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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. J

    god does NOT exist. If so, when was the last time that god allowed Manna to fall from heaven? People around the world are dying of starvation and god is not permitting the precipitation of Manna on those who need it.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:15 am |
    • HeIsGod

      What??? When was the last time God let MANNA from from heaven??? EVERYDAY!!! Look around you, people have jobs and don't go hungry.....that's MANNA! So, not everyone is suffering from starvation and those who do, if you follow idols or any other false gods, you will not expect to be abundantly blessed by God.

      March 20, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
  2. Justsit

    Responding to Sean:

    "Your argument is correct against Christianity. But you no one has been able to prove that God doesn't exist. Can you?"

    It is logistically impossible to prove a negative, that something does NOT exist. It is up to you to prove your assertion, that god DOES exist. Let's see it.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:15 am |
  3. BL

    Bad things don't happen to good people. Because there are no bad things or good things, and the idea of a separate good or bad "you" that experiences any of that is an illusion. We suffer because of our attachment to expectations, outcomes and our false belief that the ego centered "me" experiences pain (or pleasure) personally. When we accept whatever happens and realize that our eternal nature is unaffected, the illusion disappears and suffering ends. Buddha and Jesus knew this centuries ago.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:15 am |
  4. Jim1151

    SHEPARD01 – You must be having a difficult time finding a creationist class for your children in any school in the US. Let me ask you this. How would you feel about a school that upon hearing the bell ending astronomy class, your children would have to grab their books and head to astrology class? And finally, why are you using the Internet this morning to post your creationists comments? I mean, did the Bible disclose the applications of binary code because I seemed to have missed that part. Evolution is proven science. It is hypocritical to use the applications of science on on hand and deny in order to defend a fantastical belief system.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:14 am |
  5. thearker

    “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD Almighty." (Hag 2:6). Brothers and sisters, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:06 am |
  6. Guy Hawkes

    There is no God, there is only you ... believe in yourself.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  7. SBranch

    Thanks Shephrd01!
    I often wonder why atheist spend so much time trying to prove God doesn't exist. Their is definitely a struggle within! I wonder who put it there? ; )
    Our God is an awesome God!!!!

    March 20, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  8. Grover

    I know that the God of the Hebrew people does lives and loves His creation, and if any of you would read His scriptures from front to back you would know this. One of the foudations of my coming to trust in Him was the fact that all the things occuring in this world today, He told us would happen thousands of years ago. He loves you ,draw near to Him while he is still near. If you look at the shape of the world to day ,we are in terrible trouble, we have yet to see the worst of it.

    March 20, 2011 at 10:55 am |
  9. Michael

    CNN you are suppose to report the news. Not dwell on the location of mythological beings. What the hell happened to you.

    March 20, 2011 at 10:55 am |
  10. Kent

    Hi Atheism is the honest truth. Although we have known about dinosaur bone fossils for thousands of years, particularily the Chinese who thought they were dragons, it is doubtful the authors of the bible knew about their existance.

    Kent

    March 20, 2011 at 10:53 am |
  11. Religious sects

    This article just reinforces that God does not exist and that God is nothing more than a creation of Man. This was all about God manifesting within the human, all that shows is God actually comes from the human mind.

    March 20, 2011 at 10:53 am |
  12. Dan

    You can FEEL the wind, stupid!

    March 20, 2011 at 10:51 am |
  13. squidbillies

    God must have been busy with all of the people that were praying for parking spaces at WalMart

    March 20, 2011 at 10:49 am |
  14. Cecilia

    I for one think its wonderful that we're still talking about God. It is and will always be the most profound concept and mystery that any human being will ponder.

    March 20, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • Jim1151

      Let me assure you, looking thought the Hubble telescope is far grander than staring at the burning bush. The truth is far grander than anything religion can conjure. Try on the universe as it truly is instead of wishing for the ending no better than any Grimms fairy tale fairy tale

      March 20, 2011 at 11:03 am |
  15. Shephrd01

    God does exist, even if you don't belive it, you will still meet him one day !

    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 10:47 am |
    • Jim1151

      What if you're wrong and you stand before Allah or Zeus?

      March 20, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • Benny

      If god cannot or will not do anything then why do you people pray to him like he can? Sheer Stupidity or Brainwashing?

      March 20, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • Chris

      I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours

      Stephen Roberts

      March 20, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • Bils

      I think part of the problem is that we have a number of so called 'religious leaders', many of them fairly famous, making inane statements after terrible tragedies about 'why God did this'. Think of Jerry Falwell's reasoning for why God allowed/caused 9/11 or Pat Robertson's reasoning for why God allowed/caused the destruction of New Orleans by hurricane Katrina as but two examples.
      This leads many people to conclude that 'Christian' (read: all Christians) believe that God has a direct hand the outcome of disasters such as these.
      How many times have we seen some plane or bus crash somewhere that killed dozens of people, but some child survives and many people make statements along the lines of 'God saved that little child! God is so merciful!". (Totally ignoring the implication that He allowed/cause the dozens of others to die)

      March 20, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • Shephrd01

      Jim, than I have lived a good life, loving others and helping out when I have the opportunity. Yes I have made mistakes and have regrets, but I'm content that I have for the most part helped others and have love for everyone.

      PS. By the way, Ala is the same as the christian God, father of Jesus if you study. Ala is the God of Abraham.

      No teachings on Zeus, so loving everyone and helping others give me a pretty good shot

      March 20, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • uso

      How do you know all this? Do you have some kind of inside knowledge that the rest of most of us don't? I think that you claim God just in case there is life after death and you want to err on the side of caution. To me that's not true belief...that's a cop out.
      There's nothing wrong with believing that there is no God or Jesus. I bet you have never seen them.

      March 20, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • uso

      Most of what you are talking about you read in a book.

      March 20, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • shofar

      To Jim11 : if he is Allah or Zeus, GOD still exist. The statement is true. Denying the existence of the supreme being is way worse than how you spend you life defining him.

      March 20, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
  16. rodriguezintexas

    This video deals with the question of God in disaster.
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDHJ4ztnldQ&w=640&h=390]

    March 20, 2011 at 10:45 am |
    • slrtx

      A long video that tries to explain a short answer – prayers are NEVER answered. They only make people doing the praying feel better. And, there are NO miracles. Only things that happen that we can't explain at the time. Ultimately, we can explain them, so they aren't miracles. Miracles are kinda like UFOs. We can't identify UFOs, so some claim they must be extraterrestrial. We can't explain some things, so it must be an act of god.

      March 20, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
  17. John Eight

    57 Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?

    58 Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.

    59 Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.

    March 20, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  18. Cristian Amigo

    Religion erodes compassion and personal responsibility.

    March 20, 2011 at 10:41 am |
    • Jonathan

      Just like it did for the thousands of religious leaders in this country who risked their lives in the civil rights movement.

      Go read a book. Please.

      March 20, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • rodriguezintexas

      @Jonathan: Are you telling me that those religious people wouldn't have been involved in the civil rights movement if it weren't for their faith??? Of course not, how shameful that would be! They were involved because they were good people who do good things. They would do good things with or without religion.

      So, here's the point: Good people do good things. Bad people to bad things. But religion often gives bad people justification to do bad things and causes otherwise good people to sometimes do bad things. (Ex: Genital Mutilation)

      March 20, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
  19. Toate

    Be the change you want to see in the world. Stop blaming the man in the sky for your errors in judgment.

    March 20, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  20. Jim1151

    The late Carl Sagan stated, It's far better to understand the universe as it truly is than to persist in delusion however satisfying or reassuring. The universe is indifferent to us. When is the rest of the 80% of our species going to begin using their reasoning to realize it's not about us. Darwin proved that evolution didn't need an intelligent designer. We use the wrong language. The "ascent" of man. Arrogant and egocentric, delusional thinking, all for the wish of that great reward, life after death. Here's a good first primer for believers, I place to begin your rational thinking. Explanations that explain everything, explain nothing! This principal can be understood at even the lowest level of human cognition.

    March 20, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • JesusLovesDeathMetal

      IWell said, Jim!

      March 20, 2011 at 10:50 am |
    • Bils

      Hear, hear!

      March 20, 2011 at 10:50 am |
    • Shephrd01

      Darwins theory was proved to be incorrect years ago when science DNA was discovered. Everything has it's own unique design. Man could not have evoled from Apes, otherwise our DNA structure would be linked. So through science we now know that each species of plants and animals has it's own unique DNA structure and specific design. To believe in Darwins' theory is like really believing birds grew wings over time because they had to do survive.
      I can see thousands of years the little bird kept telling themselves " i think I need wings, I think I need wings and poof they began to sprout, lol

      March 20, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • Scientificpoetry

      I'm in violent agreement with Jim's statement... 🙂 It's unfortunate the majority of the people in the U.S. are not.

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

      Fact: Carl Sagan > god

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

      Agreed

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

      Ps. Shephrd01, it's people like you that make me so hostile towards religious, conservative, and might I say delusional ways of thinking. Present me with reason and evidence for your claim and I will 100% without a doubt believe in your god.

      It just amazes me that people can be SO naive!

      March 20, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • SoundGuy

      The very need for all that rhetoric, however impressively stated, is abolished once we understand our true nature. Learn to meditate and go about it diligently. Here's a site that can help you keep focused during meditation: TranscendentalTones.

      March 20, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • Karen

      Go Shephard01

      March 20, 2011 at 11:15 am |
    • Jennifer Beadle

      To Shephrd01–Where are you getting this bogus information. We are but a few genes away from Chimps and Bonobo. I got my information in Biology and Anthropology class.

      March 20, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • EvolvedDNA

      Sheprd01 ..I would suggest that you actually read something of evolution before making comments like the one you made..any answer to you would be lost.. read " Why evolution is True", and "The greatest Show on Earth"..both will give yo the reasons that your statements are so incorrect.

      March 20, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
    • Amused

      To Shephrd01: You clearly know nothing about DNA as DNA conclusively PROVES that all life on this planet EVOLVED from the SAME DNA. DNA PROVES EVOLUTION so completely and irrefutably that there is really no discussion needed anymore. All animals on this planet share over 95% of their IDENTICAL DNA. The only way this could be possible is if ALL LIFE EVOLVED FROM THE SAME living thing. ALL HUMANS share over 98% of their exact identical DNA code. From the largest to the smallest ,darkest skinned to the lightest skinned, human DNA differs by less than 1.5%. This so-called "question of evolution" has been clearly answered and proven over and over again. Wake up and smell the coffee...

      March 21, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • Magic

      Shephrd01,

      "To believe in Darwins' theory is like really believing birds grew wings over time because they had to do survive.
      I can see thousands of years the little bird kept telling themselves " i think I need wings, I think I need wings and poof they began to sprout, lol"

      I recall your similar post from a couple of months ago. It was thoroughly debunked and demolished... and yet you fall right back into it. You really don't want to learn, do you?

      March 21, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.