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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. Ronny

    God is too busy operating his new website: christianmingle.com

    March 20, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
  2. jg

    Christians and the Bible are not Christ. Buddhists and the Sutras are not compassion. Words are only ink on paper, or pixels in the e-world, or neuron sequences and not Truth. Theological arguments or discussions are just mental gymnastics. Love is.

    March 20, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
  3. kevin

    Thank you, Sam, for providing the lone bit of worthwhile text on this page.

    March 20, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
  4. John

    God does not exist. There is literally nothing to argue about. Nothing at all. Care to prove me wrong? C'mon, give it your best shot. Religion is obsolete. Let's move on.

    March 20, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • Andrew M

      John,

      How would you propose to prove that God does not exist? I would suggest you might be just as hard pressed to meet that challenge as someone trying to prove he does. Science can not prove their is no God but the world is a testament to him. The odds that life just accidentally started are so astronomically long that it's an insignificant chance.

      Not trying to pick a fight here. I just want you to consider that people who believe in God might be right and they have every right to that belief.

      March 20, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • Cents

      Andrew M.
      Can you prove that a teapot flying around Mars doesn't exist. Well you don't have too because if something is stated as being true it is not up to someone to prove it false. It can be assumed false unless some EVIDENCE is presented to prove it is true. No one has to disprove god. It is accepted as TRUE unless someone can present evidence that it is true. We are all born not believing in god (I would not call this as being Atheist as Atheism is a conscious disbelief in god or gods) and without the man made creation of gods to explain the scary world of thousands of years ago would not have been required. God exists only in the minds of ancient humanity who needed a way to understand all the random events that occur in the world (modern people don't like random events either but unfortunately unpleasant things happen.)

      March 20, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
  5. AGuest9

    Glad to see that the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the Great Pumpkin are still alive and well.

    March 20, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
  6. im4sanity

    Interesting. I was raised Catholic and consider myself a Christian, but the explanation in this article that resonated with me the most was the one from the Muslim, especially this part: " . . . 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."

    March 20, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
  7. Jake

    Women should listen and learn quietly and submissively. I do not let women teach men or have authority over them. Let them listen quietly. For God made Adam first, and afterward he made Eve. And it was the woman, not Adam, who was deceived by Satan, and sin was the result. But women will be saved through childbearing and by continuing to live in faith, love, holiness, and modesty. (1 Timothy 2:11-15 NLT)

    We can quote the bible too.

    IF there is a God, i'm not exactly afraid of being sent to hell. Because one, i'm not someone who would believe in a God just to save my own ass from Hell, because that is belief by fear. Secondly, i think an all knowing/all loving God would appreciate the homage of reason, and deducing that an invisible all knowing omnipresent being with absolutely no evidence of its existence is unlikely to exist.

    March 20, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • Katie

      "In the Lord, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God." 1 Corinthians 11:11-12

      March 20, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
  8. chami

    It is a good questions to ask that if God created the world, why God cannot stop earth quakes. This proves that God cannot do whole alot neither he created the World. Nature has its own cycle. It is not yet known what would happen or when a disater happens. People take whatever someone leader throw at them without proper analysis. They must prepare themselves to ask for the truth rather accepting it as a truth. For example, if we ask a question ourselves who created the God? Then no answer. Believe in yourself and do good karma and attain Nirvana. That is what everyone must focus.

    March 20, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
  9. Actively Questions

    The main theme to nearly all the parts of the article is disasters are terrible and also bring out the best in us no matter what we believe. Compassion is what motivates people to send aid, money, physical labor etc. Regardless of how I feel about the effectiveness of prayer, I would still rather have people pray for positive outcomes then for negative ones. I am not sure why Sam Harris "would kill himself" over this. seems like an excessive reaction.
    “Compassion is not religious business, it is human business, it is not luxury, it is essential for our own peace and mental stability, it is essential for human survival.”
    Dalai Lama quotes (Head of the Dge-lugs-pa order of Tibetan Buddhists, 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, b.1935)

    March 20, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  10. Keith

    Science > religion.

    March 20, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • DKPL

      Jesus > All

      March 20, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
  11. Keith

    Adults need to start taking responsibility for their actions and stop blaming some fairy tale spiritual bullshlt for their problems.

    March 20, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  12. Yaweh

    Where was your god when he made the earth rumble and unleashed the tsunami, causing death and unimaginable sufferering for thousands upon thousands of innocent people. He reminds me of an evil little psychopath who gets his thrills by squeezing little bugs between his fingers and pulling out the wings of houseflies. And now people want to pray to him? Face it. There is no god.

    March 20, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • NO RELIGION

      THERE ARE OVER 300,000 GODS, THAT PEOPLE PRAY TO AND NO OF THEM EXIST.

      March 20, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
    • Mr. Sniffles

      Actually, the best present estimate for the number of gods is 4,200. Make sure you pick the right one, because you go to hell if you don't. Kind of a lottery, isn't it?

      March 20, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • Katie

      I'm giong to give you the Bible in a nutshell.....pay attention.
      God placed Adam and Eve in paradise and provided for all their needs. He gave them one rule to follow.
      Adam and Eve broke the rule, inviting sin into the world and giving the devil a foothold for the rest of history.
      God showed them grace anyway by not killing them.
      The Bible says that satan is the god of this world. The image you describe fits satan perfectly. He entices us with sin and brings about our downfall. He wants to get to God by putting us, His very own creation, in hell.
      WHILE WE WERE STILL SINNERS, HE GAVE HIS LIFE TO SAVE US THROUGH JESUS CHRIST.
      Because God could no longer promise us peace on earth, He promised us peace in death for all eternity if only we would accpet Him. Just accept Him.
      God is incredible. Not through anything good that I have ever done, but because Jesus loved me enough to go to hell and back for me, to claim you and me both as His own, we have the option of being with Him in heaven after we die.
      "He reached down from on high and took hold of me, He drew me out of deep waters." 2 Samuel 22:17
      In other words, He saved my life.

      March 20, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • Harry Hippobottomus

      It figures that a nut would have a nutshell around to put their nutty thoughts in.

      March 20, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
  13. Aidan

    Agh...... What a relief! There are other intellectual, resonable people in this world that don't buy into religion..... Keep thinking!

    March 20, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • Steven

      "Think!" is an intresting qoute coming from someone who dosent "Think!" in the feelings of others, walk a mile in thier shoes and the we will talk...

      March 20, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
    • Steven

      "Think!" is an intresting qoute coming from someone who dosent "Think!" in the feelings of others, walk a mile in thier shoes and the we will talk...its not fair to impose on the belifs of others, you can find ingenius scientist who belive in religon and you can find faithful priests that belive scince is a force that shows the truth so next time "Think!" about what you are going to say before you say it.

      March 20, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
  14. John

    Uh there are no such things as fictional beings made up by human imagination. There are only natural forces at work. Humans need to grow up and take responsibility for themselves. What is needed is more science to understand nature better and how to engineer better ways to live safely.

    March 20, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
  15. Flesh of Chist Omega

    “If one were to take the bible seriously one would go mad. But to take the bible seriously, one must be already mad.” –Aleister Crowley

    March 20, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • Mother Theresa

      Your dumb. You think a quote will answer all you questions? Here is one "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

      March 20, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
  16. The Dude

    Religion is the fast food of Spirituality

    March 20, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • Kevin

      That is the best quote I've seen in a while!

      March 20, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
  17. Voice of needed sense

    There was definitely no christian god, you can tell that. You know how? The people did not loot and they did not panic. Had this been a christian country, all laws against human nature would have been discarded and chaos would have persued.

    March 20, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
  18. Injun Trouble

    There is but one sensible entry in this article, and it is Sam's. Period.

    March 20, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
  19. nick29

    Isn't it odd that of all of the disciples that followed Jesus, that only a select few were 'picked' to be in the Bible? Why not put all of the writings of the disciples such as Mary Magdalene's writings? Were those not good enough? Too incriminating?? So the Bible has hand-picked writings from only a select few mixed with some stories of the time (Old Testament's description of how the earth started is frightening similar to other stories told then). So we have a book made up of multiple points of view, hand-selected and then preached years later inconsistently from church to church. Truth, Science? Cmon people.....

    March 20, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
  20. Don

    It is amazing all the idiots here quoting phrases from various silly dogma rags. Still, hopefully they are correct and God will murder their entire families next week for something their Grandpa did.

    March 20, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
    • Steven

      the only ones who dont belive in religon are those airheaded wanna be scientist who dont know that the two are uncomparable things and that religon and science can both exist, many scientist today belive in religons, if your atheist thats fine but dont brag that your smarter cause you dont belive in a religon, man you guys reaaly have no respect for the people who dedicate thier lives to both either scince or religon

      March 20, 2011 at 1:43 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.