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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. Frank

    Both theists and atheists would agree that humankind is certainly not self-created, but must in fact be ultimately the product of a timeless uncreated grand-reality that precedes humankind. Where theists and atheists would disagree is on whether that grand-reality is consciously aware or not. It would not seem rational to believe that we very briefly existing self-aware human beings, capable of contemplating the entire starry creation would be superior in that way, to that which is responsible for human self-awareness, yet thought by some people to be blind, deaf, and dumb. That grand reality, whatever one conceives it to be is what most people would describe as God. We can debate all day long on whether you approve of God’s behavior or not, but evidence of God’s existence certainly seems no less rational than believing that all creation, all design, and all cosmic law & order exists absolutely for nothing, except by accident.

    March 20, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
  2. TrentMike

    Many of the priests, rabbis etc look to explain that earthquakes are acts of nature not God. However according to most major religions God created the Earth & nature. In creating this, God also created tectonic plates. This God would have known that the movement of these plates would cause earthquakes, thus causing massive damage & death.
    Should not a all powerful God had designed a planet which could prosper without these tragedy's? Based on this is God a mass murderer or just a bunging construction workman?

    March 20, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • airwx

      Neither. Your arguement, like the epicurian model, demands a semi-utopia before acceptance of belief. Think of what science says about your stipulation; if there are no volcanos, earthquakes or tsunamis it means the crust of our planet has cooled to the point that internal planetary heat will no longer keep us alive...end of the world, not utopia. Epicurious also demanded a life without any pain in his philosophy; but limited pleasure as this could cause pain. And you wonder where we get the word "curious"? It fits this arguement to a T.

      March 20, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
  3. Tyrell Jones

    Recalls this one.

    [soundcloud url="http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/9860716" params="visual=true&show_artwork=true&maxwidth=500&maxheight=750&utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=facebook&utm_content=http%3A%2F%2Fsoundcloud.com%2Fruby-friedman%2Fdearest-g-d-2011&utm_source=soundcloud" width="100%" height="400" iframe="true" /]

    March 20, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
  4. Richxx

    God does not interfere. And I'm glad he doesn't, because then I would have to ask why he doesn't interfere with the suffering of little children all over the world. A Deist view is the only one that makes sense to me. Religious of all faiths suffer in disasters just like the non-religious.

    March 20, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
  5. Djoser

    THE CREATOR IS NOT WHAT YOU. BUT MORE THAN YOU CAN IMAGINE!

    March 20, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
  6. Geezer

    Yeah forget all those people suffering. My high and mighty ideological ideas are more important than that and I MUST be heard. (sarcasm very much intended) let's think about those in far less fortunate places than ourselves for just five minutes shall we. A great many continue to suffer and the best we can muster is the old god debate? Not feeling the compassion.

    March 20, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
  7. Patricia Eriksson

    Ladies and gentlemen, here is your answer: http://www.initsimage.org/TCAIS%20Flash/WF2010_Volume_Thaler.pdf.

    March 20, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
  8. mikeaceshado

    Science and the laws of physics govern all disasters.

    March 20, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
  9. mikeacesahdo

    Science is the Master. Laws of physics govern.

    March 20, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
  10. Steve Brinkhoff

    So god is 'not in the earthquake' – stuff just happens, and god comforts rather than intervenes. That's what it says. Then why pray? People pray for god to change the laws of physics on their behalf, to "nullify the laws of nature for a single penitent, confessedly unworthy." The Bible says that if you believe, WHATEVER you ask in prayer in god's name will be given you. That if you have faith 'as a mustard seed' you can literally move mountains (that statement is not metaphor as the Happy Clapper Christians would like you to believe...) So which is it – god lets things happen, or he stops them from happening through prayer? Can't have it both ways.

    ps, Every Christian with a health insurance plan is a hypocrite.

    March 20, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
  11. countme2

    It's simply appalling when people ignore scientific proofs before them and look for stupid explanations . The earth, desipite its natural splendor, is not perfect. But it's good enough for life forms to be possible and enjoy a free trip around the sun every year. 2 words: sh#it happens.

    March 20, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  12. Cynic

    Where was God? Same place he always is: in fairy tales. When will mankind outgrow the need for imaginary friends?

    March 20, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  13. mike yavar

    I am not sure when the religious suckers will get it....there is no personal God, so the disasters have nothing to do with God(that does not exist). It is all science, physics, chemistry etc that cause disasters.

    March 20, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  14. Hiechawa

    It's all part of the plan – however, it is presumptuous to assume we actually know "the" plan. We all kind of showed up on the scene. And guess what...so did the people before us. So it will be ok. I have faith and I'm pretty certain it will be bigger than any ideals our feeble minds came up with to date. And that's ok.

    March 20, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
  15. RJ

    I believe that Baal worship is alive and flourishing in the world today. Nearly every faith is steeped in Baal's traditions and dogma. There are very few that are "true Christians". Really Christ-like. Truly repulsed by the thinking, reasoning and actions of those who are motivated by greed and self love.

    March 20, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
  16. lois

    The fact that you say God don't exist prove that the bible predicted you would day that you, fools.

    Ps 14:1 The fool hath sad in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.

    Ps 53:1 The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity: there is non that doeth good

    This verse also said that fools despise wisdom. The Simple Man despises wisdom and
    instruction. David said, The fool hath said in his heart there is no God.
    As we look around, we see the stars, the moon, the sun. We know we are held to the ground
    by gravity, and there are many things that man cannot understand. So when a man says There is
    no God, certainly God calls him a fool. It is a very frightful thought that God should think of you
    in that context.

    March 20, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • Iris

      There are lots of good people who don't believe and are not "corrupt". They lead moral lives for the sake of being good instead out of fear of going to hell or motivation to go to heaven. These lines were written by humans wanting to shame people into believing utter nonsense.

      March 20, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • no gods

      Matthew 5:22 -But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.

      March 20, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
  17. alltdl

    In an educated society I am amazed that people still believe in god.

    Open your eyes people.

    March 20, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • Max Pargament

      our society really is THAT educated

      March 20, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • TheTruth72

      The reason there is so much wickedness and disaster and crises around the world today is BECAUSE people are uneducated about God.

      March 20, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • James

      @TheTruth72

      Actually...it's because there was a fault in the tectonic plates which caused the earthquake.

      March 20, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  18. Watnen

    It's funny how people search long and deep for a meaning to everything. You want to know why this earthquake and tsunami happened? Talk to a scientist and ask him/her about tectonic plates.

    March 20, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • TheTruth72

      Who made those Tectonic plates?

      March 20, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • Watnen

      Truth72, LOL good one!

      March 20, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • Jez

      Agreed.

      March 20, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • k2

      Complete nonsence. It wasnt a "who" that made tectonic plates it was a "what" and that what definitley wasn't god..

      March 20, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
  19. Christ follower

    "But realize this, in the last days difficult times will come..."- the Bible

    March 20, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • slrtx

      Difficult times "will come?" At what point in history has there never been "difficult times?"

      March 20, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • Steven Spray

      "When your older, you don't regret the stuff you did. You regret the stuff you didn't." – Marvel Comics

      March 20, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • ericsfamilytree

      There has never NOT been hard times on earth. That scripture could be appropriate for almost any time period on earth.

      March 20, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
  20. Natarajan Ganesan

    Am I missing something here.. I cannot see any message from the Bhagavad Gita, or Upanishads or the Vedas. Dont get me wrong... but the article, I guess, intends to represent the viewpoints from experts of all major religions wanting to provides words of comfort and inspiration to all its readers. It does not befit CNN doing such glaring ommisions.

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

      I understand, but it is just a sampling of what people from other religions say. There are so many religions, it would be difficult to get a sampling of all. I don't see a sample of a faith I used to be affiliated with and I wouldn't have been upset if I were still affiliated. Stuff happens. I do know that Hinduism is a part of a lot of people's lives, but who knows what caused the "omission". It could be that someone who could have said something regarding Bhagavad Gita didn't respond. Who knows. I'm not a part of any religion now and I still try to see the wisdom in religions I am not a part of.

      March 20, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • jazz

      thats because MAN of one sort or another caused this....GOD did not.

      March 20, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • Alberto

      You could have used your post to offer those views neglected above.

      March 20, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • Natarajan Ganesan

      This is a statement in the begining of the article, "...The CNN Belief Blog asked some prominent voices with different views on religion...", and I have to believe the CNN could not take the pain of interviewing one of those many 'prominent voices' representing the Hindu religion? They are just available at the drop of a hat. Is it just one of the 'many' religions that cannot be all mentioned here?

      One one hand, popular press in the western world doesn't hesistate to use the cliched phrase "Hindu dominated India" and 'Second largest populated country'. On the other hand I have to listen to this? Seriously! Am I missing something here?

      Yes! I could go ahead and post something in this blog that has been neglected. But all of it would go in the 'discussion' column and not the main body of the article. I am not a 'prominent voice'.

      March 20, 2011 at 4:43 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.