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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. nikki ty

    What immediately struck me is that virtually EVERY comment stressed the importance of empathy in one way of another. That there was so little religious babbling and quoting. That the underlying flow of thought was that we are ONE. This surely is the intended movement of mankind. There can be no other. Only Harris's statement showed detachment and a bit of his personal agenda. Perhaps that's what atheism does.

    March 20, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • Magic

      Nikki ty,
      "Only Harris's statement showed detachment and a bit of his personal agenda. Perhaps that's what atheism does."

      Did your jaundiced eye skip over:

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

      – and –

      "It is time to grow up and let our hearts break at moments like this."

      March 20, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  2. Eddy James

    The Bible is so true and still relates to present day happenings both global and personal despite the fact that it was written thousands of years ago. The book of Matthew, chapter 24 speaks volumes about events which has been happening an still happening. The book of Romans, chapter 1, from verse 18 shed light on where humans are at variance with GOD The Creator of nature. Humans are intelligent enough to search, ask, check things out and make a decision.

    March 20, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • Mikah

      Really? If the Bible was 100% true they wouldnt be changing it every other year.

      March 20, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • Rachel

      MIKAH-Acutally MAN changes it all the time to suit his needs, he twists and perverts things....NOT GOD.God gave it, people destroy or choose to ignore.

      March 20, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
  3. Dan

    "Either God can do nothing to stop catastrophes like this, or he doesn’t care to, or he doesn’t exist."

    ~~Sam Harris

    How ironic that the CEO and Co-founder of "Project Reason" cannot see the logical fallacy called "bifurcation" in his statement. Setting up the perimeters of the argument as if there were no other possiblities demonstrates a lack of understanding of both reason and the proper use of rhetoric in debate.

    March 20, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • Nick

      Explain these other options please.

      March 20, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
  4. ericsfamilytree

    God may not create disasters, but he clearly has no desire to prevent them either.

    March 20, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  5. diana

    It's refreshing to read thoughts on faith other than Christianity. Christianity is NOT the end-all solution to the world. You have the West trying to say "God did this because they didn't believe" or "God did that because they were bad," and in reality, earthquakes happen because the earth is constantly moving. Tsunamis are a result of earthquakes. People build land communities on islands and along the coasts, of course there's going to be a consequence to nature's effects. God isn't responsible for anything. However, the survivors have shown god-like qualities in the way they act, the compassion they show, the sharing, the caring, and the bond they have with each other. This is the way we should all think. Instead of making excuses and blaming others for what happens, we should accept each other and help each other regardless of our differences.

    March 20, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  6. Wim

    Thank you for including Sam Harris.

    S*** happens. That sums it up. Now pull up your sleeves and/or donate to people in need.

    March 20, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
  7. C Boyer

    What makes blood form in the fertilized ovum to make a baby? The chromosome from the male sperm. All of us were born of that sinful/idiot process. The Lord Jesus was born without male sperm, and thus sinless (incapable of sin). He does for His "bride" what the first cowardly male did not do for his: He stepped in, takes the blame for our idiocy, and then takes the punishment for it. Having taking the punishment for all sin (includign stupdid posts on this site, hatred, etc.), and by accepting this, He will give us His spirit to live in our heart (THOUGHT PROCESS) to become more and more like Him. Understand that He was asked to do something completely contrary to His nature: that is, to literally become sin. That is why He sweat great drops of blood resisting the urge to go against His nature. I on th eother hand sometimes resist my sinful nature only to the point of general uncomfortableness. Now, 3 things will prove the "existence" of God: 1) Israel 2) Jerusalem 3) the Temple. The Lord Jesus is the God of the Jews. Salvation is from the Jews. God has not cast off his people, the Jew, whom he forechose. Watch how He protects Israel when all nations are against them.

    March 20, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
  8. z3m

    Surprise! God doesn't exist; nature does.

    March 20, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  9. Cosmos42

    I think the real question is, "Where is God at all?"

    March 20, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
  10. Matthew

    Let unbelievers maintain their stubborn hearts about the existence of God.

    Let believers acknowledge that God commands all events. Nothing happens on earth without God's express consent.

    March 20, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • John

      Why to god-believers make such claims with no evidence at all? There is zero evidence that there is a god and yet these believers make statements in the tone of certainty. It's really pretty disgusting.

      March 20, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
  11. Anoop G

    According to Hinduism God means a power that creates maintain and destroy the subject or object. Don’t consider God as a human being. Consider it as a power or source of energy. That power is every ware, within each and every human being, animals and other objects. It created the entire universe and destroyed it many times and doing the same thing again and again for creating new ones.

    March 20, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • james

      You know its funny you say that because Hindus believe if my sh#$ looks like a monkey then they will start believing its God.

      March 20, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  12. 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...therefore 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 3:14 pm |
    • Magic

      baumer,

      "we live in a fallen world. Once sin entered the world, things changed drastically."

      So, what was the dinosaurs' sin? C.ockroaches and some nasty bacteria survived, so they were saintly?

      March 20, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • edie

      So how does this explain everything that goes on around the universe and not just our planet? How does this explain that all over the galaxy and the entire universe, stars are dying and that with their death planets are destroyed and quite possibly life as well? How can the "immoral" actions of adam and eve here have any effects over objects that are millions of ligth years away. Your argument is just flawed and only proves how ignorant you are about the place where you live and its sorroundings. Earth and this solar system are so small that I cant concieve how eating an apple could possible bring chaos to the whole universe.

      March 20, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • Rachel

      AMEN !
      Don't blame God, God gave man free will and Satan free reign.

      March 20, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
  13. Anoop

    What these people think about God. Don’t consider God as a human being. Consider it as a power or source of energy. That power is every ware, within each and every human being, animals and other objects. It created the entire universe and destroyed it many times and doing the same thing again and again for creating new ones.

    March 20, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • edie

      What???

      March 20, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  14. JINKS

    "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" But who created nature to have that nature??? FAIL

    March 20, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  15. vfl

    Jesus took part of the killing of 42 children. He used two bears to do it. At the very least he was 1//3 responsible.

    March 20, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  16. Jerry

    It's astounding how much more intelligent the Buddhist argument sounds.

    No excuses because there are no reasons for any. I'm savoring every keystroke.

    March 20, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  17. Roger Bannister

    This is entirely unacceptable. We need a Better God.

    March 20, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • Dee

      You can change your underwear but you can't change The one and only God!

      March 20, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • wikiIeaks

      actually, we need to just find out the TRUTH about the only God there is. (Psalm 83:18) He is kind and loving and hates to see us suffer. And soon he will bring an end to suffering. (rev 21:3,4) Satan wants us to believe it's God doing this. Read the book of Job chapter 1

      March 20, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • Watnen

      Yeah, come on you Christians..... just make up a better God! Friggin' Hilarious Roger.

      March 20, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • Justin Miyundees

      I don't think you can get a better one than this all merciful forgiving vengeful jealous loving amorphous cafeteria style cherry picker's delight you see posted by Willy Nilly here.

      March 20, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • Justin Miyundees

      And don't forget that 1 god = 3 gods.

      It just makes sense.

      "We are two very good tailors and after many years of research we have invented an extraordinary method to weave a cloth so light and fine that it looks invisible. As a matter of fact it is invisible to anyone who is too stupid and incompetent to appreciate its quality."

      March 20, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • @Justin Myundees

      lmao!

      March 21, 2011 at 12:29 am |
  18. Jim1151

    You are speaking to your innate wish to live in servitude. You are not free. You worship a theocratic God who, brought you into the world in sin and you must accept him,. bow down to him, praise him in order to get reward, redemption and eternal life? He knows your every thought (thought crime) and will punish you if you fall short. Pretty much like living in North Korea under a theocratic dictator. At least you can escape that dictator when you die. With God, the fun just begins. Eternal damnation.

    March 20, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • wikiIeaks

      eternal life (Psalm 37:29)or eternal death (Revelation 20:14). No such thing as hellfire. Look it up. Do research.

      March 20, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • Matthew

      I'm happy that you mentioned the government of North Korea. A nephew of Kim Il-Sung escaped North Korea and wrote a book about the similarities of North Korean government and Reformed Christian churches. In fact, Kim Il-Sung appointed Kim Jung-Il as the leader of North Korea when his son wanted to adopt Martin Luther's structure of Christian churches where Jesus Christ was the head of the church. Church ministers can easily recognize similarities of their churches and North Korean government.

      You're right that human government is limited compared to the eternal government of forthcoming Jesus Christ as Lord of Lords. You can escape the North Korean government, but you cannot escape the wrath of God.

      March 20, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • LetsThink123

      @wikileaks

      The whole basis of your argument of why there is sin in the world is flawed. According to the bible, there is sin in the world because adam and eve disobeyed god and ate from the tree. But adam and eve is a creation MYTH story!! which means they never existed, this in turn means that there was no original sin and hence christianity is broken.

      March 24, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
  19. mark

    Sam Harris – How very refreshing.

    March 20, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • wikiIeaks

      even though sam harris is completely wrong he makes a good point. So many religions blame God for these incidents in one way or another. But God has not caused this. True christians know that "time and unforeseen occurance befall us all". Eccl 9:11. Satan would like us to believe that this is caused by God. However, soon God will do away with Satan and all that's evil. Rev 21:3,4

      March 20, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • Nick

      @ wikileaks....IDIOT.

      March 20, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  20. 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 2:59 pm |
    • Jim1151

      As the late 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 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! This principal can be understood at even the lowest level of human cognition.

      March 20, 2011 at 3:07 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.