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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. Reality

    Rabbi Kushner appears to have forgotten what is in the New Torah for Modern Minds, a book he co-edited where the contributors to the book express significant doubt that Moses even existed.

    From his commentary above:

    "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."

    From:

    : http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482

    "New Torah For Modern Minds

    Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

    Such startling propositions – the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years – have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity – until now.

    The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine doc-ument.

    "When I grew up in Brooklyn, congregants were not sophisticated about anything," said Rabbi Harold Kushner, the author of "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" and a co-editor of the new book. "Today, they are very sophisticated and well read about psychology, literature and history, but they are locked in a childish version of the Bible."

    March 20, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
  2. Jim1151

    As Carl Sagan stated, It's far better to understand the universe as it truly is than to persist in delusion however satisfying or reassuring. The universe is indifferent to us. When is the rest of the 80% of our species going to begin using their reasoning to realize it's not about us. Darwin proved that evolution didn't need an intelligent designer. We even use the wrong language. The "ascent" of man. Arrogant and egocentric, delusional thinking, all for the wish of that great reward, life after death. Here's a good first primer for believers, I place to begin your rational thinking. Explanations that explain everything, explain nothing! Extraordinary claims require ordinary evidence.

    March 20, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
  3. baumer

    I know i won't be able to convince any atheists out there, but i think most of the posts by Christian believers like myself have forgotten to mention that we live in a fallen world. Once sin entered the world, things changed drastically...so following, natural calamities, destruction and evil pervade the world. The Bible explicitly states that all will face hardships believers and non believers alike. It is up to us how to deal with them. In the end, there will be redemption for those who in their free will choose the gift of salvation offered by Christ. P.S. please don't believe the nut jobs who claim the world will end in May...."no man knows the day or the hour" God bless all.

    March 20, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  4. Scott

    There is no God. There is only god. There are no facts, just opinions. Nobody's right – everybody's wrong. Here's my assessment of what really happened: The plates moved people died. If you assume "God" created the quake; how do you explain the fact that America caused 5 to 20 times more death and destruction than "God" did? Well, I guess if we're "created" in his image you've got an argument. Frankly, earth is just a giant inter-galactic stem cell research [social] experiment left to its own devices. There will be a second coming – in a spaceship from the planet Zorgo.

    March 20, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
  5. adrifter

    I love this Faith Blog on CNN. It's like a corner for the 'special' children in elementary school. You know, I can read it and try to figure out how these children think and how they view the world in their own special ways. It's fascinating.

    March 20, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
  6. Johny Hobart

    hei guys the facebook is shutting down !!! verify your account here http://goo.gl/gXWU4

    March 20, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
  7. bill

    Job explains who does the testing and who allows the parameters of each test. Nothing that I can't bear.
    Now back to some delicious hash.

    March 20, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
  8. VK

    God does not exist. Religion is the biggest scam ever perpetrated. Period!

    March 20, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
  9. Bob Bales

    Sam Harris left out a fourth possibility: the one that Jews and Christians actually believe. At the start, God gave man the choice to do things His way or the devil's way. Some disasters are the result of human actions, for instance, building a nuclear plant in a place and in a manner that it could be damaged by a tsunami. (I'm not saying than the designers were negligent, just that what happened was the ultimate result of their actions.) Others reflect that mankind's sin had an effect on the entire earth, not just man himself. I realize that many here are not Christians or Jews. But if you are going to comment on a belief, you should understand it. Genesis 3:17 says ". . .cursed is the ground because of you." I think that by extension, that would allow for earthquakes also.

    March 20, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • Jon

      Good comment

      March 20, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
    • Jim1151

      Once again, a believer who alters, bends, shapes the explanation to defend the nonsensical belief.

      March 20, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • Justin Miyundees

      But these things you mention are anecdotal. If, to borrow from Sam Harris, I believe there's a diamond the size of a refrigerator buried in my back yard, are you bound to believe it? How much less insane would my assertion become if I say that it's okay if you don't believe it – it just brings me great comfort to believe it. Does that make it true?

      You say some god gave men free will. But what proof do you have beyond anecdotes? Nothing.

      This god of yours is extremely obtuse and a poor communicator. Why not etch on the moon the code by which we should live. You'll say, he doesn't work that way. Catch-22.

      But he does! Your anecdotes prove it – the ten commandments were etched into stone tablets. So, this god of yours is pretty cruel to leave this all up in the air. I'll anticipate your response to say – it's a test of our morality – a test that will determine whether or not we get into heaven. What heaven? The heaven you can only SAY is there. The heaven that is, after all, your very real, very consequential denial of death.

      Now, Kubler-Ross would predict anger.

      March 20, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • Matthew 5:17-20

      Bob,
      Did your "God" know that these events would occur? (ALL events, in fact.)
      Did your "God" create the "Devil"?
      Is your "God" omnipotent and omniscient?
      If you actually believe those things, then you shouldn't try to shuffle off the blame onto anyone or anything else.
      If G creates D, knowing all future events and actions of D...
      And G creates H, knowing all future events and actions of H...
      (And G also actually creates time, and events within time...)
      Then logically none of these items, actions, or events can be anything other than direct, intentional expressions of G.

      Really, Bob, at least try to keep your nonsense consistent.

      March 20, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • LetsThink123

      @Bob

      Adam and eve is a myth. Please don't bring up that creation story. Since adam and eve is a creation myth, there was no original sin, and that breaks christianity.

      March 24, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  10. Seanair

    God smiles, his work to see.

    March 20, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
  11. George

    When you don't believe something exists, you can't see it even if it is all around.

    March 20, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
  12. CaptJackSparrow@FO

    In the beginning man created god.

    March 20, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • Seanair

      God created Man in his own image, and Man has fully returned the compliment. – Voltaire

      March 20, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  13. macbaldy

    If a tree falls in a forest, does it really fall if a marmot doesn't hear it before it flattens him? Did that tree fall only because of the presence of the marmot? This 9.0 earthquake and its tsunami would've happened if that island (Honshu) was uninhabited. That subduction trench and plate tectonics are oblivious to human habitation. The bane of theology is the rationalization of happenstance in the face of inevitability.

    March 20, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
  14. Mark

    there is no god to help the sick or stricken. Where was god to help victims in hurricane katrina? god, I dont even captialize it because it is not a person, its just a imaginary object to for comfort in. Where was god when my friend died as a unarmed journalist? There is no god, get with it and realize this, we are on our own and no supreme being is going to save us.

    March 20, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
  15. Be Your Own God

    Debating the existance of a god is like playing tic-tac-toe. It's a senseless game with a predictable outcome. If it makes you feel good about youtself believe all you want. But keep it away from my kids and don't think you have the rigth to push it on me. Don't think because you say you have faith that means I think you're a good person. It tells me only a little about yourself. We will never have world peoace until we lose religon.

    March 20, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
    • Sam

      When there are no Christians left on earth (or religion), there will not be a time of peace on earth. Per Revalations, the last chapter of the New Testament. I, for one, do not want to personally find out what happens to unbelievers if they are wrong about there being no God. I also do not want to live my life knowing that THIS is all there is?

      March 20, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • Alex

      Oh yes. You are quite right! We lost religion in the USSR, Cambodia, Cuba, China, and in many other places that have been so incredibly peaceful and full of equality and justice. Too bad those places are now allowing the practice of religion! No wonder they are all killing each other! It was much better when the orthodox priests were all killed in Russia and the temples destroyed in Cambodia. Man did people have peace then! In a happy land without God...yes atheism is surely of peace 🙂

      March 20, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • Cents

      Alex,
      Dictatorial regimes want their regime to be the god the people worship. That is why those that support atheism do so. It is a vehicle for their control. Atheism is not to be tarnished by its use by dictators. It stands on its own as a thinking man's view of the modern world in every major first world country except the US. The US is an outlier due to its lack of social safety net for its people unlike all other modern societies in the world. I am tired of the old dictators = atheism view and therefore it is wrong. Stop listening to religious propaganda and think about reality.

      March 20, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
  16. nanor

    it's at times like this when people forget about GOD – GOD does not want bad things to happen, like it says in the article, our GOD is a GOD OF LOVE, the DEVIL wants you to lose your faith in GOD when bad things happen. GOD WOULD NEVER HURT HIS LOVED ONES , but when you blame God for things like this, the devil wins.
    think about that.
    God Bless.

    March 20, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • Be Your Own God

      In the story of christianity god had his own son killed. He didn't really get hurt himself you know, he had someone else hurt. Why the story wouldn't have worked without someone hurt only the writters will know.

      March 20, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • Jim1151

      Of course, it's all in his plan. Some plan, huh?

      March 20, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
  17. Mike V

    Yes,

    Give credit to god for all that is good and strong about how humanity acts and deals with things, and blame humanity or the devil for all that is bad.

    How about leaving the praise, the benefit and the burden only on humanity, where it truly belongs?

    Giving the credit to god on behalf of others for their strength and courage in dealing with the disaster in their homeland is a sickening thing to do. Only the individual can give credit to god for their own actions, as silly as that credit may be.

    March 20, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
  18. Robert

    " Miracles are real, Mother Teresa was a saint(LOL) Gods eveidence is all around" All this Stupidity makes my head hurt!!

    March 20, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • Jim1151

      So you're not aware that Mother Theresa was devastated that she never heard, felt or sensed the existence of God or Jesus? This in her own words. Regardless of her prayers and actions, she was totally and completely abandoned. Not uncommon by the way, s you will also find the same outcome.

      March 20, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
    • joe

      Mother Teresa was one of the most evil people there were. She believed suffering was good for the people she was supposed to be saving, meanwhile she bought the very best medical attention for herself. Ask anyone in India where she was established if they think Mother Teresa was good.

      March 20, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  19. Justin Miyundees

    "That's some catch that Catch-22".
    "The best there is!"

    It's astounding how completely religion covers all the bases. They claim it's god's will to test us, it's god's will to punish us, it's god's will we aid one another, it's god's will we endure tragedy.

    But ask yourself: What would the world look like if there was no god? I propose it would look exactly as it does. Now without the MYTH of gods, we'd be waaaaay ahead. What stores of wisdom went up in flames at the Library of Alexandria at the hands of the faithful ? But I digress.

    Are you afraid of dying? The faithful will say "no, because I know a greater reward awaits." Since this greater reward awaits, genuine concerns in this world are discounted and the faithful hang their hats on "suffer the little children". And therein lies the rub.

    People who claim religion and science can coexist are in denial – thanks to ill-conceived notions like "non-overlapping magisteria", this idea has taken root. But the very notion is corrupt and allows for these ridiculous equivocations above (S. Harris notwithstanding).

    If the magisteria of science and religion do not overlap, why do we keep having conflict? Why do we keep running into issue after issue after issue. Christians in the U.S. are rewriting history and pushing their faith (which is nothing but a way to assuage their fear of death) on our children and we slip farther and farther behind the rest of the world. The Muslim theocrats seek to make laws against blasphemy international and they hang blasphemers and stone apostates and somehow DENY it as it happens!!

    "That's some catch that Catch-22!"

    The dynamic of all this proselytizing is pathetically weak-minded and frightful. We are timid frightened little simps and think that if we can get others to believe it, it must be true. But, the emperor HAS no clothes.

    Consider a world without a god and the earthquake and tsunami are entirely understandable and entirely tragic.

    When Mark Twain considered a question of fear of death he said "I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions of years before I was born and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it."

    Bertrand Russell said "When I am dead, I shall rot."

    These are grown up answers – that do not allude to fairy tales. Grow up already.

    My eleven year old son said "what's the sense of being afraid of death – it's still going to happen". Fairy tales only distract us and WASTE the short time we have and THAT is man's great shame. Now, since I am not afraid to die, have at me.

    March 20, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • Jim1151

      Explanations that explain everything, explain nothing. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. They have none. Yet this is all they have to defend their delusional thinking.

      March 20, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • Cents

      Well said! The emperor has only the clothes that we fearful humans put on him.

      March 20, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • Tehop

      You, sir, are awesome!

      March 21, 2011 at 12:35 am |
  20. Iamblessed38

    Jesus is there 4 the believers. And only the believers.

    March 20, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
    • Person of Faith

      Then why does the Bible say, "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us?"

      March 20, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • Rabbi Greene

      And he can have the believers.....

      One pair of hands at work is worth more then a million in prayer......

      March 20, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • Jim1151

      Guess that didn't work for Mother Theresa, huh?

      March 20, 2011 at 2:53 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.