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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. OMan

    this belief blog is so useless... such nonsense, how does this have any place on CNN?? Trash, it's pure trash.

    March 20, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
  2. Question

    Whats the one thing all humans have in common,
    that the common ancestor has not?

    March 20, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
  3. vers11

    Probably has been said before.... "There's no arguing about taste".

    I like cheese. That's my taste, I love cheese.
    When I state that cheese IS good and tasty, because I love cheese, I am wrong.
    There will be arguing about taste.

    Same goes for god.

    The believer who states that god exists, is not a good believer. One doesn't "believe" in something that is real or in someone who really exists. One "knows".

    One "believes" in something that can not be proven to be there.

    If believers would accept the distinction between believing and knowing, there is no need for arguing.

    March 20, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • Al Dente

      No, there would still be an argument.

      Theists, in times gone by, did state 'I know there is a God'. As you say, that is clearly wrong- specifically due to lack of evidence.

      Saying 'I believe there is a God' is not much better. It's calling yourself an idiot rather than a liar (if you'll excuse the comparison). There is no reason to believe that there is a God. One could argue that the mass of conjecture and obviously man-made rubbish that has been produced in God's name actually argues against His existence, rather than for it.

      If there is a God, he really REALLY likes watching his subjects blunder aimlessly around in the dark for 70 years before dying.

      March 20, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
  4. Lesmoore

    One more from Jesse Ventura, ex Governor of Minnesota:

    Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers. It tells people to go out and stick their noses in other people's business.

    March 20, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
  5. airwx

    To my Christian friends: I ask you to stop, read your prior posts, and then ask yourself why the atheists are putting you down. It is because you sound just like the supposed christian who told Ghandi he wasn't welcome in a particular church because of his skin color. Stop trying to prove yourself right....even if you are; the average "atheist" in this chat is only here to annoy. I have come across a few who will engage in thoughtful discourse; most won't.
    In case you don't know it, many of these people spend an emmense amount of time posting in "Belief" blogs all over the internet. They are not here to learn, they are here to provoke. Pray for them.

    March 20, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
  6. FifthApe

    Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
    Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
    Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
    Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

    – Epicurus

    March 20, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
  7. Alex

    For those of you who are still looking for an answer, read "Conversations with God", it will help answer those questions. I hope that helps. I helped me a lot.

    March 20, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
  8. Be Your Own God

    There is no god other than ones we make up. I don't have an explaination for existance but I know that one isn't right. I'm not accepting a bad one because I don't have a good one. We need to spend our time valueing each other and not worshipping empty space.

    March 20, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
  9. paul

    Buddhism is all about Karma!

    March 20, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
  10. Brett

    What a brilliant idea God had to design a planet with floating tectonic plates.

    March 20, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
  11. booboo

    Some of the buddhists on this list offer some quite enlightening perspectives. Harris offers the damn truth, no matter how much you may think it sucks. The others offer incoherent garbage that only serves to turn the mind to mush and distract from reality. The rabbi who kicks things off has such an incoherent worldview that he contradicts himself fatally in a few short sentences. How can anyone believe that nonsense? I wish I, a total layperson, could debate that rabbi (or Graham) since I could easily dismantle every one of his arguments with the most basic amateurish language. That anyone pays any attention to these idiots would be shocking if it weren't so common.

    March 20, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
  12. oh please

    YAWN......................pink elephants rule the universe
    same evidence supports it

    March 20, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
  13. Resist710

    We don't even know the extent of our own galaxy, forget the extent of the universe. What I find funny about atheists is that they are the same as theists, but they don't realize it. A disbelief in a God requires the same amount of faith as a belief in God. We really don't know anything, and Socrates said that acknowledging that is where true wisdom lies.

    March 20, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
    • rachel

      I hope you're kidding because if you are that truly is one of the most idiotic posts I have seen in a long time.

      March 20, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • Resist710

      Do seriously care to elaborate? Or are you just going to engage in mindless and blind conjecture. Back your statement up with an actual argument.

      March 20, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • Anan

      BS. It takes zero faith to say i don't know.

      March 20, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
    • Resist710

      That's precisely what I said. Atheists don't say "We don't know", they say "We do know".

      March 20, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • booboo

      You don't know what you're talking about.

      March 20, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  14. Lesmoore

    The bible, best selling fiction book of all time.

    March 20, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
  15. Ed353

    Ok, two that really stood out here:
    1. Harold Kushner – "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."

    Possible conclusions:
    A. Nature is more powerful than God, therefore for God is NOT omnipotent and therefore not a deity. So why do we worship a non-deity?
    B. God doesn't care. Then why should I care about God?

    2. Sayyid Syeed – "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."

    – I'll pass on being one of God's lab rats

    March 20, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  16. Scott G

    For those that believe in a god – how can you say that god didn't want this to happen and was never his intention? Is your god an ignorant god that is not omniscient? Did your god design the earth using plate tectonics or not?? Was your god aware that by designing a planet with a molten magma shelf that the land masses would move and crash into one another? What kind of intelligent designer would do that? How absurd to believe in an omniscient god yet think this god would not be aware of the implications of his designs and the resulting tragedies that would occur because of it.
    What amazes me is that people actually worship such a malevolent beast. But believers do not think their beliefs through. A god that designs a planet using plate tectonics fully aware how many children's spines the earthquakes will crush, how many innocent infant's heads will be smashed, how many pregnant women will be drowned from the resulting tsunami is not a god I would want to worship nor one I would look forward to spending eternity with.

    March 20, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
    • tyler

      amazing Scott ! thank you.

      March 20, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • Spiff

      Yes! You and Sam Harris have hit the nail on the head. All religions based on the irrational belief that there is someone looking out for us need to be abandoned, and all followers need to join the 21 century.

      March 20, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • AncientLie

      Very well said Scott. Oh the credulity of the average believer.

      March 20, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • Al Dente

      I always think, if God was so wise then why didn't He make a World that's like a big bouncy castle/play park and equip all humans with padding suits? It's not like the World has to have a molten core and plates- it could just as easily be made of styrofoam, woodchip and ballpools. Why invent magma at all if you're God? Isn't it a bit dangerous, oh mighty one?

      Still waiting for an answer to that one. I keep getting God's answerphone- He's busy right now. Apparently. Straightening out the Pope, hopefully.

      March 20, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • Nick M

      That's an interesting point Scott. However let's remember the other important thing about a geologically active planet: fertile soil. If the planet was geologically dead, over time it's ability to support life would have been degraded. Would such a degradation have prevented an intelligent species from evolving to the point of being able to produce fertilizer? I don't know – you'd need a model to determine that, and since I am neither a geologist, nor a biologist, I dont have the tools to develop that model. My layman's understanding suggests it wouldn't, but I'd happily defer to someone who can provide a more accurate answer. But to say the effects of geological activity are all bad is to miss a large part of the effect of that activity.

      March 20, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
  17. LetUsReason

    Hey folks, I read Kushner's book “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” and like many other answers I heard over the years, I found it truly unsatisfactory 😦 After about 10 yrs of searching, I came across the following explanation (a few years back now) and thankfully I no longer wonder why God allows evil to occur in our world daily. If you're interested, simply search "why god permits evil" on google and the Dawn's short article clearly lays it out. Take care.

    March 20, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
  18. untestableClaims

    politics, banking and religion. what a snow-job.

    March 20, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
  19. Dennis

    Every description of god is an excuse for his absence.

    March 20, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • KennyG

      God is not absent. He created us and everything else. He does not manipulate us like puppets. He gives us the intelligence to solve problems. If things don't seem fair, don't blame God, blame ourselves for not preparing ourselves for the worse...

      March 20, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • FifthApe

      KennyG

      Hate to break it to you, but god is absent. Mainly since the god that you imagine does not exists. Just like ALL the other gods invented by humans. What makes your imaginary friend different from the others? Why is yours real and theirs not? When you understand why YOU dismiss all other gods you will understand why I dismiss YOURS.

      March 20, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
    • Al Dente

      Yeah Dennis, don't blame God for what happens in His creation, blame humans for (apparently) bringing a sinful World into being where once there was a perfect World. God, who is omnipotent, can't be expected to control EVERYTHING ffs, that would just be ridiculous. It's not like He's omnipotent or anything. We do have free will- we have to have it, because God demands that we do, on pain of death.

      So, to summarise, don't blame omnipotent God for the deaths of all these people as He's not to blame because of free will which, though He's still omnipotent, apparently trumps His omnipotence.

      Glad we've sorted that out, then.

      March 20, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
  20. jason p

    I have an idea, let's tax all the churches in America and use the money for humanitarian purposes, building schools, producing food, disaster relief. Then the religious will do something besides just pray and judge.

    March 20, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • Dennis

      Could we just start by undoing Bush's "Faith Initiative" funding first?

      March 20, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
    • KennyG

      Pretty stupid idea. That's what churches do already. And more important, they help meet the spiritual needs of all.

      March 20, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • rachel

      Good point!

      March 20, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
    • Bob Bales

      You implication, as well as Sam Harris's statement "Religious faith, on the other hand, erodes compassion" do not match with the facts. Studies show that in the US, Christians, especially evangelical Christians, give more to charity than the national average,

      March 20, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
    • jason p

      Stupid idea? They don't meet my spiritual need, how dumb of you to say meet the need of all. They only help with the "good news" that you have to believe in Jesus or burn in hell for eternity, because some woman ate an apple. They I mean Christians. Islam is worse. This nation needs to stop praying and start doing.

      March 20, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • Lisa

      Churches do not have to be forced to help others. They already do out of compassion and mercy and love. As for judging – you just judged them so maybe that is why you expect that they are judging you? Being a Christian does not mean we be perfect, it means we be believing in Jesus Christ and we attempt to show some of His attributes – love, patience, mercy, forgiveness, etc. towards others.

      March 20, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • EducatedAtheist

      And you should DO some research on how much charity work churches perform around the world. Instead of sitting around ignorantly criticizing others. You are a hypocrite, you are worse than religious people who just sit and pray.

      March 20, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • Butters Gravely

      Thats about the dumbest idea I have heard in a long time.

      March 20, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • Jason P

      I have a right to an opinion but I dont force it on the will of others. Religion wants to teach everyone to join them or go to hell. I am talking about, christians, islam, catholic etc. I do good things for people without forcing the bible or my belief in an angry, mean, unfair god. Stupid religous people love to quote and nit-pick scripture. Here are some you can explain.
      "Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ." (Ephesians 6:5 NLT)

      As you approach a town to attack it, first offer its people terms for peace. If they accept your terms and open the gates to you, then all the people inside will serve you in forced labor. But if they refuse to make peace and prepare to fight, you must attack the town. When the LORD your God hands it over to you, kill every man in the town. But you may keep for yourselves all the women, children, livestock, and other plunder. You may enjoy the spoils of your enemies that the LORD your God has given you. (Deuteronomy 20:10-14)

      “For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:18-19 RSV) Clearly the Old Testament is to be abided by until the end of human existence itself. None other then Jesus said so.

      And as for the Charity acts: I dont care who gives, or what they give, just help out other men. I dont see the need for religous organizations to get out of paying taxes. The worst thing about religion is praying, yes If something really bad happened I might say god if you are out there I need help. But I would not count on his reply and I have more faith in man. It's Men who build, feed, create, love, and work. If I had to fill out a form for health coverage and it said A: pray for me, B: take me to a hospital. I would choose the hospital. Life is way to short to waste it on a belief in a book that was written that long ago, translated, and pciked apart by men. Why would a god let that happen? So you believe in the bible except for the part about 6000 years? The simple fact that we see light from stars millions of light years away makes this belief stupid. It is also sellfish to think that we are so important to a god that created this universe and that he would have to send his son to wash away our sins as a blood sacrifice. Its called reason and thinking its not hard.

      What about slavery, women are property, and all the other horrible things that religion has done. You can make anything sound good or bad. I like people that want to do good to others because they love fellow man, not because they fear god, or need to sell there BS story. Maybe there is a god, but he is not involved in our lives and if he is all knowing then he knew that what would happen and what will happen. Which means he knew, about child abuse, starving children, disasters, aids, cancer etc. How unfair of a being that would judge us for eternity based on one life time.

      March 20, 2011 at 7:53 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.