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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. Nafeesah A.

    Religon is very impoptant in anytime wither it may be in a time of need of no need at all.

    March 20, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  2. Kyle

    All the things that you have not heard from the bible, including religions other than under the branch of Christianity are all the wonderful work of the Satan.

    March 20, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  3. Al

    I always ask that question and nobody ever seems to have an answer.

    March 20, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
  4. bobby

    Sam Harros said, "The only sense to make of tragedies like this is that terrible things can happen to perfectly innocent people. This understanding inspires compassion."
    And after stating ONE reason for God's letting this happen said he didn't understand why God let this happen. Sam, you just gave a reason! Are you listening to yourself?

    March 20, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • Jay

      Exactly. Like any loving parent, He tortures and murders some of His children so that the others will know compassion. There's no other way to accomplish this! It's not like He's some all-powerful being, He's just God, doing the best he can with limited resources and a shaky sense of morality.

      March 22, 2011 at 12:43 am |
  5. morris2196

    The universe appears to have a design – the planets move systematically in relation to each other, creatures on earth have a design that allows them to function, etc. Even things we take for granted are extremely complex. For example, the operation of the human eye requires that the internal geometry and trigonometry aspects of the eye have, to use an engineering phrase, "close tolerances".

    The question is who is that designer.

    Even if you believe in the “big bang” theory, and that the design we see just came together by chance, where did the material in the big bang come from?

    March 20, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • pithymcgee

      Perhaps the better question would be this: where did the energy and matter necessary to create a creator come from?

      March 20, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • kilik

      god either made himself, or he just was always around. Why can't the same be said about the universe? Why invoke another unknown step? It's ultimately intellectually dishonest to beg the question of the universe yet not apply the same crit of god.

      March 20, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  6. Evan

    Gotta love all the anti-religion comments! Don't Atheists have anything better to do than make fun of religion?

    March 20, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
  7. Jim1151

    Religion depends on unchallengeable statements, dogma and faith. Believers are only certain of the principal of uncertainty, manmade delusions including false counseling, claiming to know the mind of God and the origination and destiny of the universe. But extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Explanations that explain everything, explain nothing. This is a basic principal at even the lowest level of human cognition.

    March 20, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
  8. Kenneth Dreumel

    All nations are godless

    March 20, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
  9. Charlie

    Where is god? That's a good question – one that all of these religious b*stards so carefully try to duck. If your god existed and he/she were so loving and good (as you incessantly insist), then this earthquake would NOT happen. Sorry, it just would not. So here are the options:
    1.) Your god exists, but he/she is malicious, vengeful and quite evil.
    2.) Your god does not exist, and the tectonic plates which shifted in the Pacific have caused great harm.

    Pick. I go with 2.

    March 20, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • airwx

      You forgot option 3. Science tells us that without the heat in the core of the earth there would be no human life. So much for the compassion of science.

      March 20, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • IBelieve

      3.) Our God is real, he did not cause this or any other tragedy. He loves all even athiests. He intervenes when we ask for his help, but gives us free will to choose our path. If you are not praying (talking to God) and believing in him (faith) then you wouldn't and could'ny know Him as I do. He isn't going to call your house and say I am real. It is you that must seek and find Him. He will not interfere with your free will to not believe or seek Him. If I am wrong, no harm done. If you are wrong, severe and eternal consequences. Hell is a permanent seperation from the creator. Those that will go to Hell choose to of their own accord as they choose not to be with God. Just as I have the right to seek and find Him, you have the right not to.

      March 20, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
  10. Watnen

    It's terrifying to think that there are some very powerful people in the world who believe this religious stuff. If they will believe that, they will believe absolutely anything, and I mean anything! Seriously, what could be more absurd than religion? It is a scary, scary world....

    March 20, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
  11. john

    I want to write a book of fariy tales to......then get tax free status.....and then make lots of money from weak little sheepy followers.....religious is no different then the nazis.....

    March 20, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
  12. Chris

    There is no God, but idiots will believe what idiots will believe, I guess. There's no point in trying to talk common sense into those will half a brain and half their sanity to begin with.

    March 20, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • GOD DOES NOT EXIST IN THIS DOJO

      I want to see a country formed where the only criteria to joining is that you have to be an Atheist. I guarantee they'd be the foremost superpower in the world in a relatively small period of time.

      March 20, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • Paul Bishop

      It's one thing to debate whether there is a God or no, but to call all who believe in God idiots?
      Many brilliant minds believed in God; in fact, most. Aristotle, Soren Kierkegaard, Sir Isaac Newton, Johannes Kepler, Albert Einstein, Alvin Plantinga, the list goes on. You can accuse Theists of many things, but to blanket them all as idiots is a rather idiotic statement in itself.

      March 20, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
  13. TheDude

    Away on business.

    March 20, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  14. Jez

    It is really interesting how Atheist spend so much time telling everyone there is no God. Some would open a profile just to tell people there is no God. Then you have some that would wake up early in the morning and lead a rally in protest that there is no God. Some would go further and write politicians to make their claim that there is no God.

    If these people in their heart of hearts truly felt there was no God. Then why do they spend so much time, energy and sometimes money to convince others? The answer is simple, every man has in their heart the desire for a connection with God. Every man's body belong to God because it is his temple this is why they must constantly fight the idea there is a God because their body was designed and created by him as his temple. By spending so much time in offense of there being a God atheist has in turn created their own God and their own religion. These people will be held responsible by God in judgement day for their actions.

    All I can say is, those of you who are speaking against our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ would come to know of his existence not long from now. The signs of the end times are as bright as the Sun that shines before us. May God have mercy on you all.

    March 20, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • Jim1151

      and how do you know? Because it was in the ancient scriptures, from Bronze Age storytellers? Here's what we can all agree on. God sat around, waited around for 150k – 200,000 years while his creation was dying of its teeth, at child birth, from micro organisms, dying before the age of 20 and he just happened to intervene 2,000 years ago. So why are you using the Internet this afternoon? I mean the wonderful applications of binary code that you enjoy weren't mentioned in the bible. But of course it predicts the future, just not very well. While I see the grander in universe through the Hubble telescope, you stare at the burning bush.

      March 20, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • airwx

      @Jim Did Jesus have a dog? If he did, why isn't mentioned in the Bible? Your statement falls into the same category. The world is temporal. Faith is Spiritual. Ner the twain shall meet..

      March 20, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • kilik

      an atheist doesn't explicitly state 'there is no god, end of story'. The correct way of interpreting this is that your theology failed to prove there is a god. The burden of proof lies with the one making a positive claim. It's impossible to prove a negative, but it is rational to be mostly confident certain negatives are true, such as: there's a invisible mushroom man underneath my bed.

      we complain because you proselytize the most impressionable, evoke laws based on said beliefs, terrify us often with your reasoning and more importantly distort what atheists actually believe in and are.

      March 20, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • IBelieve

      Perfectly said!

      March 20, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • Magic

      airwx,

      "The world is temporal. Faith is Spiritual. Ner the twain shall meet.."

      Faith, like art and poetry, fills an emotional need. A rock "basking" in the sunshine, or a flower "loving" the rain are pleasing concepts... but one would never think of proclaiming as fact that a rock or a flower actually has these feelings. It may be a fact that Faith feels good, but that it is factual, no.

      March 20, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • Magic

      p.s.

      "It may be a fact that Faith feels good, but that it is factual, no."

      Since I do want to stay away from 'absolutes', I will amend that statement to: "...but that it is factual has not been proved, and may not be claimed as such until then".

      March 20, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
  15. Bhush

    Eastern religions that believe in reincarnation have a better answer–when people suffer it is because of their own actions in the past, perhaps lifetimes ago. Life is ultimately completely fair.

    March 20, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • Mr. Sniffles

      Where that theory falls apart for me is that if something bad happens to someone, other people say that the victim must have done something really bad in a former life, that they were somehow getting what they deserved. If reincarnation and karma are true, then that's the way it is, but if it isn't, then the atti-tude of the other people is cruel and unjust.

      I tend to agree that Buddhism is about as humane as religions get, but it still falls a bit short. I would, however, far rather hang out with the Dalai Lama than the Pope or any Mullah, by a lot. Then again, I would prefer to hang out with Scarlett Johanssen instead of the Dalai Lama.

      March 20, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
  16. Enjay Sea

    The gods are clearly angry. There's only one way to appease them - someone needs to volunteer to be thrown into a volcano.

    March 20, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • Obama*

      I will sacrifice myself by jumping into a Volcano! This will appease the gods! -B.H. Obama!

      March 20, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • Volcano God

      No, Volcano God wanta a much bigger meal than that. Volcano God would like an order of Limbaugh with cheese, a side order of Michael Moore and a really large Beck for dessert.

      March 20, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  17. CFH

    How telling that all Sam Harris has to offer is insult on top of injury, and is in fact the only one to offer no compassion for the victims of this terrible tragedy.

    March 20, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • Magic

      CFH,

      It seems that your reading comprehension is quite low (and your bias is very high).

      Sam Harris said:

      "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 4:45 pm |
    • hedshel01

      In Mr. Harris' defense or for that matter any other people's comments who were featured in this article, you don't know the context in which the question was asked and for that matter what question was actually asked.

      March 20, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
  18. Marcus Jay

    Since most of you say there is no God, what makes you think any other imperfect human being has or ever had the intellectual capacity to come with the concept of a God to begin with? Most of you people are dead in your sins against The Lord Jesus Christ and I sincerely pray that God will remove the fish-scales from your eyes.

    March 20, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • Ed353

      Well given the sins religion has committed against humanity, one can hardly say that religion is perfect. Given that religion purports to represent God, and that God has allowed religion to perpetrate such criminal behavior one can say that God is not perfect either, therefore not deserving of worship, even if it does exist.

      Let me impart an oxymoron on you. Ancient Wisdom

      March 20, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • Enjay Sea

      Actually Marcus, the only version of god that does exist is that image that all those people you are referring to have imagined in their minds. Their ability to conjure an image does not promote that image to existence.

      March 20, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • bobby

      Religion does not perpetuate crimes against humanity and neither does God. Those crimes are made by those who claim to be religious but in truth show they have no knowledge about God's religion. THose crimes are committed by PEOPLE, not God.What surprises is that it takes so little to figure this out but still remains a mystery to some.

      March 20, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • Paul Bishop

      Ed, "Ancient Wisdom" is not an oxymoron. Do you have any idea how much of this "ancient wisdom" has influenced our modern society? The theology and law of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, the philosophy and government of the Greeks, the law and practicality of the Romans, and wisdom of the ancient east are what got us to where we are today. Without ancient wisdom, you have none of the things you have now, or even the ability to think as abstractly as you do now.

      Belief in God has done well for societies. It is in acting against God's will that people in the name of religion do horrible things. But nonreligion is bad too. The greatest genocides in history were done by irreligious men – Stalin, Mao, Pol-Pot, etc. Why God allows it is mysterious and theologians and philosophers have come with with many ways of explaining it, as the above article reveals. There is a judgment day the sacred texts teach, where all will be brought to light and questions answered.

      But if it is indeed true that there is a God and He became a puny human being named Jesus to suffer in solidarity with His people and die for their sins, then I think God has much more reason to question us than we do Him.

      March 20, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
  19. Larry Janos

    Where's god? Can that be a serious question at a time like this!? Let's ask where's the unicorn? How irresponsible!

    March 20, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • veggiedude

      It's just one more glaring example that there is no god.

      March 20, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  20. Hotel le Rut

    I love the Rev. James Martin's answer.

    "It’s not as if some magic answer can be found... but as long as I'm here, I may as well try a few out! D'you mind? Here we go! Oh, and feel free to join in, they're all classics, you know the words."

    I'm surprised nobody busted out the old "THE ONE SET OF FOOTPRINTS IS FROM WHEN I WAS CARRYING YOU!!11!" chestnut.

    Bloody insulting, this faith business.

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

      Hilarious, Beautiful,....lol

      March 20, 2011 at 4:50 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.