in time you will see His will in your life. Your concept of being the best that you can be at times has nothing to do with God, so maintain your faith, live each day as if it were your last and live for Him not for yourself. Continue to live by the Golden Rule.

    April 2, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • Darin

      Faith is a BS word. If he actually created us, he gave us rationale. Why would he want us to go against that and have us follow him blindly and without question? Just askin!

      April 4, 2011 at 12:19 am |
    • someguy

      math proof of God:

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PLp236oAZa8&w=640&h=390]

      August 9, 2012 at 7:01 am |
  4. Michael

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GfWfWKMDgow&w=640&h=390]

    April 1, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • pazyfe

      You see we don't know how to love each other

      April 2, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
  5. Muneef

    Signs of end of time on earth...
    By John Miller
    According to the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, may Peace Be Upon Him, there are minor and major signs in the comings of judgment day. The minor signs are as follows:

    The disappearance of knowledge and the appearance of ignorance (Bukhari, Muslim, Ibn Majah, & Ahmad)
    Books/writing will be widespread and (religious) knowledge will be low (Ahmad)
    Adultery and fornication will be prevalent (The Prophet, peace be upon him, said that this has never happened without new diseases befalling the people, which their ancestors had not known.) (Bukhari, Muslim, Ibn Majah, & Al-Haythami)
    When fornication becomes widespread among your leaders (The Prophet, peace be upon him, said that this will happen when the people stop forbidding evil) (Ibn Majah)
    Adultery and fornication will be performed in the open
    The consumption of intoxicants will be widespread (Bukhari & Muslim)
    Women will outnumber men......eventually 50:1 (Bukhari, Muslim, & Ahmad)
    Killing, killing, killing (Bukhari, Muslim, Ibn Majah, & Ahmad)
    The nations of the earth will gather against the Muslims like hungry people going to sit down to a table full of food. This will occur when the Muslims are large in number, but "like the foam of the sea".
    People will beat others with whips like the tails of oxen (Muslim) ?The Slave Trade
    The children will be filled with rage (at-Tabarani, al-Hakim)
    Children will be foul (at-Tabarani, al-Hakim)
    Women will conspire (at-Tabarani, al-Hakim)
    Rain will be acidic or burning (at-Tabarani, al-Hakim)
    Children of fornication will become widespread or prevalent (at-Tabarani, al-Hakim)
    When a trust becomes a means of making a profit (at-Tirmidhi, Al-Haythami)
    Gains will be shared out only among the rich, with no benefit to the poor (at-Tirmidhi)
    Paying zakat becomes a burden and miserliness becomes widespread; charity is given reluctantly (at-Tirmidhi & Al-Haythami)
    Miserliness will be thrown into the hearts of people (Bukhari)
    Episodes of sudden death will become widespread (Ahmad)
    There will be people who will be brethren in public but enemies in secret (He was asked how that would come about and replied, "Because they will have ulterior motives in their mutual dealings and at the same time will fear one another.") (at-Tirmidhi)
    When a man obeys his wife and disobeys his mother; and treats his friend kindly while shunning his father (at-Tirmidhi)
    When voices are raised in the mosques (at-Tirmidhi)
    People will walk in the marketplace with their thighs exposed
    Great distances will be traversed in short spans of time
    The people of Iraq will recieve no food and no money due to oppression by the Romans (Europeans) (Muslim)
    People will hop between the clouds and the earth
    A tribulation will enter everyone�s home (Ahmad)
    The leader of a people will be the worst of them (at-Tirmidhi)
    Leaders of people will be oppressors (Al-Haythami)
    People will treat a man with respect out of fear for some evil he might do (at-Tirmidhi)
    Men will begin to wear silk (at-Tirmidhi)
    Female singers and musical instruments will become popular (at-Tirmidhi)
    When singers become common (Al-Haythami)
    People will dance late into the night
    When the last ones of the Ummah begin to curse the first ones (at-Tirmidhi)
    People will claim to follow the Qur'an but will reject hadith & sunnah (Abu Dawood)
    People will believe in the stars (Al-Haythami)
    People will reject al-Qadr (the Divine Decree of Destiny) (Al-Haythami)
    Time will pass rapidly (Bukhari, Muslim, & Ahmad)
    Good deeds will decrease (Bukhari)
    Smog will appear over cities because of the evil that they are doing
    People will be carrying on with their trade, but their will only be a few trustworthy persons
    Wealth will increase so much so that if a man were given 10,000, he would not be content with it (Ahmad & Bukhari)
    A man will pass by a grave and wish that he was in their place (Bukhari)
    Earthquakes will increase (Bukhari & Muslim)
    There will be attempts to make the deserts green
    The appearance of false messengers (30 dajjals) (Bukhari)
    Women will be naked in spite of being dressed, these women will be led astray & will lead others astray (Muslim)
    The conquest of Constantinople by the Muslims (Ahmad)
    The conquest of India by the Muslims, just prior to the return of Jesus, son of Mary (peace be upon both of them)(Ahmad, an-Nisa'i, at-Tabarani, al-Hakim)
    When people begin to compete with others in the construction of taller buildings (Bukhari)
    There will be a special greeting for the people of distinction (Ahmad)
    The Euphrates will disclose a treasure (The Prophet, peace be upon him, said that whoever is present should not take anything from it) (Bukhari & Muslim)
    Two large groups, adhering to the same religious teaching will fight each other with large numbers of casualties (Bukhari & Muslim)
    Wild animals will be able to talk to humans (Ahmad)
    A man will leave his home and his thigh or hip will tell him what is happening back at his home (Ahmad)
    Years of deceit in which the truthful person will not be believed and the liar will be believed (Ahmad)
    Bearing false witness will become widespread (Al-Haythami & Ahmad)
    When men lie with men and women lie with women (Al-Haythami)
    Trade will become so widespread that a woman will be forced to help her husband in business (Ahmad)
    A woman will enter the workforce out of love for this world (Ahmad)
    Arrogance will increase in the earth (at-Tabarani, al-Hakim)
    Family ties will be cut (Ahmad)
    There will be many women of child-bearing age who will no longer give birth.
    There will be an abundance of food, much of which has no blessing in it.
    People will refuse when offerred food.
    Men will begin to look like women and women will begin to look like men

    The Major Signs:

    Although they appear here in no particular order, it is important to point out that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said that these last, major signs will follow each other like pearls falling off of a necklace...

    Masih ad-Dajjal (The AntiChrist)
    The Mahdi
    The appearance of Masih al-�Isa (Jesus Christ), the son of Mary (peace be upon him)
    Ya�juj and Ma�juj (Gog and Magog)
    The destruction of the Ka�bah and the recovery of its treasure
    Emergence of the Beast
    The smoke
    Three major landslides (one in the East, one in the West, and one on the Arabian peninsula)
    The wind will take the souls of the believers
    The rising of the sun from the west
    The fire will drive the people to their final gathering place
    Three blasts of the trumpet (fear & terror, death, resurrection)

    March 31, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse | Reply

    April 1, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • jimtanker

      Sounds like a bunch of cr@p to me.

      April 5, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • reagan

      math proof of God :

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PLp236oAZa8&w=640&h=390]

      August 9, 2012 at 7:02 am |
    • Idris

      Hi, can you please provide reference to the below hadith, i mean the part no, or hadith number, or book number as how can i search in "Ahmad", as it is very big. I just want to confirm it.
      "A man will leave his home and his thigh or hip will tell him what is happening back at his home (Ahmad)"

      Waiting for you response.

      September 5, 2013 at 2:18 am |
  6. Muneef

    The Earthquakes (part-1)   
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Seekers-Of-Islam/message/89

    The Earthquakes (part-2)    
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Seekers-Of-Islam/message/90

    April 1, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • Muneef

      Al-Istighfaar (Seeking Forgiveness)  
      'O my 'ilãh You are my Lord, there is no 'ilãh but You. You created me, and I am your bondservant, and I will stick to my covenant and promise [of faith and sincere obedience] to You, as to my ability. I seek refuge in You from the evil of what I have done, I acknowledge, to You, your bounties upon me, and I acknowledge, to You, my sin. Thus forgive me, for none forgives sins except You. 
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Seekers-Of-Islam/message/88

      April 1, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • glass

      math proof of God

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PLp236oAZa8&w=640&h=390]

      August 9, 2012 at 7:03 am |
  7. Mary T

    God is in charge of everything on the earth.. God sends signs to peopel to say WAKE UP – THIS COULD HAPPEN TO YOU. Life is not promised. There is an after life – heaven or hell – just like the tsunami came and stole people away, before anyone could do anything, Jesus Christ calls people to be saved! Believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior, turn to Him to forgive you, and then even if a giant earthquake came and took you away, then you will be safe in the arms of Christ. but if you live this life with no tragedies, and if Christ is not your Savior and Lord, then, it doesn't matter, because all you have to look forward to is death and judgment.. But Christ is the Savior! and loves us, turn to Him!

    April 1, 2011 at 9:36 am |
    • Darin

      sounds like coercion to me!

      April 4, 2011 at 12:12 am |
    • jimtanker

      So your god isnt powerful to just let everyone already know that he exists? He cant just show up every morning and say "Hi, how ya'all doing?" Sounds pretty weak to me.

      April 5, 2011 at 10:52 am |
    • Ravindra

      Mary T

      You are saying that God says....WAKE UP...THIS COULD HAPPEN TO YOU.

      Is what happened here Good or Bad? Is God saying what happened is very bad and it could also happen to you? If so, when did he ever give that chance to the people who already died a horrible death in the earthquake and tsunami? Some of them (mainly children) may have been tortured for hours before they died a terrible death. What did they do to deserve this that my child or someone does not deserve?

      April 7, 2011 at 4:47 am |
    • iridescence

      math proof of God

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PLp236oAZa8&w=640&h=390]

      August 9, 2012 at 7:03 am |
  8. Satanic Revealation

    Learn the truth about christiantiy : http://www.exposingchristianity.com

    March 31, 2011 at 7:48 am |
    • FifthApe

      Definition of Christianity: the belief that a cosmic Jewish Zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree.

      March 31, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • TheTruth

      FifthApe, I see you've been reading the Illustrated Children's Story Bible...perhaps an upgrade to the adult version of the Bible might help give you a clearer understanding of what the Bible really says about those things...what do you think?

      March 31, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • Maeghan

      You are some of the evil in the world... may God knock down the walls around your black heart and change your wickedness.

      April 3, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • jimtanker

      @Maeghan
      May the spirit of Carl Sagan open your mind and show you the light of logic and reason.

      April 5, 2011 at 10:50 am |
    • iridescent

      math proof of God

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PLp236oAZa8&w=640&h=390]

      August 9, 2012 at 7:04 am |
    • iridescent

      this

      links that explain the math proof of God concept:

      http://www.godlikeproductions.com/forum1/message1695985/pg1
      http://www.godlikeproductions.com/forum1/message1466382/pg1
      http://www.scribd.com/search?query=god+and+the+ism

      metaphysics as it applies to governance (the multiple truths concept thing, opposites merging into a super unity or higher perspective):

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Obelisktron/Outline_of_metaphysics
      http://www.scribd.com/doc/99435194/excerpt-from-metaphysics-as-it-applies-to-...

      see these in the following order and you'll get the idea

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oyH2D4-tzfM&w=640&h=390]
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gdQgoNitl1g
      disregard the first part–im not saying we are simulations in a computer, the real thing I'm suggesting is that reality itself is information, so the concept of a 'computer' doesn't mean anything. whether you are 'simulated' on a computer or you are a self justifying tautology being hosted on the tautological information bit called an atom is irrelevant if you are of the same information profile.
      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_cKj3kx4NTY&w=640&h=390]
      the observer/observed manifold (i don't agree with 'its all illusion' just using the video to make my point):
      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnvM_YAwX4I&w=640&h=390]
      then apply the concept to higher dimensional beings:
      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UnURElCzGc0&w=640&h=390]

      we can only make sense of the world according to how many clocks our processor has to extract information and make sense of it, or how complex our semantic is. For example, it would be very difficult to tell a 2 dimensional being about the 3rd dimension because he she is observing in 2d, you only gain that through the contrasts of two perspectives and then you get 'depth'...or a more complex semantic by which you use to interact with the world, hence faith. you cannot describe to a blind or color blind person what a rose looks like in color, you use metaphors. You can't really get the whole concept though from just the holographic universe video and the carl sagan video, because you could just as easily say you could perceive in higher dimensions but the world is still three dimensional.
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uIWBXSICm24 some spiritual videos:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GxYg1YNgcuA (note the opposites become one thing, metaphysics is more important than any one physical set of laws or universe, because the interplay of information will be standard across any universe due to self similarity)
      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhM2Jm0SbVs&w=640&h=390]
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vybaO0bYM0U

      August 9, 2012 at 7:05 am |
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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.