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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. rhave

    dont blame the god for what happening right now coz only the people can blame on this the nature have revenge for abusing on it ...

    March 21, 2011 at 2:05 am |
  2. bwydeman

    Do you think that perhaps we have come to the time when the elements of earth are starting to unravel? When you think about the incredible events that took place in the last year, do you see the hand of God, warning the world that the end is near? When you see fires, floods, earthquakes and other natural disasters, don’t you sense that God is warning this sinful generation that our time is almost up? When you see the birds, bees and fish dying off, don’t you wonder how much longer we have until this world reaches its final crisis?
    Friends, I don’t think it will be very long. Like in the days of Noah, God sends messengers to warn his people. Sometimes it is an earthquake. Other times it is a mega-storm. Sometimes it is another natural event. And ultimately it will be chosen human vessels. But it is all with the purpose to awaken man to the danger of continuing in sin and living by his carnal heart.
    Jesus offers forgiveness to all who will turn from their sins and live for Him. Your survival depends on it. The counsel of the Lord is clear to us about how to live in the last days. From Proverbs 3: 19-26 we read the following;

    “The LORD by wisdom hath founded the earth; by understanding hath he established the heavens. By his knowledge the depths are broken up, and the clouds drop down the dew. My son, let not them depart from thine eyes: keep sound wisdom and discretion: So shall they be life unto thy soul, and grace to thy neck. Then shalt thou walk in thy way safely, and thy foot shall not stumble. When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid: yea, thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet. Be not afraid of sudden fear, neither of the desolation of the wicked, when it cometh. For the LORD shall be thy confidence, and shall keep thy foot from being taken.
    Do you want the Lord to be your confidence? I do. Then keep your eye on God’s wisdom. Understand God’s ways. Let them not depart from you eyes. In other words, study God’s word every day. Open its sacred pages and you will find the answers to the perplexing questions of the world today. Follow His counsel, and live by Heaven’s principles, and you will not be afraid of the “sudden fear.” Neither will you be afraid of the desolation of the wicked.

    Think about it. There are some terrible things that are going to happen to this world. The wicked will be greatly stressed and distressed by the increasing difficulty of survival. They will moan. They will wail. And their hearts will fail them for fear of the things that are coming upon the earth. But the righteous man or woman doesn’t have to be afraid. The Lord tells them that his bread and water shall be sure. His security is in Christ. It is not in the arm of human flesh. God will provide a way of escape from the “arrow that flieth by day,” and the “destruction that wasteth at noonday.”

    Friends, the world is under siege. We are in the very last days. You can expect more surprises in the very near future. But friends, there is hope. “Lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh.”

    And may the Lord help you and bless you as you bring your life into harmony with His principles. May He give you victory over your sins. And by your faithfulness, in the midst of wickedness, may He open for you the “windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing so that you will not have room enough to receive it.” Malachi 3:10 God bless everyone and stay close to Jesus Marantha

    http://www.amazingfacts.org

    http://www.ktfministry.org/en/

    http://www.youtube.com/user/TheForerunner777?blend=2&ob=1

    March 21, 2011 at 2:02 am |
    • Jesusfreakazoid

      Humans have been predicting the end of the world for centuries.

      Days of Noah? The Noah myth is based on Egyptian and Babalonian myths. By the way, why did Noah have to take two of each animal onto the arc? Since God made all of the animals, couldn't he have just made more. Wipe them out, make more. Piece of cake. He's God. He can do anything. Right? This country needs to spend more on education and less on wars.

      March 21, 2011 at 2:28 am |
  3. cmedrs

    This is god's world and we are in it.

    March 21, 2011 at 1:54 am |
  4. Papa

    The CNN coverage limits voices who have Christian faith. It's nice to see this traumatic situation open even a small door.

    March 21, 2011 at 1:52 am |
  5. ilmo nour

    in chapter Al-kafh: They came to a place and found a boat. Khidr damaged the boat by making a hole in it. Moses immediately objected saying, “Have you made a hole in it so as to drown the people in the boat? You have certainly done an awful thing.” Khidr replied, “Did I not tell you that you will not be able to patiently bear with me?” Moses pleaded with him, saying that he forgot the promise. read the quran to find out what happens next...

    March 21, 2011 at 1:37 am |
  6. naturechaplain

    Rev. Shaku's response makes the most sense, and seems the most appropriate coming from a person who knows the people and really shares their suffering without the theologizing of most of the other "experts" who are nowhere near the tragedy (which, by the way, reveals a hint of the major distraction of religion).

    March 21, 2011 at 1:37 am |
  7. Servant of G*d

    strangers humans are not slaves, I MEAN IT starbrothers I shall knock out your draco bullies out of thy cosmos once and for all beware I AM THY COSMOS AND THY TRINITY OF AMEN THY FATHER, WE ARE THUNDER WIND RAIN, RRRROARRRR RRRRROARRRRRR RRRROARRRR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    March 21, 2011 at 1:31 am |
  8. Nicole

    This is the answer. I know this is true:

    http://mormon.org/plan-of-happiness/#when-bad-things-happen

    March 21, 2011 at 1:27 am |
  9. cocopuf2

    All this boils down to either we are all here by accident/chance OR we are here by Deliberate design. Either way you chose, it should be very frightening to you since the end is approaching whether we like it or not.
    All you have to do is look around you ... EVERYTHING you see seems to have "order and symmetry built in", and it appears to have been designed for his/hers or its "PARTICULAR LIFESTYLE" ... from a leaf, ant, fish with bi-focal eyes, giraffe, ... , to humans.
    There is no way that you can convince me that all this was created by pure chance. OR that we came from a primordial soup some 4- 6 billion years ago.

    March 21, 2011 at 1:25 am |
    • Magic

      cocopuf,
      "EVERYTHING you see seems to have "order and symmetry built in", and it appears to have been designed for his/hers or its "PARTICULAR LIFESTYLE"

      What works, works and what doesn't work doesn't. What you see is what's working at the moment. Stuff goes wrong all the time. Stuff is crashing into other stuff in space all the time.

      What about all the extinct animals and plants over Earth's history? Was "God" just playing around and then offed them?

      March 21, 2011 at 1:41 am |
  10. sa

    God has destroyed many nations in past because of their disobedience. There are many examples. An example is of the nation of Prophet Lut or Prophet Lot (Peace be upon him). Story is present in Bible and in Quran.

    People of Ancient times had similar ideas as people of today. In every time there has been a nation willing to disobey God and Challenge Him. God gives them time so that they can repent and straighten their actions but if they don't then it is not difficult for God to bring destruction onto them. God does this so that people can realize that there is GOD and people are responsible for their acts and everyone can take lesson.
    As it is said in Quran while describing the acts of nation of Prophet Lot (peace be upon him) Chapter 29: Verse 29 ""Verily, you practise sodomy with men, and rob the wayfarer (travellers)! And practise Al-Munkar (disbelief and polytheism and every kind of evil wicked deed) in your meetings." But his people gave no answer except, that they said: "Bring Allâh's Torment upon us if you are one of the truthful." The nation of Prophet Lut (Peace be upon him) had challenged GOD.
    Chapter 29; Verse 35 "Verily, we are about to bring down on the people of this town a great torment from the sky, because they have been rebellious (against Allâh's Command)." (34) And indeed We have left thereof an evident Ayâh (a lesson and a warning and a sign — the place where the Dead Sea is now in Palestine)[] for a folk who understand" 35

    March 21, 2011 at 1:22 am |
  11. Dave Wyman

    Everything – all disasters, coincidences, miracles, etc., make sense we realize there is no God. The stories in the New and Old Testaments are, when examined closely, nothing more than dumb – really dumb – fairly tales. Like fairy tales, though, they serve a purpose, teaching us what is right and wrong, good and bad. That there is a god, though, is absurd, and belief in a good god is obviously misplaced when terrible things happen.

    March 21, 2011 at 1:19 am |
  12. Servant of G*d

    Jesus Christ died on the cross to save us, in return you shall become a minigod, humans are now morphing into the 4 density and 5 th density, Amen thy father and Jesus is very real, Earth is only a test, its only a real dream, because we are indeed immortal, humans who become real christians know God is very real, and woe to those who think not, darwin is satanic to the core, Earth is multi dimensional, and by the grace of God, humans have full power of the cosmos. If a satanic priest dared murder me he would perish immediately after my resurection!!!!! Through Jesus Christ all will know Amen his Father.

    March 21, 2011 at 1:18 am |
  13. Jan

    IF there is God there is Devil. IF there is good there is Evil. IF God is Good then devil is Evil. Is earthquake, tsunami bad>? YES it is. Then who was it caused by?

    March 21, 2011 at 1:05 am |
  14. Sad

    You should all be ashamed. In a time where we should stand together we continue to be separated by belief. If it's the belief in a creator or the belief there is none the only fact is we are alone on this planet and should get past these petty pointless arguments. Look to the either side of you and see your brother not an enemy.

    March 21, 2011 at 12:59 am |
  15. slw_99

    It is not surprising that none of the "faithful" have any answer to the question originally posed: "How could God let this happen?"

    Thich Nhat Hanh: – "what’s most important is to love each other, to be there for each other". An important sentiment, and no reference to magic. "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" Oops, a bit of magic slipped in. 2 points deducted from your score.

    Elizabeth Tinsley: – "One aspect of kami (deity) worship [in the Shinto religion] is the conception of kami as life-forces in nature" Bzzt! I call magic, try again.

    Rev. Graham: "I want the people of Ja-pan to know that God hasn’t forgotten them,  that God does care for them and that he loves them." An assertion that is contradicted by the facts.

    Only Sam Harris says it clearly: "God is either impotent, evil, or imaginary. Take your pick" I pick imaginary.

    March 21, 2011 at 12:59 am |
    • Lena Vetch

      slw-99- GOD cannot stop the devil from doing the evil things that it does.
      Just like the devil cannot stop GOD from all the good He does. Both have
      powers, one chooses to do good, while the other chooses to do evil, and blame GOD for it.
      Wake up and get some wisdom.

      GOD says in His word: "If my people, who are called by my name, shall humble themselves
      and pray, I will hear their prayers and heal their land."

      March 21, 2011 at 1:57 am |
  16. Chris

    I really liked the Rabbi's repsonse. Life is hard and the world full of tragedy, but the God of Isreal(Jacob) loves and cares for us all. He doesn't promise unlimited safety to any of us though, while we are in this world. But I love him because he fills me with life and experiences. And he is always there to help me through the crap that I face.

    March 21, 2011 at 12:58 am |
  17. Pete

    We always hear "Thank God for this victory.", but never "Blame God for this loss."

    March 21, 2011 at 12:55 am |
  18. slw_99

    It is not surprising that none of the "faithful" have any answer to the question originally posed: "How could God let this happen?"

    Rabbi Kushner – A cop out and no different than Franklin Graham. "The Lord was not in the earthquake" and "God cares about the well-being of good people". Both cannot be true.

    Rev Sahku: "Buddhism is called a religion with no god…we don’t think God caused this…The cause of this earthquake is the friction between the North American plate and the Pacific plate. The Ja-panese are more focused on relationships as opposed to faith..." A Ja-panese way of thinking, where Western concepts of God do not apply.

    Rev Martin – "there is no satisfactory answer for why we suffer". This is correct. "when I have felt great sorrow I have trusted that God is with me" Why do you think this? You offer no reason.

    Dr. Syeed: – "Muslims see these kinds of tragedies as a test from God...God tests those he loves" This is a definition of "love" that I do not understand. To claim that life is some kind of test is a gross and immoral proposition.

    March 21, 2011 at 12:54 am |
    • Pharoah of California

      Many people are so sure about the nonexistence of a God and take such disasters as evidence to his incompetence (and, hence, nonexistence) or evil (being unjust to the people whom He created). Of course, both are logically flawed because they overlook the fact that these very tragic disasters are provably the result of universal physical laws that He maintains and we can predict.
      Well, I understand these disasters are part of the test He put us through. After all, if you believe in God (based on logically sound arguments, not just spiritual crap), you would see that an afterlife is definitely awaiting and that disasters are only a test of the strength of our belief and sometimes an alert to get back to God.
      By the way, I am a Muslim.

      March 21, 2011 at 1:24 am |
    • allfaith

      Experience is neither bad or good. We accept the challenge of finding meaning in our lives which are the physical manifestation of our thoughts. To sum up, if you focus on hate and mistrust, you will interpret your experience from a negative perspective. If you trust in the world to give you what you need then you will accept your fate and find balance.

      March 21, 2011 at 1:53 am |
  19. JustDone

    There is no god. Why don't you people get that? How much evidence does it take? If god is out there, it's not worth your worship.

    March 21, 2011 at 12:54 am |
    • Servant of G*d

      sniff sniff I smell many fallen ones, with falls doctrin marduk who??? Its AMen thy Father and His Son Jesus Christ that make up thy trinity of man don t forget that, besideS marduk exists i know that and he is the void, Jesus Christ is All Mighty and A Powerful MIghty AND A MIGHTY GHOST THE vOID VS THE COSMOS WHICH INCLUDES MAN hmmmm HOW LOVELY

      March 21, 2011 at 1:27 am |
    • Dweeb

      GOD is just a word.

      March 21, 2011 at 1:28 am |
    • allfaith

      Do you believe in everything that is and everything that can be imagined? That's my 'God'.
      So God is whatever you want him /her /it to be, and you are a reflection of your God.
      If your God does not exist then you are not seeing the awesomeness and wonder of the universe around you.
      The fact that we can control our environment in any way at all is a miracle. Electro-magnetic fields that effect the clustering of self similar elements and ideas. Bubbles in reality that erupt out of nothingness. How could that not be holy?

      March 21, 2011 at 1:42 am |
    • Maria

      I will keep praying for all the people that is suffering...i do not have an answer, I just keep living my life and doing well in this world. For all of you that don't have any believes or spiritual support Good luck to all!!. Do not wait for God to come and prove you that exist because that is not going to happen...God is in your "concience and your soul" and it is up to you to follow him or not. Thanks.

      March 21, 2011 at 1:42 am |
  20. ktisis

    I have written a blog concerning 10 reasons how God could logically and morally allow suffering and evil. Too long to post it here, but it can be read at:
    http://god-and-logic.blogspot.com/2010/03/skeptics-of-christianity-have.html

    March 21, 2011 at 12:48 am |
    • JustDone

      The only religion that sufficiently explains how god can allow evil is the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster– that god is drunk and not paying attention. Any other explanation is reduced to one of two options– either god is impotent, or evil.

      March 21, 2011 at 12:57 am |
    • slw_99

      @ktisis I read your blog. My detailed reactions are "Too long to post...here", but suffice it to say that you are entirely unconvincing, often beside the point, and as-sume what you would hope to prove. Your analogies to science in general and gravity in particular are laughable – I'm glad I was not your physics teacher. To the faithful, God is comprehensible in all ways – he wants us to eat this or that, to pray in this or that way, to marry this person and not that, but ask one simple question – Why is there suffering from natural disasters (not evil, there is a difference) and Christians fall back on a variety of fatuous explanations that boil down to – we can't understand it. Just admit this and go away.

      March 21, 2011 at 1:19 am |
    • George

      These are all terrible reasons. #1 is just a cop-out, a non-reason, some of these are just repeats, and in the end, god could have created any reality she wanted, but she chose suffering to be part of it. That's just lame no matter how you slice it.

      March 21, 2011 at 1:24 am |
    • Lena Vetch

      I haven't read what your response was to why these things happen.
      One thing you need to know is that the devil is the god of evil, and it is this god that
      allows bad things to happen. GOD almighty cannot stop this evil god from doing
      what it does.

      March 21, 2011 at 1:47 am |
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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.