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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. Mell

    God 0 YHWH created Good and Evil Scripture says so. So for all you people who say where is God or How can God let this happen read your scripture – asking the question answers the fact that you have not read the scripture you go to your little ;church' to read.

    KJV :

    Isa 45:7 I formH3335 the light,H216 and createH1254 darkness:H2822 I makeH6213 peace,H7965 and createH1254 evil:H7451 IH589 the LORDH3068 doH6213 allH3605 theseH428 things.

    Isa 45:6 so that they know from the rising of the sun to its setting that there is none but Me. I am יהוה, and there is none else,
    Isa 45:7 forming light and creating darkness, making peace and creating evil. I, יהוה, do all these.’

    March 20, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
  2. Da King

    Testing. Just want to see if you will post this.

    March 20, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
  3. orangeboy

    God is where he's always been: in people's imaginations, and nowhere else. Grow up, people, and realize that it is just us against an indifferent universe.

    March 20, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
  4. Treeb

    Isn't this a site for news?

    March 20, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
  5. Cheryfa MacAulay Jamal

    I can't believe these religious leaders can make such misguided statements and still believe they are LEADING people to God. To claim that God wasn't part of this, or that Nature did this, or that it was only a test, is to deny the Majesty and Sovereignty of God, and that NOTHING happens without His Permission and His Will.

    Who can speak for God and say this was NOT a punishment for some. The most important command that EVERY SINGLE PROPHET AND MESSENGER brought to mankind was "Worship None But Allah", "Do Not Worship False Idols", etc.

    Of course Muslims believe that these disasters are part of our tests, for those who perish AND for those who survive AND for those who witness. Just because some people died in a frightening way doesn't make it unjust. Everyone dies. Who is so arrogant to claim which death is better except what God has revealed to us as better?

    How can you call God unjust? It is our limited understanding of Justice and our inability to see the unseen (the hearts of each, the tests and responses of each, the entire past and entire future, etc), which makes us judge such events as unjust or the fault of an unloving or powerless God.

    To attibute this incident to other than God (like Nature or Science) is idolotry! For a religious leader to claim anyting other than God was responsible should step down from leadership, for how can one who is so blind and so utterly lost lead anyone???!!!

    And anyone who claims that this was not punishment for some has usurped their position. Unless the Angel Gabriel came to them with the words of Allah, then they have no right to say such a thing. This is a nation predominately Bhuddist; idol worshippers! This Bhuddist quoted here even states some Bhuddists deny God's existence altogether. What sin is bigger that this? What derserves divine punishment more than this? Even the people of Lut believed in Allah, they only ignored His Laws and revelled in the sin of sodomy. Didn't Allah destroy the ENTIRE nation, save the Prophet Lut and his followers?

    Even Satan believes in God, and he never worshipped idols. Only his arrogance and disobedience earned him his place in Hell. Then what of those who worship idols or deny Him altogether? Did they mysteriously earn a "Get out of Hell free card"?

    If you don't know God, how can you lead the people to Him?

    March 20, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
    • Nursehope

      IF you don't know science, how can you lead your people into safety, health and enlightenment? You people are scary. Get out of your bible and get into a science class. sheesh.

      March 20, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
  6. PeterVN

    Thank you to Sam Harris. I am a supporter of Project Reason and will continue to donate to it in the future. Keep up the great work in dispelling religious idiocy.

    March 20, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
  7. Mark

    You do know that the Bible was written by men who believed the world was flat.

    March 20, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
    • Person of Faith

      No. Isaiah said that God sits upon the "circle of the earth."

      March 20, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
    • saved

      Wrong the bible teaches the world is round ,which science has and astronomy has only found out in the last 100 years .GOD also gave the Israelites instructions of cleanliness that modern science has only lately found out . Please read your bible.

      March 20, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
    • Read some books other than translated versions of the bible

      "
      No. Isaiah said that God sits upon the "circle of the earth."

      and

      "saved
      Wrong the bible teaches the world is round ,which science has and astronomy has only found out in the last 100 years .GOD also gave the Israelites instructions of cleanliness that modern science has only lately found out . Please read your bible."

      –And these are all registered voters. We are sc-rewed.

      March 20, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
  8. Twinbeech

    Delusion: a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence, especially as a symptom of a psychiatric condition.

    This is what is wrong with all religion. The world would be a much better place if we could rid ourselves of delusional thinking and come to grips witht the fact that we are in this thing alone. No one is coming out of the clouds to save us.

    March 20, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
  9. Brian G. Brooks

    I suggest we save money and those who appeal to god for help allow them to "use" god's inputs. To the rest we help – Darwin's solution...
    brian

    March 20, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
  10. Jack Watcher

    I am also 'awaiting moderation' for some time. Why? I have read the "rules" and can find nothing in my post that offends those "rules.". Can one of you learned people explain this to me. I am obviously among the unenlightened.

    March 20, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
    • Jeremy

      it's because your comment sucked so much the CNN moderator couldn't bear to post it.

      March 20, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
    • Helpful Henry

      Jack Watcher,

      Here are some hints from other posters:

      CNN posting tips for new visitors – GNU public license – feel free to copy for your very own
      bad letter combinations / words to avoid if you want to get past the CNN "awaiting moderation" filter:
      Many, if not most, are buried within other words, but I am not shooting for the perfect list, so use your imagination.
      You can use dashes, spaces, or other characters to modify the "offending" letter combinations.
      ----–
      ar-se.....as in Car-se, etc.
      ba-stard
      co-ck.....as in co-ckatiel, co-ckatrice, co-ckleshell, co-ckles, lubco-ck, etc.
      co-on.....as in rac-oon, coc-oon, etc.
      cu-m......as in doc-ument, accu-mulate, circu-mnavigate, circu-mstances, cu-mbersome, cuc-umber, etc.
      cu-nt.....as in Scu-ntthorpe, a city in the UK famous for having problems with filters...!
      do-uche
      ef-fing...as in ef-fing filter
      ft-w......as in soft-ware, delft-ware, swift-water, etc.
      fu-ck......!
      ho-mo.....as in ho-mo sapiens or ho-mose-xual, ho-mogenous, etc.
      ho-rny....as in tho-rny, etc.
      jacka-ss...yet "ass" is allowed by itself.....
      ja-p......as in j-apanese, ja-pan, j-ape, etc.
      ji-sm
      koo-ch....as in koo-chie koo..!
      nip-ple
      pi-s......as in pi-stol, lapi-s, pi-ssed, therapi-st, etc.
      pr-ick....as in pri-ckling, pri-ckles, etc.
      ra-pe.....as in scra-pe, tra-peze, gr-ape, thera-peutic, sara-pe, etc.
      se-x......as in Ess-ex, s-exual, etc.
      sh-it
      sl-ut
      sn-atch
      sp-ic.....as in disp-icable, hosp-ice, consp-icuous, susp-icious, sp-icule, sp-ice, etc.
      ti-t......as in const-itution, att-itude, ent-ities, alt-itude, beat-itude, etc.
      tw-at.....as in wristw-atch, nightw-atchman, etc.
      va-g......as in extrava-gant, va-gina, va-grant, va-gue, sava-ge, etc.
      who-re....as in who're you kidding / don't forget to put in that apostrophe!
      wt-f....also!!!!!!!
      There are more, some of them considered "racist", so do not assume that this list is complete.

      March 20, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
  11. Da King

    Response to, no Gods. Your spirit may have the opportunity retreat from your false comfort in your rebellion against God.
    Jesus did not come the first time to condemn, you but to save you. So, why not take comfort in his peace now. The article does not explain peace in those who already have faith in Christ amid the disaster because that peace transcends human understanding. It is only spiritually discerned. You can't understand until you have it. Then, you have peace. This struggle is not in the natural world. God is a spirit and He will give it to you when you believe through Jesus (The Anointed One). You just read the entire bible. The rest is about how to behave. It's good. It's love.

    March 20, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
    • Nursehope

      WHAT???!!! Let me get this straight: I can't have peace (inner peace???) until accept some form of a deity aka a god? That is simply unrealistic. Inner peace is easily achieved by looking deep into one's self resolve and living a self-less life. Some obtuse hyperbolic theological concept of a deity only comes from fear of loss of "something" (salvation???) Does this ring a bell?

      March 20, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
  12. Matt

    Where is God anywhere should be the question. As if God was anywhere else in the world and folks were sitting around drinking coffee with him.

    March 20, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
  13. refugeek

    Someone who has lost everything, but is happy to clean the mud off the shoes of the rubber-necker who dropped by to gawk at their misfortune. That's where you'll find God.

    hell = senseless suffering
    heaven = senseless compassion

    March 20, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      refugeek,

      Carnal living and being taught by satan = the lie.
      Spiritual living and being taught by Jesus = truth.

      Amen.

      March 20, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
  14. Bondye Bon

    God loves all of us. If you are reading this right now, you still have time to accept the Lord Jesus into your life. Obviously, there is much that can not be explained and never will be – it wasn't meant to be. Over the years, I have been through times where I questioned some things as many posting on here do. That's O.K., we all do, but if you truly seek the answers and pray to God with faith, your eyes will be opened. And, yes, before anyone asks or states otherwise, I do have an education. I have traveled to various places, seen many, many interesting things. God is real, He exists! For those of you who are truly interested in knowing whether God is real or not, do the research for yourselves, starting now. Do not just take others' words for it – find out on your own. But, do not take this task lightly, because if you seek, you Will find and it may take you by surprise a little. You can not prepare yourself for what way God may choose to reveal his power to you. God bless all of you and Bon Nuit !

    March 20, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
    • Nursehope

      Hold on there bondye: according to the god who lives at the Westboro baptist church, god hates gays! Which god are you referring to? The god of the aborigines, native Americans, Hindus, Jews, Islamics, Aztecs, etc. Too many gods. Too many incongruencies!

      March 20, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      I would like to know why non-believers always bring up the g-ay issue? Do you really believe that g-ays are the only ones that are an abomination to the Lord? Think again. All those that are blinded by the sin of pride are an abomination to the Lord. If anyone, that means anyone, doesn't shelf their egos to read and comprehend His truth, you are all an abomination to Him, that created all.

      Amen.

      March 20, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
  15. Kea

    Religion divides – this comments thread is proof. Religion is such a hot button topic – it prompts bickering, ranting, sarcasm, self-agrandizement, endless quoting of scripture and other "authorities", and let's not forget the posturing – we can't pass up an opportunity to start hatin' on each other. We are ugly.

    March 20, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
  16. Travler

    Where is God? Right where he always has been. A mythical manifestation that people grab onto when they are sinking. That is why drug addicts and boozers become religious. Something to hang on to. God is rated right up there with ghosts, goblins, and witchcraft. For those who need a life ring to keep from sinking, fine, but to survive you had better realize that you and only you are capable of going that extra amount that means life or death. I especially like all those that got to church on Sunday and screw your fellow man on Monday.

    March 20, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Traveler, I'm sure you'll be singing a different tune when you are standing on the wrong side of the divide.

      Amen.

      March 20, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  17. rafael

    Thank you as always, Sam Harris.

    March 20, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
  18. K E S

    Below are two questions that can be answered using the bible, God's word!

    Is God responsible for natural disasters? http://www.watchtower.org/e/200709/article_02.htm
    Does God allow suffering? http://www.watchtower.org/e/bh/article_11.htm

    March 20, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
    • Lee S

      You probably say that about everything. Try reading something else. May I suggest "A Brief History of Time" Stephen Hawking.Or "Science as a Candle in the Dark" Carl Sagan. Ive read the bible, some good stuff in there, cant take it too seriously though. It was passed on orally for generations before being written down. If you think thats the actual "scripture" youre insane.

      March 20, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Keep believing Hawking, a C student. Raising those levels of the young ones in society. LOL. He's got a black hole waiting for you.

      Amen.

      March 20, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
  19. TheRationale

    No loving God would let all those people die needlessly. It's really that simple.

    March 20, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
    • alysabeth

      EXACTLY. These kinds of disasters are the main reason I became an atheist.

      March 20, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
    • Patty Biller

      we are guaranteed a less than perfect world, in accordance with our sin nature...

      March 20, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
    • joe

      the god loves us, that is why he send his own son to the cross to save us. and god wants us to rely on him to be the only shelter, that is the principle of god, to rely on him. our human, we live away from the lord, we judge, but from ourselves, who are sons of adam, the elements of sins runs in our veins.
      the lord has a plan, he is comming back, the earth is just showing a symdrom like the birth contraction pain, we should see that he is coming back.

      March 20, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Rationale, Christians know these scriptures to be true:

      Ecclesiastes 12:5 Also [when] they shall be afraid of [that which is] high, and fears [shall be] in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets:

      Ecclesiastes 12:6 Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern.

      Ecclesiastes 12:7 Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.

      Amen.

      March 20, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
    • Dwight L Moody

      I beleive that is the fallacy of false analogy, with that line of reasoning, you could argue against the existence of an architect merely because you did not think that something they did was correct.

      God isn't who we say He is because we feel anger over injustice and suffering. we have an absolute morality, He is the giver of that absolute morality and therefore what He says is right goes. Man is the one who subjected the world to futility, if anyone is to blame it is man not God

      March 20, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  20. iball

    It really all comes down to this, one or the other is right. IF Those
    who beleive there is no god are right I will die and feed the worms
    and bugs of the earth. IF those who beleive in God are right they
    will be saved and live with their God. It is a choise God lets you
    make so make it and live with the consequences and dont argue.

    March 20, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
    • rafael

      Pascal's wager is so juvenile, and so discredited. Do some reading. What if you picked the wrong god (pretty good odds, after all), and the real one is even more vengeful toward the certainty of your Jesus-worship than toward someone who never pledged allegiance to another god?

      March 20, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
    • SANJOSEMIKE

      Consciousness cannot exist without specific "supportive" elements, including a group of electrical or biological connections of great complexity, a power source, a method for reverse feedback, contact with the external world, and a programmed system of responses. This does not occur after death. The unfailing assumption is that there simply is NO consciousness after death. We all need to make the "best" of it while we have consciousness. If there is a god, which I don't believe there is, that is the way he/she designed it. So why bother "worshipping" a mythical creature, and waste your (valuable) time doing it?

      March 20, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Math was created by Satan to lead us astray.

      Amen.

      March 20, 2011 at 10:44 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.