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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. Gnarly Erik

    GOD is always there – in the fantasies of the fearfully delusional. Reality simply does not factor in with those people.

    March 20, 2011 at 10:38 am |
  2. Brian

    A quote from the article: "How can people do such things if God were not at work in them to lend a counterweight to a natural disaster?"

    Its called human spirit. The same way a deer tries to get up and run after its legs are shattered from being hit by a car. The will to survive will always persist. Why does it always have to be God? There are people that walk this Earth every day that make more of a positive difference than any "God" ever has. Hold those people in reverence. Thank you.

    March 20, 2011 at 10:38 am |
  3. DrCarrington

    This is why I call CNN "The Religion Channel". Instead of pablum like this article, how about posting a scientific dissertation on plate tectonics? Because of the magnitude of this disaster, I was forced to watch CNN, in the mistaken belief I would actually see news. Other than the actual horrific video of the tsunami, what I saw was a joke.

    March 20, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • DeeDee

      Actually, CNN did cover that in earlier articles but that was at a different part of the site. This blog deals with belief and human responses to tragedy; a different but equally valid investigation. Heads and hearts each have their own wisdom.

      March 20, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
  4. charles miller

    Although I am a research scientist, I have no concerns or doubts that God is real, that he cares and loves all mankind. I also believe he expects us to care for one another. Although he has power to prevent suffering and disease in life, he must also be bound to laws that govern our agency to choose how we react to disaster, how we question or rely on our faith and how we choose to seek his guidance or not to seek his guidance in times of stress and disaster.

    March 20, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • Evolved DNA

      Charle Miller..interesting.. what evidence do you have to back up your hypotheses ?

      March 20, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • DeeDee

      Well said Mr. Miller.

      To the non-beleiving posters – there is plenty of work to be done here. If the beleivers choose to "Ora et labora" in the phrase attributed to St. Benedict , and you want to focus on the work part only, how does that hurt you or the relief effort?

      March 20, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • EvolvedDNA

      DeeDee.. We know there is plenty of work to be done in Ja-pan, so it would seem to be a waste of time to pray.. I sure that your god is aware of the disaster and that he understands that at this time you all all busy..Or does he need constant communication... does he not have |CNN or the BBC in heaven to figure out what you need from him?

      March 20, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
  5. Shephrd01

    God is watching, but has already done all he is going to do for mankind !

    I'm amazed at so many people who missed God's message to mankind. God did not create the earth quake and he is not going to intervene in the after math. God is not going to step in and cool down the nuclear reactor or stop the spread of radiation. God did not create nuclear power nor did he build the facility, Man did.

    God created man, Jesus suffered on the cross so all mankind who believed in him and follow his farthers teaching would receive forgiveness for their sins and would not perish.

    God is speaking of the spirtual life, not the flesh life we live here on earth. When Jesus was nailed to the cross, he said " It is finished". God has done all he is going to do for man, by giving us hope and forgiveness for our sins.

    He is not going to step in a cure diseases that man and society has created, God is not going to step in and stop a nuclear melt down, God is not going to step in and save people from earth quakes, storms, floods etc...

    What God is going to do is allow those that believed in his son Jesus Christ and follow his teaching, eneter into the kingdom of Heavan. All others will perish. Those that have died fate is sealed and waiting for judgment day.

    Stop looking for God or blaming God when something like this happens. Remeber and understand, Jesus said "It is finished" He defeated Satan and sin, gave mankind a gift of forgiveness. This is all God is going to do until judgment day!!!!!!!!!!

    March 20, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • Karen

      Well put

      March 20, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • HeIsGod

      Amen, Shephrd01!!! The very earth that God has given us is the very earth that MANKIND, not GOD has destroyed. So why should God step in to stop what humans are doing without His consent?

      WELL PUT!!

      March 20, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
  6. suzy

    God is destruction, construction, science, religion.... In this material world, one will never comprehend God's grand scheme unless the materially-drenched individual experiences the force of the spirit within & understands that this world is only a dream.

    March 20, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • Evolved DNA

      Suzy.. is this the matrix then.. wow...

      March 20, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
  7. Jeff

    Silly theists! Fairy tales are for kids!

    March 20, 2011 at 10:33 am |
  8. Tonino

    Exodus, Sin, and the revelation of faith, amid our troubled times.

    Our earth has experienced cataclysmic events since the fist material coalesced in space, thence the earth developed its own behavior. The earth first creatures and humans had to lean the earth's behavior in order to survive and look for shelter. Thus anticipating when it will rain, snow, be hot, cold, windy and so on, in some human cultures even talking, praying, and perform rituals to ask the earth for food, water, protection, shelter and so on. I will explain the following in a philosophic discussion without undermining any aspect of the reader to reiterate. We have stopped respecting our earth basic laws, learned from the beginning of times, by all creatures and humans on this earth. We have instead through our evolution learned how to question, investigate, explore, explain, develop, predict, forecast, make alterations, create, defend, destroy and so on. This confidence in leadership individuals to sin and violate the laws of our earth, and do anything they want without regard to expose themselves and whole societies to extreme danger against the upheaval that can be unleashed. These individuals we call leaders, have contributed and led us into the temptations, of wars, genocides, massacres, exposed people and whole society to live at the foot of a volcano, in proximity of the oceans, rivers, mountains, concur land and territories and die for the cause and belief. We have been counting on science, physics, leadership for greed and power.

    { The sin is the action of one man}-{the reaction is the sin of other man}

    Tonino

    March 20, 2011 at 10:33 am |
  9. someone

    Well to me God is real. In my opinion theres only 1 true creator. And when he wants something to happen it happens. He was never created nor he was ever born and he can never die. And to me I believe the end or some type of end is very near. Every thing I read in my religious book is now reality so truly no matter what anyone says I exactly know who's right. There are such things that exist with in us mankind but we're not aware. The only one who's aware is God. You can believe in what ever you want . But I believe this is all happening because of the modern world which leads to all the sins..........

    March 20, 2011 at 10:31 am |
  10. Jim1151

    Rabbi Harold Kushner. All religions depend 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 their Gods. Here's what he needs to understand. Explanations that explain everything explain nothing.

    March 20, 2011 at 10:31 am |
  11. Shephrd01

    I'm amazed at so many people who missed God's message to mankind. God did not create the earth quake and he is not going to intervene in the after math. God is not going to step in and cool down the nuclear reactor or stop the spread of radiation. God did not create nuclear power nor did he build the facility, Man did.

    God created man, Jesus suffered on the cross so all mankind who believed in him and follow his farthers teaching would receive forgiveness for their sins and would not perish.

    God is speaking of the spirtual life, not the flesh life we live here on earth. When Jesus was nailed to the cross, he said " It is finished". God has done all he is going to do for man, by giving us hope and forgiveness for our sins.

    He is not going to step in a cure diseases that man and society has created, God is not going to step in and stop a nuclear melt down, God is not going to step in and save people from earth quakes, storms, floods etc...

    What God is going to do is allow those that believed in his son Jesus Christ and follow his teaching, eneter into the kingdom of Heavan. All others will perish. Those that have died fate is sealed and waiting for judgment day.

    Stop looking for God or blaming God when something like this happens. Remeber and understand, Jesus said "It is finished" He defeated Satan and sin, gave mankind a gift of forgiveness. This is all God is going to do until judgment day!!!!!!!!!!

    March 20, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • Jim1151

      This comment is brought to you by a "A message from the Bronze Age" A slave to our ancient mythologies. Wow, that's what I'm looking for.

      March 20, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • Evolved DNA

      Shephrd01.... So in other words.. God is not real, so if we can keep him doing nothing we can keep him alive for thousands of years and make how much money?

      March 20, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • Evolved DNA

      Also, we do not blame god for the earthquakes tornadoes, Tsunamis etc .. these are totally natural occurrences.. religions have to get the spin doctors out to try to make sense of disastesr and the apparent message from god that he loves man unconditionally.

      March 20, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  12. Jeff

    I find it reassuring that anyone with a shred or rationality can read this blog, read the blatant inconsistency and desperation in the theistic posts, and know with certainty the kind of mind that wholeheartedly "believes" (faith = willful ignorance). I for one applaud this blog for exposing the silly and childish nature of adults who believe in fairy tales. Good work, Belief Blog!

    March 20, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  13. nick

    lol god isn't reall, sillies.

    March 20, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • HeIsGod

      lol, God is more real than you and I, silly!

      March 20, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
  14. lotusflower27

    God is destruction, construction, religion, science... In this material world, God is beyond comprehension unless experienced & known by the individual.

    March 20, 2011 at 10:28 am |
  15. Tonino

    Exodus, Sin, and the revelation of faith, amid our troubled times.

    Our earth has experienced cataclysmic events since the fist material coalesced in space, thence the earth developed its own behavior. The earth first creatures and humans had to lean the earth's behavior in order to survive and look for shelter. Thus anticipating when it will rain, snow, be hot, cold, windy and so on, in some human cultures talking, praying, and perform rituals to ask the earth for food, water, protection, shelter and so on. I will explain the following in a philosophic discussion without undermining any aspect of the reader to reiterate. We have stopped respecting our earth basic laws, learned from the beginning of times, by all creatures and humans on this earth. We have instead through our evolution learned how to question, investigate, explore, explain, develop, predict, forecast, make alterations, create, defend, destroy and so on. This confidence in leadership individuals to sin and violate the laws of our earth, and do anything they want without regard to expose themselves and whole societies to extreme danger against the upheaval that can be unleashed. These individuals we call leaders, have contributed and led us into the temptations, of wars, genocides, massacres, exposed people and whole society to live at the foot of a volcano, in proximity of the oceans, rivers, mountains, concur land and territories and die for the cause and belief. We have been counting on science, physics, leadership for greed and power.

    { The sin is the action of one man}-{the reaction is the sin of other man}

    Tonino

    March 20, 2011 at 10:27 am |
  16. Tonino

    Exodus, Sin, and the revelation of faith, amid our troubled times.

    Our earth has experienced cataclysmic events since the fist material coalesced in space, thence the earth developed its own behavior. The earth first creatures and humans had to lean the earth's behavior in order to survive and look for shelter. Thus anticipating when it will rain, snow, be hot, cold, windy and so on, in some human cultures, talking, praying, and perform rituals to ask the earth for food, water, protection, shelter and so on. I will explain the following in a philosophic discussion without undermining any aspect of the reader to reiterate. We have stopped respecting our earth basic laws, learned from the beginning of times, by all creatures and humans on this earth. We have instead through our evolution learned how to question, investigate, explore, explain, develop, predict, forecast, make alterations, create, defend, destroy and so on. This confidence in leadership individuals to sin and violate the laws of our earth, and do anything they want without regard to expose themselves and whole societies to extreme danger against the upheaval that can be unleashed. These individuals we call leaders, have contributed and led us into the temptations, of wars, genocides, massacres, exposed people and whole society to live at the foot of a volcano, in proximity of the oceans, rivers, mountains, concur land and territories and die for the cause and belief. We have been counting on science, physics, leadership for greed and power.

    { The sin is the action of one man}-{the reaction is the sin of other man}

    Tonino

    March 20, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  17. lilmiss1964

    Since none of us REALLY knows, what is the arguement?

    March 20, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  18. Paula

    unfair, as many things are in the world. really-how can a god let this happen to so many good people? difficult to believe, huh? just continue this wonderful evolution, live happy, help others... enjoy the changes in life!!

    March 20, 2011 at 10:20 am |
  19. GK

    Religious people are truly delusional.. Claims like GOD hasn't forgotten them or God is in the courage of people to carry on their lives after the tragedy. DO THESE PEOPLE EVEN THINK WHAT THEY ARE SAYING?? LOL!!!

    March 20, 2011 at 10:18 am |
  20. fastball

    There is no external God...but there can be God inside of everybody. That kind of God can make us compassionate, can make us care, can make us think about others before we look to ourselves. It's called a conscience....and if more people listened to it, we wouldn't do the stupid selfish self-service stuff we do.

    March 20, 2011 at 10:17 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.