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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. RA

    It's interesting while reading all these blogs to observe how there is a correlation of love and wholesomeness to the believers and the cynicism and anger to those who are yet to believe. I pray for you out there who have not yet given faith a chance.
    My decision to objectively seek spiritual truth allowed me to let go of the old stereotypes and arguments that detract from what scripture is all about. I have become a new person by allowing God to come into my life. Give it a chance folks. Reach out for the essence of our existence here that transcends our earthly rituals.

    March 21, 2011 at 8:55 am |
    • Religious sects

      By labeling people as "yet to believe" you ARE stereotyping. You make the aszumption that if someone doesn't believe they haven't given religion a chance, that's quite a stereotype. I have objectively searched for spiritual truth and it is that "truth" itself that has brought me to my essence of existence, which is one of non belief. But I agree with you in that we should actively seek the truth and let go of stereotypes, arguments, rituals and dogma.

      March 21, 2011 at 9:16 am |
  2. JPopNC

    I think it's interesting that all the quotes from the various religions show deep compassion, then you have the mean, callous remarks from Sam Harris, author of books including “The End of Faith. It just goes to show how continually blind atheist can be, especially when he remarks "Religious faith, on the other hand, erodes compassion". The whole article shows how compassionate every religion can be, they're rich in compassion. Sam Harris is the only uncompassionate one.

    March 21, 2011 at 8:52 am |
    • Religious sects

      JPopNC ... of course religions CAN be compassionate, so CAN Atheists. To use the comments of one person to label all Atheists blind ("continually blind atheist can be") is disingenuous to your point of compassionate religion. People are compassionate or they are not, religion or atheism has nothing to do with it ... it's in you personality.

      March 21, 2011 at 9:01 am |
  3. John Richardson

    Da writes: "If we say that anorganic nature is a cause of something, then we should have no problem at all to talk about Gaia being a living being, should we?"

    I think you mean INorganic.

    Otherwise, your point is, um, completely prattleheaded. If we acknowledge that non-living things can cause things, we thereby commit to the silly notion that the earth is a living being named Gaia? Wow. Talk about concluding the opposite of what something entails.

    March 21, 2011 at 8:49 am |
  4. Religious sects

    So far...
    Not God nor Atheists or even low cut blouses caused this disaster .. Whether we do this for the glory of God or for the good of humanity, this example of human resilience makes me think the US could use a national disaster to help us get a clearer perspective.

    March 21, 2011 at 8:49 am |
  5. Duncan

    "Natural disasters are acts of nature, not acts of God. God cares about the well-being of good people"

    This stood out for me.. Are we supposed to believe that God has no control over natural? and yet can part the Red Sea? .. and the only thing he really does these days is 'care about' good people?

    March 21, 2011 at 8:40 am |
  6. Godless

    There is no God

    March 21, 2011 at 8:33 am |
    • John

      O mankind! Fear your Lord and be dutiful to Him! Verily, the earthquake of the Hour is a terrible thing. The Day you shall see it, every nursing mother will forget her nursling, and every pregnant one shall drop her load, and you shall see mankind as in a drunken state. Yet they will not be drunken, but the Torment of Allah will be severe." (22:1-2)

      March 21, 2011 at 9:06 am |
  7. Da King

    Nice trick but you are only fooling yourself.

    March 21, 2011 at 8:32 am |
  8. citizenUSA

    where is god? Period.

    March 21, 2011 at 8:28 am |
  9. Cruzader

    Of all the comments the only one that make sense is Sam Harris'. The rest, is just part of the fable fairy tales.

    March 21, 2011 at 8:20 am |
  10. S.W.A.G.tested

    Why does everyone get the idea that when disaster strikes God did it lol? Where did that come from and why is that the common belief? Let me ask this to make it a little less confusing....Does a computer programmer write a program for him to sit there and watch it run...or is the program written to run itself?....with variables for possible inputs into the program the program runs through it's code (made by it's creator) and when it finds the part of it's program that matches the input it provides an output based on that input. God doesn't need to watch the world run and personally put His hand into everything to make things happen...the world and all of us who exist in it have their own ways of going about things. Why do people have wars....lol that's hilarious BECAUSE THEY WANT TO. I don't need to do a bible study right now though I'd enjoy it...people just need to be sensable....if a disaster hits your house or state, country....don't take it personal with God...He didn't create the earth for us to face calamity, He created it for fellowship with one another and most importantly Him. If you don't want to know Him or get to know Him...He's cool with that...so don't look to blame Him when things go down

    lol because in your mind there is no God so why blame someone who doesn't exist.

    March 21, 2011 at 8:15 am |
    • LetsThink123

      -> lol because in your mind there is no God so why blame someone who doesn't exist.
      thats right, god only exists in your mind. That's what the believers fail to comprehend, that belief in a god does not mean that the god is real. all it is, is a belief. There is no evidence to show us that god is real.

      March 31, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
  11. Pastor Evans

    Religion is created by mankind's human spirit and is his/ her attempt to do things their own way to try to please God or gain His approval, which He totally rejects!!! Relationship is what God Himself created and is what He desires mankind to come into with Him!!! There are a lot of religious people on this planet who don't really know God personally, but there are few of us who really know God personally and have a real and vibrant relationship with Him!!! Broad is the way that many go that ends in destruction but narrow is the way that leads to life and peace, and few find it!!!

    March 21, 2011 at 8:03 am |
    • LetsThink123

      So your saying that the few people who know god personally and have a vibrant relationship with him are really good at talking to themselves?
      You keep saying He, but show me that he exists. He did not create us, we evolved. We are not created in the image of god like u believe, we evolved. That's why we have defects that are easily explained by evolution like the vestigial appendix in the human body. why would a perfect god create a useless organ like the appendix? u would have to come up with an excuse if u insist that he exists and created us in his likeness. But with evolution, vestigial organs are easily explained.

      March 31, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
  12. Lake of Fire

    From a Protestant view point. Yahweh has warned us in the old and the new testament that he is coming back soon and this world as we know it will be consumed by fire. Yes we should take care of this world as best be can. Just remember we should also prepare and be ready for the world to come.

    "And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. " Rev 20:15

    And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what [shall be] the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?
    Mat 24:4 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.

    Mat 24:5 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
    Mat 24:6 And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all [these things] must come to pass, but the end is not yet.

    Mat 24:7 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.
    Mat 24:8 All these [are] the beginning of sorrows.

    Mat 24:9 Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake.

    Mat 24:10 And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.

    Mat 24:11 And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. Mat 24:12
    Mat 24:14 And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.

    March 21, 2011 at 8:02 am |
  13. Frederica

    @Fsmgroupie: Are you talking about parents and public school teachers? They are not priests. Catholics rescued billions of children all over the world. Why don't you recognize Catholic Church's world-wide vital contribution? Evil atheists.

    March 21, 2011 at 8:00 am |
  14. Jazz

    Where is God??? Im sure he is sitting looking how much destruction human being had made over the time, he is sitting and feeling pain for all what we did with our own hands...with such a pollution world full with all our garbarges, with the way we treat our own brothers and how cruel we treat our animals ... and stocked out our regions and destroy areas our nature........ there is God in all this pain...cannot Imagen God´s face in all what we did to our planet..or to our people...
    Can you imagen his face?.... Its time to imagen...to look around..to accept we did wrong..very wrong..

    March 21, 2011 at 7:54 am |
  15. Pastor Evans

    He is the Lord and He doesn't change!!! Read Malachi Chapter 3!!! He's always where He has been and always will be, on His eternal throne as He is spirit, as well as on the throne of the souls of those, again in spirit of those who believe!!!

    March 21, 2011 at 7:53 am |
  16. Dustin Smith

    Try to exclude the possibility of pain and suffering that the order of nature and the existence of free-wills naturally involve and you will find that you have excluded life itself.
    (C.S. Lewis)

    March 21, 2011 at 7:47 am |
  17. Muslim

    what about sustaining Millards of human beings since Allah ( God) created the whole world? You should have said, instead, before the disaster: Allah ( God) does really exist for He sustains us as well as our forefathers from Adam till the day of Judgment. Secondly, how dare one ask whether God exists or not whereas he does not believe in Him. Disasters are either punishment, Warning or Mercy.For those who didn't believe in Allah (God) it is punishment since they have already seen each sign to believe in Him; yet they didn't. It is a Mercy for those believe in Him, yet, they die during the disaster since He sends them to Paradise. Finally it is warning for the rest of mankind to believe in Him since most of people are too arrogant to believe in Him.

    March 21, 2011 at 7:47 am |
    • LetsThink123

      @Muslim
      -> what about sustaining Millards of human beings since Allah ( God) created the whole world?
      How do u know this? Do u know that we evolved and we doesnt just magically appear on this planet like your koran says. Your koran is wrong.
      -> He sustains us as well as our forefathers from Adam till the day of Judgment.
      Adam did not exist. It is a myth that has already been discredited. Please read some books that actually educate you.
      -> Disasters are either punishment, Warning or Mercy.
      So whatever happens on earth u attach an imaginary allah to it and therefore he exists?? then i can say that whatever disasters or mercy happens on earth is because of the tooth fairy (if ur guessing the tooth fairy is imaginary too). You haven't shown me that god exists
      -> For those who didn't believe in Allah (God) it is punishment since they have already seen each sign to believe in Him;
      Again u have invented allah to be the cause of this disaster and u think its true shows that u dont know how to use your brain and think. what about all the allah believers who keep getting blown up in pakistan everyday by other allah followers. what kinda punsihment is allah trying to dish out to his believers? You are gonna say that he sends them to paradise. Paradise does not exist!! u havent seen it and no one else has yet u believer because u happened to be born in a muslim family. use ur brain for once and realize that allah is not real and is made up.
      -> Finally it is warning for the rest of mankind to believe in Him since most of people are too arrogant to believe in Him.
      Again another assumption that ur allah is the cause of this. You are really deluded.

      March 31, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
  18. Apostle Eric vonAnderseck

    Apostle Eric says;It is difficult for the logic of sinners to comprehend the judgments of God and we can see the repeat of this will happen again in the book of Revelation, Rev 9:21 ” NEITHER REPENTED they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.”
    When sinners use the values of their own aspirations to define righteousness, then they are compelled to defend that perspective to protect themselves. Sinners use social standards and laws for their conscience and so will free themselves to act in that manner. But God’s holiness has not changed and every soul is measured on His scales not the scales of society or religions. http://apostlestoday.net/

    March 21, 2011 at 7:46 am |
  19. Da

    "impotent, evil, or imaginary."

    Please stop analyzing your own sub-conciousness already..

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

    You probably don't mean lower than expected book-sales, so you mean such as hunger, drone strikes, wars, diseases, abuses, slavery, torture, ... ? Yeah, done anything personally lately against any of it?

    March 21, 2011 at 7:43 am |
    • Da

      true though, 'in' religions and outside of it are idiots and malakois. eg. priests raping whatever in the name of jesus – doesn't want me to get near any of them – somewhat stereotyping i am here, true, but claiming that religion is anti-science and anti-reasoning, or anything in those lines, is stereotyping as well, isn`t it?

      March 21, 2011 at 7:51 am |
  20. Apostle Eric vonAnderseck

    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
    Rabbi Harold Kushner, author whose books include “When Bad Things Happen to Good People”
    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.
    Apostle Eric says: LEVITICUS 26:22 I will also SEND; 25 And I will bring; DEUTERONOMY 7:20 Moreover the LORD thy God will SEND; DEUTERONOMY 28:20 and 32:24 The LORD shall SEND upon thee cursing, vexation, and rebuke, in all that thou settest thine hand unto for to do, until thou be destroyed, and until thou perish quickly; because of the wickedness of thy doings, whereby thou hast forsaken me. The Voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness. REVELATION 16:9 And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these PLAGUES: and they repented not to give him glory. God is a God of covenant and those that reject His covenant are judged accordingly. http://apostlestoday.net/

    March 21, 2011 at 7:42 am |
    • TheWiz71

      Who called and commissioned you to be an apostle? The last actual apostle died 1900 years ago. Who are you to declare that this has anything to do with Biblical prophecy? Not saying it isn't, but we must not be so ready to rush to judgment. "Judge not, lest you be judged." The atheist is dead wrong in his assessment of this situation. It's people like you who give fodder to the atheists like Sam Harris, when you give legitimacy to his argument that religion "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'". Actually, the God I believe in is the same one who promised "I will be with you, even to the end of the age", the same Christ who identifies himself with his people who suffer, who is in the hands and hearts of the rescue and relief workers.
      Stop calling yourself an "apostle", and remember the two greatest commandments – You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and with all your strength, and your neighbour as yourself – and remember, Jesus defined your neighbour as even being your enemy.

      March 21, 2011 at 8:10 am |
    • warren

      Is not god all knowing and powerful? You don't make sense...sorry.

      March 21, 2011 at 8:12 am |
    • S.W.A.G.tested

      Apostle this would be great if we as Christians were a part of the old covenant....but since we're not and Jesus said He made all things new....these things don't apply to those under the new covenant....and even the whole world it doesn't apply to them either due to the fact when God spoke these things He was speaking to the children of Israel not the whole world. Jesus died for the new covenant because as God stated it was a better covenant and not after the first one that He made with the children of Israel's fathers who didn't keep it. The world was made and mankind was under grace, the first commandment to men ever made of something not to do was eat of the knowledge of the tree of good and evil. This was because God doesn't want us living our lives bound by sin, which is made obvious in the fact that that's the one commandment man had in the garden, and then once He sinned and ate of the tree God gave His son's own life to atone for the sin commited and return us back to the original state of things before the corruption of the mind of being sin conscious. We don't need to reach back to the old covenant aside from to learn the benefits of the new.

      March 21, 2011 at 8:37 am |
    • bailoutsos

      When bad things happen, it's Mother Nature. But, when good things happen it's God. Hmmm...

      March 21, 2011 at 8:51 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.